Podcast Episode 7: Hypocrisy
Welcome to Season One Episode Seven of the Critiques and Caffeine Podcast!
I’m Zach Haas and I run the same blog over at zachhaas.com. Thank you for joining me today as we look at something that should be every Christian’s pet peeve – Hypocrisy. Click below to listen along if you’d like.
Hypocrisy. What is it? Well, according to the dictionary it is “the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform; pretense.” In other words, it is telling someone to do or not to do something, but then doing it or not doing it yourself. In other words, you aren’t practicing what you preach.
The concept of hypocrisy isn’t new. It has been around for a very long time. This doesn’t make it any less severe. Jesus’ actions toward hypocrisy is extremely harsh. Just in case you thought it wasn’t really that bad of an offense, the entire chapter of Matthew 23 is dedicated to hypocrisy, and let’s just say, Jesus is not friendly towards it at all.
Let’s take a moment to look at some parts of Matthew 23 and what it says about hypocrisy
A Warning Against Hypocrisy
23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you.
Let’s pause here for a moment. Jesus is recognizing the established order God set up for the Levites. He is stating that they are in Moses’ seat and that alone gives them some authority to speak truth. Jesus even goes so far as to say to do everything they said to do. Why? Because these people were still actually preaching the word of God. They may have been fallen people doing the wrong things, as we will soon see, but they were still preaching the inerrant word of God.
I am reminded of a John Calvin quote I read in seminary. It read something along the lines of “wherever the true word of God is spoken, truth and salvation can be found.” I don’t think those were the exact words, but it was directly into reference of false teachers. Even false or fallen teachers who are using the word of God are reaching people for the kingdom. This is a place where God is using evil for his good. That said, let’s continue with what Jesus has to say about hypocrites.
“But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”
And there it is. The big problem with the pharisees.
They didn’t practice what they preached.
They were in God-given positions of authority and they were letting it go to their head. It was as if their teachings did not apply to them. They used their positions to live above the law and it was certainly causing dissension among the people.
5 “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.
8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
I don’t think Jesus is being super literal here. Obviously, it is okay to have an earthly father and to call him such. The issue is that the pharisees were using such a title to elevate themselves to a position that was reserved only for God or Jesus. This is the problem. No preacher on earth should see themselves as equal to Jesus. They must not mislead people into thinking they are an overly important prophet of the Lord and thus detract from the message that they are supposed to be giving.
Next, Jesus looks at seven hypocritical things the Pharisees were doing. If Jesus is calling these things out specifically my name, you can bet they are important to listen to. But here’s the real problem. These things are easy to look at and blame the pharisees for, but in reality, these are things that many Christians today are guilty of as well.
Therefore, for this section we I’ll take a look at the verses in the Bible and explain them if necessary, but then I’ll look at how we as Christians or the Church are guilty of these same things today. If we are guilty of these things, we need to stop them right away, seek forgiveness, and right any wrongs we may have caused or promoted.
Seven Woes on the Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees
13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
The Pharisees, in all their supposed wisdom and knowledge, completely missed the walking fulfillment of prophesy that Jesus was. To be fair, everyone did, but if anyone should have recognized him for who he was it should have been these teachers of the law. Instead, they were actively campaigning against Jesus. Since he is the only way, by being against him, they were shutting the kingdom of heaven up to the people they were leading.
God wants to see all people saved.
When we refuse to present Jesus to someone, or write them off as too far gone, we have shut the door to the kingdom of heaven in their face. This is abhorrent wrong. Yet, most of us can probably think of someone who we don’t think could ever make it to heaven. This is judging someone by our own standards. The previous episode looked at how judging someone won’t save them, this is very true here again. We need to be better than that and make sure that we are opening the doors to the kingdom for all God’s created people.
15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
Jesus is implying that they have not led a person into the kingdom of God. Instead, they have actually led them into a wayward practice of being a Pharisee. They are spreading false teaching which are then multiplying and making converts even worse!
16 “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ 17 You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? 18 You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ 19 You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. 22 And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.
23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
These are some pretty harsh words from Jesus.
He is basically saying they are doing everything backward. They are focusing on the wrong things. Interestingly, Jesus is not saying the things they are focusing on are inherently wrong, but they should be the secondary practice not the first. Personally, I would like to eat camel. I enjoy trying adventurous things so I would totally eat a camel. But this would make me completely miss the point of what Jesus is saying. We need to focus on the things that are important – justice, mercy, and faithfulness, and then the other things will fall into place.
25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
These two verses reinforce what I was just talking about. We need to focus on the things that matter. In this case, it is focusing on the inward person. If we right ourselves with God, if we follow the greatest commandments of loving God and then loving others, we will become clean and good on the outside. But, if we are harboring sin, or hating our neighbors, making ourselves look good on the outside doesn’t do a bit of good.
27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
29 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!
Whoa dang Jesus.
He is essentially saying here that they are going to have them killed. This is easy for us to see as people on the outside looking in, but the disciples missed this point. He is saying that they are going to go ahead and kill him just like the ancestors did to the prophets. He is telling them that they are about to do the same to him despite their belief that they would have been different if they lived back then.
This brings up an interesting point here. There are many times that we as believers hold to some kind of notion that we would have done things differently. We think there’s no way we would have rejected Jesus. Or, we wouldn’t have eaten the forbidden fruit in the garden. This simply isn’t the case. The disciples lived and walked with Jesus for at least a few years. They saw inexplicable miracles and saw someone with wisdom and understanding unrivaled by anyone who had ever lived. And yet, they all, every last one of them, missed it.
When Jesus died, they scattered in fear. They doubted, they questioned everything. Now, while I think it is foolish to try and say we would be better than any of our ancestors were, I think there is some encouragement here. If the disciples made mistakes, if they doubted, if they completely missed what Jesus was trying to teach them, then surely, we can expect the same might happen to us.
There are times that we are the hypocrites. Where we are the ones who aren’t living the way, we are telling people they need to live. The good news here is that Jesus restored the disciples. He forgave them and he opened their eyes to the truth. When they had this moment of real connection with the risen Christ and who he was, they had radically changed lives. Lives that they were willing to sacrifice everything for and many if not all of them did give their lives for the Gospel.
33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers!
How will you escape being condemned to hell? 34 Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. 35 And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.
37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
Jesus closes his monologue to the hypocrites with strong words. You might even call these insults. That’s what they sound like to me! Even though Jesus says wise teachers will be sent to them, they will not listen and will instead murder them in the streets. This is how deeply rooted their hypocrisy had become.
So how does this translate to us today? Clearly hypocrites today are not as radical. They aren’t murdering people in the street. No, instead the disease of hypocrisy is much more subtle. It is not just something that infect religious leaders either, though it may be much easier to spot when it comes to these.
Now, I will admit that hypocrisy is a very strong word.
Jesus used strong langue when talking about it. It also kind of has an old nature about it. Like it is a sin of the past that we no longer deal with so much. But maybe that is just how Satan wants it to be. He wants us to forget about it. He wants us to minimalize it. However, and listen to this people of the Church with a capital C. I think that hypocrisy is one of the most dangerous things for the body, message, and mission of Christ.
To some extent, every time we sin, we are a hypocrite. Every time. Whether it’s a small sin or a large one, we are a hypocrite. As Christians we have established and agree to a moral standard of beliefs. We claim that the Bible is true. That the words speak life and affectively become our life. We embrace the teachings of Jesus and say that there is no other way to live and no other way to get to heaven. And yet, every time we fail to live up to these standards, we are a hypocrite.
So what, you might say. Everyone sins. Even good Christians make mistakes and slip up at least once in a while. While I do believe that we as Christians should be working towards eliminating all sin from our lives, this is not always the case. Sinning in and of itself isn’t really the problem here. For all have sinned and fallen short. So, to some extent we are all sinners on the same page there.
This is where things get different when it comes to hypocrisy.
Not only are we sinning against God, but we are also sinning against the bride of Christ, the Church. How is this different? It’s because hypocrisy causes there to be a very poor reflection of the church. We are supposed to be the salt and light of the earth. We are supposed to be going out and making the world a better place by our actions and our love. And yet, even throughout history, Christians have missed the mark over and over again.
Think about it, in the early 1500s the Catholic Church was plague with hypocrisy and wrong doings. So much so that Martin Luther wrote the 95 thesis and nailed it into the church wall. Many people at the time saw the church as they still see it today. Distant, money grabbing, power hungry, and manipulative.
Can you imagine what Jesus would do if he saw that the people of the world, his people, the ones he loved and died for, saw the church like this? I’ll tell you what he’d do, he’d go in and flip some tables.
Here’s the issue. People outside and maybe even many inside the church still see it the same way. Churches are seen as places that collect money from people, and provide them with some kind of eternal, moral, soul security. While more learned Christians will obviously know this isn’t the case, outsiders who do not understand the inner workings might rightfully ask, where is all that money going? What is this church of Christ really doing for me and the community?
I think that this is where hypocrisy kind of branches out in two different ways. There is hypocrisy of the church as an organization, but then there is also hypocrisy from the people who go to the church.