By David Faust
Ask a non-churchgoer why he doesn’t attend, and his list of objections will likely include, “There are too many hypocrites in the church.” Inconsistent believers and ugly church splits have caused many to say, “ABC—Anything But Church!” To be fair, Christians don’t have a corner on the market when it comes to hypocrisy. Phoniness abounds in the secular marketplace of politics and public relations.
But there’s something especially damaging about religious phoniness. Sheldon Vanauken wrote, “The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians—when they are somber and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug . . . , when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths.”
Jesus reserved some of his strongest rebukes for the Pharisees, whose very name has become synonymous with hypocrisy. Matthew 23 paints a vivid portrait of religious phoniness.
Say one thing, but do another. “They do not practice what they preach” (v. 3).
Demand a lot from others, but make excuses for themselves. “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” (v. 4).
Are more concerned about outward appearance than inner reality. “Everything they do is done for people to see” (v. 5).
Strive for status symbols and public honors. “They love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues”
Impede others who are seeking God. “You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces”
Highlight minor issues, but overlook what matters most. “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” (v. 23).
Look good on the outside, but they are inwardly corrupt. “You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead” (v. 27).
There is something worse than being a hypocrite, though, and that’s being an unrepentant and unforgiven hypocrite. Phoniness is repugnant to the Lord of truth, but he loves sinners of all kinds, including hypocrites. He calls all sinners to repentance and spiritual transformation. The people who heard Jesus’ stinging rebukes in Matthew 23 also heard him say, ”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” (v. 37).
The cure for hypocrisy is to humbly acknowledge our weaknesses and shortcomings, laying our flaws in all their naked ugliness at the Savior’s feet. There is nothing phony about God’s grace. If we are willing, he will take us under his wings and drag our fearful souls out of the darkness of deception into the light of his truth. When we walk with him in authenticity, we will experience the sweet reality of forgiveness and peace.
1. What reaction stirs in you when you encounter hypocrisy?
2. In what ways do you need to be more honest with the Lord and with others?
David Faust is president of Cincinnati Christian University, Cincinnati, Ohio, and past executive editor of The Lookout.
The Lookout’s Bible Reading Plan for March 10, 2013
Use this guide to read through the Bible in 12 months. Follow David Faust’s comments on the highlighted text in every issue of The Lookout.
Numbers 5, 6
Numbers 7, 8