Summary: This message is from an expository series from the book of Romans.
“God’s Answer to Hypocrites”
September 28, 2008
When you talk to imaginary friends, like Harvey, Jimmy Stewart’s 6-foot white rabbit, they come to take you away. But in Greek literature, there was a literary device which consisted of pretty much this thing: a conversation with an unseen, unnamed individual. It was called a diatribe, and it was used to make a point, and that’s what Paul is employing here; the question is, who is the imaginary person Paul is conversing with? Some believe that Paul, having begun at the end of chapter 1 to address the pagan world, now turns his attention to the religious Jews. He clearly does this later in chapter 2, but remembering that the chapter divisions are man-made, we’re under no obligation to make that assumption. He may have Jews only in mind, but I believe that he is speaking, not per se with either a Jewish or a Gentile individual, but with the person who imagines himself to be an upstanding citizen, a person who is “above” such deeds as are described in Romans 1. And such people could also be Gentiles…
The Roman Seneca was an example of one such highly-moral Gentile individual. Seneca would have been at the forefront of our so-called “culture wars”. F.F. Bruce comments, of Seneca, that “he exposed hypocrisy, he preached the equality of all human beings, he acknowledged the pervasive character of evil…he practiced and inculcated daily self-examination, he ridiculed vulgar idolatry, he assumed the role of a moral guide…” By his example of moral living, Seneca put to shame the vast majority of licentious Roman culture, and if we were to speak of his “theology”, at some points he’d be more orthodox than some of our contemporary “Christian” pulpits! And so to suggest that all Gentiles were living lives of debauchery would be as foolish as to suggest that all Jews were living lives of pious devotion.
It seems to me that in the first 11 verses of chapter 2, if not in the first 16 even, Paul is addressing people who in their own eyes live moral lives, who might well fancy themselves good enough people to achieve heaven in their own merits. He’s confronting the moralizer, the person who not only lives by a strict moral code but also who looks down his nose judgmentally at others who don’t live up to the code.
And let’s not kid ourselves: there are plenty of these people who sit in nice churches on Sunday mornings, who sing consistently and listen politely and give significantly and work diligently in the church’s ministries. They’re upstanding members of the Kiwanis Club, they serve on the board of the PTA, they coach Little League and take their kids to Girl Scouts and vote in every election. And they think that they’re living pretty good, moral lives, and that in the end, God will take all of that into account because, you know, they’re not like those “other people”.
And they’d listen to Paul’s words at the end of Romans 1 and say a hearty “Amen”! And when Paul got to the part where he talks, in :32, about people who “not only do (evil things) but give approval to those who practice them”, they’d shake their heads and tut-tut about how horrible it is not only to do bad things but to cheer on others to walk deeper and deeper in sin, and they’d say, “can you imagine that!” And then, they go out and do the very same things themselves, and condemn others for doing them. At least the folks in Romans 1:32 are consistent; these people are hypocrites!
“The church is full of hypocrites”. We’ve all heard people say that…but is it true? Why or why not?
What conclusion(s) did you reach? Is there a difference in being a hypocrite and acting hypocritically? Is there a difference in getting drunk and being a drunk? I believe every Christian acts hypocritically from time to time; some we could label “hypocrite”. That’s my subject for today.
I. The Peril of Hypocrisy - :1-4
The word hypocrisy derives from the Greek ὑπόκρισις (hypokrisis), which means "play-acting", "acting out", "feigning, dissembling". It was used of one who on the Greek stage wore a mask, taking on a persona other than his own for the purpose of looking to be someone other than who he was. This is what a hypocrite does: he wears a mask to pretend to be someone he is not, and to play a role that makes him think in his own mind that he is better than other people.
Christ had strong words for the Pharisees of His time, not because they weren’t doing some of the outward things associated with religious devotion, but because their hearts were far from God, and because they used their own warped sense of superiority to judge others.