Summary: To be called a hypocrite is one of the most hurtful criticisms there is, how do we avoid Hypocrisy?
Clean on the outside and dirty on the inside. Wow! Jesus spoke about that concept a number of times throughout the gospels using word pictures like whitewashed tombs all clean and pretty on the outside and full of dead men’s bones on the inside. On my first trip to Africa one of my team members asked our guide why he hadn’t seen any cemeteries. The man thought for a minute and said “I’ve been to America and the cemeteries are so beautiful, you almost want to live there.” And he went on to tell us that in Sierra Leone in the villages the dead were just buried in the forest and in the city cemeteries were just places to bury the dead. And he wasn’t kidding, they took us to a small cemetery where the first Wesleyan missionaries had been buried and it was overgrown and neglected, at first I was a little cranky, here was the final resting place of people who had given their lives for the people of Sierra Leone and nobody was taking care of their graves. But to the nationals the spirit had gone and all that was left was a container and what do you do with a container when you are done with it? You certainly don’t turn it into a shrine. They saw our obsession over how our cemeteries looked almost as ancestor worship. Interesting. And that really had nothing to do with the message.
So Jesus spoke of whitewashed tombs and of bowls that people prepared for eating, all shiny and spiffy on the outside and yucky on the inside. In each case there is a concern with outward appearances without a corresponding concern for what the inside was like.
And he used these illustrations to describe the actions of certain people, people who spent more time on the external than on the internal. That how they acted and what they did was more focused on how people perceived them than who they really were. The outside was all clean and shiny but inside where they actually lived was filled with all sorts of nasty things.
The story is told in Luke chapter 12, it was read earlier. We are told that the crowds following Jesus have become larger and larger, to the point that Luke tells us in Luke 12:1 Meanwhile, the crowds grew until thousands were milling about and stepping on each other. Jesus turned first to his disciples and warned them, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees—their hypocrisy.”
The next nine verses are strung together like pearls on a necklace, each thought separate but connected to the previous one and the next one.
Hypocrisy is one of those insults that cuts to the core of who we are, to be called a hypocrite is really hurtful. Most of us think of ourselves as authentic individuals. If we were to claim to a life philosophy it would be the same as Horton who said “I meant what I said and I said what I meant, an elephant is faithful one hundred percent.”
But Jesus dropped the hypocrisy bomb several times in the gospels, usual in regards to the Pharisees who would have never applied that label to themselves. After all, their very name meant “The separated ones” and they had removed themselves from the daily constraints of life to focus on keeping the rules and regulations of the law. It wouldn’t even be fair to draw a comparison with pastors because on a day to day basis we deal with administration and maintenance and people. The Pharisees were more like contemplative monks, except instead of living in a monastery they lived in the world and it would appear part of their mandate was to criticize people who weren’t as rigidly committed to the rules and regulations as they were.
The very origins of the word hypocrite describe it, in the Greek the word is ὑποκριτής hypokritēs and it occurs throughout the New Testament and Christ’s teachings. And it came from it is the regular Greek word for an actor. And Barclay tells us “It then came to mean an actor in the worse sense of the term, a pretender, one who acts a part, one who wears a mask to cover his true feelings, one who puts on an external show while inwardly his thoughts and feelings are very different.”
One of the complaints that I hear about the church from those outside is “It is filled with hypocrites.” And I don’t believe that is true at all, just because Christians occasionally stumble and fall doesn’t make us hypocrites, it just makes us human. It’s when we deny that we ever stumble and fall that we move into dangerous territory.
And I’m reminded when someone uses the hypocrite excuse for not coming to church “The only thing smaller than a hypocrite is someone who can hide behind a hypocrite.”