A life filled with hypocrisy is a life that counts as nothing before God. That is the fruit of hypocrisy. Integrity is the virtue with which every other Christian virtue must be substantiated. In addition to recognizing the signs of hypocrisy, the Christian must also understand the overall effect of unchecked hypocrisy in one’s life.
Where Hypocrisy is Present, Heavenly Wisdom is Absent
Every Christian is called to acquire biblical wisdom. The book of Proverbs states that the one who finds wisdom finds life (Prov 8:35). However, there is a difference between earthly wisdom from below and heavenly wisdom from above. Earthly wisdom will lead one to destruction, while heavenly wisdom leads to blessing. James 3:13-17 describes the distinction:
Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.
“But wisdom from above is…without hypocrisy.” Heavenly wisdom must be characterized by integrity—with purity of motive and wholeness of character. But where hypocrisy is present, heavenly wisdom is absent. Wisdom may be present, but it is wisdom from below—earthly, demonic wisdom. The wisdom, or skill, that a Christian exhibits in decision-making and interactions with individuals cannot afford to be accompanied by ulterior motives or inconsistencies between what is said or presented and what is actually done. Even in the church, there are far too many instances where individuals are counseled to compromise truthfulness or honesty in order to attain a desired outcome or achieve a particular goal.
I myself can recall a number of instances when I was counseled or encouraged by an older saint in the church to pretend that I was in agreement with another person with whom I was not in actual agreement. I was once even told that I should simply “play the game” in order to win people to myself. In effect, I was told to be a hypocrite so that I could win a particular person to myself.
But such a sentiment doesn’t just exist in the realm of personal relationships; it exists in the corporate realm as well. I was once in a training session at a company where I was newly hired as a sales agent. During one of our sessions, our lecturer said that one of key qualities of a good salesman is “making believe that they need the product even if, in reality, they don’t need it.” In other words, the way to make money is to twist people into believing something that you know isn’t true—all in the name of skill. In other words, compromise truth for material gain at the expense of people’s money. Needless to say, I quit the job during that week of training, and the Lord graciously provided me with another job very shortly after. There is a difference between heavenly wisdom and worldly cunning. Worldly cunning is crafty, manipulative, deceitful and compromises virtue in order to gain either the goods of the world or the following of people. Worldly cunning knows how to manipulate and deceive individuals for the desired gain—be it wealth, power, popularity, or whatever else. Thus, when integrity is absent and virtue is compromised, whatever craft is exhibited is not true wisdom, nor is it pleasing to God. Heavenly wisdom must always be free of hypocrisy and full of integrity.
Where Hypocrisy is Present, Godly Prayer is Absent
Every Christian is called to pray. Prayer is one of the greatest privileges that God has given us. We are the only creatures endowed with the ability to consciously and worshipfully talk to God. That said, just because one prays doesn’t mean God is pleased. Not surprisingly, Jesus not only encourages us to pray, he also instructs us how and how not to pray.
When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.Matt 6:5-6
Christ’s first instruction on how not to pray is this: when you pray, don’t pray hypocritically. Godly prayer and hypocrisy cannot coexist. They are mutually exclusive, and the presence of one implies the absence of the other. It is not simply the act of praying, then, that brings pleasure to God from the believer, but also the manner and motivation by which those prayers are lifted. Specifically, those who claim to belong to Christ ought be cautious lest their prayers are characterized by hypocrisy.
Christ vividly describes how hypocrites pray in verse 5. First, their prayers are made almost exclusively in public. Second, they pray to be seen, noticed, and gain the esteem of others. It was the motivation, more than the method, that Jesus condemns. There is nothing inherently sinful about praying on the street or in a synagogue. After all, God commands us to love Him and speak of Him whether we are sitting in our homes, walking on the road, lying down, or rising up (Deut 6:7). And there is obviously nothing wrong with public prayer, as God actually commands it (1 Tim 2:1-8). But the hypocritical Pharisees who Jesus exposed didn’t pray out of a reverence for God. Prayers were designed by God to be an act of worship, and the act that gives praise to God. The Pharisees engaged in an act that pretended to give glory to God in order to receive glory from men. Their prayers were performances. Thus, Jesus says about their prayers, “Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full” (Matt 6:1). In other words, all the hypocrites will enjoy is the fleeting praise of men. God will turn away from the prayers of a hypocrite because they are an abomination to Him.
I’ve often joked that people frequently use the line, “I’ll be praying for you” as a way to end a conversation that they don’t want to be in. There is, however, some truth to this joke: people often employ prayer to disguise another reality. In other words, it is not uncommon for someone to pray publicly for something that they honestly don’t care about and, in their hearts, don’t really care to ask God about.
I know this not because I can read people’s hearts, but because Christ Himself in Matthew 6 exposed this reality about people. One way to know that your prayers are marked by hypocrisy is if the manner and content of your prayers in public are never repeated genuinely in private before God. A prayer life that is pleasing to God, as Christ instructs, has a private element to it: “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (Matt 6:6). Hypocrites don’t have a vibrant private prayer life because they have no real relationship with God such that they would actually want to pray to Him when He is the only one in the audience.
As Christians, we must be careful to employ prayer for one purpose and one purpose only—to speak to God out of a worshipful love for Him. We must be wary of ever using prayer for the sake of gaining information from others for the sake of gossip. We must be cautious of using prayer as a means to impress people and make them think highly of our own outward spirituality. To have integrity in prayer means to pray for no other purpose than to truly talk to God, either for Him to move His hand upon a request we are making or to praise Him for things that He has done or is doing. When such motive is absent, prayers become hypocritical. And when they become hypocritical, they are better off not spoken, because God will not listen to them.
Where Hypocrisy is Present, Intake of the Word of God is Absent
Every Christian is called to regularly take in the Word of God. Along with prayer, reading Scripture is the most vital discipline for the Christian. A Christian without the Word of God is as dangerously famished as an infant without milk. For this reason, Peter instructs Christians in 1 Peter 2:2: “like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.” It is only when one continually receives the Word of God into his heart and mind that he will actually grow toward maturity and completion in Christ (Col 1:28).
This instruction is true for both laymen and leaders. Concerning the latter, Paul reminds Timothy that a pastor is to be “constantly nourished in the words of the faith and of sound doctrine” in order to be a good servant of Christ Jesus (1 Tim 4:6) and later reminds Timothy himself that it was the Scriptures that are “able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15). However, just because one reads or hears the Word of God regularly—either through his own personal Bible reading times or through listening to sermons preached—does not necessarily mean that he is truly receiving it as God intended. Thus, before Peter instructs Christians to long for the Scriptures in 1 Peter 2:2, he gives the condition by which a person must do so in verse 2:1: “Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” In order for one to truly receive the Word of God in the manner that God intended, one must first put off hypocrisy. Thus, where hypocrisy is present, the true intake of the Word of God is not. A hypocrite, in other words, can read and hear the Word but he cannot truly receive it.
As a young Christian, I had been encouraged by several older Christians to regularly have what is commonly referred to in Christian circles as a “quiet time.” It’s sometimes called “doing your devotions.” These are colloquial terms that refer to the daily reading of Scripture. For this reason, many Christians will share about how consistent they are in daily reading their Bibles when asked about how they are doing spiritually. For the record, there is nothing wrong with Christians implementing quiet times into their lives. It is indeed a very helpful spiritual discipline. But it must be remembered that the New Testament doesn’t command us to physically and privately read our English Bibles everyday (though again, such a practice can be helpful). What it does command us is to hear the Word and do it effectually. To read the Word regularly without actually obeying it—or making any sustained effort to do so—is pointless. The man who does this is deluded (James 1:22). More than that, he is a hypocrite. Unfortunately, such people exist in the church. There are professing Christians whom I have heard boast about how consistently they read and study their Bibles whose lives are completely antithetical to the Scriptures and yet make excuses when their disobedience and hypocrisy is confronted. Their lives remain stunted, showing very few—if any—signs of true growth. And the reason? Because for all the reading and hearing and studying of the Word that they claim to do, they never truly received it, as they had failed to put aside their hypocrisy. How vital, then, it is for us to exhibit integrity in our lives and motives whenever we approach the Word of God!