Where Hypocrisy is Present, True teaching of the Word of God is Absent
There is no more vital and pivotal ministry in the church than the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. The importance of biblical instruction cannot be overemphasized. It was when the teaching of the Word was absent that Israel began to drift away into idolatry and eventually fall into captivity. It was with the teaching of the Word by Ezra that God’s people were reformed and rebuilt. It was through the proclamation of Christ and the teaching of His Word that the early church grew. And it is through the faithful preaching and teaching of God’s Word by those whom He has gifted to preach and teach that the church continues to grow today.
However, not everyone who claims to be a teacher of God’s Word is worthy to be listened to or followed. In the visible church, mixed with—and often, at first glance, indistinguishable from—the shepherds are wolves. Alongside true teachers of the Word exist false teachers who pretend to teach the Word. What characterizes these teachers? No surprise, false teachers can be identified by their hypocrisy. Paul warned Timothy about these teachers and instructed Timothy to silence them in Ephesus.
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, saying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth.1 Tim 4:1-3
How is it that people in the visible church will fall away from the faith? By paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons. And who is responsible for teaching such things? False teachers—liars, as Paul calls them. And by what are these false teachers characterized? Hypocrisy. False teachers, in other words, will deceive others into falling away from the faith by the means of their own hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is as dangerous as it is detestable. It is detestable because God hates it; it is dangerous because of the influence it can have on otherwise innocent people. Thus, where hypocrisy is present, the true teaching of the Word of God is compromised.
For the record, those who minister as preachers and teachers will not be perfect in this lifetime, nor should we expect them to be. But true ministers of the Word are also characterized by integrity. God designed for His Word to be taught by people, and such people are marked by integrity. When we evaluate a preacher and teacher, it is not only important to discern sound doctrine from heretical doctrine; it is equally important to discern integrity from hypocrisy regarding the character of the Bible teacher.
This recognition of a teacher’s character is vital because a hypocrite—no matter how theologically astute or conservative he may be—will inevitably lead those under him into error, deception, and stumbling. It is for this reason that the author of Hebrews exhorts Christians to consider the outcome of the lives of those who speak the Word of God (Heb 13:7). In order for the man of God to truly teach the Word of God the way God designed for His Word to be instructed, his character, though not perfect, must be free from hypocrisy. It is for this reason that the first moral qualification for elders is that he be “above reproach” (1 Tim 3:2), for when there is hypocrisy in the teacher, there is deception in his teaching. And when there is deception in the teaching, there is potential for people to be led astray. No matter how many degrees a man earns from renowned Bible seminaries and institutions, he will not be able to adequately teach people God’s Word in a way that leads them to completeness in Christ if his character is marred by hypocrisy.
Where Hypocrisy is Present, Godly Ministry and Service is Absent
All Christians are called to fulfill their ministry to the church and serve the Lord. It should never be the case where eighty percent of the work in the church is carried out by twenty percent of the people. Pastors and teachers are not responsible to carry the entire ministry of the church on their shoulders; rather, they are to equip all the saints to do the work of ministry (Eph 4:12). Each believer—whether he is a vocational leader or a layman—has been entrusted by God with a spiritual gift and is responsible to employ this gift for the glory of God (1 Pet 4:10-11) and the edification of the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:7, 14:12; Eph 4:13-16).
However, as with all other duties in Christian living, ministering and serving in the church must also be done in the right manner. Just because one is serving or ministering in the church does not automatically mean that God is pleased with what he is doing. It is not only the action of serving that matters, but also the character behind the service. And as with all other Christian duties, ministry and service will only be pleasing to God when it is free from hypocrisy. Jesus warns against hypocritical serving and ministry in Matthew 6:2-4:
So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
Giving to the poor in this passage represents a broader category of good deeds including humanitarian service and other noble things that we do for others. This could be informal deeds that we do for others, such as helping an elderly lady cross the street, or formal ministries that we do in the church. How, then, are we supposed to engage in ministry and good deeds? Christ is clear: we are to serve in a way that is not like the hypocrites. Christ condemned the Pharisees, not for the act of giving to the poor, but for how they purposefully drew attention to themselves in order to gain the honor and esteem of men. What was meant to be a deed done for others (giving to the poor) was motivated by a desire for self-glory (that they may be honored by men). The Pharisees’ external deeds were incompatible with their internal desires; they were hypocrites. Christ says that, because of this, “they have their reward in full.” In other words, they would not be rewarded by God, as God is not pleased with their deeds. For where hypocrisy is present, godly ministry and service is absent.
In other words, it’s not just about what you do but also why you do it. Now you may say, “I can’t remember the last time I actually took out a brass trumpet and blew it after I did something good for someone.” But before you let yourself off the hook, let me ask you, When was the last time you created a Facebook post about something good that you did, hoping that you’d get your fifty “likes” and comments from others saying what a wonderful person you are? Let me ask you, When was the last time you told people you were “tired,” not because you really were tired, but because you wanted them to ask you why it is that you were tired…so that you could have an opportunity tell them all of the good deeds that you’ve been doing? Are you someone who craves attention and keeps track of what you do in order to put it on public display? If so, you are ministering as a hypocrite would, and God Himself will withhold rewards from you.
We live in a culture that is obsessed with displaying our deeds and publicizing our piety, so serving with integrity will be like swimming upstream. Our culture is obsessed with resumés that embellish our credentials, social media that displays our deeds, and titles that communicate our accomplishments. As Christians, we must swim against that current, no matter how difficult it is. For once we begin to do what we do for publicity and honor, we have fallen into hypocrisy.
Where Hypocrisy is Present, Proper Confrontation of Sin is Absent
Confrontation of sin is absolutely vital in the church. Where there is no confrontation, sin in the body will not be dealt with as God intends. Contrary to how some have twisted Scripture, the Bible does indeed say to judge and to do so righteously (John 7:24). As Christians, we are called to confront the sins of one another (Matt 18:15) and deal with them accordingly. However, there is a proper way to confront sin, and there is an improper way. The proper way is marked by humility; the improper, by hypocrisy. Regarding confrontation of sin amongst believers, Christ instructs his disciples:
Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.Matt 7:3-5
Hypocrites, according to Jesus, are not only experts in tooting their horn when doing good deeds, but also in pointing out others’ sinful deeds. Confrontation of sin becomes improper and inappropriate when the confronter points out the speck in the eyes of the other while failing to first take out the log in his own eye. While confrontation of others’ sins is warranted in the church, self-confrontation is a priority. When the latter is not practiced, hypocrisy will be exhibited.
For the record, Jesus is not commanding us to abstain from confronting sin. Rather, He instructs us to confront sin properly and in a godly manner. It is important for Christians, when considering how to confront the sins of another, to first ask if they are in the proper position to confront the sin.
During my years as a school teacher, I can recall several instances when a fellow colleague would take it upon himself or herself to admonish me for a particular issue—whether it was related to my teaching style, room upkeep, classroom management, or others. Over time, I learned to ignore them. It wasn’t out of arrogance; it was due to the realization that the things they were admonishing me about were issues about which they themselves were being admonished by higher administration. I would scratch my head at why colleagues would go out of their way to help someone in an area in which they themselves were deficient. To this day, I still wonder why they walked into my room that day. At the same time, it doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that the people who are often the most critical of others are also the people whose lives are a mess. How unfitting it is for you to try to take out the speck from your brother’s eye when you have a forest in yours! To confront sin hypocritically is to confront sin unbiblically.
Where Hypocrisy is Present, True Humility is Absent
There is no question that humility before God and others is absolutely vital to Christian character. God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6; 1 Pet 5:5). God Himself says that His eyes, though they see all of His creation, look especially upon those who humble themselves before Him (Isa 66:2). However, humility can only be truly exhibited when hypocrisy is absent. Otherwise, whatever act of humility done will be disregarded by God. Christ shows us this in Matthew 6:16: “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.”
Back in biblical times, fasting was an act that was meant to display humility. Ezra the scribe, in his journey from Babylon to Jerusalem, proclaimed a fast at the river of Ahava amongst all the Jews with whom he was traveling “that we might humble ourselves before our God to seek from Him a safe journey for us, our little ones, and all our possessions” (Ezra 8:21). But, according to Christ’s words, acts associated with humility are only regarded favorably by God when they are done in a way that is distinct from how the hypocrites conduct themselves. When the hypocritical Pharisees fasted they would purposefully make themselves look ugly and dirty and disheveled, wear ragged clothes, and even dump ash on themselves. They wanted to look gloomy in order for people to think that they were pious. Though they did acts that were often associated with humility, they themselves were not considered humble by God because of their hypocrisy. Again, there was an incongruity between what they were presenting to people and the true ambition behind their actions. It was the presence of their hypocrisy that revealed the total absence of actual humility.
It must be noted that acts of self-deprecation often associated with humility can be just as prideful as self-promotion, when done out of the ambition to draw attention. While we ought to be honest about our sins and shortcomings to one another (James 5:16), we have to be careful not to do so with a motivation to earn the praise of others. If you tell others how bad you are because you want them to tell you how good you are, then you obviously don’t think you’re that bad! Often times, those who have a habit of publicly putting themselves down are also those who are hungry for attention and praise. Such self-deprecation is not humility. It is hypocrisy—pretending to hate your sin while in reality being in love with attention. A truly humble person doesn’t seek to draw attention to himself, either by self-promotion or self-deprecation, because he desires God to be the sole recipient of people’s praise (Matt 5:16).
Where Hypocrisy is Present, True Love is Absent
Without love, one cannot truly claim to be of God. Those who are born of God will love (1 John 4:7), for God is love (1 John 4:8). And yet love divorced from integrity is not the kind of love that God commands from His children. In Romans 12:9, Paul commands Christians: “let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.” Love must be free from ulterior motives. Love must be free from hidden agendas. Acts that are associated with love are not love if accompanied by the wrong motivation. To say that you love someone because of the attention, affection, appreciation or adulation that you receive from them is not love; it is lust, even if it is non-sexual. This is why hypocrisy is so dangerous; its presence indicates that whatever acts of love we claim to do are not true love. And when we are not truly loving, we are not behaving in a manner consistent with those born of God.
Love also must be free from empty words and free from inconsistency between words and actions, or actions and motives. The apostle John explains this further in 1 John 3:16-18:
We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abides him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.
Genuine love needs no verbal defense. If you truly love another person in the way that Christ loved us, you would not have to say things like, “You know that I did this because I love you.” There are, for instance, a number of people in my life who have never actually verbalized the words “I love you” to me. And yet, without a shadow of a doubt, I can affirm that they are the ones that love me and my family the most. Why? Because it is during those times when we were in greatest need that they were there to support us, carry our burdens, and meet those needs while sacrificing their own. Love is not something that is carried out primarily by tongue, but by deed. Love is proven not by the verbal statement “I love you,” but by the act of self-sacrifice for the welfare of another. When such actions are absent, John’s rhetorical question is, “How does the love of God abide in him?” In other words, where hypocrisy is present, the love of God is absent.
Where Hypocrisy is Present, Acceptable Worship is Absent
Humans were created to worship God. It is the first commandment for a reason (Exod 20:1-6). A Christian is someone who has turned away from false worship and worships the true and only living God (1 Thess 1:9). The one in whom worship of God is absent is the one in whom the Christian faith is absent. And yet, just because one engages in traditional acts associated with worship—be it liturgical or musical—does not mean that his worship is acceptable or pleasing to God. Christ describes such vain worship when exposing the Pharisees in Mark 7:6-7:
Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.”
What is it that made the worship of the Pharisees and religious leaders vain? It wasn’t because they weren’t singing long enough. It wasn’t because they didn’t wear the right ceremonial attire. It wasn’t because they messed up on their recitations. It wasn’t because their theological knowledge was incorrect. It was because they were hypocrites. For where hypocrisy is present, acceptable and substantial worship is absent. The two are mutually exclusive.
Before explaining this further, it must be noted that as Christians we will never be perfect—either in action, motive, will, or desire. If we expect ourselves to be perfect before we attend a Sunday worship service, then we’ll never be able to go. Again, perfection and integrity are not synonymous. What Christ is condemning here in the Pharisees is a blatant disconnect between what they say and where their heart truly is at. All the things done that are typically associated with worship—from praying to singing to reading Scripture to whatever else—are utter vanity when performed by a person whose heart is far from God.
Where Hypocrisy is Present, Christian Living is Absent
What then does a person who exhibits deep, unrepentant hypocrisy have left? The Scriptures are clear about what he lacks. He is void of heavenly wisdom, true humility, and true love, which makes him void of Christian character. He is without acceptable worship, prayer, and the true intake of God’s Word, making him void of Christian disciplines. He is void of true ministry and proper confrontation of sin, making Him void of Christian responsibilities. Where hypocrisy is present, therefore, Christian living is absent. And where Christian living is absent, Christianity is absent. Hypocrisy, then, is no small issue. To the life of a professing Christian, it is a destructive wild fire that rips through every aspect of a person’s life. Therefore, every Christian must be aware of its presence in his or her life and squelch it immediately—however small it may be at the time. Otherwise, if left unchecked, it will eventually grow and destroy every aspect of the Christian’s life.