We are familiar with the word hypocrite and the condemnation that comes with it. More than others, we know the harsh and critical words of Jesus: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! . . . You snakes! You brood of vipers!” (Matthew 23:13,33). Brutal words. They should strike our hearts as well as anyone who does “not practice what they preach” (23:3).
In recent days, the accusation of hypocrisy has been leveled at some Christians who have stumbled and fallen in their journey of faith. We can expect two reactions. First, the accusers want to proclaim that all Christians are essentially hypocrites. You see, they say, here’s just another example. The second reaction is from Christians who grow defensive and see the accusation as a threat.
But let’s explore the issue a bit. Christians stumble and fall. It’s a daily occurrence. Some fall in public while watched by non-Christians looking for an opportunity to discredit Christian morality and faith. Others fall in public, watched only by their fellow believers and friends. Still others fall privately, hidden from the eyes of others while the Lord’s eyes are fully on them. If every one of them is a hypocrite because they fail to live up to the demands of God’s law, then all Christians are indeed hypocrites.
But that’s not so! Hypocrisy is not stumbling. If I should fall and disgrace my Lord, my fellow believers, and the name Christian, I may have to endure the charge of hypocrisy. But then, by the grace of God, I will go into the corner, too embarrassed to raise my eyes to heaven, and plead, “Lord have mercy on me a sinner.”
The Christian message does not exclude the fallen. Christianity is a loving and comforting hand of forgiveness that lifts us up to do better. Repentance—turning away from sin and turning toward the Lord Jesus who offers that hand of forgiveness to penitent sinners—is a daily activity of Christian faith. Churches—true Christian churches—are full of sinners. Churches are not shrines where the good are on display.
What is hypocrisy then? Jesus says it is not doing what you preach. In our daily lives that means professing one thing and doing the opposite. “You hypocrite!” applies then to all who live and profess Christianity but hide a completely different life and profession.
Consider the public fall of David—murder, adultery, and cover-up. He was a hypocrite as long as he kept up the charade. Nathan exposed his hypocrisy and assured the penitent David of forgiveness. Like Nation, there are times when we must judge and call sin a sin. That approach, as Jesus outlined, is to win your brother or sister back to the Savior’s forgiving hand, not to puff out your chest in arrogant indignation (Matthew chapter 18).
Some will remain hypocrites—unexposed—because they are good at hiding their duplicity. We will not be able to identify them. No one can perceive the heart of another. We can only make assumptions on the basis of a person’s confession of words and deeds. Beyond that we have to wait for the behavior of hypocrites to give them away or wait even longer until the Lord reveals the truth at the end of time.
So maybe from time to time the behavior of Christians will be viewed as hypocrisy—perhaps even correctly. But perhaps those leveling the charge of hypocrisy should be a bit more careful. Jesus suggested that we ought not point out the speck in the eye of another and ignore the log in our own (Matthew 7:3). Imagined superior moral ground is a dangerous place from which to judge.
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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 102, Number 08
Issue: August 2015
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