Hypocrites are a particular breed of liars. They are by definition, insincere play-actors. The Greek word translated “hypocrite” refers to those who are on the stage playing a role. We use the word “hypocrite” as Jesus did, to refer to those who don’t practice what they preach. Sometimes, tragically, people will leave the church and give this as a reason for their departure: “There are hypocrites in that church!” It may be true that there are hypocrites in the church, but it is no reason for anyone to leave the Lord. Here are some things to remember about hypocrites:
There is hypocrisy (to varying degrees) in every walk of life. Someone who leaves the church on the principle that the church includes hypocrites may fail to be consistent and also isolate himself from all other arenas of life where there are hypocrites. As long as we live in a world ruled by the father of lies (John 8:44; 14:30), who hypocritically disguises himself as a messenger of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), then there will be hypocrisy in various arenas. In the June issue of The Atlantic, we find a discussion of various studies claiming to have shown the following:
- 38 percent of doctors (who seem to be telling us constantly to lose weight) are themselves overweight.
- The people who steal most from North American stores aren’t shoppers, but the stores’ employees.
- 60 percent of the professional ethicists interviewed said that eating red meat is “morally bad,” but only 27 percent said that they didn’t actually eat red meat.
- Professional ethicists who borrow library books are 50 percent more likely to lose or steal them.
Jesus condemned hypocrisy, and will judge it Himself. A famous example: “You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me’” (Matthew 15:7; cf. Isaiah 29:13). We must not claim insincerely to be followers of Christ. Not only will we be lost, but our negative influence may lead others to be lost as well. Remember that Jesus Himself will judge hypocrites (John 12:48).
The presence of hypocritical, unfaithful members of the Lord’s church does not excuse my own unfaithfulness to the church. Someone may leave the church because there are hypocrites in the church, without considering that there also will be many hypocrites in hell one day, along with all the other sinners who did not avail themselves of the blood of Christ. Neither you nor I need to be lost just because somebody else will be. Who can imagine spending eternity with all of the hypocrites who have ever lived?
Let us resolve to be Christians “through and through,” as James wrote: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (3:17, emp. added).