The political discussion in recent months has put the word “hypocrisy” in the spotlight and most frequently used by people of opposing viewpoints to attack one another. To clarify, the simple definition of hypocrisy according to Merriam-Webster is “the behavior of people who do things that they tell other people not to do: behavior that does not agree with what someone claims to believe or feel.” Lest we come down too severely upon those in the political arena, Brennan Manning reminds us, “Hypocrisy is not the prerogative of people in high places. The most impoverished among us is capable of it. Hypocrisy is the natural expression of what is meanest in us all.”
Often persons find themselves easily attacking the shortcomings of another while embracing their own. Over the years I have squirmed at times talking about the excesses of another while engaging in excesses of my own – i.e. chowing down at the buffet tables in a popular smorgasbord. A truth we declare we believe is only our belief if we manifest it in the details of how we live life. Poet Mark Green wisely observes, “The self-righteous scream judgments against others to hide the noise of skeletons dancing in their own closets.”
During the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ, one of his harshest condemnations of hypocrisy is leveled against those of the religious establishment of that day. Seven times in Matthew 23 he calls the religious leaders “hypocrites.” Here we have one calling out hypocrisy that was fully qualified to do so because he was without sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). This was not the first time he used the word “hypocrisy.” His disciples even squirmed a bit earlier when he did, saying, "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?" (Matthew 15:12). The Greek word Jesus was using for hypocrisy means an actor, stage player, a dissembler, or a pretender. Jesus is saying in essence, “You are play acting. You say one thing but do another.” Jesus had said quoting Isaiah, “These people draw near to me with their mouth, and honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8). Religious hypocrisy was not new. Religious people often are inclined to say things that their lives do not validate. Napoleon Bonaparte noted in his day, “I am surrounded by priests who repeat incessantly that their kingdom is not of this world, and yet they lay hands on everything they can get.”
There is a story in the Old Testament that reveals the hypocrisy of King David. David is declared by God as a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). Yet he was a man who was susceptible to sin. The Bible honestly reports that Davis was an adulterer and a murderer (2 Samuel 11). He attempts a massive cover up that essentially is David being a hypocrite – trying to appear what he was not. God used a prophet, Nathan, to confront him (2 Samuel 12). Nathan tells a story of a rich man who stole a lamb from a poor man and used it to prepare a meal for a guest giving the impression it was one of his. David’s self-righteous reaction to the story was immediate, filled with anger, and severe (12:5-6). Nathan calls out his hypocritical reaction saying David was just as bad as the rich man in the story. Our natural tendency is to see the offense of another and overlook our own. Jesus asks, “Why do you see 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,’ when there is the log in your own 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” (Matthew 7:3-5). One person wisely notes, “The splinter in your eye [often becomes] the best magnifying-glass available.” David could see perfectly the wrong of another, while ignoring his own. However, since he was a man after God’s own heart, when confronted, he repented, and ceased the cover-up.
In the book by Kyle Idleman, “Not a Fan,” a distinction is made between someone who is a fan of Jesus versus a follower of Him. A fan is fickle – think of the fan that is only supportive of a winning sport team – while a follower is totally committed and loyal, no matter the cost. Fans are prone to hypocrisy. He concludes that many of the religious leaders of Jesus days were mere “fans” of the religious system. Idleman writes, “These religious types were the fans that Jesus seems to have the most trouble with. Fans who will walk into a restaurant and bow their heads to pray before a meal just in case someone is watching. Fans who won’t go to R-rated movies at the theater, but have a number of them saved on their DVR at home. Fans who may feed the hungry and help the needy, and then they make sure they work it into every conversation for the next two weeks. Fans who make sure people see them put in their offering at church, but they haven’t considered reaching out to their neighbor who lost a job and can’t pay the bills. Fans who like seeing other people fail because in their minds it makes them look better. Fans whose primary concern in raising their children is what other people think. Fans who are reading this and assuming I’m describing someone else. Fans who have worn the mask for so long they have fooled even themselves.”
Another word for a “fan” is often hypocrite. The late Adlai Stevenson II observed, “A hypocrite is the kind of politician who would cut down a redwood tree, then mount the stump and make a speech for conservation.” What do we say that we believe but fail to allow to alter our behavior? Please excuse me; I have something in my eye that needs removed!