I’m sure we’re all familiar with the term ‘Hypocrite’ and its meaning in today’s society. It is widely used to describe someone who pretends to be something which they are not, especially in order to deceive or gain respect or popularity. However, it is being used more and more to describe those who hold to Biblical truths against an ever-changing backdrop. Sadly, those who use the term to describe others are very often the ones who are more worthy of the title themselves.
So what is a hypocrite? Well, its origin goes back to early greek culture and meant ‘actor.’ Literally, it was a combination of two words – ‘under’ and ‘interpret’.
Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. (Matthew 23:25)
When Jesus was a boy, growing up in Nazareth, he would most certainly have been aware of a large theatre built in the nearby town of Sepphoris, which was only 6km from Nazareth. There, actors staged plays and wore masks to portray the different characters. At the end of each play, the actors would remove their masks to reveal their true identity. The idea of acting under a mask would therefore be very familiar to that culture and Jesus’ use of the word was very accurate in describing the Scribes and Pharisees who would hide behind a mask of respectability and yet be found to be something very different in reality. For Jesus to then accuse them of being ‘hypocrites’ was like saying to them that they were just actors, rather than the real thing.
We need to be very honest with ourselves and ask if we could also be accused by Jesus of being a hypocrite. The world may well, and often does, accuse us of hypocrisy, but all that matters is what God thinks of us. We need to ask ourselves the following questions:
1. Do we hold other Christians to a standard which we do not ourselves maintain?
2. Do we feel superior at times to a weak Christian, but keep hidden our own weaknesses?
3. Do we change our behaviour depending on what company we keep?
In the event that we can honestly answer ‘Yes’ to any of these questions, then we too can quite legitimately be accused by God of hypocrisy.
Perhaps it’s safer to hide behind a mask, as life is more comfortable, but it’s time to take off our mask and let God deal with cleansing the inside of the cup as well as the outside. Only then will we be living in accordance with God’s commands. Let the world continue to call us hypocrites. They are the ones who change their behaviour in line with what is perceived to be popular, but we must ensure we stay faithful to the God who never changes and, at the end, all hypocrites will be seen to be what they are and receive God’s righteous judgement.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)