"Such is the destiny of all who forget God, so perishes the hope of the godless." (Job 8:13)
Being and living an honest Christian life should just be a natural endeavor. We, who have been filled with the Holy Spirit, know the Scriptures should have no problem with honest living, yet we do. The entire human race is hypocritical at one time or another, somehow this is our nature, as demonstrated by our history, actions, interpersonal relationships, divorce court and testimony by behavioral scientists. There is perhaps not a person on this planet who has not experienced hypocrisy at one time or another, either being hurt from its destructive force, or by spreading it. Usually it is both. And we Christian seem not to be immune from this infection.
For the Christian, the greatest testimony would be our fallen nature, which strives to do evil, while struggling with our new life in Christ. Since sin has encroached into all of creation; we should expect sins intrusion into our behaviors. This causes us to behave in one way, while desiring or even thinking we are acting in a total different manner. For example, I may walk up to someone to engage him or her in an encouraging conversation, but instead I say something of offense, maybe on purpose, even though that was not my intention. This is contradictory, and this is hypocrisy. I could be trying to be funny and using humor inappropriately, or accidentally let something slip out. The cause was that my guard was down, and what my mind was thinking and what my mouth was saying were not working together. This is hypocrisy. And the effect is the listener gets a mixed message. It may be intentional or it may be just the slip of the tongue; but to the hearer of the words, it is all the same; damaging, destructive, awful, addictive, and most of all, not Christian love.
What we have here are not excuses that we can claim as a defense, but causes that can, and must, be overcome by the mature Christian. We now have the knowledge of our histories and the science of our behaviors as warnings to be on our guard, especially as an ambassador of Christ! If not, what comes out of our behavior is a contradictory witness; we may desire to earnestly live the life of Christian maturity, but instead we drive people away from the Lord! What we end up doing is the opposite of Christian Living!
The word hypocrisy is from the Greek cultural stage performances of centuries ago, before the time of Christ. To the Greeks it meant an actor playing a part on a stage. So the actor, holding up a mask on a pole expressing an emotion of anger is one person who is distinct from the person he was playing, who may have been quite happy at the time.
The Biblical definition translates to the actor who was hiding more than emotion on a mask, but wickedness under the mask. The appearance of virtue may be what was portrayed, but godlessness is what was being accomplished: so was the charge of Christ to the Pharisees in Matthew 23. The Hebrew term means polluted, and refers to those who forget God, also it is subscribed mean wickedness, lawlessness, and impiety. And in the Old Testament hypocrisy is much more than just masking evil with good, it's godlessness which is a greater crime than just insincerity. It is living a life without God, and being contradictory towards Him.
Similarly, today we wear nice clothes to church, with big smiles on our faces, carrying our Bibles; then after church we go out for brunch, sit down at the table and talk about the sermon, and then stiff the waitress with a minuscule tip. Or it can be the mechanic with a fish on his sign charging for parts and services that he is not performing. Or it can be the committee assigned to do evangelism, yet never attempts or performs its function. These scenarios are hypocrisy, this is godlessness, they may seem like "so-what," but not to the non-Christian they are very harsh! And they are the fuel that keep people away from church!
The opposite of godlessness is godliness; this is the act of honoring God with our best. Then we live out our faith in obedience, with love and trust in Christ. When we are seen at brunch talking about the sermon, we need to realize that obviously the waitress and other patrons will hear us. At the same time we need to be considerate, even though the waitress might be having a bad day; then leave a big tip. The first scenario shows Christians are hypocrites, the waitress may realize her attitude and what Christ might be like with a good witness. We may think this is unimportant, after all its just a tip, but the smallest slip can inflict great harm.
In the second scenario the mechanic is misrepresenting values to a world who lacks them, but they do know them (Rom.1)! And they expect certain behaviors from those representing a higher order, such as Christianity. The third scenario may not inflict harm directly or even be noticed; however, the harm is even higher by being hypocritical to our Lord's call! Well actually every hypocritical action in the Lord's name is a slap in His face!
The reason the Pharisees were so despised throughout church history is due to the charge that Christ made. Jesus confronted the Pharisees directly with the accusation of godlessness. This charge was the worst thing a Hebrew person could receive. This is the reason that the Pharisees wanted so desperately to kill Christ. Jesus saw that the emperor wore no clothes! Just like when someone calls us a hypocrite and we get angry even though the charge may be true. The hypocrisy can come in many forms, it can be blatant, like the Pharisees, or subtle like the Christians not leaving a good enough tip, and the results are the same to those around us! Yet this focus of hatred Christians have had to the Pharisees, due to their hypocrisy has ironically become the norm of our Christian society! Even though we may not like it or even admit it!
Why do we do it?
So why do Christians make two completely contradictory actions? Why do we make excuses for our disobedience when we know in our hearts we are doing wrong? Psychologists call it "cognitive dissonance;" this is when a person harbors two completely different views while acting on one behavior and, at the same time, believing they are doing something quite different. This can be caused by stressful situations, being uncomfortable, and being unable to modify our beliefs to fit our situation. So we develop rationalizations by believing we are right in our actions because our beliefs are right, regardless of our actions.
For example, the Christians who did not leave a good enough tip after brunch will go home thinking how wonderful they were in having good conversation with their Christian friends and going to church, not realizing the harm that was inflicted at the restaurant to the non-Christians. I learned how impacting this seemingly small infraction can be. After my Bible study several years back we would all go to a local restaurant for coffee and pie. And it was always a struggle to get people to pay the correct amount, a lot of times I ended up paying over $15 for a slice of pie and tea. One day I overheard a conversation between the waitress. One of the waitresses who usually served us was complaining to another waitress how stingy Christians are. This really hurt me, after all we liked her and she was very friendly to us, and we seemed to enjoy each other's company. But what we were doing is occupying a large section of the restaurant, taking up their time, and purchasing very little (we had a lot of water only orders) and leaving a minuscule tip. No wonder she felt that way, now that I understand it from her perspective. After that conversation that I overheard, I spoke to the group about it the following meeting, we all agreed we will not increase our food intake but we will increase our tip giving. This waitress went from bad mouthing Christians to visiting our Church and my Bible study!
Another contradictory action is when committee members who had a three-hour meeting on evangelism and did nothing on their subject, yet go home feeling well accomplished that the meeting on evangelism was evangelism. Thus the opportunities and potential relationships never get formed and developed. The Christian businessman cheating his customers, so they go away swearing never to frequent a Christian business again, yet he rationalizes that he is doing it to support his family. And of course the gossip we talked about in the last two chapters.
The early church struggled with this and called it Gnosticism; we will discuss this later in another chapter. Do we try to keep our image intact only to Christians around us, and let our true nature slip to people at work or when we go shopping? The problem is most people, especially non-Christians, will see right through our hypocrisy, even though we may not see it or admit it!
The Root of Compliance
Hypocrisy is the biggest danger to those of us who have grown up in the church, who are so-called second generation Christians. If we grew up in a Christian home, attended church all of our lives, and even went to a Christian school, then we lived most of our lives in the Christian sub-culture. Now there's nothing wrong with that. The problem is we can get in the habit of playing the role of the Christian, and we do not take a deeper ownership of faith, thus resulting in mixed messages we portray to those around us. A way that we can apply what Jesus taught in Matthew 23 is to look at the word hypocrisy as it originally meant to Greek culture. Jesus warns us of the danger of pretending and going through the motions of being a Christian, without earnestly living a life as a Christian is meant to. We must realize the danger we portray by living a double life. If we are all friendly and loving at church, genuinely seeking after each other with encouragement and care, but on Mondays go to work with contempt and a condescending attitude with our coworkers, then what are we doing? What are we expecting people to think, when we live a double life, or a secret agent Christian? Are you putting on a performance or are you genuinely focused on the Lordship of Christ, so that it flows to those around you?
When you ask someone, would you like to be a Christian, what you are in fact saying is, would you like to be like me? So we must be careful in our daily actions, words, and deeds; about how we tell someone about the Lord. Remember Jesus is warning us about misleading people. What would you think if diplomats from the United States were going to foreign countries acting any way they pleased, and made up U.S. policy on a whim? Well, we would be outraged! Foreign countries would have a false impression of the United States and our government would have no control over its diplomatic core, or the polices it is trying to convey to the rest of the world. The same applies to us as ambassadors to Christ. How do you think the Lord feels when we are out in the world misrepresenting Him?
Don't ever believe that our performances are realities; people will see right through us. There are times when we have bad days, when we will make mistakes, after all we are human, and we cannot be perfect all the time. I do not believe our culture wants us to be perfect, but genuine. So when we make mistakes be up front about it, be willing to apologize, give in and go to the people you intentionally or unintentionally hurt and make up with them. Practicing forgiveness and acceptance are paramount, and go against the grain of our nature, but remember God calls us out of our nature to be transformed by Him.
© 1998, 2001, Rev. R.J. Krejcir, Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development www.churchleadership.org