Q: #358. What is a hypocrite according to the Bible?
By: Steve Shirley
A: The word "hypocrite" comes from the Greek word "hypokrisis" which basically was the word used for an "actor." The actor pretended to be someone he was not, and would sometimes wear a mask, to cover his real identity. This is a picture of what our word "hypocrite" means today. Webster's Dictionary gives this definition of hypocrisy: "a feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not."
"Hypocrisy," or a form of that word, is used 40 times in the Bible (KJV). Jesus had more to say on this sin than anyone else in the Bible, and the target of His rebukes were most often the Pharisees. His words to them, and other religious leaders, give us His definition of a hypocrite. He accused them of:
Doing acts of righteousness (Mt 6:1-4), praying (Mt 6:5-6), and fasting
with gloomy faces (Mt 6:16-18) so as to be seen by men
Judging the sins of others when they were guilty of committing the same sins (Mt 7:1-6)
Honoring God with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him (Mt 15:7-8)
Not practicing what they preached (Mt 23:3)
Looking good on the outside, but being impure on the inside (Mt 23:25-28)
Self-righteousness, claiming they were better than their ancestors who killed the Old Testament prophets (Mt 23:29-36)
Placing the needs of an animal before the needs of a human (Lk 13:10-17)
Jesus also said that those who practice this sin will: "be revealed and known" (Lk 12:1-3), "receive greater condemnation" (Mt 23:14), and be sent to Hell (Mt 24:51).
We also have several examples of this sin being committed in the Bible. Peter (a Jew) had been shown in a vision from God that Gentiles were a part of God's New Covenant (Acts 10), and had seen the Holy Spirit poured out on the Gentiles (Acts 10:44-48). Jew and Gentile Christians were now one in Christ. He shared this news with other Jews in Jerusalem (Acts 11:1-18), and before the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:6-11). After this, we read that Peter arrived in Antioch and was regularly eating with Gentile Christians. However, when some fellow Jewish friends of James came along, he withdrew from the Gentiles because he was afraid of what they would say about his eating with them (Gal 2:11-13). (Jews had previously been forbidden from eating with Gentiles: see Mt 9:11, Acts 11:3.) By taking this action, Peter was not practicing the things he had been preaching about Jew and Gentile Christians being one and equal in Christ. He was placing Jewish believers above Gentile believers. Therefore, Paul rebuked him for his hypocritical actions (Gal 2:14-21).
David gives us another example. In (2 Sam 11), David had coveted another man's wife, committed adultery with her, had her husband killed, and then married her. Shortly afterwards, in (2 Sam 12:1-15), Nathan the prophet confronted David about his sin in a parable that paralleled what he had done. David failed to recognize himself in the parable, and burned with anger about a man who would do such a thing, saying he should make restitution and deserved to die. When Nathan revealed to David that he was the sinner in the parable, he recognized his guilt and hypocrisy and repented saying, "I have sinned against the Lord."
Ananias and Sapphira were killed by God for practicing a form of this sin (see: Acts 5:1-10).
It has been my experience that the "hypocrisy" of Christians is one of two primary reasons (the other being "churches are all out to get my money") why non-Christians want nothing to do with going to church. They see Christians and churches condemning different sins, yet living a life of sin themselves. They are not totally wrong on this charge either.... We divorce at the same rate as non-Christians. We look at porn, drink, smoke, fornicate, live together with the opposite sex unmarried, commit adultery, sue each other, and more... We are commanded in the Bible not to be a part of this world (James 1:27)(Rom 12:2)(James 4:4)(1 Jn 2:15-17), but in many cases we are no different from those who are a part of it.
As Christians, we MUST be different! We must avoid this sin (1 Pet 2:1)(Lk 12:1).We must work to make our lives match up with our words. We must live our lives in a way that the "world" will see something different in us, and want what we have. We must be "salt and light" (Mt 5:13-16). We must stand out in our love (Mt 19:19)(Jn 13:34-35)(1 Jn 3:23), and love without "hypocrisy" (Rom 12:9). We must forgive (Mt 18:20-21) (Lk 17:3-4)(Eph 4:31-32). We must be meek (Eph 4:2)(Col 3:12)(1 Tim 6:11)(2 Tim 2:25) (Titus 3:2). And, so much more. In short, we must become more and more like Jesus (Eph 4:13,15)(Phil 3:12-14)(2 Cor 3:17-18)(Rom 8:29).
In closing, let me say something to any non-Christian who might be reading this. You are right, many Christians are hypocrites. But, not ALL Christians are hypocrites. It is not fair to paint ALL Christians as the same with one broad brush (just as it would not be fair for Christians to say all non-Christians are atheists). We Christians are sinners, and you are a sinner too. However, we are forgiven of our sins because we have turned to Jesus Christ to pay the debt for our sins. Yes, we do fall at times, and when we do, we need to confess our sins, and repent. You should not let our failures keep you from turning to Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. JESUS set the standard for perfection. He was sinless and lived a life with no hypocrisy. Look at Jesus, give your life to Him (here), join a church, and then work to change what you see as wrong. However, I am guessing you are going to find that you are no better than the rest of us.