The Sermon on the Mount: Hypocrisy
English gets its word “hypocrite” from the Greek language. Originally in the Greek, the word meant playing a part on stage, what now call an actor in English. Today “hypocrite” means pretending to be something that you are not.
The Lazy Hypocrite: Some people act the part of the hypocrite because their heart is no in the things that they must do. They go along with you for politeness sake, but they would rather be doing something else. These are the dear Aunt Betsy’s of the world who tell you how cute your children are while thinking “Why can’t they keep those little hoodlums under control?” Solomon tells of the miser who invites you over to a meal, but wishes in his heart that you wouldn’t eat so much (Proverbs 23:6-8).
James warns Christians about praying to God for something while knowing in our hearts we won’t receive it (James 1:6-8). It is hypocrisy because we are saying one thing while thinking the opposite.
The Lying Hypocrite: There are people who purposely set out to deceive others. “He who hates, disguises it with his lips, and lays up deceit within himself; when he speaks kindly, do not believe him, for there are seven abominations in his heart; though his hatred is covered by deceit, his wickedness will be revealed before the assembly” (Proverbs 26:24-26). In order to profit from their sins, a wicked person must disguise his intent from his victims. The con man doesn’t announce that he is seeking to steal your money; he talks sweetly and robs you while you are distracted.
The Jews illustrate this type of hypocrisy in their various attempts to entrap Jesus (Matthew 22:15-22). They pretended to seek answers to questions while looking to pounce on Jesus for giving bad answers. Judas Iscariot is an infamous hypocrite. “Then one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, who would betray Him, said, "Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?" This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it” (John 12:4-6).
The Blind Hypocrite: Finally, there are hypocrites who deceive themselves. In Matthew 23, Jesus takes the Jews to task for claiming to live righteously but lived sinfully. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, 'If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.' Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers' guilt. Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, "that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar” (Matthew 23:29-35).
The Jews thought they were serving God and following His will the whole time they acted in direct opposition to God. But they didn’t corner the market on religious hypocrisy. “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth” (I Timothy 4:1-3).
It is to this last group, the religious hypocrites, whom Jesus addresses in our reading.
Acts of Kindness (Matthew 6:1-4)
Consider the act of doing good to other people. We should strive to help our fellow man (Galatians 6:10), but what is our motivation? Do we preform good deeds to do good or as a means of winning the praise of others? How often do we tell others about what we have done, hoping for a word of praise and a pat on the back? Try this little experiment this week: do something good for another and then tell no one (Galatians 1:10; I Thessalonians 2:4). The next time we have people over for dinner, consider Luke 14:12-14. Ask yourself why did you invite these people to your home. Have you ever had the truly poor over to your home? I sure the opportunity has arisen, the Lord knows there are many who are poor. In you haven’t, why not? (Matthew 25:34-40).
Acts of Worship (Matthew 6:5-13)
When praying we should do so privately. It is not that some prayers are not offered up in prayer, but there is a problem in motivation when the only time we pray is when others see us. We may not stand on the street corners, but do we use long flowery phrases in our public prayers and are direct and pointed in our private prayers? If we run out of things to say in our public prayers, do we find ourselves repeating things we have said to reach what we think is an appropriate length of prayer?
Jesus gave us an example of an appropriate prayer. It was not meant to be uttered word-for-word; doing so would be hypocrisy – saying words without your heart behind them. It was given as example of what a good prayer is like. It is short and to the point. In its few words it covers a broad spectrum. It gives praise to God, it acknowledges His sovereignty, it asks for God’s aid, and it acknowledges our weakness and asks for forgiveness. While our prayers will not be worded in the same manner, they must be about things that we mean.
Acts of Mercy (Matthew 6:14-15)
It is easy to ask for mercy, but too many are willing to give same treatment that they want to other people (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13). Jesus warns that God will not treat us any better that we treat our fellow man (James 2:13; Matthew 18:21-35).
Acts of Sorrow (Matthew 6:16-18)
Hypocrites even manage to turn times of misery into an opportunity to win praises from men. Fasting is a way for men to center their attention on God, particularly during times of grief (Isaiah 58:3-9; I Corinthians 7:5). But fasting has been used by men as a way to garner sympathy from others. Jesus doesn’t discourage fasting, but he tells us not to make a spectacle of our grief. When fasting is done for the right reason and with the right attitude, it can draw us closer to God.