This Week's Focus Passage


Focus Passage: Matthew 23:13-36

‘Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!’

Jesus Christ, in this somber chapter out of Matthew’s account, denounces the scribes and Pharisees no less than seven times as hypocrites. It is amazingly apparent that persons fitting the character and description of hypocrite, are wonderfully abominated by our Lord and Savior. It should cause us to inquire, ‘Am I a hypocrite?’ ‘just what is a hypocrite?’ ‘who was the first hypocrite?’ ‘who will be the last?’

The Oxford Universal Dictionary grants us the following definition of hypocrisy in rather clear and pointed; unambiguous language:

It is ‘to play a part; to pretend. The assuming of a false appearance of virtue or goodness, with dissimulation of real character of inclinations, especially in respect of religious life or belief; hence, dissimulation, pretence, sham.’ And a hypocrite is defined as, ‘one who pretends to be other and better than he is; hence, dissembler, pretender.’

Vine informs us that hypocrite—HUPOKRITES—‘primarily denotes one who answers; then, a stage-actor; it was a custom for Greek and Roman actors to speak in large masks with mechanical devices for augmenting the force of the voice; hence the word became used metaphorically of a dissembler, a hypocrite. It is found only in the Synoptists, and always used by the Lord.’

This fact, that in the Scriptures it is a term that is employed by no one other that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, should immediately raise warning flags on all sides. This should, at the very least, cause us to be most fearful of ever making use of the term ourselves. It is God alone who can see into another’s heart, and not we ourselves. According to the Word of God, we do not even know our own hearts, much less the heart of someone else. There are likely many hypocrites that do not even know that they are hypocrites; they are either among the self-deceived, or those deceived by Satan. But in either case, it has not been given to us to determine certainly; we don’t know the root of the matter; we see only the leaves and the fruit.

Socrates is alleged to have said something powerfully related to this very matter, and he really ‘hit the nail on the head,’ when he asserted ‘The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be.’ These words of the classical Greek philosopher point us inevitably to what may be his most important teaching, that we know ourselves. Referring to the inscription, ‘know thyself’ inscribed on the Delphic oracle a few generations before his time, Socrates said this, ‘I am not yet able, as the Delphic inscription has it, to know myself; so it seems to me ridiculous, when I do not yet know that, to investigate irrelevant things.’ Well may we apply that to any pretext of ‘investigating’ other’s hearts. Nevertheless, may God give us grace to search our own hearts, and to always be crying, with David, unto God to ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart: Try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me.’ As we should be examining ourselves, rather than others, let us be reminded of what a binding sin hypocrisy is; it can, and does, envelope the person that would be so intoxicated with it. The poet, George Gordon Byron (Lord Byron), well described the binding nature of this sin when he asserted that,

‘Hypocrisy is the most difficult and nerve-racking vice that any man can pursue; it needs an unceasing vigilance and a rare detachment of spirit. It cannot, like adultery or gluttony, be practiced at spare moments; it is a whole-time job.’

We must recognize, not only the nature of hypocrisy; its binding power, but also its great prevalence in natural man. And along with all that constitutes remaining sin, that which Paul refers to as ‘the law of sin which is in my members,’ is this Adamic vice of seeking to make fig-leaves to cover our real selves. This condition is so natural that it is virtually assumed in politics, and among politicians; so much so that the erstwhile presidential candidate, Adlai Stevenson once said, ‘A hypocrite is the kind of politician who would cut down a redwood tree, then mount the stump and make a speech for conservation.’ Abraham Lincoln spoke of hypocrisy in the terms of a man who could murder his parents and then plead for mercy on the basis of his being an orphan. These are humorous anecdotes for us, but the issue is of greatest solemnity. We are reminded of that man arriving at the entrance to the Celestial city in Bunyan’s wonderful Pilgrim’s Progress. This poor deluded soul whom he has named Ignorance—and such he surely was—came up to the gate of the city and knocked for entrance, but he had no certificate. The King of the City thus told the Shining Ones that had conducted Christian and Hopeful into the City to ‘bind him hand and foot, and have him away.’ Bunyan undoubtedly had Matthew 7:21-23 in his mind’s eye. Hypocrisy is great vanity!

Hypocrisy is the opposite of real sincerity. Charles Spurgeon has said that ‘sincerity makes the very least person to be of more value than the most talented hypocrite.’ Benjamin Franklin recognized, ‘How many observe Christ’s birthday! How few His precepts! O ‘tis easier to keep holidays than commandments.’ Lewis Carroll enigmatically, yet cleverly, wrote, ‘Be what you would seem to be—or, if you’d like it put more simply—never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.’—Alice in Wonderland. Let none of us be the last hypocrite. May we say to ourselves, ‘Whoa unto you,’ and cry with our coffee mug, ‘Lord, let me be the person my dog thinks I am!’

David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church


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