The term “hypocrite” originally referred to an actor who pretended to be something he was not. In its original context, the word “hypocrite” was not a derogatory title; however, it evolved over time so that it came to be associated with dishonesty, a lack of genuineness, and contradictory behavior. It is this latter understanding of hypocrisy that the Bible utilizes.
As Christians, we are consistently instructed to eliminate hypocrisy. We are called to “love…without hypocrisy” (Romans 12:9), we are called to pursue the “wisdom from above” which lacks “hypocrisy” (James 3:17), and we are called to “rid [ourselves] of all…hypocrisy” (1 Peter 2:1). If the Bible is adamant that we eliminate hypocrisy, then we must become acquainted with the Bible’s definition of hypocrisy. Consider the following five indicators of a hypocrite according to Scripture.
First, the Bible indicates that you might be a hypocrite if the external exhibition of your faith glorifies yourself rather than God. Jesus called those who draw attention to themselves when they give (Matthew 6:2), pray (Matthew 6:5), and fast (Matthew 6:16) hypocrites. Additionally, He indicated that those who do such things for their own recognition have already been rewarded, insinuating that they will not receive the eternal reward. The expectation of God’s people is that their spiritual activities will be conducted for the sole purpose of bringing glory to God. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Whenever our spiritual activities are done for personal recognition, then we venture into the realm of hypocrisy.
Second, the Bible indicates that you might be a hypocrite if you hold others to a standard that you do not hold yourself. Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Matthew 7:1-2). He then called those who point out the sins of others without recognizing their own sins hypocrites (Matthew 7:3-5). Jesus’ point was that you must examine and correct your sin problem before you can start assisting other people with their sin problem. To ignore your sin and simultaneously point out those of others is hypocritical because you are holding others to a standard to which you refuse to hold yourself.
Third, the Bible indicates that you might be a hypocrite if your behavior is dependent on your environment. Paul said that Peter, Barnabas, and other Jewish Christians “played the hypocrite” in Antioch when they refused to dine with Gentile Christians after “certain men came from James” (Galatians 2:11-13). In other words, they stopped associating with the Gentile group when a Jewish group showed up. Their environment dictated their behavior. Paul would later warn against such conformity (Romans 12:2), and Peter would indicate that we as Christians are expected to be strange to the world (1 Peter 4:3-4). The point of both authors is that Christians are expected to not allow their environment to dictate their behavior. Anytime we adjust who we are, what we believe, or how we act to fit the expectations of our environment we enter into the realm of hypocrisy because we simultaneously stop pursuing the path of holiness.
Fourth, the Bible indicates that you might be a hypocrite if you pick and choose which of God’s commands you will obey. In Matthew 23:23-24 Jesus criticized the Scribes and Pharisees saying, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” In other words, the Scribes and Pharisees were willing to obey the “lighter” laws, the ones that were predicated on right behavior, but ignored the “weightier” laws, the ones that were predicated on a right heart. They were hypocrites because their obedience to God was selective at best. Whenever we blatantly ignore or rationalize our failure to keep one of God’s commands and/or expectations, we become hypocrites because we are practicing selective commitment to God rather than the complete commitment to God.
Fifth, the Bible indicates that you might be a hypocrite if your external actions exist to cover up an internal unrighteousness. This is why Jesus called the scribes and Pharisees “whitewashed tombs.” They appeared externally “righteous” but were internally “full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:25-28). In other words, their righteousness was just a mask that they wore to cover up their sin. As Christians, we enter the realm of hypocrisy when our faith is simply a mask, and your faith is simply a mask if your lifestyle on Monday through Saturday contradicts your profession on Sunday. We must remember that masks do not fool God because “no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13). In other words, God will always see past the masks, disguises, and fronts that we use to hide our true identity.
So, are you a Christian or are you a hypocrite? The two are mutually exclusive, and it is important that we know which we are because the hypocrite will face eternal punishment.
In Matthew 24:45-51 Jesus compared a faithful steward to an evil steward, noting that the difference between the two is their preparedness. In this parable, the evil steward failed to be prepared for the master’s return and, as a result, was caught behaving unethically and immorally. Jesus stated that the consequence of his actions would be that the Master “will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:51). The place where the hypocrites are said to be is the same place where the weeds, which represented all sinners and law-breakers, were sent in Matthew 13:42. It’s the same place where the garmentless attendee of the wedding feast was sent in Matthew 22:13. It’s the same place where the worthless one talent man was sent in Matthew 25:30. In other words, it’s the same place that is consistently juxtaposed with heaven. As a result, Scripture indicates that those guilty of hypocrisy will face eternal punishment in hell.
So, are you a Christian or a hypocrite? It’s an important question because we must “examine [ourselves], to see whether [we] are in the faith” so that we do not “fail…the test” (2 Corinthians 13:5).