But Hypocrites We’re Not

Actor's Mask held in hand, hypocrite

We get stronger by lifting others up. The words on my friend’s shirt caught my eye, and I mentioned it.

Yeh, John looked at it and said, “Really?”

My friend is not a hypocrite for wearing that shirt even if her “domestic encouragement” lapses — even if she’s not constantly lifting, as on mother eagle’s wings, her entire family up. I’m not a hypocrite when I join the meeting because I gave my word, even when when something better came along. And you’re not a hypocrite when you smile at me, I tell my sons, even if you don’t feel the love.

Fake it till you make it might be more right than you think.

Hypocrites Are We. Or Not.

Don’t get me wrong—there are hypocrites inside the church and there are hypocrites outside the church and the best argument for Christianity is Christians and the best argument against Christianity is Christians—hypocritical Christians. Jesus saved his most scathing words for hypocrites. See Matthew 23. (Extra credit if you can count how many woes Jesus pronounced on hypocrites.)

Like this woe, in Matthew 23: 25, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”

But this post isn’t to pronounce woes on hypocrites. It is to correct one misunderstanding about hypocrites. Because we might get confused and think we’re hypocrites when we’re not. And it’s hard to grow up and mature when we’re mixed up and confused.

So what exactly is this word “hypocrite”?

What is a Hypocrite?

The Greek word, hupokrites, from which comes our English word hypocrite means a play actor. In ancient Greece, hypocrites literally put on masks to play the various parts. A hupokrites is someone who pretends to be something that he is not. He plays the part.

Hypocrites profess to believe one thing but actually live a completely different way. For example, if you are a vegetarian spokesman who eats a burger every lunch, you are a hypocrite. If you are an opponent of alcohol and you drink a bottle every night or if you’re a force for family values who enjoys strip clubs on the weekend, you’re a hypocrite.

Those are blatant examples of pretenders whose aim is to look good and get applause. Hypocrites might be slaves to praise.

More Natural, More Hypocritical?

But too often Christians confuse hypocrisy. And whenever we do, it’s to our loss. We lose confidence, and we feel shame. Or, more dangerous still, we may feel emboldened to sin because it feels more natural, less hypocritical.

Here’s what I mean. In Galatians chapter 5, Paul wrote, For the flesh craves what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are opposed to each other, so that you do not do what you want.

It’s a duel till the death between the Spirit and the flesh.

Which means that when my friend wore the Lift Others Up shirt, even though as her husband teased, she didn’t always to live up at home, this was not hypocrisy. Rather, she was a fallen human living out the battle. She shrugged, I wear the shirt to remind me to live it out. When I sent birthday wishes to someone who annoyed me, this was not hypocrisy. It is the Spirit in me.

Now you try it. Fill in the blanks:

When I [pray, say kind words, or do acts of service] for [someone who hurts, annoys, disappoints me], this is not hypocrisy, it is love.

No doesn’t that feel good?

Hypocrisy Or Maturity?

Hypocrisy is not when we do one thing but feel another. That is not hypocrisy.

Hypocrites publicize one set of beliefs but live by a different set of beliefs. When you come to church but you don’t feel like it, that’s not hypocrisy. That’s faithfulness. When you do the right thing in your marriage even when you don’t feel in love, that’s fidelity. 

And I underscore this because I’ve heard this before, as a pastor, “Well, Pastor, I would be a hypocrite to stay in this marriage because I’m not in love anymore.” Or “I would be a hypocrite, Pastor, to give to the offering when I don’t feel like doing so.” God loves a cheerful giver, as you’ve heard me say before. Yes, He does, so keep on giving until you’re happy. 

Listen very carefully, doing what is right when you don’t feel like doing what is right is not hypocrisy, it’s maturity.

Kevin DeYoung, “The Lord’s Prayer: When You Pray

God wants his kids to grow up. So send the note to the annoying friend (he may already have sent one to you). Do the deed when you don’t feel like it. Pray for your enemies. Love on.

It’s the nature of life in a tent. We must fight our sinful flesh and selfish feelings (Romans 8:13) and even still, we will fall (Proverbs 24:16). This makes us strugglers and sometimes sufferers and only proves again that we’re sinners who daily need the Gospel to free and empower and forgive.

But it does not make us hypocrites.

So while we are in this tent, we groan under our burdens, because we do not wish to be unclothed but clothed, so that our mortality may be swallowed up by life.

2 Corinthians 5:4

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