A hypocrite (Greek, HUPOKRITES) is a play-actor, a
pretender, one who outwardly goes through motions which are insincere.
Hypocrisy is a genuine problem that exists and often affects religious
people. Jesus warned of the consequences of hypocrisy and described its
symptoms to the Pharisees in His day. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees,
hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful
outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Even
so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of
hypocrisy and lawlessness" (Matt. 23:27-28).
The Pharisees were a sect of the Jewish hierarchy.
They made up the body of the religious leaders of that day. They went to the
daily temple prayers religiously, gave their tithes and offerings, were avid
students of the scriptures, kept the Sabbath day, and followed the
commandments and teachings of Moses to the letter. They had the appearance
of being very religious and upstanding Jews. Yet Jesus said that they were
"diseased" and rotten inside, full of hypocrisy and iniquity. He described
them as "whitewashed tombs," or "death covered with a coat of paint." "For I
say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the
scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven"
Indeed there are hypocrites in the church, but maybe
not as many as some think. From my experience, most people who attend a
Bible preaching church, do so because they are sincerely trying to draw
closer to God. However, there's another problem the church contends with
that's every bit as bad, if not worse than hypocrisy. It's called
judgmentalism. It's a critical "witch hunt" attitude to find fault and blame
people as hypocrites.
Many sincere people, though imperfect and immature,
have been falsely judged as hypocrites. To illustrate this, several years
ago in the Midwest, an unknown gentleman began attending a small church on a
frequent basis. He would always be seen sitting conspicuously in the rear
with his hands firmly tucked in his pockets. As the months passed, people
began to take note that he seemed rather unfriendly and peculiar. He
declined from shaking anyone's hands, never put anything in the offering
plate, and didn't participate by clapping during songs or raising his hands
in worship. At the altar service, everyone came and knelt in prayer, except
the same man. The rumors began to emerge. "He's probably not a Christian —
certainly not a very spiritual one," remarked one critical parishioner. "He
just another hypocrite who goes to church," said another prudish woman.
One day the pastor was driving through an unfamiliar
neighborhood, when he noticed the same gentleman standing in front of his
house, retrieving mail from his mailbox. He thought he'd stop and say hello,
but as he approached the fellow, who was dressed in shorts and a T-shirt,
the pastor noticed that his legs and hands were grossly disfigured. Upon
recognizing the minister, the man became embarrassed and shoved his hand
into his pockets. Realizing that he had already been seen, He explained,
"Guess you caught me. I was badly burned in a fire years ago. I'm ashamed of
my appearance and just didn't want anybody to know."
The pastor discovered that the mysterious man was a
very humble, sincere believer, but feared rejection and was too embarrassed
to expose his disfigured hands in church. His scarred knees were too painful
to bend and kneel at the altar. As he drove away, the pastor thought to
himself, "What an injustice has been served to this poor guy. He needed the
encouragement and acceptance by those in our church, but instead, has been
belittled and misjudged by critical people who didn't know all the facts."
This is why the Lord tells us not to judge one
another. It is not possible to render an accurate judgment about anyone
without knowing all the facts. Appearances don't tell us everything about a
person. Jesus said, "Do not judge according to appearance..." (John 7:24).
When a judge hears a court case, he looks carefully at all the evidence and
weighs all the testimonies. Only when he has considered all the facts of
evidence, can he render a fair judgment. Only God is qualified to be our
judge, because only He knows what's in our hearts. He knows our true
motives, our intents, and has all the facts. God told Samuel, "...the Lord
does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the
LORD looks at the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7). Judgment is something that God has
reserved exclusively for Himself. Whenever a person judges another, he is
attempting to sit on God's throne. He is presuming himself to be God — both
judge and jury (James 4:11).
When I was a new Christian I noticed a fellow in our
church who wore a button on his lapel that displayed the letters:
PBPWMGINFWMY. Curious, I asked him what they meant, and he said, they stand
for "Please Be Patient With Me. God Is Not Finished With Me Yet." This was a
clever way to remind people to not be judgmental of a Christian "under
Unfortunately, many believers have fallen to the
judgmentalism of others. Without knowing the contents of their heart, some
have sharply criticized the faults and weakness of their brethren, or
ridiculed them with rumors and gossip. We are warned against causing such
stumbling-blocks of judgmentalism. "Therefore let us not judge one another
anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to
fall in our brother's way" (Rom. 14:13). Those who oppress their brethren
this way, who cause their departure from the faith, will face the stern
recompense of almighty God. "Then He said to the disciples, It is impossible
that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! It
would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he
were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little
ones" (Luke 17:1-2).
Every organization, including the church, will have some who are insincere or who are there for ulterior motives, as Jesus suggested with his reference to the tares found in the wheat (Matt. 13:14-30). But don't ever let that hold you back from your enthusiasm for the church. My pastor once told me, "Never let a hypocrite stand between you and God, otherwise they'll be standing closer to God than you are." The person who has flaws but is humbly trying to serve God, is far better off than the person who shakes their finger in judgment and does nothing.