Hypocrisy is a feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not; it is behaviour that contradicts what one claims to believe or feel. It is also (especially) the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion. When one pretends to have virtues, principles, or beliefs that in fact they do not have, that is hypocrisy. Related terms to hypocrisy include deceit, dishonesty, falsity, two-facedness, pretense, falseness and duplicity. Most people will find those words obnoxious, distasteful and nauseating. Forgive the verbosity of defining a single term; it is intended to stimulate in you a repulsion for what so many (probably even you) may be plagued by but do not feel.
HYPOCRISY, A DEADLY SIN
“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” – Genesis 3:7
The attempt to not deal with deficiencies but cover them up to appear good is as old as humanity itself. Not long after creation, Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and found that they were naked. Their response to their nakedness was to look for something to cover it up. They sewed fig leaves to cover themselves and also hid among the trees of the garden. Since then, this vice has been with us. But it is a dangerous plague. While Jesus was tender with many notorious sinners, he was scathing in his denunciation of those guilty of religious hypocrisy. Hear him:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.” – Matthew 23:27
Hypocrisy is deadly. A woe is a terrible thing to have come from Jesus’ mouth, but that’s what he reserved for the hypocrites of his day. The fig tree was cursed for the same reason. It had so much greenery like it bore fruit. On a closer look, Jesus found it to be a fraud. Gehazi is another example of how not to be dishonest. He followed Naaman and collected from him gifts that his master Elisha had declined. On his return, he presented himself to Elisha like nothing had happened. When Elisha asked him where he had been, Gehazi said he had been nowhere. He left Elisha’s presence with leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-27). Ananias and his wife Sapphira were not so lucky in their attempt to be two-faced. Pretending to be who they were not was literally deadly for them. The bad thing about this vice is that apart from living a lie, the hypocrite also speaks lies in order to cover up their duplicity. Gehazi and Ananias and Sapphira both lied. Someone has said that if God dealt with all hypocrites in the church the way he dealt with Ananias and his wife, our churches would become morgues! God is not pleased with a duplicitous people. He said through Isaiah, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me… Therefore once more I will astound these people …” (Isaiah 29:13-14).
HYPOCRISY CAN PLAGUE THE BEST OF US
“When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.” – Galatians 2:11-13
Don’t read this and be smug like it cannot befall you. Peter had been with Jesus face to face, was a Spirit-filled Apostle and leader of the Church at this time yet he slipped into hypocrisy. Paul said even Barnabas was led astray. One man’s hypocrisy drew many along with him! The Pharisees whom Jesus strongly rebuked were religious leaders and teachers of the law. As far as the law was concerned, they were very knowledgeable, yet hypocrisy ailed them. Gehazi was following Elisha in full-time ministry, with the potential to take over from him, yet this cancer brought him down. This calls for watchfulness. The Bible admonishes anyone who thinks he stands to take heed lest he falls. Examine your own life now and see where you stand on this matter. Can you truly say you are always genuine one hundred percent of the time?
DEALING WITH HYPOCRISY
“Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform miracles’? Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” – Matthew 7:22-23.
The first way to deal with hypocrisy is to realize the eternal danger that it poses. Jesus said even prophets, exorcists and miracle workers who were not genuine will be turned away on the day of reckoning. That anyone did exploits (yet was a hypocrite) will not save them. The wise thing to do therefore, is to flee from falseness to truth; from being two-faced to having a single life.
Hypocrisy is short-sighted. Hypocrites usually are more concerned with the now than the eternal. If eternity were their focus, they would cry out for help. If you focus on your relationship with God and the eternity that follows this life, you would be more concerned about the future than the temporal time here.
Hypocrisy focuses on group dynamics and not on a living relationship with Jesus. Ananias and Sapphira were more interested in belonging to a group where extraordinary miracles were being performed than on having a relationship with Jesus. Peter, when he slipped, was more interested in belonging to the Jewish party than pleasing God. If belonging to the Church crowd and not Jesus is your focus, your life will toe the same path. Have you ever surrendered to Jesus? Do you spend time with him in prayer and the Word? Do you deal with your sin especially at the heart level? Prioritize your walk with God.
Hypocrisy focuses on what people think rather than on what God thinks. Ananias and his wife were more interested in looking good before the Apostles and the rest of the Church. Barnabas had just sold his own property and remitted everything to the Church. Imagine what everyone thought of him. Mr. & Mrs. Ananias must also have wanted the same thing. They didn’t care what God, who sees the heart and the things done in secret, thought about them. Your aim in life and ministry should be to please God and not men. It is to him you will account.
Another way to deal with hypocrisy is to practice integrity. Do so until it becomes your life by default. If you choose to pretend at any time, it can soon become a habit, your character and then your life. You will find yourself pretending even when you face no risk. Peter told Ananias and Sapphira that their property was theirs before it was sold and the proceeds from the sale were still theirs. They could have given only a tithe and still be fine you know.
Avoid quick judgment and condemnation of others. When you point fingers easily at others, you are forced to claim a moral high ground. If anything (even if by accident), pushes you off your high horse, you turn to pretence to keep up with the appearances you created.
Finally, fight the battle against hypocrisy on your knees. Pray fervently for God’s help. With the grace he will supply to you by his Spirit, flee from compromises that would place you in a pretentious position thereafter. Learn to be accountable. Secrecy and a lack of genuine accountability are fuels that hypocrisy feeds on to remain strong.