How Do You Handle Hypocrisy?
IN THE garden of Gethsemane, Judas Iscariot went up to Jesus and “kissed him very tenderly.” This was a customary expression of warm affection. But Judas’ gesture was only a pretense to identify Jesus to those who had come in the night to arrest him. (Matthew 26:48, 49) Judas was a hypocrite—a person who pretends to be what he is not, someone who hides his bad motives behind a mask of sincerity. The Greek word rendered “hypocrite” means “one who answers” and also denotes a stage actor. In time, the word came to refer to anyone who was simply putting on an act in order to deceive others.
How do you react to hypocrisy? Do you get angry, for example, when you see cigarette manufacturers promote smoking despite medical evidence that their product is harmful? Are you incensed at the hypocrisy of caretakers who abuse those entrusted to their care? Do you feel hurt when a friend who you thought was genuine turns out to be false? How does religious hypocrisy affect you?
“Woe to You . . . Hypocrites!”
Consider the religious climate that existed when Jesus was on earth. The scribes and Pharisees pretended to be loyal teachers of God’s Law, but in reality they filled people’s minds with human teachings that drew attention away from God. The scribes and Pharisees scrupulously insisted on the letter of the law, but they ignored fundamental principles that reflected love and compassion. In public they pretended to be devoted to God, but in private they were full of badness. Their deeds never measured up to their words. Their objective in doing things was “to be viewed by men.” They resembled “whitewashed graves, which outwardly indeed appear beautiful but inside are full of dead men’s bones and of every sort of uncleanness.” Boldly exposing their hypocrisy, Jesus repeatedly said to them: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”—Matthew 23:5, 13-31.
If you had lived in those days, like other honesthearted people you might have been truly sickened by such religious hypocrisy. (Romans 2:21-24; 2 Peter 2:1-3) But would you have allowed the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees to embitter you to the extent that you would reject all religion, including that which was taught and practiced by Jesus Christ and his disciples? Would that not have been to your disadvantage?
Hypocritical conduct on the part of religious people may turn us away from religion in disgust. However, this response would also blind us to the sincerity of true worshipers. The very barriers that we build for protection against hypocrisy can, in effect, turn us away from genuine friends. Our response to hypocrisy, then, should be reasonable and balanced.
“Keep Your Eyes Open”
First, we must learn to identify hypocrites. This is not always easy. One family learned this at great cost to themselves. The mother had fallen into a coma. In filing a lawsuit for malpractice against the hospital where this had occurred, the family hired a lawyer who was also a preacher in a local church. Even though the hospital paid $3.4 million in settlement, the family’s tragedy was compounded. The mother died a pauper, and there was no money to pay for her funeral. Why? Because the lawyer pocketed most of the money. Regarding this lawyer, a law journal stated: “If he preached the kind of conduct he practised . . . , his message would have to be this: let us prey.” How can we protect ourselves from people like that?
“Keep your eyes open,” was the advice Jesus gave to those in his day who were confronted with religious hypocrisy. (Matthew 16:6; Luke 12:1) Yes, we must be cautious. People may profess the most noble aims and ooze sincerity, but we need to exercise reasonable caution and not immediately accept everyone at face value. Would we not carefully check our bank notes if we knew that counterfeit currency was in circulation?
Hypocrites have appeared even within the true Christian congregation. The disciple Jude warned about them, saying: “These are the rocks hidden below water in your love feasts while they feast with you, shepherds that feed themselves without fear; waterless clouds carried this way and that by winds; trees in late autumn, but fruitless.”—Jude 12.
To ‘keep our eyes open’ means to avoid being deceived by someone who pretends to be loving but who is actually self-centered and promotes opinions not based on God’s Word. Like a jagged rock lying just below the surface of placid waters, such a person can cause spiritual shipwreck to the unwary. (1 Timothy 1:19) The hypocrite may promise much in the way of spiritual refreshment but turns out to be a ‘waterless cloud’—delivering nothing. Like a fruitless tree, a deceiver bears no genuine Christian fruitage. (Matthew 7:15-20; Galatians 5:19-21) Yes, we need to be on guard against such deceivers. Yet, we must do so without being suspicious of everyone’s motives.
How easy it is for imperfect humans to point out other people’s failings while ignoring their own! This inclination, though, makes us vulnerable to hypocrisy. “Hypocrite!” Jesus said. “First extract the rafter from your own eye, and then you will see clearly how to extract the straw from your brother’s eye.” We do well to heed his counsel: “Stop judging that you may not be judged; for with what judgment you are judging, you will be judged . . . Why, then, do you look at the straw in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the rafter in your own eye?”—Matthew 7:1-5.
When others at times do things that seem hypocritical, we must be careful not to label them hastily as hypocrites. The apostle Peter, for example, “went withdrawing and separating himself” from Gentile fellow believers in Antioch so as to please visitors of Jewish background from Jerusalem. Barnabas ‘was also led along with Peter and others in this pretense.’ Peter did this despite the fact that he had been privileged to open the way for Gentiles to be admitted to the Christian congregation. (Galatians 2:11-14; Acts 10:24-28, 34, 35) But this slip on the part of Barnabas and Peter surely did not put them in the same category as the scribes and Pharisees or Judas Iscariot.
“Let Your Love Be Without Hypocrisy”
“When you do good to other people,” admonished Jesus, “don’t hire a trumpeter to go in front of you—like those play-actors in the synagogues and streets who make sure that men admire them.” (Matthew 6:2, Phillips) “Let your love be without hypocrisy,” wrote the apostle Paul. (Romans 12:9) He encouraged young Timothy to have “love out of a clean heart . . . and out of faith without hypocrisy.” (1 Timothy 1:5) If our love and faith are genuine—not tainted by selfishness and deception—others will trust us. We will be a source of real strength and encouragement to those around us. (Philippians 2:4; 1 John 3:17, 18; 4:20, 21) And above all, we will have Jehovah’s approval.
Hypocrisy, on the other hand, will ultimately prove death-dealing to those who practice it. In the end, hypocrisy will be openly exposed. “There is nothing covered over that will not become uncovered,” said Jesus Christ, “and secret that will not become known.” (Matthew 10:26; Luke 12:2) Wise King Solomon declared: “The true God himself will bring every sort of work into the judgment in relation to every hidden thing, as to whether it is good or bad.”—Ecclesiastes 12:14.
Meanwhile, why should we allow the hypocrisy of others to affect us to the point that we are deprived of the genuine love of true friends? We can be cautious without becoming overly suspicious. And by all means, let us keep our own love and faith free of hypocrisy.—James 3:17; 1 Peter 1:22.
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Would you have allowed the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees to turn you away from Jesus Christ and his disciples?