The following is an excerpt from chapter one of my new book, Hypocrisy Exposed:
Jesus specifically warned that we must be aware of the sin of hypocrisy, calling it the “leaven of the Pharisees.”
“Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known.” (Luke 12:1-2)
Leaven is put into dough during the process of making bread, which causes the bread to rise. Spiritually speaking, it represents a permeating influence. Just a little bit of leaven infiltrates and impacts the whole lump (see Galatians 5:9). Jesus told us to guard against hypocrisy, but we can’t do this if we don’t have an accurate understanding of what hypocrisy is and how it operates.
The sin of hypocrisy has been often misunderstood and is worse than we have realized. It is quite common for people to throw the term hypocrite around any time a Christian commits a sin or doesn’t live up perfectly to the standards of godliness that they have claimed to follow. But true hypocrisy is much more sinister than this. It is a deeper, more deceptive evil than we have often imagined. When we understand its true nature, we will not use the term so loosely. Our misunderstanding and misuse of the word has caused us to miss the true nature of hypocrisy, and therefore we have been blinded to its reality in our midst. Some have been labeled hypocrites whose lives don’t really fit the definition. And those who are in true hypocrisy have often gone unnoticed.
When reading the gospels, you will see that Jesus seems to place hypocrisy in a different class than other sins. His harshest words were not for “sinners” but for hypocrites. He soundly condemned them, calling them sons of hell and seemingly giving no hope for their salvation (see Matthew 23:13-15, 33 for an example of this). Why such strong judgment against hypocrisy? Why does it seem to be treated differently than other sins? What does the word hypocrite actually even mean?
The key to accurately understanding the sin of hypocrisy lies in the definition of the word hypocrite, and the context in which Jesus consistently uses it. Throughout this book we’ll look at various verses in which Jesus uses the term, but particularly helpful in forming a definition is Matthew 23:25-28:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. 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.”
Do you see the pattern? The cup is clean on the outside, but filthy on the inside. The tomb appears beautiful outwardly, but is full of death and decay inwardly. There is an external appearance that covers a very different internal reality.
The Greek word for hypocrites used in the above passage (and throughout the New Testament) is hupŏkritēs and carries the meaning of an actor, someone who is playing a character on stage. Similarly, the Greek word for hypocrisy is hupŏkrisis, which refers to a person who is acting under a feigned part. So, in the original Greek language, the words for both hypocrite and hypocrisy come from the same root, and have to do with acting or playing a part. Actors in that day would often wear masks in order to be in character for their show. Jesus is therefore likening a hypocrite to someone who is acting a part instead of living a reality. In the context, this acting is specifically designed to portray something nice and beautiful on the outside in order to hide something dark and hideous on the inside.
A hypocrite then, is someone who wears a mask of righteousness in order to veil a heart of wickedness. Hence, a whitewashed tomb. Hypocrisy is the appearance of good in order to conceal evil. Those who live in chronic hypocrisy are not those who merely commit sins or occasionally fall short of the standard of righteousness that they aim to live by—or we would all be hypocrites! A hypocrite is not the person who genuinely desires to live in holiness, but slips into sin. A hypocrite is not even necessarily the one who preaches one thing and then sometimes practices another; although characteristically not practicing what you preach is one of the traits of hypocrisy.
Hypocrites are those who consistently portray outward displays of godliness to the public in order to hide gross and unrepentant sin in private. A hypocrite puts on a façade. He or she displays a public persona while living a very different private reality. A hypocrite is a phony, an actor, someone who is playing the part outwardly while not having the reality inwardly. The hypocrite is not the righteous man who sins; he is the evil man who pretends to be good.