Sound Teaching

This is the teaching site of the West Side church of Christ in Fort Worth, TX. Unless otherwise indicated, all materials were written and prepared by Stan Cox

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Pretending to be Righteous

In Luke 20, the historian records an attempt of the Pharisees to incite Jesus to say things which would get him in trouble with the Roman government. It may be that they felt Jesus would not answer them forthrightly if He knew who they were, so they sent men to Him who were to play the part of innocent, truth fearing men, to question Jesus with apparent sincerity. Luke put it this way, “So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor” (vs. 20).

The word translated “pretended” in the text is the greek word, hupokrinomai, and means, “to decide (speak or act) under a false part, i.e. (figuratively) dissemble (pretend): — feign” (Strong’s). It is also the term from which the word translated hypocrite is derived. A hypocrite is an individual who is merely playing a part. He is feigning. He is a dissembler (one who puts on a false appearance). The hypocrite is hiding behind a mask. He is concealing who he truly is, deceiving others by hiding his true self.

It is important to here distinguish between one who is a hypocrite, and one who falters in sin. One is not a hypocrite if he falls short of his profession as a Christian. Men who love God deeply, and seek to do His will diligently, nevertheless may be caught in sin. As John wrote, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). There is a great difference between a man who truly loves God, and is overcome by sin in a time of weakness, and one whose only desire is to be “seen” as a Christian. He presents himself as righteous (pretends, feigns) because it suits his purpose. All the while, he secretly (or at least unbeknownst to the society of the faithful), he enjoys the pleasures of sin.

Jesus despised hypocrisy. “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. 28 Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27-28). While in his ministry He sometimes dealt mercifully with those struggling in sin, (cf. the woman caught in adultery, John 8:3-11), He consistently condemned in the strongest of terms those who played the hypocrite.

Why the strong denunciation of the hypocrite? First of all, because it is a strong indication of an evil heart. Read again Luke 20:20, “who pretended to be righteous.” The hypocrite is not a righteous person at all. He may have qualms concerning his deception, but he nevertheless makes a conscious choice to lie. Such dishonesty, for whatever reason, is so antithetical to the righteous God of heaven as to be unpalatable to Him.

Second, his deception is for base gain. He presents a façade of righteousness because it suits his purposes. He gets something out of it, or he would not do it. This was true of the Pharisees. “But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. 6 They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, 7 greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’” (Matthew 23:5-7). The hypocrite uses the naiveté of his brethren for his own advantage. The motivation may be money, prestige, reputation — but the hypocrite is mercenary, lying to his family and/or his brethren to serve his own illicit agenda.

Third, his deceit does damage to the Lord’s cause. While his unrighteous actions are hidden to his brethren, they are often revealed to the world at large. His actions feed the scoffer’s derision. His opportunity to be a witness of the resurrected Lord is lost, to the detriment of the souls of those with whom he should share that gospel. His actions often cast his brethren in a bad light — as those without either view them as tolerant of his sin; or, knowing their ignorance of it, deride them as ignorant and blind.

Some might say the best thing for the hypocrite to do is to be honest about the life he is leading. Have the courage to let people know who he really is. If he doesn’t really love the Lord, leave Him.

As an example, many say this of the sin of homosexuality. Those who “come out of the closet” are lauded because they have stopped lying about their predilections. The homosexual expresses relief because he no longer has to live a lie.

However, there is no honor in being honest about your sin unless it is step toward repentance. Those who are honest about their sinful life, who say to any and all, “Yeah, that’s who I am, and how I have chosen to live my life,” are only glorying in their sin! It is alarming to think that anyone would consider a rebellious sinner to be worthy of praise because they are honest about their refusal to humble themselves before God.

No, the only cure for the hypocrite is to conform his actual life to the ideal he seeks to portray to the elect. Anything less serves no lasting purpose. As the children of God, we are called to “…walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).