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Beware of Hypocrisy

“Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.” – Luke 12:1-3

We don’t have to wonder. Jesus tells us what the leaven of the Pharisees is: hypocrisy. But why did He identify hypocrisy as the leaven of the Pharisees? The knee-jerk Evangelical response is because they didn’t practice what they preached. Well, that’s kind of true, but it’s kind of an oversimplification. For all of the things Jesus criticized them for, He also told everyone that their righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees (Matthew 5:20). What is hypocrisy?

Hypocrisy is more than preaching one thing, then living another. I would contend that is simply human nature. In a million small ways, we are constantly saying one thing and doing another, yet I wouldn’t label all of us as hypocrites. Example:

I don’t smoke because I care about my health. Also, I eat Little Debbie Cosmic Brownies for breakfast. 

Some may call this hypocritical, but if this is true, then everyone qualifies because no one lives a life free of this kind of contradiction. Certainly, when Jesus called out the Pharisees as hypocrites, he had more in mind than simple contradictions of words and actions.

What exactly did the Pharisees do? They put on a mask of pretense. Indeed I don’t smoke, and maybe I have eaten Cosmic Brownies for breakfast at least once. Are those things contradictions where my health is concerned? Oh yes. But am I also creating a social media presence where I’m telling you how to eat healthily and live longer? No. I don’t put on a pretense of fitness.

The Pharisees put on a pretense. They were students of the Word. They claimed to be the examples to follow in devotion to the LORD. Yet these students of the Word, who knew the Scriptures far better than any of us, refused to believe Jesus. The ones who should’ve known… were blind? This reveals their pretense. They weren’t interested in being spiritual guides. The pretense was shepherding. The reality was power, influence, and wealth.

I know Jesus didn’t go to Genesis, but my mind has made the leap. Adam and Eve put on fig leaves. Though futile, there was a pretense created by their fig leaves that everything is ok now that we can’t see each other’s differences. Then the LORD showed up and laid everything bare again.

So, hypocrisy is like leaven. It spreads, expands, and actually causes activity that seems like growth. But the growth caused by leaven is caused by corruption. Leaven – yeast – causes bread to rise by consuming sugars and releasing waste gases. Yes, your bread rises because of the waste products of yeast, from the decomposition of sugar. In the spirit, leaven also causes a kind of growth, and likewise, it is built on corruption. In this case, hypocrisy, the pretense that some people put on to conceal their true colors, spreads like leaven.

Jesus says to beware of hypocrisy, particularly the kind of the Pharisees. Hypocrisy must be sneaky. It must creep in undetected. And I’m not just talking about the church. Each believer must beware of his or her own life. No one sets out to be a hypocrite. No one plans to create a pretense that covers their true motivations. Pretense is built slowly, one justification at a time. Here’s a fictional situation to demonstrate.

Joe is a minister. He has served faithfully for several years in one place and has a reputation as a good shepherd. His wife, suddenly reveals that she no longer wants to be a minister’s wife. She loves Joe, she has no desire to divorce him, but she can no longer tolerate the demands that the ministry places on her husband. But Joe definitely aspires to serve the Body of Christ as a minister. He’s not prideful, and neither is he overly concerned with being in the spotlight. He simply knows how the LORD has gifted him and feels like those gifts would be neglected in any other career.

As Joe and his wife work through things, they are not gaining. Neither of them can find room for a compromise. They love each other and have resolved to not divorce, but they cannot find common ground on this issue. They are at a stalemate. So, Joe continues to minister, and his wife continues to feel a level of abandonment.

Joe has a choice to make. He can either be honest with his congregation and fellow elders about the tension his ministry is creating in his marriage, or he can put on a pretense that everything is ok. In Joe’s mind, if he chooses honesty, people may think that he hasn’t been a good husband to his wife, or they may think that his wife is being selfish. In either case, he feels like honesty would bring shame in one way or another. So he chooses to keep things between himself and his wife, hoping that the LORD will somehow change her heart.

Joe chooses a pretense. He certainly preaches honesty from the pulpit. He expects others to have a forthcoming spirit about their troubles. But when he is troubled, he reasons that honesty might cause more damage than he’d like. Not only does he not practice what he preaches, but he put up a pretense with his church that everything is fine. Of course, honesty might indeed open him to a bit of reproach, but it would also open the door to potential healing. However, Joe loves his ministry more than he loves a healthier marriage. Though he might not see it so, deep in his heart he loves the affirmation and approval from his congregants. He sees that as a sign of blessing from the LORD more than a healthy wife.  Multiply that by a decade or two, and the leaven has grown. Joe’s marriage is disastrous. Joe’s willingness to hide behind pretense has grown into other areas. At some point, everything about Joe’s life is a facade. He becomes the white-washed tomb, with dead bones on the inside. Joe is a hypocrite.

What’s the message? Live authentically. Pretense has no place in a Christ-follower. I’m not suggesting there isn’t a place for prudence. Perhaps Joe didn’t need to tell the whole church, but he absolutely should have confided in his fellow elders. The point is that at some level, we must live our lives somewhat nakedly with other fellow believers who will sharpen us, point us to Christ, and walk with us through healing. Joe is a fictional character. Real life is far messier. Don’t allow hypocrisy – the leaven of the Pharisees – to creep into your life. It never remains small.

The pretense that hypocrisy creates hides you from accountability with others, but it never hides anything from the LORD. He won’t permit things to remain hidden forever. Whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops. It’s far better to remove the fig leaves today and be healed than to have them forcibly stripped by the LORD in discipline and be shamed.

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Last modified: January 12, 2023