The twenty-third chapter of the book of Matthew contains some of the strongest language in the entire New Testament. In this chapter, the Lord Jesus describes the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of His day, namely, the Pharisees. The Pharisees were known for being stringent adherents to the letter of the law, while unfortunately, sacrificing the spirit of the law. For that reason, Jesus had justification for confronting the hypocritical lifestyle of those who were supposed to be showing others the way to God.
While it may be highly offensive to refer to someone as a hypocrite today, we must remember that Jesus Himself, Who was the epitome of virtue, used the term appropriately. And though there are no Pharisees today, hypocrisy yet abounds in the life of the church.
How can we recognize hypocrisy when we see it? There are at least three indications of hypocrisy from this chapter that we must avoid at all costs:
• Simply doing what is easy (v. 23)
• Focusing on the external (vs. 27-28)
• Playing games with God (vs. 29-30)
Doing What is Easy
In Matthew 23:23, Jesus described the Pharisees as those who were willing to give ten percent of their goods to spiritual causes, but neglected to show mercy and justice to others. In other words, they were willing to do what was easy, but it was done at the expense of purposely neglecting the “weightier” (i.e. more important) matters of the law. What does this look like in our lives? Many of us are willing to go to church every Sunday for the sake of fulfilling a Christian obligation (easy), but neglect to visit a neighbor’s home to share the gospel with them (weightier). Some of us will give ten percent to our local church, but give little if any time volunteering, serving, and praying at the church. It is much easier to write a check to your church (particularly if you are well-off) than it is to love others the way you love yourself. If we are committed to merely doing what is easy, while letting that which may be more challenging fall by the wayside, we may be guilty of hypocrisy.
Focusing on the External
In Matthew 23:27-28, Jesus criticized the Pharisees for presenting themselves to others as righteous men but in reality were filled with nothing but hypocritical wickedness. Again, this is some of the strongest language in the Bible, which sheds light on how much God truly hates hypocrisy. Believers should never be concerned with being applauded, recognized, or even thanked for any service rendered in the name of the Lord. Not only that, but we must avoid the tendency to participate in Christian events simply because it helps to reinforce our positive image. For instance, going to church has become so commonplace that many of us fail to think through why we even go in the first place. In some cases, it has been reduced to what Christians are supposed to do. We should not go to church, or anywhere else for that matter, if it is purely to show our faces. If we do, we are guilty of hypocrisy.
Playing Games with God
In Matthew 23:29-31, the Lord revealed the startling reality that the Pharisees were doing nothing more than playing games with God. They claimed to disassociate themselves from those who persecuted the prophets of old, while at the same time building the very tombs in which the righteous martyrs would later inhabit. They pretended to live lives that were honoring to God, but in their hearts, they repudiated His message. Playing games with God is perhaps the worst type of hypocrisy imaginable. Anyone who operates under the pretense that they value God’s Word but never give it much personal consideration is an actor in the worst sense of the term. Remember, those involved in blatant hypocrisy are not reflecting any kind of rationality, only depravity. Can this be said of you? We must give heed to the Word of God, and strive to implement its teachings in our lives honestly and consistently. After all, God knows the depths of our hearts, which is why it is utterly futile to play any kind of game with Him (see Psalm 139); he demands to be taken seriously (see Leviticus 10:3; Hebrews 10:31).
This topic was not designed to convict you, but to encourage you to always maintain a heart of openness and honesty with God and others. Hypocrites will be condemned to hell (see Matthew 23:33), and knowing that you are not on that list is evident from a life that reflects brokenness over sin, a desire for greater holiness, and a passion to know and please God above all else. It is true that God remains a God of love, but He is also a God Who hates hypocrisy.