The Roots of Hypocrisy

Hey readers! My apologies for the long hiatus and for all the promised but failed series. This isn’t much, but it’s something! I had a chance this past Wednesday to speak for my guys group back home from Matthew 6. Here’s the manuscript. I know it’s long but  if you guys have time, I’d encourage you to read it. Personally it was a very convicting study for me which highlighted the extent of my sinfulness and need for a Savior. I pray it would do likewise for those of you reading.

For my message, I drew this diagram of a tree on the whiteboard to make my points, I don’t have a scanner, so I remade it in paint. Check out my super ghetto chart. Feel free to refer to it before/as you read. I know it looks really lame, but this actually took me a really long time…

Matthew6Diagram

1. Introduction

As I open today, let me ask you guys a question. As Christians, we sometimes use ‘Pharisee’ as a negative term to describe certain types of people. My question is: what does it look like to be a ‘Pharisee’? What kind of characteristics does a Pharisee have?

For me, when we say someone is a Pharisee, I think we usually mean someone 1) who is proud, 2) someone who is confident because of what he knows and what he does, and 3) someone who looks down on other people who aren’t as good as he is.

I think these characteristics describe the Pharisees well. And we ought to be on the lookout for any signs of pride, self-righteousness, or condescension in our actions. But I think, if we stopped there, we would be oversimplifying the Pharisee’s problems. The Pharisee’s problems were deeper and more complex than that. Today, I want to look beyond the outwards signs of a Pharisee into the heart of one. It’s true, the Pharisees created a system of empty religion and self-righteousness. But today, I want to ask: what sort of heart led them to think and act in the ways they did? And I want to challenge you guys to ask yourselves, “Do I have the same sort of heart?”

If you guys have your bibles, could you open with me to Matthew 6:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1-6, ESV)

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18, ESV)

1.      The Pharisees Big Problem: Hypocrisy

If you read through the Gospels, Jesus is extremely harsh to the Pharisees. He welcomes sinners, he eats with the prostitutes and tax collectors, and he spends time with the outcasts. But there is something about the Pharisees which stirs up a fierce anger in Jesus. What is it?

Is it what they taught? When we think about the Pharisees, we usually highlight how they had wrong teaching, namely, they believed in a works-based salvation; that you can earn your way to God. Is that why Jesus rebuked them so frequently? I don’t think so. The Pharisees certainly had many holes in their theology, but even Jesus said in Matthew 23:15: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you.”

So if it’s not primarily their theology, then what is the Pharisee’s big problem? We see the answer in our passage in Matthew 6. Look with me at verse 1 and notice with me how Jesus characterizes the Pharisees:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do.

Now, skip with me down to verse 5:

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites.

And finally, look with me at verse 16:

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites

Jesus’ main grievance with the Pharisee’s was their hypocrisy. It was not primarily an issue of their bad theology or works-based righteousness—that was a result produced by their hypocrisy. But I think that many of the sinful outward actions performed by the Pharisees, came from the fact that, in their hearts, they were hypocrites—that there was a gaping distance between the religion they professed to believe and love with their mouths, and what they really believed and loved in their hearts.

In case, you’re not convinced. If you read the book of Matthew, Jesus hammers the Pharisee’s for their hypocrisy again and again. Turn with me over to Matthew 15:7-9. Jesus, speaking to the Pharisees, says:

You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:7-9)

And, if you’re still not convinced, turn with me over to Matthew 23:13 and this should do it. In this passage, Jesus spends a whole chapter blasting the Pharisee’s for their hypocritical religiosity.

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child ofhell as yourselves.” (Matthew 23:13-15, ESV)

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous,saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” (Matthew 23:23-33, ESV)

The Pharisee’s big problem was their hypocrisy. I would argue that from their hypocrisy flowed all their actions of legalism and self-righteousness. But I want us to dig a little deeper. I’m sure that the Pharisees didn’t plan on becoming religious hypocrites. I’m sure they were normal people like you and I, and I’m sure that they were genuinely convinced that they were followers of God. The next question I want to ask is is this: 1) what leads someone to become this kind of hypocrite? 2) If hypocrisy is the root that leads to all this empty religion and self-righteousness, what are the roots of hypocrisy?

This is not an extensive list but today, I want to highlight two “roots”—two sinful heart motivations—which if we’re not careful, will produce in us the same hypocrisy that the Pharisees had.

2.      Root #1: Love of Man’s Praise

The first root of hypocrisy which we see in our passage is the love of man’s praise. Look with me back at our passage in Matthew 6:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others.

Again, look down at verse 5:

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others.

And finally, in verse 16:

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others

Jesus tells us not be like the Pharisees because all their religious acts of righteousness are done to be seen by other people. This desire—to be seen by others—is a central motivation which underlies their hypocrisy.

But let’s think about this for a second. What is it about loving man’s praise leads to hypocrisy? Remember, how I said earlier that Pharisee’s problem wasn’t primarily their teaching. Jesus said, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you.” The Pharisees knew the Scriptures way better than you and I do. Now, I could be wrong here, but I think that if the Pharisee’s goal was to genuinely please God and to earn salvation through their acts of righteousness, then I think they would have been okay. They would have tried to earn their salvation but would have realized very quickly through their sinfulness and through the Scriptures that it is impossible. And so, when Jesus came, preaching his message of repentance they would have been the first one to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Their self-righteousness, while still wrong and sinful, would have led them to God.

So, I don’t think it was wrong teaching which was their primary problem. Look what Jesus says in John 5:42-45:

“But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me”

Basically what Jesus is saying here is: I know you think you genuinely love God, but I know that you don’t. How do I know? Because I’ve come in my Father’s name and you reject me, and yet you receive other leaders who act, think, and do things just like you guys do. I’ll go a step further and tell you why you don’t believe: because you seek favor from one another and you don’t seek the favor of God.

Then Jesus addresses their teaching. Jesus tells them that the problem is not that they believe in Moses. It’s that even though they appear to believe Moses, they don’t believe in Moses at all. Jesus is saying that the very law that that they’ve put their hope in, is the law that condemns them. This is why the love of Man’s praise is so dangerous: because the Pharisee’s goal was never to genuinely please God at all. Their goal was to use God and religion, as a way to be seen by others. They performed their actions of righteousness so that they might have man’s praise.

Self-righteousness with the genuine intent of pleasing God is wrong but it can be led to the Gospel of grace. But a heart set on pleasing man instead of God will never be led to the Gospel of grace. Why should I care that Jesus died to make me right with God, if all I care about is being made right before other people? Further, a religious person, who loves the praise of man, can only produce hypocrisy. Why? Because he’ll be doing all these actions supposedly for the praise of God when all he cares about is being seen by others.

3.      Root #2: Unbelief

The first root of hypocrisy, seen in our passage, is love of Man’s Praise. The second root of hypocrisy is very closely tied to it—the second root is unbelief. Look with me back at our passage in Matthew 6, starting from verse 1:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.

Look down again to verse 5:

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.

Jesus says that when you love man’s praise instead of God’s praise. When you’re seeking glory from people instead of from God, then you should just be honest with yourself.  You’re going to reap what you sow. You’re going to get back what you put in. It’s not like you won’t receive a reward but you’ll receive the reward that you’re looking for.

The Pharisees performed their righteousness to be seen by other people. They might have been able to fool everyone else, but they can’t fool God. When you give, or pray, or fast and other people praise you, then you’ve gained the reward that you wanted: the praise of people. But Jesus that’s all you’re ever going to get. God sees everything. He sees past our actions into our hearts. Don’t fool yourselves into thinking God will reward you just because you’re going through the motions.

What is it that God rewards? It’s not our actions, it’s our faith.

If you pay attention to Jesus’ ministry in Matthew, you’ll notice that Jesus rewards people who are the exact opposite of the Pharisees: the Pharisees look outwardly impressive, but have no faith. Jesus rewards those who are outwardly weak—the diseased, the Gentile, those with sinful pasts—but who have great faith in Jesus.

Right after our passage in chapter 6, in chapter 8 Jesus is approached by a Gentile Centurion with a sick servant. Jesus rewards him for his faith.

When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith… “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment. (Matthew 8:10-13, ESV)

In chapter 9, a woman who has had a bleeding flow for years, comes and touches Jesus’ robe. Jesus rewards her for her faith:

Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. (Matthew 9:22, ESV)

In chapter 15, Jesus is approached by a Canaanite woman who begs for her daughter to be healed. Remember? Jesus tells her it’s not fit to give bread to the dogs, but she asks for the crumbs from the table. Jesus rewards her for her faith.

Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith!Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.” (Matthew 15:28, ESV)

Now, listen to Hebrews 11:6, here’s the principle I want to draw out.

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6, ESV)

Faith is living for a heavenly reward that you hope but you don’t yet have. Unbelief is living for an earthly reward that you can see and have right now. Faith puts its hope in an invisible God and trusts in him. Unbelief puts its hope in visible things—the praise of people, money, career, fame, pleasure. Faith is hard because you have to believe in something you can’t see. Unbelief is easy because you can have an immediate and tangible reward right now. But God does not reward unbelief because unbelief does not seek its reward in God, but in other things.

Unbelief is at the heart of hypocrisy. An unbelieving heart seeks the reward of man’s praise, because it doesn’t have the faith to believe that God’s praise is better. It doesn’t have faith to believe that God exists—I’m not talking about just intellectually, but that he really exists in our world, our lives, our problems—and that he rewards those who seek him with a greater reward than anything we could ever have here. And so, it produces hypocrisy. A religious person, without faith wants all the benefits of religion, but when it comes down to it he really doesn’t believe, and so all he can do is be a hypocrite.

4.      Application:

Reflect on your motivations:

Many of you guys just came back from camp; it’s cool because a lot of my close friends in college are actually guys from camp. A lot of my friends are from CIBC. Sometimes we’ll joke about it, and I’ll tell them that the CI guys were the heathens at camp, and they’ll tell me that the CG guys were the Pharisees.

I’m not sure if your generation of guys is still like this. But that’s been the stereotype of CG, especially CG guys in the past. That we may know our Bibles, we may know our theology, but we’re proud and we look down on other people. Sadly, I think it was true of my generation. I want to let you guys know: take pride seriously. When you guys go to camp, don’t be puffed up because of what you know. Don’t separate yourself from other churches because you think you’re better than them. We have to put that stuff to death.

But I don’t want you guys to just stop with outward actions. If we just change our outward actions—say we stop talking badly about other churches or we stop bragging—but we fail to address the root cause, then, our sin will just appear in different areas. It’s like pulling out a weed but leaving the root. The weed will just grow back, just in a different place or in a different form.

I know for myself I addressed many of the outward signs of being a Pharisees, while inwardly I still had the heart of a Pharisee. So even though I appeared more religious, my religion was still as empty and hypocritical as it was before. If anything, I just became even better in my hypocrisy. I learned that the appearance of humility is able to better win you the praise of man than boastfulness. So, just remember, you don’t have to be outwardly prideful to be a Pharisee. In fact, humanly speaking, you can appear very humble. So I encourage you guys to reflect on your motivations. Ask yourselves:

  1. Where in my life am I being hypocritical?
  2. How much of my ‘love for God’ is really a desire for man’s praise?
  3. How much am I seeking my reward in earthly things? (Litmus test: how is my faith when I’m alone?)

I encourage you guys to check on your motivations often. I think the temptation for hypocrisy is especially strong in groups like ours, where, just like the Pharisees, there’s a lot of knowledge and lot of church involvement. Slowly, we can begin to think that knowing something is the same thing as living it out. Or that coming to church is the same thing as doing it for God. It’s not.

Repent of our sinful hearts

If you read the Gospels, the hardest thing for the Pharisees to do was to recognize their sinfulness. Prostitutes and Tax collectors came to Jesus for forgiveness of sins because they understood they needed him. The Pharisees thought they were righteous, so they never realized how much they needed Jesus.

Personally, this is a big struggle for me. Day to day, it’s hard for me to really feel the weight of my sinfulness and my need for Christ. I feel guilty if I commit a ‘big’ sin, like lust or blowing up at my parents. But for the most part, it’s hard for me to understand that I’m a sinner deserving of hell.

For those of you who might be like me, this passage should hit us like a train about why we desperately need Jesus. Jesus isn’t harshest to the prostitutes or tax-collectors; he’s harshest with religious people who had hypocritical hearts. Jesus hates all sin but he really, really, really hated the sin of the Pharisees. Just think about it. Remember Matthew 23, Jesus devotes an entire chapter to rebuking the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. Not only that, he started every other line with the line, “Woe to you Pharisees, hypocrites” Imagine if Jesus spent a whole chapter of scripture rebuking you—“Woe to you,                 , hypocrite…”—That’s crazy. Nothing like that happens in all the rest of the Gospels.

I want you guys to think for a moment why is this? What was it about the Pharisee’s sin that angered Jesus so much? Why was the Pharisee’s sin so bad? While you’re thinking about that, turn with me over to Matthew 22:34. Now, consider the context of this passage. This is in the last week of Jesus’ ministry before he goes to die on the cross. This passage is sandwiched between chapter 21 and 23. In chapter 21, Jesus directly calls out the Pharisees in the parable of the Two Sons and the Tenants in chapter 21 to the point where the text even says, “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables they perceived that he was speaking about them” (Matthew 21:45 ESV). And we read chapter 23 earlier, when Jesus gives seven woes to the Pharisees. Let’s read what it says:

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34-40, ESV)  

This is pretty crazy. Why is Jesus so angry with the Pharisees in chapter 23? Why is the Pharisee’s sin so heinous? I think we find the answer here in chapter 22. In this passage, Pharisee’s come to ask Jesus about the most important commandment in all the Scriptures.  Jesus tells them to love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. Now, follow with me here, what sin is the complete opposite of the greatest commandment? Is it lust? Is it anger? Nope. It’s the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Jesus tells them to love the Lord with everything they have. The Pharisee’s love the praise of man and they don’t love God at all. They think they have a reward with God, while all they’re trying to do is gain favor with people.

Now, check this out. Jesus doesn’t have to answer the Pharisee’s question. Just earlier in chapter 21, the Pharisee’s ask Jesus a question and Jesus just asks them a question right back that they can’t answer. This is just my speculation, but I think by answering their question, Jesus is offering them grace. Jesus is trying to show them that they’re not righteous. When the Pharisees heard the greatest commandment, it should have broken them. It should have brought them to sorrow and repentance with tears, because, even though they were supposed to be the teachers of the law, they had broken the greatest commandment. That was their sin.

But remember what it says in vs. 34: “when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.” The Pharisees were so blinded by their hypocrisy that they just want to stump him. They don’t care about Jesus’ answer. Jesus is giving them the words of eternal life, a chance to see their sinfulness and turn to him. And it goes right over their heads, because they’re not even listening. They just want to see if it’s a good answer or not. Do you see why hypocrisy is so evil? It is completely against the greatest commandment. Not only that, It hardens them to the grace of God. And it is that hypocrisy, their unbelief, it is their love for man’s praise, and jealousy against anyone who might take that away that leads them to crucify the Son of God.

Now, we may not completely hypocritical like the Pharisees, but, I don’t care who you are, hypocrisy, unbelief, and love of Man’s praise still exist in our hearts. For many of us, we really struggle with this. It’s scary because I understand the Pharisees. I understand why they acted the way they did, because I see those same motivations in myself. And so, when we see those sins in our hearts, it should break us. We should be humbled, knowing  that on our own we had no power to escape our hypocrisy. We had no answer to Jesus’ question to the Pharisees, “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? (Matthew 23:33, ESV)”. We should hate those sins when we see them in our hearts, realizing that it was those very sins which led the Pharisees to harden their hearts and crucify Jesus. And, as we realize that we’re not good, that we’re deeply and profoundly sinful, let us we come again in gratitude that Jesus has shown us grace. He died for us. He has not left us blind and hardened to our sinfulness like the Pharisees, but he’s given us eyes to see how much we need him.

Refocus our Righteousness: Live for the Praise of God by faith

My last point is to refocus our righteousness. I’ve focused so far, almost exclusively, on the negative example of the Pharisees. But in our passage, Jesus actually tells us about how he wants us to follow him. And so I’ve entitled my last point.

Look back to our passage, starting in verse 3:

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Now look down at verse 6:

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And finally at verse 17:

But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Jesus tells us to be the exact opposite of the Pharisee’s. The Pharisee’s practiced their righteousness in public so that their good deeds might be seen by other people. Jesus tells us to practice our righteousness in private so that we might not put our hope in being seen by people, but in being seen by God. The Pharisee’s lived by sight for an earthly reward: the recognition and glory that comes from man. Jesus tells us to live by faith for the heavenly reward that comes from God.

I love the words of Jesus because they’re so simple, yet so profound. I think if we understand what Jesus is saying here and we apply it to our hearts then it will change our lives. Jesus’ teaching here is definitely one of those gems that I’ve taken away and made one of the foundational principles of my life. If I could sum up Jesus’ point here into a principle, it would sum it up like this: Live for the praise of God by faith. Simple right? This has two parts to it. Let me break each of them down quickly.

Live for the praise of God: What I mean here is that we should care about what God thinks about us more than what anybody else thinks about us. We need want to please God more than we want to please anyone else; more than our friends, more than any girl, or any dating relationship, or any spouse, more than our parents, more than our teachers or our bosses. When we care most about what God thinks about pleasing him, then we’re empowered to do anything, even if nobody else sees or cares. Like Jesus said, we can give to the needy, we can pray, we can fast without anybody knowing because we’re doing it for God.

By Faith: This sounds great, but you and I know that this is really hard to do. Why? Because when we do things to be seen by people, we feel an 1) immediate and 2) tangible reward: their approval. When you work at your job you receive an immediate and tangible reward: money But when we do things for God, because we can’t physically see or hear him, sometimes it feels like our good deeds are being wasted, or that there’s no point. That’s why we need to live for the praise of God by faith. Hebrews 11:1 says. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” By faith, we let go of our earthly rewards—of people’s approval,  money, fame, pleasure—to trust in God for a heavenly reward in Christ. By faith, we trust in God’s character, that even though we don’t have any immediate reward, that he will be faithful to fulfill his promises and that the reward of knowing Christ is far better than any sinful pleasure we have here.

But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 4:2, ESV)

Thanks for reading! I hope it was as encouraging and convicting to you as it was for me as I was preparing.

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