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What is a Hypocrite?
by Clifford Tate 
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What is a Hypocrite?

In Matthews’s account of the Ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, he documented some very piercing words from the lips of the Lord Jesus Christ to the Religious Jews in Jerusalem. The entire Chapter 23 is a verbal exercise of condemnation and indignation. Why was the Lord Jesus Christ so angry? Why did He call these religious people hypocrites? What is a hypocrite? First we must define the word hypocrite. The English word hypocrite comes from the Greek word hupokrites, which means an actor under an assumed character (a stage player); essentially a person playing a role; pretending.

In those days people would gather at the theaters to watch and listen to actors (called hypocrites) perform various staged plays or stories for their audiences. It was a very popular form of entertainment for the people of that day. Therefore, when the Lord Jesus Christ began calling the religious leaders by this term, everyone knew exactly what He meant and that it was not a complement.

A hypocrite in classical Greek could be also an interpreter of dreams, an orator, a person who recited poetry, or an actor (the meaning the Lord Jesus used). The Lord Jesus Christ said of those religious Jews that they sat in Moses seat. He told the multitudes and His disciples to observe what they said from Moses’ seat but not to do according to their works. What differentiated them in the eyes of the Lord Jesus from Moses? It was said of Moses that he was a very meek man above all the men of the earth. Moses was humble, teachable, and thought lowly of his ability and character.

The religious people during Christ days on earth were totally antithetical to the ways of Moses and Christ was well aware of their true hearts. These people were proud, arrogant, boastful, and egomaniacs. They believed their birth right privileged them to be the true children of God. Their outward religious rituals were all that mattered to them and not their motivations or intentions. They were greedy for gain (money) and full of uncleanness (moral impurity and moral lewdness). These were the type of people who would sleep with prostitutes (in secret) for their own lustful pleasure and condemn them as sinners. After their adulteress affairs, they would just make long prayers in the synagogue and believe all was well with their relationship with God. As long as they looked pious they were pious.

Unlike Moses who gave all of himself to God. The Lord gave the law through Moses. Moses had a reverential awe and holy respect for God and His laws. The Scribes and the Pharisees did not revere God. Their concern was that of what other men thought of them. Therefore the term of hypocrite Christ used for them was absolutely relevant and true. Their hearts were full of evil and desperately wicked and sinful. When you listen to the Lords words, you here Him saying to them that they had more faith and trust in Moses than they did God. They perverted the teaching of Moses and held him up to a standard that Moses would never hold himself to. They misinterpreted Moses teachings and missed the Messiah who stood right before them in flesh and blood as Moses taught.

John 5:44-47 How is it possible for you to believe [how can you learn to believe], you who [are content to seek and] receive praise and honor and glory from one another, and yet do not seek the praise and honor and glory which come from Him Who alone is God? Put out of your minds the thought and do not suppose [as some of you are supposing] that I will accuse you before the Father. There is one who accuses you--it is Moses, the very one on whom you have built your hopes [in whom you trust]. For if you believed and relied on Moses, you would believe and rely on Me, for he wrote about Me [personally]. But if you do not believe and trust his writings, how then will you believe and trust My teachings? [How shall you cleave to and rely on My words?]

Sadly this is still happening in our Generation. Just as the religious people during the days of Christ earthly Ministry misinterpreted the Scriptures and missed Christ first coming (and fell into deep hypocrisy), today we still have people with Seminary Educations misinterpreting the Word of God and leading many people into Heresy, Apostasy, and ultimately Hypocrisy.

I’m reading right now a book entitled “Wrestling with Angels: The Sexual Revolution Confronts the Church.” In this book it is documented that Debra Haffner executive director of SIECUS (Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States founded in 1964), declared that “We cannot allow the far right to define family values” and in 1996 she enrolled at Yale University’s Divinity School and Union Theological Seminary to study Theology. In 1997 SIECUS published her article entitled “The Really Good News: What the Bible Says About Sex.” Using verses from Genesis, Proverbs, and Deuteronomy, the report declares “Premarital sex is OK…Prostitution is actually encouraged as an outlet…Adultery itself isn’t so bad…and Homosexuality is not condemned per se.” In February of 2000, seeking to promote the sexuality goals of SIECUS as a religious leader, Haffner stepped down from leadership in SIECUS to attend Seminary full-time.

When I read this it pointed me directly to the subject of hypocrisy. I’m not sure if this example emphasizes hypocrisy or just plan heresy. What I am sure of is that many people during Christ earthly Ministry and the present Ministry of the Holy Spirit are twisting the Scriptures to the destruction of many. 2 Peter 3:15-16 And consider that the long-suffering of our Lord [His slowness in avenging wrongs and judging the world] is salvation (that which is conducive to the soul's safety), even as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the spiritual insight given him, speaking of this as he does in all of his letters. There are some things in those [epistles of Paul] that are difficult to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist and misconstrue to their own utter destruction, just as [they distort and misinterpret] the rest of the Scriptures. (Note: Read the entire Chapter 3 of Peter and use an Amplified Bible if possible.)

Now it seems harsh and even judgmental to think of Professors in Seminary Schools as hypocrites, ignorant, or unstable. However, the people the Lord Jesus Christ spoke to in His scathing oratory in Matthew Chapter 23 were equivalent to our PHD’s today that teach Old and New Testament, Systematic Theology, Biblical Studies, Church History, and all the other subjects.

Why did people in the days of Christ earthly Ministry pretend to be Religious? They wanted to be thought of highly by others and they wanted to appear to be better than they actually were internally. Religion gave them that status in their world during those days as nothing else could bring. A pious Jew was revered by the people and always shown a place of honor.

Why do people today pretend to know Christ when they don’t? This question is much tougher to answer, because to truly follow Christ does not bring prestige and honor in today’s secular world. I believe many people today don’t even realize that they are hypocrites. They believe that they are saved and that those people who are willing to obey Christ teachings (in this adulteress and sinful generation) even if it means persecution or death are just fanatical or extreme fundamentalist. They feel that their baptism, church attendance, and church work or duty testifies that they are saved. The problem with hypocrisy is that it is an internal problem. The hypocrite is polluted and corrupted internally. If your heart has never been changed by the regenerating power of God the Holy Spirit, then you are not even aware of a spiritual problem. This is what Christ said of the religious scribes and Pharisees. The new birth is a miracle from God and produces a saving faith and sincere love for God and man. There are no procedures, rights, or rituals one can perform to make this miracle happen. It is easy for the hypocrite today to look around and see people that are far worse and he/she lack a true confidence in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Isaiah 29:13&15 And the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near Me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips but remove their hearts and minds far from Me, and their fear and reverence for Me are a commandment of men that is learned by repetition [without any thought as to the meaning], Woe to those who [seek to] hide deep from the Lord their counsel, whose deeds are in the dark, and who say, Who sees us? Who knows us?

The hypocrite is forgetful of God. Job 8:13 So are the ways of all who forget God; and the hope of the hypocrite shall perish. The hypocrite does not practice what he/she preaches. 1 John 2:4-5 Whoever says, I know Him [I perceive, recognize, understand, and am acquainted with Him] but fails to keep and obey His commandments (teachings) is a liar, and the Truth [of the Gospel] is not in him. But he who keeps (treasures) His Word [who bears in mind His precepts, who observes His message in its entirety], truly in him has the love of and for God been perfected (completed, reached maturity). By this we may perceive (know, recognize, and be sure) that we are in Him.

The inner most secret parts of the hypocrite are off limits to God. The hypocrite is not aware that he/she has not surrendered themselves totally to God and cannot there for receive His forgiveness and be born again. This is extremely heartbreaking for those of us who have been forgiven to know family and friends who are not aware of their terrible spiritual condition. Job 27:8 For what is the hope of the hypocrites and polluted, even though he has gained [in this world], when God cuts him off and takes away his soul?

Sincerely in Christ,

Clifford D. Tate, Sr.
Author, Silent Assassins of the Soul (not yet published; coming soon)

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