Last night we took the evening to look at an issue that many of us struggle with at some point in our lives–hypocrisy in the church. Here are the notes from the study:
Hypocrisy: What it is.
Hypocrisy: Definition – to act or pretend in public like you have a devotion to God and live a holy life, but you use this public face to cover up a life that actually loves and practices sin, hurts people, and follows selfish impulses. “An attempt to cover up sin by putting oneself in a favorable light, at the expense of truth. To act or pretend. To maintain a deliberate pretense. ” (from the NIDNTT)
What do we usually mean by it? We use the term around religious circles, specifically in the church, to label someone or some group of people who deliberately, or habitually, act like they care more about God and others in public than they really do in private, or who act like they care about living righteously in public, but actually sin like everyone else in private or when they’re not at church.
In church, we often use the term about people who:
- …stand up and raise their hands when they sing, but they are sleeping with their girlfriend, or they’re hateful and critical outside of church
- …act positive and spiritual in church or in front of a pastor, but nowhere else.
- …The pastor who tells people not to sin, but does the things he tells people not to do.
- Non-Christians: People who act like they’re specially connected to God, but then they’re actually just like everyone else. People who criticize people for their sins, but they have their own problems.
What Jesus said to his enemies: He hated hypocrisy. Especially in religious leaders.
Jesus hated hypocrisy because it misrepresented God, and made it harder for others to get to God. See Matthew 23:3-7, 13-24, 25-31.
***Important— Jesus’ issue with hypocrisy is not that it misrepesents God by making it seem like God wants people to get rid of sin. That’s not a misrepresentation of God. God does want people to get rid of sin. So if we point out that people have sin in their lives, and that God doesn’t like it, and that they can and should get rid of that sin, that is not hypocrisy in any way that Jesus would have defined it.
What Jesus said to his followers: Deal with yourself first, then help others.
See Matthew 6:2, 5, 16. Hypocrites do things just to be seen and praised by people. They’re all about exposure.
Read Matthew 7:1-5. The point Jesus is making: “Stop judging each other for small things when you’ve got big things in your own life to deal with. In other words, stop judging hypocritically.”
What “judging” does not mean in Matthew 7: It’s not simply recognizing sin in someone’s life and pointing it out.
What “judging” does mean in Matthew 7: It means harshly condemning someone, like you’re passing a verdict down from the judge’s bench and giving them the death penalty. And all the while, you yourself have big issues.
What hypocrisy isn’t in Matthew 7: It’s not recognizing sin in someone else’s life. It’s not wanting to help others get rid of their sin. It’s not talking to other people about their sin. It’s not trying to help people get rid of sin even though you’re not “perfect.” Perfection is not the requirement Jesus lays down for helping others with their sin.
What hypocrisy is in Matthew 7: Focusing on other people’s sins, even just their smaller sins, criticizing them for their sin, or thinking you can help them with their issues while you have the same sin, or other huge obvious issues, which you are refusing to deal with. Jesus is against this. Maybe he saw his followers doing it, and so he told them—“stop it.”
So Jesus was not against his followers understanding what sin was, seeing it in each other’s lives, and caring enough to help people get rid of sin. He assumed they’d be doing that. That’s why he sent them out to tell people to repent of their sins. (Mark 6:12)
What one bible scholar said about the words “Judge not.” — “These are probably the most frequently quoted verses from the New Testament in 21st– Century America. They are also among the most misunderstood. The verse are typically used to argue that no one is qualified to comment on whether another person’s actions are right or wrong, even if the person’s behavior is clearly condemned in scripture.” (Charles Quarles, SOTM, 283)
4. How to handle Hypocrisy: in church leaders
Read 1 Timothy 5:19-22.
It is not that Church leaders are held to a higher standard, it is that they are to be clear, consistent examples of what all Christian men and women are called to. So, since church leaders may be special targets of attack or criticism, we don’t set aside the normal rules of accountability. We protect the leadership and look for corroboration. And when we find that sin has taken place, we publicly rebuke them (in the church) and take appropriate action. Hypocrisy in church leaders, especially in the form of disqualifying sin being covered up, is totally not to be tolerated. If a church tolerates it, they’re in violation of the teaching of scripture. I mean, of course it does happen. But does God want it to happen? No.
Now in a case where a church leader is living a lie, and no one knows, then they’re living in secret hypocrisy, and they will answer to the Jesus. They’re going to see him one day and they will give account for their lives.
If a church leader is in sin and people do know about it, then their fellow leaders and members of the church have a responsibility to confront them, and they must be publicly rebuked, so everyone knows that hypocrisy is a serious thing, and so people can know that there is no hypocrisy in the church leadership.
So…the Bible is against hypocrisy in church leadership. It should always be exposed and dealt with—because Jesus is against the tendency we all have to teach something thing but not live it out. [Paul did this in Galatians 2:11-13.]
5. How to handle hypocrisy: In fellow Christians, that is, in the Church. How to handle sin in general with fellow Christians.
In Matthew 7:1-5 we’ve already seen Jesus teaching. He says that we need to avoid hypocrisy in our own lives, deal with our huge sin issues, and make ourselves the kind of people who can help others even with their smaller issues. See also 1 Peter 2:1, James 3:17.
The Bible is clear—the Christian community is supposed to be marked by a lack of hypocrisy. We’re supposed to be people who are the same in private and in public. If you cut me down the middle, should be the same all the way through. When I’m not—I’m failing. Lets repent whenever and wherever that’s true.
So what about when we do actually know about hypocrisy in the lives of people in the church? Here we can just turn to the Bible’s teaching on how Christians should react when they know a fellow believer has sin in their life and they’re not dealing with it. First, we see that we should confront each other (see Romans 15:14 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15, Psalm 141:5, Matthew 18:15, James 5:19-20, Galatians 6:1). A mature Christian community is going to have this as part of its life—that the members know how to give and take warning and criticism—and that they help each other by confronting each other when sin gets into someone’s life. Also, we see that we should love each other (see Romans 12:9, 2 Corinthians 6:4-6, 1 Peter 1:22).
So one of God’s main concerns for us that sort of bubbles up as you read these passages is not just that we wouldn’t be hypocrites, but that we would be actively loving each other, that our lack of hypocrisy would be part of our loving. We’re not just authentic, we’re authentically loving.
Some Thoughts on all this:
- We don’t have to be OK with hypocrisy in the church. At all.
- When there’s hypocrisy in leadership, we need to confront it. You need a couple witnesses. You need a clear case of some disqualifying sin, but then you should go address it, probably to the other leadership of the church.
- When there’s hypocrisy among our brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to love them enough to care enough to go and talk to them about it.
- In a spirit of humility
- Make sure we don’t have the same sin or even bigger, worse sins
- If they won’t hear us, they need to be separated from the community, but still loved and invited back.
- If someone comes to you to talk about sin in your life, resist the urge to get defensive, listen, and then pray about it and do what’s necessary.
- Don’t demand perfection in the one who comes to you. That’s not God’s standard. And even if they aren’t ideal messengers, hear what they say.
- All this means that, if when we start to struggle because we perceive hypocrisy in the church, we should do three things: First, we should take it as an opportunity to do any repenting and growing we ourselves need to do. Then we should pray for wisdom, insight, and love for the person involved. Then we should pray for boldness, and go and speak to the brother or sister in a spirit of humility about their sin. If they will not hear us, we should involve the church.
Three final observations.
- If what I said just now is true, then some of us might actually have a bunch of conversations with different friends that we need to have. If we’re in a situation where it feels like there’s a lot of hypocrisy around us in the church, maybe it’s because the Christians with some clarity and vision aren’t stepping up to confront it in their own social circles. So maybe some of us, or a lot of us, have a lot of work to do. But if the church is to be a place of power and love and purity then the work needs to be done. It’s a matter of obedience to Jesus. If we’re going to be witnesses to the gospel of Christ in a culture that’s increasingly feeling hostile towards our message, we need to really be what we say we are. So some people might have to choose between the sin they love and their membership in the community of believers.
- On a larger level—the kind of person who can actually do something about hypocrisy in the church, and who can actually confront evil and help grow communities of people who are genuine…is the person who himself or herself is sincere, focused, full of love, has no secret sin, isn’t wasting their life on trifles, and is engaged selflessly with others, so they know how to help people. If we really hate hypocrisy in the church, let’s confront it. But let’s also be cultivating lives of single-minded love and maturity. And let’s be people who breed and cultivate sincerity and active love all around us. Stir that up in people. Insist on utter transparency. Be in public what you are in your heart. Live your life in public and private like time really is as meaningful as the gospel says it is. Handle your friendships with care. Love people with truth.
- Maybe what we’re saying is, let’s grow up. Children know how to complain. Adults no how to impact situations and affect change. Let’s get to it.
What if you don’t currently follow Jesus?
If you’re reading this, and you’re not a follower of Christ, it’s possible that you’ve had problem with the religious people, maybe even Christians in particular, because of hypocrisy. So here’s what we have to say to you. First, you’re right—Christians shouldn’t be hypocrites. If you’ve been hurt or turned off to Christianity because you knew some who were, we’re sorry. That doesn’t represent Jesus, and it’s inexcusable.
Even so though, the truth is that Jesus himself would ask you, not to examine his followers—but to examine him. Read about his life. Listen to what he said. Look at what he did. He was the most consistent, genuine and sincere man who ever lived. If you turn away from Jesus, it is no excuse to say you rejected him because you didn’t like Christians. God won’t accept that. He’ll say, “But I sent my Son. What was wrong with Him?”
Jesus lived and died for you. Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus offers you forgiveness. Jesus demands your allegiance. Jesus promises you eternal life. Not the church. Not Christians. Christians don’t do any of those things for you. We just point you to Jesus. Now, we want to always get better at pointing people to him. We know that if we’re hypocrites, we aren’t doing a very good job of pointing to the one who was totally authentic. But the issue still is—you have to reckon with Jesus.
Secondly, if you think that your issue is that Christians are hypocrites, just because Christians tell people they should turn away from sin—then you’re just wrong. Telling someone that they’re a sinner doesn’t make you a hypocrite. Not according to the bible. You don’t need to be absolutely perfect to invite someone to escape their sin. Jesus told us to tell the world to repent and believe and obey him. That’s what his followers do. And that’s not hypocrisy. So if that’s your issue—that Christians talk to you about the sin in your life—well then, Jesus just straight up disagrees with you. He’s the one telling the world that they’re sinning with all of their sex outside of heterosexual monogamous marriage, and their corporate greed, and their hatred of people different than them, and their exploiting of people for sex and money, and their stealing and their gossip, and their ruining of the environment for profit, and their religious oppression, and their worshiping of other gods—that it’s all sin, and that it needs to be rejected. Jesus is telling the world that. And when Christians say it, it’s not hypocrisy—it’s truth. It’s life. So hear the message of Jesus, spoken by imperfect people, but not by hypocrites—hear the message of life, and drop your sin, and get forgiven.