July 30, 2023

Sins of the Spirit #7: Hypocrisy

Passage: Matthew 23:1-33

How many times have you seen people die on a TV show or movie? Lots. Do those people actually die? Of course not. As soon as the directors says “Cut!” they get up and walk away. They are just acting, playing a part.

The Greeks had a word for play actors—hypocrite. Hypocrites are people who make an outward show for others to see.

In Matthew 23, we have a rather long description of hypocrisy. Jesus originally spoke these words to a group of Jewish religious leaders—the scribes and Pharisees. Scribes were lawyers; they were the experts in the OT law. Pharisees were the strictest sect of the Jews. They specialized in keeping the law and the traditions of the elders.

.2  Jesus said that the scribes and Pharisees “sit in Moses’ seat.” I.e., they had the authority to interpret, teach, and enforce the OT law, the law of Moses. The Jewish teachers sat in the synagogue as they taught. They had legitimate authority to teach; Jesus does not dispute that fact. In vs. 3, he tells his audience to follow their instructions—“observe and do.”

The scribes and Pharisees were very religious people, but many of them were also hypocrites—they claimed one thing but did another. Cf. .3b “for they say and they do not” – i.e., “they do not practice what they preach.” Hypocrites want to appear to be religious, but their behavior does not match what they say.

Illus.:  I heard recently about a SC congress woman (Nancy Mace) who spoke at a prayer breakfast, and in her remarks, she let slip that she was living in sin with her fiancé. Turns out, she’s been divorced twice and is currently living in sin, but it was important for her to speak at this prayer breakfast. Seems just a little hypocritical.

One of the main complaints about religious people is that they are hypocrites—they act one way at church or in public and another way when at home or in private. They have an external, insincere form of religion; it’s only on the surface. For many people, that’s a true criticism; their religion is all for show; it has no substance.

Can anyone charge us with hypocrisy? We must admit that we often believe and teach better than what we do. Our behavior often does not come up to the standard of what we say we believe. In other words, we are not perfect; we fall short of the standard of Christ-likeness. Yet if we are sincere followers of Christ, we are not hypocrites. The fact that we fall short of perfection does not mean that we are insincere play actors.

Still, some of us this morning might be guilty of hypocrisy. We say one thing and do another; we fail to practice what we preach. Some of us perhaps need to repent of the sin of hypocrisy and seek to change our attitude and behavior. Hypocrisy is another in a long list of sins of the spirit. As we go through this text, we must consider whether we might have some of these same hypocritical attitudes and behaviors.

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