What Hypocrisy Looks Like
In this part of the “Sermon on the Mount” which we take up today, Jesus speaks much about the topic of hypocrisy. Now, hypocrisy is a word that is often misunderstood and, thus, misapplied. To wit, people often think that if a person is trying to behave a certain way and fails at it, then that person is a hypocrite. This is then applied to Christians because, well…they sin, too. But attempting to do good and failing to do so is not hypocrisy, it is failure. One may as well call a batter a hypocrite for striking out or a wide receiver a hypocrite for dropping a pass; after all, the first calls himself a batter and the second calls himself a wide receiver. Of course, this is nonsense. The fact that both failed at what they were doing means they failed at that time and need to improve. But in each case, neither is a hypocrite. So, Christians are not hypocrites for their frequent failures.
So what is hypocrisy? Hypocrisy comes from the Greek word, hupokrites, which comes from the world of drama and theatre. The hypocrite is one who wears a mask, acts out a role, and is, therefore, a deceiver. The hypocrite hides his true identity behind a mask. This is the way Jesus uses the word. People make long prayers or give to others for public show. People fast to be seen. (Understand one can pray in public and it not be for show, and people can fast and perhaps others even know about it. The difference is intent.) So, if you earnestly try to love God and others and fail, you’re not a hypocrite; you are a Christian who still has his sinful nature about him but is striving to grow in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ every day. However, if you do anything that is considered good or a religious duty so that others may see and be impressed by you (they won’t be), then that is hypocrisy no matter how “successful” at praying, fasting, etc., you may happen to be. So whatever you do, do so to please your heavenly Father. This is what it means to do so “in secret.”
Then there is the result of such integrity in prayer, giving, fasting, and any other thing you do for the Lord: “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” What is that reward? It would be personal to that believer. I sense that it would be spiritual, though. That is how God rewards us – with assurance, with renewed strength, with a greater sense of humility or some other Christian virtue. These are the rewards God cares about. So, when you fail, know that our God is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins” (1 John 1:9). And don’t wear a mask but be sincere.