Hypocrite or Human
Most of us have heard someone say, "I don't attend church because it's full of hypocrites." But what exactly is a hypocrite? Is it anyone who doesn't live a perfect Christian life? In this study, we'll learn to distinguish between genuine faith and hypocrisy.
A. What is hypocrisy?
According to Dictionary.com, a hypocrite is "a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions [contradict those] beliefs." The word comes from the Greek for a stage actor—someone who pretends to be what he is not.
The prophet Jeremiah lived in a time when the majority of Israelites practiced a religion laden with hypocrisy.
- According to Jeremiah, what sins had they committed (Jer. 7:5-9)?
- What did they assume about the requirements to receive God's blessing (vv. 4, 8, 10)?
- In what ways are modern-day church-goers similar to the Israelites of Jeremiah's day?
In Jesus' day, spiritual leaders called the Pharisees considered themselves righteous because of the religious laws they observed.
- What did Jesus say their motivation was (Matt. 23:4-5)?
- Describe a hypocrite according to Titus 1:15-16.
- Do you pretend to be more spiritual than you are? Why?
B. What is NOT hypocrisy?
Read Job 1:8-12.
- What did Satan think was Job's motivation for fearing God?
Matthew Henry's "Commentary" says this about Job 1:
See how Satan censures Job. This is the common way of slanderers, to suggest that which they have no reason to think is true. But as there is nothing we should dread more than really being hypocrites, so there is nothing we need dread less than being called and counted so without cause. It is not wrong to look at the eternal recompense in our obedience; but it is wrong to aim at worldly advantages in our religion.
- What are some of the temporal benefits you receive as a result of living a righteous, obedient life?
- Why do you think God's blessings sometimes become our primary motivation for living righteously?
- How does Job later demonstrate his unconditional allegiance to God (Job 13:15)?
Jesus treated prideful religious people far differently than those who had failed and were repentant.
- Re-read the definition of hypocrisy given at the beginning of this study. Do you think Peter was a hypocrite for first declaring his readiness to die with Christ and later denying Him (John 13:37; 18:27)? Why or why not?
- How did Jesus respond to Peter's betrayal (John 21:15-25)?
- What do you think God's reaction is when we boldly take a stand for Him and then publicly fail to live up to our beliefs?
- Have you ever regretted making your faith known because you later failed to behave as you feel a Christian should?
C. Fearing the "hypocrite" label
Our culture says that faith should be kept private. So when we step out in obedience to God, people often misunderstand. They might think we are legalistic, "holier-than-thou," or insincere. Unfortunately, sometimes fear of what others think keeps us from following the Holy Spirit. We might censor our speech, restrict our actions, and harness our compassion, not wanting to call attention to ourselves.
- Do you fear being called a hypocrite (in contrast with being one)? Why or why not?
- Describe a time you didn't follow the Lord because you thought others would misinterpret your motives.
- In what types of situations do you lack the freedom to be as spiritual as you really are? Why?
Today, when believers don't obey the Lord for fear of being called a hypocrite, we fall into the same sin as the Pharisees—seeking to please others instead of God. Like these spiritual leaders of the first century, we become actors—except we, at times, pretend to be less spiritual.
- List some reasons people don't reveal their full measure of spirituality.
- What would help you freely express who you are spiritually, despite what others might think?
Closing: When we take a stand for Christ and then fall flat on our faces, we aren't hypocrites. The best thing we can do is obey the Lord, risk making fools of ourselves, and then give ourselves grace to be human.
Prayer: Lord, help me desire praise from You more than from others, and boldly exercise the faith You have given me. Help me become a more sincere, obedient follower, even if that means others will misjudge my motives. Amen.