Posted by: davidlarkin | June 11, 2011

Who Are the Hypocrites?

Everyone hates hypocrites. No one wants to be a hypocrite. In the political sphere, there is a constant investigative spirit seeking to call out the hypocrites. A Google search of the phrase, “Democrats are hypocrites” brought up “About 52,800 results (0.25 seconds).” A Google search of the phrase, “Republicans are hypocrites” brought up “About 119,000 results (0.26 seconds).” I am not willing to speculate what the disparate results mean, but obviously, it is not good to be a hypocrite. We want the words to match the principles, our actions to be consistent with our words.

In the Christian Bible, St. James admonished the first century Christians to make their actions consistent with their faith, their beliefs:

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

James 2:14-26 (New International Version 1984)

Though this passage is sometimes mistakenly cited as evidence that salvation is earned by performing good works, St. Paul makes it clear that good works are ordained by God and follow from salvation:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:8-10 (New International Version 1984)

It is a mystery how good works can be pre-ordained, and yet the Christian is admonished by James to do good works. But clearly, if we profess to be a man or woman of God, and our works do not conform to our words, as is unfortunately frequently the case, the world repeats the excuse not to seek God of the Christian because the Church is full of hypocrites, as if human failure was an excuse not to investigate the truth of the Gospel. Salvation does not immediately sanctify the sinner, and Christians will always fail to live up to the perfect standard of holiness that God asks us to strive towards.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:8-9 (New International Version 1984)

Jesus admonished the hypocrite who criticizes his brother without first examining himself and his own sins:

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Matthew 7:3-5, same passage Luke 6:41-42 (New International Version 1984)

We should, therefore, be first concerned with our own tendencies and moments of hypocrisy. How do we do this? How do we overcome a natural aversion to self-criticism and occasions of self-deceit or purposeful ignorance of our faults?

The Christian solution would be to pray for deliverance from hypocrisy, and for wisdom to discern our hypocrisy. I was inspired to write this post after reading a prayer composed by British theologian, William Barclay, aimed at such deliverance and wisdom. I was surprised when reading it for the first time, that I had never considered prayer for my own hypocrisy, which I recognized as a universal human characteristic, but never considered my own need to pray for my own watchfulness and discernment. A great prayer:

o God, help us at all times to make our deeds fit our words.
and to make our conduct match our profession; and grant
that we may never say one thing with our lips and another
with our lives.

Grant that we may not praise service and practise
selfishness.

Grant that for us sympathy may never only be a
thing of the emotions, but that it may always issue in
action to help. Grant that, when we feel sorry for
someone, we may not be satisfied until we have done
something to help.

Grant that we may not praise love and practise bitterness.

Grant that we may not sing of the beauty of loving
one another, and yet refuse to forgive one another.
Grant that we may not dream of a time of brotherly
Love, and yet be unable to live at peace with our
neighbour.

Grant that we may not praise honesty and practise
falsehood.

Grant that we may not be guilty of the hypocrisy
which says one thing with its lips and means another
in its heart, and which is one thing to a person’s face
and another behind his back. Grant that we may not
pay lip service to the truth, and yet be willing to
evade, suppress, or twist the truth, when we think
that it suits us to do so.

Grant that we may not praise generosity and practise
meanness.

Keep us from the hypocrisy of singing hymns about
giving everything to you, and then grudging every
penny we give and every hour we devote to the service
of your people and your Church.

Keep us, 0 God, from bringing discredit by our life and our
actions, our words and our behaviour on the faith which we
profess, the Church to which we belong, and the Master
whom we ought to serve; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

William Barclay, Prayers for the Christian Year 1965

I cannot condemn honest exposure of hypocrisy in the public sphere. However, before we do, we should be humble and take a look inwardly first. I confess I have consistently failed to do this in the past, and greatly need the blessings of God requested in Barclay’s prayer.

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Responses

  1. I am a hypocrite and that bothers me a great deal. However, when an unbeliever points out that I am a hypocrite or that the church is full of hypocrites, I tell them God is not done with me and if I had it all together there would be no need for me to go to church. In other words, I go to church because I am aware of my own depravity. I am aware that I can not follow Christ in my own strength and that God does not expect me to be sanctified in my own strength. On a more humorous note, I will have to say that the reason I do not have any Christian symbols on my car is because of the anger issues that I am have had in the past when it comes to “other” drivers.

  2. I had to take the fish off my car years ago mostly because I could not seem to get my car to go below the speed limit. Now I use cruise control in town, so I suppose I could put the fish back on, but then there is the anger issue . . .

    • I stay away from bumper stickers now as well. Not because of my driving, but because it was a real obstacle to reaching the un-reached. Nothing good came out of my bumper sticker theology. Lol


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