Matthew 6:1–6, 16–18
I would venture to say that all of us, at one time or another, have been a hypocrite. Hypocrisy is seen in all walks of life, yet its most intolerable form is religious hypocrisy, especially among Christians.
Jesus, having concluded His exposition of the law, now began to address a number of practical issues that marked out a true believer from the religious or worldly man. He began with hypocrisy, another major problem among the religious leaders: “When you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men” (6:2). Jesus reiterated this several times, calling out the Jewish leaders for their selfish motives not only in doing good deeds but also in praying and fasting (see 6:5, 16), which they did publicly in order to receive praise from men.
Jesus Condemned Hypocrisy
Jesus condemned hypocrisy. When it came to the religious hypocrites of the day, He didn’t have much tolerance for them at all. Hypocrisy irks the world, and it irks the Lord too.
Having made clear the intent of the Mosaic law and then denouncing the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, Jesus was saying, “Look, the Pharisees are not the ones you’re to emulate.” Jesus was calling His disciples instead to be genuine, transparent, authentic. When we as believers have succeeded in doing that, it has gone a long way toward advancing the kingdom of God; when we have failed, we have hindered the work of God.
Guard Your Hearts
Tragically, the church has many times been infected with hypocrisy. Even the apostles were guilty of this sin. Paul actually rebuked Peter publicly for behaving hypocritically and for leading Barnabas astray with him (see Galatians 2:11–21). None of us are immune from the possibility of this sin. We have to be aware of the danger and guard our hearts against it.
One motive behind hypocrisy is self-interest. When Peter and Barnabas were led away in hypocrisy, it was because of self-interest, or self-preservation. They wanted to maintain their reputation with the leadership in Jerusalem so they went into hypocrisy mode.
Self-glorification is another motive. In each of the examples Jesus gave in the Sermon on the Mount—doing charitable deeds, praying, and fasting—He pointed out the practices of the Pharisees in His day and showed that their objective was self-glorification. They did their good deeds to be seen and praised by men. Jesus strictly instructed His followers to do their good deeds quietly, only for God to see (see Matthew 6:3–4, 6, 17–18).
What about when we’re fasting and someone says, “Hey, let’s get some lunch.” Are we supposed to lie and say, “I’m not hungry”? No, that’s not the point. We can simply say, “You know, I’m fasting today so I can’t join you.” Jesus was basically telling us not to draw attention to ourselves.
The Christian Life
The Christian life is a life of good works. Jesus assumes that because we are His people, we will be doing charitable acts, praying, and fasting. The important thing is that as we do these things, our primary motivation is to glorify God rather than impress people. A lot of people do good things in order that they might be seen by others as compassionate, generous, or benevolent, when in fact they’re not really any of those things. But Jesus was saying, “If your motive is to be seen by men, then their applause is all the reward you’ll get.”
The standard Jesus set forth for us to live by is radically different from that held by the world. Hypocrisy has no place in the lives of the followers of Jesus.