I made a surprising find this week when I opened the drawers of my son’s dresser. Suddenly, it became apparent how he was managing to keep his room so tidy. Everything he owned was jammed into those drawers! As I sat on the floor folding and sorting, I was reminded of how easy it is for all of us to do what my son had done. We are all prone to hiding the mess by stuffing it in a drawer, and I don’t just mean physical mess.
Jesus was aware of this pattern of behaviour from a certain group of “religious people”. His words exposed them in a way I bet they were not expecting. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27–28).
These men had a form of godliness but denied its power (2 Timothy 3:5). Their outward appearance was attractive. They were revered, honoured in the marketplaces and listened to in the temple. But Jesus said that inwardly they were full of death. What a shocking revelation to those listening! The Pharisees had fooled everyone into thinking they were righteous. But the reality of their hearts’ state could not be hidden from Christ.
Jesus was condemning the practice of hypocrisy. This is when we put on an act to fool others into believing a lie about us. Those moments after church when we’re trying to fellowship with others and one of our little ones throw herself on the floor because she’s hungry. We’re fuming and embarrassed inside. But outwardly we smile sweetly, speak kindly, and make sure to send the “perfect parent” message to all watching. Until we get to the car. And then everyone knows that if mama isn’t happy, nobody is going to be happy! In reality, this tantrum presents a hidden opportunity to examine our hearts and turn from hypocrisy.
Flowing from the Heart
What is it that makes us angry inside when our children embarrass us in front of others? What is it that causes us irritation when instructions are not obeyed and the howling does not stop? James 4:1 gives us the reason. That which we desire and do not have is what causes us to fight and quarrel and murder! Sounds extreme, but our hearts are extreme in protecting our own interests. Jesus puts it this way in Luke 6:45b: “…for out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Our hearts are the place from which our actions, attitudes, and behaviours flow.
Motherhood is certainly not the only place in which hypocrisy tempts us. Whatever our life stage and season, we all want to be seen as godly or successful. How often have you thrown some “Christianese” language into a conversation to impress someone? But is your motivation self-serving instead of God-honouring?
It could look like sharing about 5 a.m. quiet times, accomplishments, and schedules full of hospitality and service (all for the Lord of course). Or it could be taking the lead in a conversation because you know your Bible knowledge in this area is pretty impressive. Each of these moments and more are opportunities for hypocrisy. We make sure people think we are something we are not. But, instead of being seen as godly and righteous because of our outward appearance, let’s aim to actually be those things by the grace of God and the transformation of the Spirit of God in our hearts.
Making it Practical
So how does this flesh out while our toddler is writhing all over the sanctuary floor, or we’re forming a social media post? We take a second to acknowledge our weakness before the Lord and ask him to deal with our hearts first. Then we ask him for help to respond rightly. Meanwhile, we deny ourselves the pleasure of “performing” for those watching.
We keep it real, enabling those around us to see Christ at work in us and inspiring them to keep it real too. When our hearts are tempted towards hypocrisy (godliness on the outside, sin on the inside) we need to ask ourselves two questions. These will help us move towards Christ instead.
1) What is it that I want at the moment which I am not getting? And then, 2) What is this revealing in my heart which I need to repent of?
Apart from Christ
Remember, we are nothing apart from Christ. Apart from his gift of grace, his righteousness imputed to us, we are sinners unable to save ourselves, let alone impress anyone. The apostle Paul said that if anyone had reason to boast, it was him. He was a pharisee in every sense with more apparent human success than anyone. And yet he considered it all rubbish compared to knowing Christ (Philippians 3:3–9).
He understood that the law could not make him truly righteous, only Christ could. Our quiet times, our impressive Bible knowledge, or the ability to speak eloquently of Christ mean nothing compared to the reality of knowing Christ and experiencing the saving and sanctifying grace of his death and resurrection. We must ask ourselves honestly: In elevating myself before this person, am I honouring the Lord and moving towards him in obedience, or am I seeking the approval of others as more important?
Friends, hypocrisy is the stuff of nightmares. It’s the veil behind which children rebel, relationships fall into ruin, and ministries end badly. Is there anything in your life today which you need to “clean out” properly instead of just jamming it back in the drawers and covering it with a coat of paint? Take some time to think and pray today, just as the psalmist did, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23–24)
Meet the Author:
Laura is married to Bryan and they have five kids. They live in New Zealand and serve as pastoral couple at River City Bible Church. Laura is currently studying biblical counselling alongside homeschooling her kids, and she loves to write resources to point others to Christ. Her days are a blessed mix of teaching, learning, picking up Lego, and pottering in the garden with the newest family member, Scout, the cocker spaniel pup. Find more of Laura’s writing here.