Hypocrisy Doesn’t Please God: Even if it Pleases People
Christ rejects hypocrisy and rebuked people against hypocrisy on several occasions. He rebuked people that presented themselves as worshiping God but were more concerned about promoting their authority or self-interest, people that asked questions to show off their knowledge instead of seeking to improve understanding, or people that focused on condemning others. We discuss his teaching on hypocrisy and examine circumstances in which he rebuked people against hypocrisy.
Hypocrisy refers to a person’s motivation for an act of worship or righteousness. Is the action motivated by an understanding of God’s purpose in a given situation and desire to fulfill the purpose? Is one motivated by a desire to be recognized and admired or respected by other people? Hypocrisy could manifest in terms of a person professing a belief but their actions are inconsistent with what they profess. Also, hypocrisy could manifest in terms of self-righteousness, resulting in looking down on and judging others but failing to apply same rules and standards to self. Hypocrisy in worship often manifests as play acting, working behind a “mask,” and in general pretending to be something that the person really isn’t.
Christ’s teaching on hypocrisy could be summarized into a simple message: An act of worship or righteousness pleases God if it is motivated by a desire to worship him or serve people to fulfill his purpose. In contrast, an act of worship or righteousness does not please God if it is motivated by self-promotion, seeking human recognition, or any purpose other than serving God.
Beatitude on Hypocrisy
Christ taught against hypocrisy in the Sermon on the Mount through the 6th Beatitude and elaborated on the teaching with specific examples on giving to the needy, prayer, and fasting.
PURE IN HEART He talked about purity of heart in the 6th Beatitude: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” [Matthew 5:8]. Purity of heart refers to a person’s motivation for an act of worship or righteousness.
In any act of worship such as singing or dancing, praying, fasting, teaching or preaching, giving, or performing a service to address a need: you have purity of heart if your only motivation is to worship God and fulfill his purpose. Such acts of worship or righteousness please God. In contrast, an act of worship or righteousness that is motivated by self-promotion—attempting to win other people’s admiration, respect, recognition, or accolade—lacks the purity of heart that Christ talked about in this Beatitude. Such act of worship or righteousness is hypocritical and does not please God. Purity of heart refers to the motivation of the inner-most of the inner heart and cannot be faked. One may deceive other people but cannot deceive God. God knows, and you know, if you are “pure in heart.”
For example, in providing for a need that you have recognized (a need that God placed in your path), purity of heart implies your only motivation is to alleviate a condition of discomfort for the needy. As we discussed in a previous bible study at This_Link, the principle of purity of heart is applicable irrespective of whether the service is provided free or for-fee. In providing for-fee service, having determined that charging a fee is necessary to provide the service effectively, purity of heart means charging only a fair (non-exploitative) fee for the service, because the provider’s only motivation is to alleviate the need effectively.
GIVING A giving that is motivated by compassion is directed at fulfilling God’s purpose.
As we discussed in a previous bible study at This_Link, to respond to a call to compassion, one has to recognize the need and needy and care about the needy. Caring is important because it means subsequent actions by the giver are motivated by a “hunger and thirst” to alleviate a condition of discomfort for the needy. There is a difference between doing things for someone because you can and doing things because you care. Whereas the first could be motivated by seeking self-recognition, the second is motivated by a hunger and thirst to alleviate the sufferings of another person and fits well into responding to God’s call to compassion.
Christ describes hypocrisy in giving as driven by a motivation to win “glory from men” [Matthew 6:2]. The giver is seeking human recognition—to win admiration, respect, or approval of some kind. The recognition that the person seeks will be their reward, irrespective of success or failure in winning such recognition. In contrast, God will reward a giving motivated by a recognition of his call to compassion and commitment to respond to the call.
PRAYER A prayer motivated by a desire to communicate with God comes from the heart.
The rest of the body in that case is led by the heart. The heart talks to God and the mouth echoes or verbalizes. In this teaching, Christ emphasizes praying quietly from the heart and draws a contrast between prayer motivated by hypocrisy and characterized by seeking to “be seen by men” [Matthew 6:5] and prayer motivated by desire to communicate with God. Hypocrisy in prayer could manifest as seeking to impress people—to display one’s skill, eloquence, or knowledge so that others may admire, respect, or approve; as if the person is taking an examination on prayer. In that case, the recognition that the person seeks is their reward, irrespective of winning or not winning such recognition.
FASTING As in praying, fasting should be motivated by a desire to communicate more effectively with God. In fasting, one denies the body of food and other pleasures to focus the mind spiritually in an attempt to communicate more effectively with God. Hypocrisy in fasting may manifest as a desire to attract attention or appear pitiful so that others may notice that the person is fasting. Any desire for people recognition of your fast dilutes your motivation. If your motivation is to worship God through fasting, then focus on your fast but let your life proceed normally so your fasting does not present a special condition for people to notice. In contrast, if your motivation is to impress people with your fast, then your reward would come from impressing them.
Christ Rebukes Institutional Hypocrisy
Christ often rebuked the teachers of the law because of institutional hypocrisy. The teachers of the law were individuals educated in the Law of Moses and writings of the prophets. They belonged to two sects—Pharisees and Sadducees—that differ with respect to certain beliefs and interpretations. They were recognized as leaders of society, taught and interpreted the law and scriptures, made rulings based on the interpretation, and were at times in charge of law enforcement. Christ rebuked them often against institutional hypocrisy that manifested in two forms: (1) excessive enforcement of the letter of the law while neglecting the spirit or purpose of the law, and (2) holding themselves above the law while attempting at times heavy-handed enforcement on their followers.
WOMAN CRIPPLED FOR 18 YEARS An example that illustrates both manifestations occurred when Christ healed a woman that had been crippled for 18 years.
He noticed the woman while teaching in a synagogue on a Sabbath day. He invited her forward and healed her of her infirmity. The synagogue leader was indignant that Jesus healed on the Sabbath and immediately scolded the people, saying: “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath” [Luke 13:14]. Christ rebuked the synagogue leader, reminding him that they (the leadership class) did not mind attending to the needs of their domestic animals on the Sabbath (like untying their ox and donkey to drink) but at the same time objected to healing a woman that had been in bondage for so many years.
The behavior of the synagogue leader illustrates two manifestations of institutional hypocrisy. First, he was trying to enforce the law of the Sabbath but at the same time forgot about compassion for the crippled woman. Second, his quarrel with healing the woman on a Sabbath amounted to inconsistent application of the law, because, as Christ pointed out, he would not invoke the same law to condemn members of the ruling or leadership class attending to their domestic animals on the same Sabbath.
MODERN DAY INSTITUTIONAL HYPOCRISY Institutional hypocrisy occurs in different forms in modern day societies. If people responsible to enforce or implement the law behave in a manner that suggests they consider themselves above the law, then that is hypocrisy. Another example is a parent making a rule for the household but behaving in a manner that is inconsistent with the rule. A person in authority position (e.g., parent, teacher, pastor, king, queen, or any government leader) practices institutional hypocrisy if he behaves in a manner that is inconsistent with laws or rules that he enforces on other people under his authority. Such hypocrisy may cause individuals to lose confidence in the authority and the system it represents.
Summary of What We Learned
Hypocrisy refers to a person’s motivation for an act of worship or righteousness. Hypocrisy does not please God even if it pleases people. An act of worship or righteousness pleases God if it is motivated by a desire to worship him or serve people to fulfill his purpose. In contrast, an act of worship or righteousness does not please God if it is motivated by self-promotion, seeking human recognition, or any purpose other than serving God.