Understanding Hypocrites

Understanding Hypocrites
Robert Wurtz II

And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)

Our passage above and others similar to it deserve our undivided attention. Reason being is that Jesus uses a word that is considered His strongest of all to denounce certain people and their actions. The word I’m referring to is “hypocrite.” In fact, Jesus tells us plainly that the final sentence (executed judgment) for being a hypocrite is to be cut in two and sent where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 24:51). We know this place as hell. The English word hypocrite is translated from an old Greek noun that means actor, interpreter, and one who personates another. Jesus uses it of people who are forever doing something to look “pious” (godly), while they are inwardly full of dead men’s bones. They can’t give without “sounding the trumpet” or pray without making a show of it (just for starters). 

The late renowned Greek scholar A.T. Robertson stated that “‘hypocrite’ (hoi hupokritai) is the hardest word that Jesus has for any class of people and he employs it for these ‘pious pretenders who pose as perfect.’ They have received their reward (apechousin ton misthon autoœn). This verb is common in the papyri for receiving a receipt, ‘they have their receipt in full,’ all the reward that they will get, this public notoriety. ‘They can sign the receipt of their reward'” (Deissmann, Bible Studies, p. 229). So Light from the Ancient East, pp. 110f. Apocheœ means “receipt.” (Quoted in Word Pictures on Matthew 6:2) 

Our passage in Matthew 7:3-5 adds to our understanding of a hypocrite as a person who gazes upon the faults of others, while overlooking greater faults of their own. They emphasize other peoples’ faults and sins in order to minimize the seriousness of the sins they have committed. A hypocrite is the type of person who would cast the first stone—knowing they have done similar or worse things. How can they do this; you  ask? They devise clever ways of making exceptions for their own sins. Generally, this is along the lines of “my sin was many years ago” or “God forgave me of my sins.” In other words, God forgives their sins, but not other peoples. They may not say this directly, but this is what their attitude boils down to. Hypocrites keep good records of other peoples’ sins, so they can use them later to their advantage. Spiritual people have not forgotten that they were once purged from their own sins and as a result add to their faith virtue, godliness, brotherly kindness and charity (2 Peter 1:7-9). Not hypocrites. They have “publican love” — a love that loves who they want to love and shuns all the rest (Matthew 5:46). 


Blinded By Sin

Why would Jesus speak about hypocrites no less than twenty times in the Gospels? Why would He seem to hit them so hard? Why would He use the strongest of terms to denounce them? Clearly, it is because they are the most evil people around. People who are supposed to represent God are looked upon by others as examples. Some people will never read a Bible—all they read is the lives of Christians. Take it a step more and consider Christian leaders. God is holding them to a higher standard. What should we expect if they turn around and play the hypocrite? No doubt all the verses on the topic in the Gospels will apply to them as well.   

Everyone has had something in their eye and knows how painful it is. On three separate occasions throughout my life, I have had metal removed from my eye by a doctor. Few things are more painful than having a foreign object scraping against your eyeball. I suppose God designed us that way. We need to be able to see clearly, so we need our eyes in tip-top shape. This is why it hurts so bad when something is in there. Our natural response is to get that thing out of there! Now! Not later; right this second! We can’t have our eyes destroyed by foreign objects. Nevertheless, imagine the doctor entering the room with a small beam (pencil), medium beam (broom stick), or a large beam (floor joist) protruding from their eyes. If such were the case, it would undoubtedly blind their eyes. How are they going to help me fix my eye when they are completely blind? This is common sense. 

Obviously, this passage is intended to be metaphorical, but we can easily see the difficulty here. A person with a speck in their eye may be rubbing it or flushing it with water, but a person with a beam ought to be screaming in pain. But they are not. How can this be? They apparently don’t see or feel it. In other words, everyone can see the hypocrites issues but the hypocrite. This is very sobering. Notice Jesus’ words, “First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly…” A hypocrite is in no shape to help anyone. They are in 100X worse condition than the people they are criticizing or “trying to help.”

Right Response to Hypocrisy

If we fit this picture, our first step is to take our focus off of others and get it on ourselves. Allow God’s Word to do its work and acknowledge that we have a plank in our own eye (if so be that we have one). Acknowledge that it is there in the strongest of terms. We can’t use strong terms for other peoples’ sins — use euphemisms for ours and avoid the charge of hypocrisy. We have to call it what it is and repent. What good is it to go on focusing on somebody else? Perhaps even while reading this you may be thinking, “I know someone that does that!” If so, you are already falling into the trap. We need to ask ourselves if the passage applies to us. As if we locked ourselves in a room alone with God and Matthew 7:3-5, we need to let God do a work in us. We need to allow Him to turn our attention back upon our own spiritual condition. Not our enemy; not our rivals, but me. 

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