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. 

Nominated For Best Actor

Nominated For Best Actor (or Actress)
Robert Wurtz II

And why do you stare 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 7:4-6)

Notice how our Lord uses the eye ball in this illustration. The eye is the most sensitive part of our body. Few things hurt as bad as getting poked in the eye or getting a scratch on the eye ball itself. If someone is going to work on our eyes, they need several things:

1. A knowledge of how to remove foreign objects from eyes
2. Clear vision to see what they are doing
3. A steady hand to do the work with precision
4. A compassion for the one suffering

The writer has had metal removed from his eyes on three separate occasions. The preferred prerequisite is that the doctor has had objects removed from their onw eyes and understands how it feels. A callous person has no place in optometry — nor in the ministry. 

Blind to One’s Own Sin  

It should be no surprise to us that if a person focuses both of their eyes on the faults of others, they will have none left to see their own. This is the plight of the hypocrite. For while they gaze upon the overgrown fields of other people’s lives, they overlook the weeds that have decimated their’s. This is why some have charged the hypocrite with enjoying three mile-long  prayers while offering others a half-mile of   grace. When a person is falsifying Christianity, they are devoid of the compassion that flows from a true experience of God’s grace; hence, they have no basis upon which to show mercy to others. 

Putting On The Mask

Of all the titles that a professed Christian would hope to be associated with their name — hypocrite is near the last. Few words have the power to bring one into derision as swiftly and completely as this one. The Lord Jesus used it on several occasions to describe behaviors that He clearly detested. The word commonly means an “actor on a stage” or an “impersonator.” 

Before we continue on it is important to establish why hypocrisy is such an egregious sin. Imagine for a moment the seriousness of impersonating a police officer. Once a person has assumed the identity of law enforcement they are afforded the privilege of police officers. This is extremely dangerous and is a threat to society unlike most other crimes. If a person believes that an impostor is really an officer they can be taken advantage of in a multitude of ways. The time would fail to discuss how the enemy infiltrates God’s people by falsifying his identity. From the serpent in the Garden, to the angel of light, to the wolf in sheep clothing; false impersonation is a serious issue in the churches of God. Jesus thoroughly explained what a hypocrite is and it is the subject of this entry. 

Mixed Up Priorities 

First, Hypocrites have grossly mixed-up priorities. For example, Jesus healed a woman in Luke 13 who had been oppressed of Satan for eighteen years. Rather than rejoicing, the leader of the synagogue went through the crowd indignantly telling the people that there were six days in a week to be healed, and the Sabbath was not one of them. Jesus exposed his hypocrisy by pointing out his willingness to break the Sabbath when he loosed his donkey from the stall to go water it. This statement exposed the man as a fraud. He only pretended to care about Sabbath breaking; that is, it was acceptable for him to do it for an animal, but not for Jesus to do it for a child of God. Amazing.

There is another concern we must take up, and it is that of “playing the hypocrite.” This is more of a one-off act rather than a state of being. One can behave as a hypocrite under duress, whereas that is not their normal state. One way this happens is when a person changes their convictions depending on present company. This is what Peter and some of the other believers did in Galatians 2. They took a stand for the Gospel while around the Gentiles, but when the believing Jews came around they altered their stance based on what the Jews expected. Paul would have none of it, and confronted Peter about it. Having a different set of beliefs depending on who you are around is an awful sin. It leaves people not knowing what to believe. 

True hypocrites do pious things in order to appear spiritual and godly. They use their position and status to exalt themselves. If there were no self-glory in the thing, they will not do it. Jesus described the hypocrisy of those who pray, fast, or give money publicly, so people will see it. (Matthew 6:2ff) For Hypocrites, the term “brother” or “sister” is not enough; they expect to be called by titles like Rabbi or some other modern rendition. They figure they have “earned the right” to assume. Others are more pious suggesting they only want respect for the “position.” Nonsense. Imagine the madness of a person who will say Jesus, Paul, Peter or John, when referring to them; but themselves expect to be called apostle, prophet, pastor or deacon. Jesus was forever deflecting self-exalting titles. A good dosage of Philippians 2:3-8 is well in order as the antidote for such proud hypocrisy.

In Mark 7:6 Jesus describes a hypocrite as a person who honors Him with their mouth, but their heart is far from Him. This is a key definition. David was a man after God’s own heart — meaning that his heart was set on the things God’s heart is set on. This was not always true, but generally it was. He loved what God loves and hated what God hates. He wanted to please God in all things. A hypocrite says things to give the impression that they are men or women after God’s own heart, but it is a fraud. They really don’t agree with God and His word in the way they present themselves. They twist things to suit their own will while at the same time saying all the right things for the sake of appearances. Their words and actions do not match.

Finally, we are told by the Lord Jesus that hypocrites will have their place in the Lake of Fire. In Matthew 23:13-29, He gave a long succession of “woes” directed at hypocrites. They hinder people from entering the kingdom. They clean the outside of the cup, but not the inside. They work hard a making a proselyte, and when successful, train them to be more evil than they are. They are big on tithing and small on judging right from wrong; kindness to the afflicted, and a faithful conviction to uphold God’s word. The passage is well worth reading, studying, and pondering. Our Lord then states in Matthew 24:

The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 24:50-51)


A hypocrite is often so self-deceived that they live their whole lives not realizing they are one. They can’t see that their whole Christian life is an act. They are performing for the people they have told they are a Christian. Jesus tried desperately to show the hypocrites of His time the error of their ways. Most simply got angry at Him. Nevertheless, we have to come to reality. It is too easy to just “put it on” for some people. They have an idea of how Christians are to behave, so they impersonate what they have watched. It is impossible to state how dangerous this type of behavior is. 

After a while, a hypocrite becomes one with the Christian they are pretending to be. They can live their entire lives in a state of double-mindedness. It would be akin to Marion Morrison forgetting that he was not really John Wayne. How long would it take before the person identified themselves with the character they were playing? Once this happens it can be near impossible to see a person come to genuine repentance and faith. Nevertheless, Hollywood may give out awards for best actor or best actress; but in the kingdom of God, stage actors are sentenced to hell as stated in Matthew 24:50-51. This is a very sobering thing to consider. 

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: