Hypocrisy condemned

Painting of the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18)
Painting of the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18)

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Matthew 23:14

Why would someone want to be a hypocrite? Why would someone want to pretend to be something that they are not? It seems like this would get tiresome after a while. Playacting and trying to hide your real self is not something you can do forever and not get worn down, because you are always trying to hide your true self. So why do it? Because of the expectations of people. The Pharisees went through all the religious rigmarole because it was the thing to do. According to our Lord, they weren’t going through all the motions of religion because they loved God. Rather, they were doing it because they loved the praise of men and the respect and attention that went along with that.

Another way to put it is that they didn’t fear God, but feared man. The fear of God, according to the OT, is the central feature of true religion, whereas the fear of man is the antithesis of that. This is why the proverbs says, “The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the LORD shall be safe” (Prov. 29:25). In the case of the Pharisees, the snare into which they fell was hypocrisy and the corresponding judgment of God.

But can we not fall into the same snare? Remember that the book of Proverbs was not written for aspiring fools, but for those who sought wisdom. It is to these people that there is this warning against the fear of man. It is to the disciples that our Lord appeals in our text. Why? Because the sin of the Pharisees can easily become the sin of every one of us. Especially the fear of man’s disapproval.

Now why is this such a big thing? It is a big thing because it puts men in the place of God. This is of course highly insulting to God. We are seeking in men what we ought to be seeking in God. We are seeking in the creature what can only be found in the Creator. It is idolatry. How does it do this? It does this in the following ways.

First, men, not God, become the object we seek to please. If you fear man’s displeasure, and desire his approval, then you are going to seek to please man. But being a people-pleaser ultimately undermines our ability to serve Christ. This is why the apostle Paul said to the Galatians, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10, ESV). You cannot serve two masters, as our Lord put it in the Sermon on the Mount.

Second, when we fear men and seek their approval and applause, men rather than God become the objects of our trust. You cannot have faith in God while at the same time a slave to the praise of men. Remember how the proverb put it: it contrasted the fear of man with trusting in God. You cannot do both. Again, hear the way the author of Hebrews puts it: “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me” (Heb. 13:5-6). Trusting in the Lord as your helper and not fearing what man can do to you go together. Now putting our trust in man is especially dangerous for the Christian because all the Christian life is lived by faith in the Son of God (Gal. 2:20). Therefore when we put our trust in men and in the respect and approval that we are seeking from them, we are cutting ourselves off from the grace of God that we so desperately need.

Third, when we fear men rather than God, we are putting our meaning and significance in what others think of us rather than in what God thinks of us. This is foolish because the opinions of men change every hour. Ahithophel may be your best friend and counselor until Absalom comes along. Job’s three friends thrust the blade deeper into his soul instead of supporting him in his hour of trial. Many who have put their faith in the respect they have gained from others have ended up terribly disappointed in the end. But God never changes. Only God can be the one in whose love and friendship we can find true meaning and security. He loves his people with an everlasting love. He is ever faithful. No one can separate us from the love of Christ. I love the way the Scripture describes those who put their trust in the Lord: “For the Scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed” (Rom. 10:11). God is the only one who will not disappoint those who trust in him.

By: Jeremiah Bass