High Standards and Hypocrisy: Avoiding the Trap of a Divided Life

But nothing covered up is
Which shall not be uncovered,
Nor hidden
Which shall not be known;
Wherefore whatever in the darkness ye said,
In the light shall be heard;
And what in the ear ye spoke in chambers,
Shall be proclaimed upon housetops.

(Luke 12:2-3, The Englishman’s Greek New Testament)

If in life you do anything differently than other people–if you hold to higher standards, or pursue unusual interests, or dare to walk the road less-traveled–you have probably felt the peculiar tension that comes of sharing an hour or more with someone whose opinions about your way of life differ from yours. Sometimes such interaction is positive; sometimes it is a powder keg, with all sorts of dangerous contingencies should it explode.

So it was with interest I saw that Jesus, when He was speaking to a crowd, was invited to dine with a Pharisee–and that He accepted. To eat with someone is to make yourself vulnerable to them: you set yourself on intimacy for a period of time.

Trouble reared its head quickly enough. As they sat down to dinner, the Pharisee marveled–out loud, perhaps–that Jesus had not observed the ritual of washing before dinner. Expectations flared to ugly prominence: the Pharisee knew that Jesus was a religious teacher and miracle-worker, therefore, he ascribed to Him a whole set of outward behaviours which, in the opinion of the religious leaders, bespoke righteousness.

In His response, Jesus did not exactly pull any punches. Did the Pharisee think Him unclean because He had failed to cleanse His hands? He was a fool… a hidden tomb… a man upon whom woe would soon come. “Did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also?” Jesus asked.

Why then do you concern yourself with cleaning the outside when your heart is still filthy?

“But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them.”

The dinner had sharp consequences. Not only the Pharisee, but many other influential men who were present took high offense at Jesus’ words. From then on, Luke records, they “lay wait for him,” deliberately provoking Him again and again; seeking for some word they could use to destroy Him.

But Jesus had more to say: this time to His disciples. The Pharisees were men who walked a different road, ostensibly following after God. Jesus’ disciples were also choosing an unusual road, and were susceptible to the same traps that had taken the religious leaders.

Jesus gathered His disciples around Him and said, “Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops. And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.”

Leaven was an old picture of sin: it is the little thing that ruins the whole. Hypocrisy had ruined the Pharisees, and Jesus warned His disciples not to let it enter into their lives.

It is a warning just as pertinent to us, today: everyone who chooses to walk an unusual road will be vulnerable to the snare of hypocrisy.

Just what is hypocrisy? Put simply, hypocrisy is the loss of the heart.

Look at the example Jesus used in the house of the Pharisees. The law commanded Israel to tithe their income, and the Pharisees did this–scrupulously. In fact, they tithed even the tiniest parts of their income: spices. This outward ritual had become extremely important to them. They measured their own spirituality by it, and by things like washing their hands before meals. But somewhere they had lost the heart of the law. They “passed over judgment and the love of God.” They did not care for the poor with the rest of their riches, nor did they love God at all. Rather, they loved the accolades of men, and the smug sense of their own righteousness.

They had lost heart; every true thing in them had died; and they remained as white-washed tombs. This is the snare of hypocrisy. Attending only to the outward, they could never become pure. Attending only to the expectations of men, they could never see God.

What causes hypocrisy?

Hypocrisy is chiefly born of response to others. In some cases, as Jesus pointed out when He accused the Pharisees of “loving the uppermost seat, and greetings in the market,” it comes of desiring man’s respect. We love to be looked up to; others tell us we are holy, and we partially believe them. And so we begin to tune our behaviour in order to draw a certain sound that will make others take note.

Hypocrisy is often born of judgement. We may not start out as judgemental people: if we are living differently, we will need to defend our behaviour, to examine it, to solidify our convictions and seek God wholly. The tragedy comes when our convictions turn into condemnations: when we turn our eyes from God to men. Before long our lives are all about our convictions; the whole point of living is to uphold an outward standard. The heart is lost, and before long we no longer love mercy, or judgement, or God Himself–we love only our shiny outer shells.

Finally, hypocrisy is born of fear. We often view hypocrisy as characterized by speaking one thing and doing another; sometimes it is a matter of holding silent and letting our actions proclaim false allegiances. Jesus’ boldness–His absolute lack of hypocrisy–in the Pharisee’s house brought Him into serious trouble. Thus, He urged His disciples not to fear those whose power is only temporal, but to live their lives in relation to Him who is eternal. If we truly live what is in our hearts we may face persecution, but it is not worth backing out.

In any case, Jesus tells us, nothing is truly hidden. We may think we are keeping ourselves safe, but what we have spoken in the ear will be proclaimed on the housetops one day. We may think, conversely, that we are keeping up a beautiful image: but the sham will be uncovered. A terrifying prospect for those whose lives are marked by inconsistency.

If I would not be a hypocrite, I must keep my heart alive. I must seek God, and love Him, and confess my sins: walk in the light, as He is in the light. When my walk comes out of my heart, I will live a consistent life–not a perfect one, not one without failures and sins–but one that is ultimately consistent with my love for God. I will fear God, and learn to fear man less with every day.

I write about hypocrisy because I, like the Pharisees and like Jesus’ fledgling disciples, am so susceptible to it. God has called me to forge out a life that is different from others, that stands in contrast with so much in our culture. And the danger is ever-present that I will fixate on the various responses of men, and somewhere the heart will be lost. I don’t date, I don’t drink, I don’t watch TV; I strive to make good use of my gifts; I look, talk, and act differently than most girls my age.

There are days when I wake up and realize that I have been tithing the smallest parts of my life, and passing over mercy, over judgement–over love.

God’s blessings on you, my whole-hearted companions; may you overcome your fears in Him, and press on in love for the God who bought you.

* * *

The story and verses in this article are found in Luke 11:37-54 and 12:1-5.







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