Hypocrisy is a nagging sin. It’s subtle and it is sinister, often creeping in unawares. It is a false claim to devotion. It is the attempt of an unclean heart to look clean by dressing itself up in all kinds of goodly deeds and words. It’s horribly insincere and God hates it.
Here in Luke chapter 11, Jesus denounces the Scribes, lawyers and Pharisees as hypocrites. They are heading for judgement, and only repentance and a new heart will deliver them.
Woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe the mint and the rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others (Luke 11:42)
The predominant charge has to do with demonstrating love and justice for our neighbour as the benchmark for measuring our love for God. (1 John 4:20)
No matter which way you bend it, a failure to love our neighbour, who is the image of God, is a failure to love God.
Jesus only gives one command throughout Luke 11:37-52 and it’s in Luke 11:41. That verse calls us to do some self-examination and check our own hearts for hypocrisy. To do that you need to keep your focus on the charges, not the judgement. The question is, do these charges apply to me?
Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness (Luke 11:39)
Hypocrisy knows how to speak and act in the church so as to be liked, admired and approved. But take a look inside. What’s all that wickedness in your motivation? What’s that filth and greed and hidden hate all about?
You love the best seats in the synagogue and greetings in the market-place (Luke 11:43)
Hypocrisy loves the best seats. The man described here wants to occupy the place of authority. Like a little Caesar, he wants to be admired as he walks down the street and nothing cheers him more than having people come up to him and admire him up close.
Their public prayers are applauded – and that’s why they pray the way they do. For the applause.
But as noted by Jesus in the previous verse, there are weightier matters than your public prayers, your mint-tithing and herb juggling. Not all laws are equal. Some laws are more important than others. Some laws are greater than others (Matthew 22:36-40).
Since the hypocrite can’t meet the standards of the weightier matters of the law, rather than admit defeat he simple inverts the laws. Tithes come first and supporting my ageing parents runs a very lousy second—if it runs at all (Matthew 15:5-6). Yay, for Corban.
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Next, we have a lawyer who probably wishes he had kept quiet.
One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.” And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers (Luke 11:45-46)
Since hypocrisy can’t maintain the appearance of godliness over the long haul (it’s exhausting stuff), it tends to create its own new set of easy-to-meet standards. Hypocrisy needs something to lean on and so it tends toward creating an ever-increasing number of new laws.
Laws which bury everybody else. Don’t touch, don’t taste, don’t handle. Standards of participation, service and fellowship within the church change to suit those in power.
A person caught in the grip of hypocrisy will attempt to legislate both wisdom and tradition.
For example, wisdom would suggest that you bear the burden for your child’s education as a Christian. That’s good, sound advice and thoroughly backed up by scripture.
But the hypocrite wants to legislate and so says, “Anyone who does not home school their kids is excluded from fellowship.”
Traditions, like wisdom, are great at keeping us grounded. In its right and proper place, it is an application of biblical law. It also provides a link to the past on which we stand and help build a stable future for our posterity.
But the hypocrite exalts tradition and makes it a sin to carry your mat on the Sabbath or pluck the heads of grain from a wheat field.
The result in Israel was that true law had been obscured by the intrusion of all the things the Pharisees did and said. Instead of keeping the water clean, clear and drinkable, they were kicking up the mud and fouling the well.
Now, what we are to do with all this is quite simple. As noted above, Jesus only gives one command throughout the passage and it’s in Luke 11:41.
If we want to avoid the woes of hypocrisy, we need to spend at least some time in self-examination, humble confession and repentance. We need to check the inside of the cup.