Series: Preacher: Date: March 13, 2005 Scripture Reference: Matthew 23:1-7, 13-15, 23-33

While I was in college in Florence, Alabama, I worked at the Holiday Inn as a night auditor. I worked from 11PM until 7AM balancing the books for the day’s transactions. Now, I don’t know if you know this or not but that area of northwestern Alabama is famous for it’s recording industry. Right across the river from Florence is the town of Muscle Shoals-a town that is full of recording studios-studios that crank out what is referred to in the music industry as “the Muscle Shoals sound.” Well, this Holiday Inn was about the only reputable motel in town so we had several musical stars stay with us during those years and I met most of them. For example, I met James Taylor, Carley Simon, Simon and Garfunkel, the Doobie Brothers, and Chicago, just to name a few of the better known recording artists. We even had a special suite of rooms set aside for these stars to use when they were in town to cut a record. It had king sized beds and a jacuzzi-both very big deals back then. Plus its walls were covered with autographed pictures of all the stars who had slept there.

Now, one of the oddest groups we ever hosted at our inn called themselves, The Parliament Funkadelick Bootsy Rubber Band. Believe it or not, there was a time when they were popular.

And, I remember them being very “interesting” people-leather boots laced up to their ears and hair hanging down to their toes. One of the band members even had a pet snake. I believe it was de-fanged or de-venomed and he kept it in the suite with him when he was a guest at our fine establishment.

At this time the big advertising promotion for the Holiday Inn motel chain was “No Surprises!” It was in ads all over the company-magazines, TV, radio, all promising that when a guest checked in, we’d never surprise them with a lost reservation, or not enough towels, or an unclean room…no surprises! Guests could count on us! This is the message Holiday Inn broadcast, “Stay with us: We promise-no surprises!”

Well, when their record was completed the Parliament Funkadelick Bootsy Rubber Band synched up their boots and checked out-but when they did this guy left his pet snake in the room. I’m not sure why-maybe he had his boots synched a little too tight and it cut off circulation to his brain, or maybe he assumed another band member had his pet, I don’t know, but for whatever reason, he left it behind. And when the maid cleaned the room she missed it. I guess it was under the bed snoozing or something. But, the next guest in that room wasn’t so fortunate. When he opened the door the snake wasn’t under the bed. No, he was coiled on the floor right in front of him-acting like he was ready to strike. Of course the poor man slammed the door and ran for it.

I worked the graveyard shift so I didn’t meet him but I still remember the stories other desk clerks told of his reaction. The man stormed up to the desk, told them what had happened, and said, “I thought you guys say ‘NO SURPRISES!’ What do you call this?!” He was pretty upset!

Let’s just say he felt our current ad campaign was somewhat HYPOCRITICAL-because we had publicized an image that we didn’t live up to. Our “walk didn’t match our talk.” Although our innkeeper did all she could to calm the man down by providing him with a complimentary room and meals, he left and never stayed with us again. And I don’t blame him! I’m like Mark Buchanan-I don’t sleep well with snakes in the room!

Well, this brings us to the second sermon in our study of seven of the deadliest sins-today we are focusing the sin of hypocrisy. And as we look to God’s Word for help in understanding and dealing with this particular sin, I think we’ll all learn that it is a sin that is indeed deadly-at LEAST as dangerous as a poisonous snake! I mean over the years hypocrisy has sunk its “fangs” into the lives of countless people and in so doing has poisoned countless relationships, causing a huge amount of damage.

Okay-let’s begin our study with a definition. What exactly is hypocrisy? Well, like many of our English words, this word originated in the Greek language as a theatrical term. You see, in Greek theater an actor often played multiple rolls in the same play by disguising himself with a series of masks. For example he might come in from one side of the stage wearing a smiling mask, as he delivered one liners to make the people laugh. Then later he would enter from the other side wearing a frowning mask as he delivered solemn, sad lines. Well, this actor was called a “hypocrite”-someone with two or more “faces.” Over the years this Greek word took on negative connotations and eventually it evolved to mean “two-faced,” describing someone who said one thing and did another…someone who pretended to be something his or her actions did not back up.

Well, Jesus encountered hypocrisy several times during His earthly ministry, especially in the lives of the religious leaders of that day-and whenever He did He always condemned it severely. In fact, in one message He did so no fewer than seven times, denouncing the religious establishment by repeating the same strong rebuke over and over again: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.” Take your Bibles and turn to Matthew 23 and let’s read this text with me, counting as we go. We don’t have time to read the entire discourse but let’s do look at verses 1-7, 13-15, and 23-33.

1 – Then Jesus said to the crowds and to His disciples:

2 – “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.

3 – So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.

4 – They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

5 – Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long;

6 – they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues;

7 – they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’

13 – Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

14 – Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Therefore you will be punished more severely.

15 – Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.

23 – Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices-mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law-justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

24 – You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

25 – Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.

26 – Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

27 – Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.

28 – In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

29 – Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous.

30 – And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’

31 – So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets.

32 – Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers! 33 – You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?

Wouldn’t you agree that Jesus used some strong words here?! Our Lord was obviously upset with these guys, because He knew the damage that their poisonous hypocritical attitudes and actions had caused. These Pharisees pretended to be spiritually strong but were carnal and impotent. They sounded righteous but were void of spiritual substance. And with all this two-faced activity these spiritual leaders had pushed people away from God-rather than toward Him.

Unfortunately these days, we still see hypocrisy in spiritual leaders. Do you remember the PTL CLUB scandal back in the 80’s and Jimmy Swaggart’s tearful apology for his sexual sins-not to mention the recent reports of the abuse of some Catholic priests, who donned their robes to lead mass over the years while abusing children behind closed doors. And the sad fact is, I imagine most of you know of a pastor or church leader in some denomination who has been two-faced-some high profile Christian who said one thing in the pulpit and did another thing when out of it-someone like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day who, “did not practice what they preach and in so doing shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces.”

But you know, we mustn’t fall into the trap of thinking that pastors and other spiritual leaders are the only ones who allow themselves to become ensnared with hypocritical attitudes and actions.

The truth is we are all guilty of hypocrisy in one form or another.

Philip Yancey tells about a special Bible study he led years ago on the person of Christ-a study that led to the writing of his wonderful book, The Jesus I Never Knew. He says that at one session, the group began to discuss the hypocritical legalism of some Christians-and as they swapped “war stories,” Yancey topped them all by sharing his own feelings about Moody Bible Institute back in the ’70’s. Apparently at that time the school had a rule banning all beards, mustaches, and hair below the ears of male students, even though each day students filed past a large oil painting of Dwight L. Moody, a painting that revealed he was the facial-haired breaker of all three rules. Everyone laughed at Yancey’s story-except a class member named Greg who fidgeted in his seat obviously offended. Finally Greg raised his hand and rage and indignation spilled out as he said,”I feel like walking out of this place. You criticize others for being Pharisees. I’ll tell you who the real Pharisees are. They’re YOU (pointing at Yancey) and the rest of you people in this class. You think you’re so high and mighty and mature. Listen…I became a Christian because of Moody Church. You find a group to look down upon to feel more spiritual than, and you talk about them behind their backs. That’s what a Pharisee does. You’re all Pharisees!!!” Yancey writes, “All eyes in the class turned to me for a reply, but I had none to offer. Greg was right. He had caught us all red-handed for, in a twist of spiritual arrogance, we were now looking down on other people for being Pharisees.” Eventually each of the class members, Yancey included, offered their apologies and the class ended on a good note-but it shows how easy we can all arrogantly slip into self-righteous hypocrisy. If we were completely honest with ourselves we’d all have to own up to varying degrees of hypocrisy.

Think about it. We tear someone down with our gossip so we can feel superior but we justify our comments by saying we are doing this so that others may “pray more intelligently.” We say something that sounds humble, but our actual intent is prideful-we want to impress people with our humility. We are quick to criticize others and so often our true motive is not to correct and make things right-as much as it is to be seen and admired for our superior intelligence. We faithfully attend worship and Sunday School, but we are quick to chew out crossing guards when they keep us from getting where we want to go as quickly as we want to get there. We sing “Jesus is Lord of All” but it is our own hands on the steering wheel of our lives. All this reminds me of a line I read from Tennessee Williams’ play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, where Big Daddy says, “Mendacity, everyone is filled with mendacity. Nobody is really what he or she seems to be.”

Well, perhaps if we take a few minutes to review some of the types of DAMAGE the poison of hypocrisy can cause, it will motivate us to begin practicing what we preach so let’s do so.

1. First, hypocrisy poisons our relationship with GOD.

You see, hypocrisy is a form of deceit and God hates all forms of falsehood. As, Proverbs 12:22 says, “The Lord detests lying lips, but He delights in men who are truthful.” In Provers 6 there is a well-known list of actions that put a wedge between us and God and three of them have to do with deceit. Listen to what it says, “There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to Him: haughty eyes, a LYING tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a FALSE WITNESS who pours out LIES and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.” So the Bible is very clear when it comes to telling us how God feels about any form of deceit-which would of course include hypocrisy.

You know, everyone is familiar with 1 John 4:8 where it says that, “God is love,” but some make the mistake of thinking that God is only love. The fact is LOVE is but one of God’s many character traits. He is also TRUTH. John 17:3 says that He is, “the only TRUE God.” Jesus said, “I am the way, the TRUTH, and the life.” (John 14:6). And, in John 16:13, the Holy Spirit is called the “Spirit of Truth” So, just as God defines what it means to be good, holy, and pure; He also defines what it means to be true. And because He does He cannot tolerate falsehood.

In some ways its like a person who has allergies. I remember when Daniel was a little guy he was

allergic to cat hair. I think he’s outgrown it by now but back then his immune system was overly sensitive to the stuff. It would attack it in the same way that it would an invading bacteria or virus. His eyes would turn red and they’d water and itch. So what did we do? Well, we removed him from places where there were cats because we knew that Daniel and cats didn’t mix. Now the analogy is not perfect, but it really is much the same way with God and hypocrisy or for that matter, with God and ANY sin. God doesn’t just choose to dislike sin. No, it’s more than that-by His very nature, He will not tolerate the presence of sin. So when we callously, thoughtlessly live hypocritical lives, we separate ourselves from Him. We move ourselves farther from Him. We become like those people Paul was describing in Romans 1, when he said, “…they exchange the truth of God for a lie.”

2. And then, hypocrisy also poisons US.

I mean, the more we pretend to be what we’re not-the easier it is for us to do so. And the more we do this-the more we pretend-the more we begin to lose our real self. Over the years hypocrites become less real-less genuine. It’s just as the old country preacher warned, “Be who you is, ’cause if you ain’t who you is, you is who you ain’t.” This is good advice for us to heed for when we live hypocritical lives the real “us” begins to DIE inside.

A farmer once cut down a huge tree that was on his land. It looked good from the outside but he discovered that the heart of the tree was rotten. He looked closely at it and found a huge old nail. Apparently years ago someone had driven it in the tree and it had caused the heart of the tree to rot. This is how it is with the life of the hypocritical person. His life becomes a hollow shell as his spiritual life withers and dies.

3. Third, hypocrisy poisons our FELLOWSHIP with other Christians.

I mean we all know what it feels like to have a friend we trusted and admired BETRAY our trust with hypocritical actions. We feel deceived when we learn they were pretending to walk with God, but in reality were embracing sinful actions. Well, this destroys our fellowship because for fellowship to be sweet there must be honesty. As Paul says in Romans 12:9 “Love must be sincere.” To enjoy each other’s company we have to be able to trust one another.

Reminds me of the story of the wife who asked her husband, “Why don’t you play golf with Ted anymore.” Her husband replied, “Would you play golf with a man who moved the golf ball with his foot when you weren’t watching?” His wife said, “Well, no. I wouldn’t.” Her husband said, “Well, neither will Ted.” I understand how Ted feels because no one wants to be around a hypocrite.

I mean, we ARE social beings. We need relationships to be happy. We want to get along with one another and live in harmony. But this is not possible if we cannot trust one another and hypocrisy destroys trust. It knocks the foundation out from under any relationship-even our relationships with other Christians. If we are to be ONE body-if we are to experience deep, authentic Christian fellowship, then as Paul told the Ephesians, we must, “…put off falsehood and speak [and also live] truthfully, with our neighbors.” (Ephesians 4:25)

Perhaps it was Peter’s hypocrisy that prompted Paul to write these words. Do you remember the stinging rebuke Paul gave the big fisherman when Peter stopped eating with the Gentile believers when the Jews from Jerusalem showed up? Listen to this paraphrase of Paul’s words in Galatians 2:11-14. “Peter, I smell ham on your breath. You forgot your CERTS. There was a time when you wouldn’t eat ham as part of your hope of salvation. Then after you trusted Christ it didn’t matter. But now when the no-ham eaters have come from Jerusalem you’ve gone back to your kosher ways. Hypocrite!” Peter’s hypocrisy poisoned his fellowship with Paul-and that’s the way it always is. It is no wonder John Stott wrote, “What cancer is to the body, hypocrisy is to the church. It is a killing agent.”

But you know, there is a less malevolent form of hypocrisy in the church-and it can also poison true fellowship.

Remember, hypocrisy is basically pretending-acting like something we’re not. And we pretend for two reasons. Sometimes people pretend to get away with sin-or to hurt others-which is basically what we’ve been talking about up until this point-but others pretend to PROTECT themselves. They HIDE their true selves behind masks because they’re afraid not to. Research psychologists tell us there are three main situations when we do this-times when we do not act like ourselves. Surveys show that first, most people put on airs when they are in the lobby of a fancy hotel. Second, we do this when dealing with a salesman in the showroom of a car dealer.

And the third place their research says most of us pretend is when we enter God’s house! Even here-perhaps especially here-most people are afraid to be fully known.

Well, this second kind of hypocrisy is another reason our fellowship as believers is not stronger.

Paul Tournier writes about this and says, “Each of us does his best to hide behind a shield. For one it is a mysterious silence which constitutes an impenetrable retreat. For another it is silver-tongued chit-chat. One hides behind his timidity so that we cannot find anything to say to him.

Another hides behind a brazen self-assurance which renders him invulnerable.” And he is right. We do hide from each other. Some hide behind the mask of intelligence. Others use ignorance. Some mask themselves with busy-ness. In the church many mask themselves with spirituality. They quote Bible verses or speak of “having deep peace” or of “God being in control” when the truth is inside they are terrified because they feel like their lives are out of control! John Ortberg refers to this and writes, “…their words are moats of protection, not bridges of relationship. It may be a stained-glass mask but it’s a mask just the same.”

Well, think about it. Do you wear a mask in church? If so what is it? What keeps you from the deep fellowship with other believers that we all crave? Ortberg goes on to issue this warning,

“If you wear a mask…if you get really good at figuring out what other people want and then delivering it, you perfect the art of projecting the right kid of image and you may impress some people, but you won’t make friends. You see the irony is, we are all drawn to people who don’t wear masks. We can’t be fully loved until we are fully known.”

You know, one of my favorite parts of our Wednesday night fellowship is the visits I receive from the children of this church. Libby Dixon and Julia Crocker and Wes Horton and Courtney and Taylor Shupert and others often make a point of coming to see me and talk with me while I eat.

I look forward to this part of my week-because these precious children don’t wear masks! They are real and because they are, their visits are so refreshing. And you know what I mean. Children haven’t learned the art of wearing masks. If they hear the ice cream truck coming or if they are told they have to eat their Brussel sprouts or if they think there’s a monster under the bed, their faces tell you exactly what’s in their hearts. It’s only when we get older that we learn to wear masks: to look confident when our hearts are scared, to look pious when our hearts are full of temptation or guilt. We may admire adults who learn to wear masks like these but we’re not drawn to them….no we’re drawn to people who, like our children, don’t wear masks. We’re drawn to REAL people. And for us to have REAL fellowship we need to be REAL-we need to put down our masks and be like the church in Jerusalem where members, “met with glad and SINCERE hearts.”

So, hypocrisy poisons our relationship with God; it poisons us; it poisons our fellowship with other Christians…

4. …but it also poisons is our WITNESS.

As Brennan Manning puts it, “The single most cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips but walk out of the church doors and deny Him with their lifestyle. This is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” That old monk is right. When non-Christians find us living non-Christian lifestyles they decide Jesus isn’t for them.

I mean, they are looking for something to make a difference in their lives, something to help them fill that empty place in their hearts that only God can fill and inside they wonder if we might know what or Who that is. But when they see us…God’s children…living ungodly lives they assume our relationship with God is worthless. They tell themselves this Jesus thing doesn’t work and they look elsewhere. As Edgar Guest said in his poem, “It is all in vain to preach the truth, to the eager ears of trusting youth, If whenever the lad is standing by, he sees you cheat and he hears you lie.”

One skeptic, who’d apparently seen hypocritical Christian behavior wrote, “A Christian is a man who feels repentance on a Sunday for what he did on Saturday and is going to do on Monday.”

And-don’t think you can hide the fact that you are a Christian. Your neighbors see you go to church. They know you at least claim to follow Jesus and they are watching.

Last week after our 3-inch snow fall, I was hurriedly shoveling my driveway so I could get the girls to school on that day we had a two-hour delay when a neighbor a couple houses down who I had never even talked to before saw me and called out, “Hey Reverend, can you give me a hand?”

His truck had gotten stuck in the snow and mud and he needed a push. I ran over to help. He got behind the wheel and I got behind the truck and pushed and as I did I thought, “My goodness, He knows me! He knows I’m a pastor. He knows I’m a Christian! I wonder-have my actions been a good witness? Have I ever lost my temper or acted in ways that would push him from Jesus?”

Non-Christians like my neighbor have their eyes trained on you as well and if your life indicates that your faith is fake-that you just wear a “faith mask”-they won’t listen to what you have to say. Your evangelistic endeavors will fall flat.

Well, how do we break free of this sin-what are the antidotes to the poison of hypocrisy?

1. The first is TRANSFORMATIONAL Bible study.

In other words, we must study the Word of God-but not just to gain information. We must apply what we learn to our daily lives such that we are changed. So many of us fall into the same trap the Pharisees did-we know our Bibles so well that we could win any Bible trivia contest-and we are proud of that-but we don’t let it change us. Reminds me of the story of a rather pompous, self-righteous Sunday School teacher known for his knowledge of the Bible who asked the boys in his class, “Now boys why do you think people call me a Christian?” The room was silent for a moment. Then one of the boys slowly raised his hand and said, “Probably because they don’t know you.” Well this teacher is like many of us-he studies the Bible but He doesn’t apply it to life and God didn’t give us the Bible just to make us smarter. No, He gave it to us so that we could become better people. He gave it to us so that we could learn how to steer clear of sinful actions-including hypocrisy and learn to live Godly lives. This is what Paul was talking about in Ephesians 5:25 when he says the church must be “washed with the ‘water’ of the Word of God.”

It’s what he was referring to in Colossians 3:17 when he said, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.” As the Psalmist tells us, we learn to be Godly people, by “living according to God’s Word.” We must study the Bible as a way of RENEWING our minds and making us into more humble, Christ-like – AUTHENTIC – people!

2. The second antidote to hypocrisy is an ACCOUNTABILITY group.

Find a few people with whom you can be completely honest-people who will commit to love you enough to tell you to take the masks off when they see you putting them on, a group where you each can do as James says, “Confess your faults to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed.” (James 5:16) The book of Exodus tells us that after Moses experience with God on Mt. Sinai his face literally glowed with the glory of God-so he wore a veil to keep from blinding the Jews. Well, in 2 Corinthians 3 Paul says that Moses wore the veil long after the glow had faded. In other words he pretended. Ortberg writes, “I don’t know how long Moses wore it or when he finally decided to take it off. My guess is was when his wife said to him: ‘Moses, take off that stupid veil. You’re not fooling anybody. Personally, I’m glad your face isn’t glowing anymore. I couldn’t sleep at night. It was like going to bed with a giant firefly.”

Moses’ wife functioned as his accountability partner-someone to warn him when he began to pretend. Well, we all need people like that-so get in a group of people who will help you in this way. People who will affirm you for the person God made you to be.

3. The third antidote for hypocrisy is to strive for it’s opposite-AUTHENTICITY.

In other words, to counteract hypocrisy-learn to be the YOU that God made you to be. As 2 Timothy 1:16 says, “Fan into flame the gift that is in you.” Ask God to help you see the unique wonderful, gifted person He made you to be-not to give you the big head-but to help you see you don’t have to pretend. This is one thing that made Mr. Rogers so successful. Amy Hollingsworth has written a book about this TV legend and she says, “When he needed to wear contact lenses and heavier make up during the last years of taping he began to grow weary. It smacked of in-authenticity to him to exchange his glasses…for contacts and cover his wrinkles with make up. When he couldn’t offer himself just as he was, he knew it was time to wave his final good-bye.” This authenticity is what made so many of us love and admire Mr. Rogers and to beat hypocrisy we need the same mind set.

There’s an old Amy Grant song that speaks of this…it’s sort of a prayer and says, “All I ever have to be is what You made me. Any more or less would be a step out of your plan!” Hypocrisy will be counteracted if we begin to realize that God doesn’t make junk-so we don’t have to pretend-we just have to be the people God made us to be.

This morning, let’s all take time to ask God to forgive us and cleanse us from the poison of hypocrisy that we invite into our lives. Will you pray with me? As we pray, first take a few moments to examine your own life-and to confess to God your own failings when it comes to this particular deadly sin. Then I’ll close our prayer…

Father God, Take the scales off our eyes so we can see all the ways we embrace the deceit of hypocrisy-all the ways we pretend. Help us to see the damage this causes-so we will turn to You for forgiveness and healing. Give us the confidence in You that we need to be the individuals You made us to be. Help us to live such that people recognize us as Your children and are drawn to put their faith in Your Son. I ask all this in JESUS’ name. AMEN

We sing now to give you an opportunity to respond to God’s leading in your life-to join this church or come to the altar and pray or to publically confess your faith in Jesus. And as we do I would remind you that one of the biggest masks people wear is the mask of self-righteousness a mask that basically says, “I don’t need God’s forgiveness. I don’t need Him in my life.” If you wear that mask this morning then listen to the words of 1 John 1:8 & 10 where it says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us-if we claim we have not sinned we make God a liar and His Word has no place in our lives.” If you’ve never taken this mask off and admitted your sin to Jesus-asking for His forgiveness, I invite you to do so this morning. Give Him your heart and life. Won’t you all come now as God leads?

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