Don't Be Like the Hypocrites
Topic: Default Passage: Matthew 6:1–6:18
This morning we are starting Matthew chapter 6 and, as you heard read by Ryan, we are covering the first 18 verses. And I know there are those of you in this room wondering why we are covering so much. Why don’t we break this up into a section on giving, a section on praying and a section on fasting. And the answer is that if we did, we would lose the forest for the trees. These 18 verses are one message with one point.
The heart of expository preaching, which is our philosophy of preaching here, is that we would be faithful to the forest. Then, after doing that, we can dive deeply into anything we want. In fact, next week I will do just that. I’m going to go back and dive into the Lord’s prayer. But, I have to be faithful to Jesus’ main point before I do that. So, what is Jesus’ main point?
We see Jesus’ main point repeated three times. Verse 2: "Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do… - Matthew 6:2 Verse 5: "And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites... - Matthew 6:5 Verse 16: "And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites... - Matthew 6:16
Don’t be a hypocrite! Don’t practice something in public that you don’t practice in private. Don’t go through your religious motions so other people can see. Jesus says “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them…” - Matthew 6:1
In Jesus’ day, there were three really common ways this played out. There were three very public acts of devotion to God in the Jewish world: the giving of alms, public prayers and fasting. So, you can see why our passage takes up 18 verses. Jesus here fleshes out what it looks like to be a hypocrite in these three realms and then challenges us to more.
We live in a very unique time. There have, of course, always been hypocrites. There have always been wolves in sheep’s clothing. But because of mass transportation and mass communication, the wolves can rise faster and we can watch their rise and fall in an unprecedented way.
This decade alone, we have seen the fall of some of the most famous and influential pastors in our country and our city. Some of them very flawed Christians and some wolves. Just this week, one of the largest names in the Reformed world fell very publicly. And because these people have so much influence and because they are watched by so many people, the effects of their fall is greater than it would have been in centuries past.
Young people are now leaving the church at never before seen rates. Six in ten people between the ages of 23 and 38 grew up in the church and have left. And, according to Barna research, do you know the number one reason they give for leaving? The church is hypocritical. 63% of this age group make this claim.
And if you are here this morning and you’ve seen hypocrisy among people who claim to follow God and what you see doesn’t sit well with you, I hope you will see this morning that it doesn’t sit well with Jesus either. But, as we will see, His plan isn’t to forsake the church, but to purify it. Jesus has strong words for hypocrisy in the church and this morning I want to simply do two things. I want to look at this passage and help us first identify hypocrisy and, second, deal with hypocrisy.
- Identifying hypocrisy
Let’s first define this word ‘hypocrite.’ If you’ve studied Ancient Greek, you know that this is a really easy word to remember because it is almost letter for letter the same in Greek and modern English. But, the meaning of the word has changed some.
In those days, a hypocrite was an actor. An actor who would have worn a mask and acted like someone he or she was not. You’ve probably seen those old masks with the smiling faces or sad faces. Some theaters still use them as their logo. Those masks hid the actor. It hid the real emotions and intentions of the person behind the mask and projected a very different image. Even a contrary image. So, you can see how this Greek word for ‘actor’ turned into our modern word ‘hypocrite.’
And, as I said, Jesus identifies hypocrisy in Jewish life in three main areas: giving of alms, prayer and fasting. Let’s first look at the giving of alms.
2 "Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. - Matthew 6:2-4
Most people don’t realize this, but our modern view of charity is 100% from the Bible. Scholars like John Stott go so far as to say that there is not a single culture outside of the influence of the Bible that has a value for the poor and hurting the way cultures do that have been influenced by the Bible. Hospitals, orphanages, care for widows, labor laws, protection of women...these all came into the world through Christianity.
And even though these benevolence broke into the world post-Jesus, they were very much a part of the life of Israel before that. Here a couple examples: If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. - Leviticus 25:35
Or when you set a servant go: You shall furnish him liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your winepress. As the LORD your God has blessed you, you shall give to him. - Deuteronomy 15:14
There were all kinds of laws that insured that the poor, needy, marginalized and at risk were taken care of. But, what was happening in Jesus’ time is that these hypocritical Pharisees were giving in such a way that they could be seen as someone who really cared for the poor when in reality all they cared about was themselves.
Jesus says it’s like blowing a trumpet. Now, we don’t have reason to believe that they were actually blowing a trumpet. Maybe they were, but at the very least, they were giving in such a way that it was akin to blowing a trumpet and saying, “Look at me!! Look at what I’m doing right now!” And this was happening both inside the synagogue and out on the street.
I saw a politician recently talk about this really charitable donation he made for someone. He just wanted us to know about it. You see certain people in the community who are really good about serving the poor when the cameras are on. That’s the kind of service they want to do, but it’s just not as important when the cameras are off.
Or, inside the church, we see people who want to give money as long as they are recognized for it. Maybe something subtle like their name on the side of the building facing a major road. Once someone handed me a sizeable check for the church and I said I would be sure and make sure that the most prominent toilet stall in our office would be named after him. He didn’t think that was as funny as I did.
We all have this temptation. I know it kills most of you online givers to just let the offering plate pass. Honestly, how many of you want to say, “It’s ok! I’m an online giver! Online giver here...and a pretty good one too. So, that’s why the plate is passing by me right now.”
Jesus’ exhortation is that our giving, as much as possible, should be done in secret. So, secret that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. What does that even mean? It’s obviously not literal because our hands don’t think. Jesus is communicating something about the degree of secrecy. So secret that you may even forget about it. Maybe giving is such a part of what you do that you forget who you have helped and who you haven’t. You give for the joy of giving and the glory of God. Is that your view of giving?
Second, Jesus addresses hypocrisy in prayer. 5 "And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
You can see their desire to be seen quickly just by where they are praying. In the synagogues and street corners. Not back allies, busy corners. These are public places where they are the most likely to be seen. I think there is a good chance they don’t pray at all on their own, but when people are watching, they sure turn it on.
And in verse seven, we see another problem with their prayers. Their heart is not in their prayers. "And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.” - Matthew 6:7 The Gentiles had these religious phrases and templates they would pray through that meant nothing because their hearts weren’t in them.
I grew up saying the same prayer for every meal. My great-grandparents said this prayer, my grandparents said this prayer, my parents said this prayer. It was actually pretty decent prayer and I think there is a place for rote prayers for kids, but by the time I was in grown it was still nothing more than a template...a box to check before we ate.
In highschool I was eating at a friend’s house and they asked me to pray. So, I sped through my prayer at warp speed, “Lord accept our thanks for these and all our many blessings. We ask in Christ’s name, Amen.” I looked up and everyone was staring at me because they had no idea what I said. The mom actually asked, “Was there a ‘humaduh, humaduh’ in there?” A rote prayer with no heart.
So, does that mean that any public prayer is bad? I mean, I just prayed in public as I do most weeks. That can’t be the case because Jesus prayed in public. Paul prayed in public. It has more to do with the attitude than the location. Remember, if hypocrisy is fundamentally a gap between what we do in public and what we do in private, then there are two simple questions we need to ask. First, does this public prayer line up with my private prayers. Second, who am I drawing attention to in this prayer? Me or God?
You may remember that Daniel had public prayer issue. The decree went out that no one could pray to anyone other than Nebuchadnezzar under threat of execution. The Bible says that Daniel, nevertheless, went and prayed ‘as he had always done.’ Praying was a part of his life. Everyone knew that.
I was at lunch with a man this week and he asked the waitress if there was anything the two of us could pray for for her. This totally aligns with everything I know about this guy’s private life and I have no inkling that he was doing that to be seen in any way.
But, what if we are just not sure. Should I pray in public at this meal or at this meeting or in this hospital room? Sometimes it is really hard to discern. I often think about a quote I would cite if I knew where it came from, but I don’t. “If you are tempted to be public, stay private. If you are tempted to be private, go public.”
So, what exactly should those prayers look like? Come back next week:)
Thirdly, Jesus addresses hypocrisy in fasting. 16 "And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. - Matthew 6:16-18
Now, this is even more interesting because it is the only one of the three examples that we are not commanded to do. We are commanded to give and pray, but not fast. So, if someone sees you fast, then you are REALLY spiritual. The Pharisees knew this, so they would try and make it as obvious as possible that they were fasting and really suffering for God. They would let their hair go, put ashes or even makeup on their faces to look worse. They would tear their clothes...sometimes conveniently on the seam line so it could easily be fixed later. We even know from Luke 18 that they did this twice a week on the 2nd and 5th days of the week which, uh oh, just happen to be the major Jewish market days. What are you going to do?
Now, some of you do fast and keep it quite. Since most of you know Drew Narmour who filled in for me a few weeks ago, he is about as good an example I know for this. Years ago I talked him into going to CrossFit with me and he failed to tell any of us that he had been fasting. Half way through the work out he was dry heaving and passing out. There is a reward in heaven for that guy.
For most of us though, this doesn’t easily connect because most people don’t fast. If we do fast, likely it’s fast from things like caffeine and social media. But then we post that you are fasting from social media...so maybe we do connect a bit here.
Again, there is this gap between the public and private lives here. Kevin DeYoung says they were “using the veneer of public virtue to cover the rot of private vice.” Jesus identifies hypocrisy by pointing out the ways we do spiritual things to be seen by man, not by God. Which actually means what worship isn’t God at all, but the praise of man.
Jesus only gives us three examples, but I think we could add dozens more. Dozens of ways we want to be seen for doing spiritual things, most of which end up on social media. “Look at my hospitality. Sorry my house is a wreck, but we are so spiritual, we don’t even care.” “Look at what a great parent I am #humbled #blessed” “Would you pray for all these people I have shared the gospel with #obedient” Again, I’m not saying that posting is bad or that social media is bad. We just have to ask ourselves who is it that we are drawing attention to and is this a sort of mask. In my own blogging and social media use, this is a real struggle and something I have to be very attentive to or things will certainly get off track fast.
And if you have really been paying attention to this series or you just know your Bible well, Jesus’ statements do raise a question. How does this jive with what he said just one chapter ago about showing our righteousness for all to see? Remember 5:16? In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. - Matthew 5:16
That phrase ‘good works’ is the same word Jesus uses here in our passage translated as ‘righteousness.’ So, how can He say display your righteousness and then hide it in the same sermon? Because He is addressing two very different things. In one statement He is addressing cowardice and the in the other He is addressing hypocrisy. The meek need to be encouraged to show their faith more and the hypocrites need to be encouraged to hide it more.
That’s hypocrisy. Seeing the distance between the real person and the mask. Now, how do we deal with it?
- Dealing with hypocrisy
I was convicted this week of my own hypocrisy. Angela and I have been trying to clamp down on devices in our home. We tell our kids no devices during the week and one of my kids aptly pointed out that no one is on devices during the week more than I am. So, if, like me, you see hypocritical tendencies in your life, be encouraged. The first step is admitting it.
There are usually two signs of hypocrisy. One sign is being overly critical. This was certainly the case with the Pharisees. This was the case with the other main passage on hypocrisy in the Sermon On The Mount You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. - Matthew 7:5 We are going to talk more about that verse in a few weeks, but the hypocrite wants to be critical of everyone but himself. Criticality is their mask. The other sign is being overly sensitive. You can’t handle any type of criticism because when that happens your mask is being pulled off.
And here is where we get to the root of hypocrisy. The root of hypocrisy is authenticity. You think people will only accept the mask so you resist authenticity at all costs. This is why millennials are leave the church. They smell inauthenticity. But the only person we are really hiding from is ourselves. Hypocrisy in simply inauthenticity and you can never deal with it until you see it.
But, once you see it, secondly, you can repent of it. This is what makes people authentic! Hypocrisy tells us that no one will accept our real self so we put on a mask. The mask of the person we think they will like more.
It’s interesting, my wife did campus ministry for 12 years, then we had all these kids and recently she jumped back into it. She started to comment right away about how different the young women are now than 15 years ago. She said that the women would lay all there issues right out there so much faster than in years past. But, she observed that they didn’t want to do anything after that. They didn’t want repent.
And here, I think, is one of the biggest misunderstandings of Christianity. So many people think that Jesus is saying your real self should look like the mask. Get rid of your private sin and then come to Jesus. That skips repenting and authenticity altogether!
Keeping that mask on is exhausting. It’s mentally exhausting, it’s emotionally exhausting and it’s spiritually exhausting. It’s hard word to wear a good mask. And it’s often the people who seem like they have it together who are wearing the biggest masks. The more we are known by our mask the harder it is to take it off, but Jesus is saying in no uncertain terms, “Take off that mask. You will not know freedom or joy until you do.”
A few times in my vetting process I said if I could point to one place and say, “That’s what I want the church to be more like, it would be the recovery community.” The recovery community is one of the most humble, welcoming and gracious communities I know simply because they have gotten to a point in their lives where they couldn’t live with the mask on any longer. It’s refreshing to be around that community and they have a contagious effect.
The answer to hypocrisy isn’t to be perfect or even better, the answer is to repent. But we can’t stop there. After we take off that mask, Jesus invites us to follow Him.
Do you remember in the Garden of Eden what Adam and Eve did after they rebelled against God? They hid. They didn’t hide because they were naked, they hid because they were exposed and ashamed of it. The trees they hid behind were their mask.
We can wear masks around our friends, but we can’t wear a mask to God. And just taking off our mask doesn’t do us any good when we are standing in front of a Holy and Perfect God! So, Jesus says, let me be your mask. Follow Jesus and God will only see Jesus. Jesus has no blemish, no spot, no sin. Yet, He came here to take on the curse for our hypocrisy so we could wear the clothes of His righteousness.
Some of you are so concerned that you will be needed in this life. In Jesus you aren’t needed, but wanted. Others of you are so concerned that people will love you for what you do. In Jesus you are loved for who you are. Relationships won’t drain you anymore, they will give you life. You will know contentment for the first time.
That’s good news, but it isn’t where the Christian message ends. Sadly, this is where most gospel presentations end, but it’s only telling half the story. To end here would be to only read two chapters of a four chapter story. Jesus says no less than three times in this passage that when we hang up our hypocrisy and live a life for God, not men that we will be rewarded.
Now, I can’t claim to know what all these rewards entail, but I do know two things. First, we will be conformed into the mask. Jesus says, “Let my righteousness be your mask and then let me conform you into that image.” Romans 8: For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son...- Romans 8:29
Jesus is establishing a new kingdom where no one will need any any kind of mask. Where everyone is free to be who they really are with no shame of exposure, but only acceptance and love. That isn’t the world we live in, but it is the kingdom Jesus is establishing. But that reward is only for those who choose Jesus over hypocrisy.
I understand that the church,because of some bad apples and, frankly, some bad churches can be seen as hypocritical. But if you look carefully at what Jesus is saying, the church is one of the only places that isn’t hypocritical. The church is a group of people who take off their masks and walk together in repentance to Jesus.
Every other institution in our society is hypocritical, but not the church. Your work asks you to put on a mask. Your club asks you to put on a mask. Your school asks you to put on a mask. But the church asks you to take it off.
Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. You need the church. I’m not just talking about the building, but the people in this room. We need each other if we are going to authentically walk into the kingdom of God. Get plugged in. Join a community group, invite each other over for dinner, join the church. Join us, take off your mask and follow Jesus.