Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 15:7 (Holman) “Hypocrites!”
The Bible’s most frightening word, said Pastor J. Vernon McGee. “Hypocrite” originally did not have negative connotations. It was the Greek word for actor. Its negative connotations grew out of a custom used in Greek theaters.
Actors wore masks during plays. This is why masks are used as symbols of the theater and acting. Wearing masks provided at least three benefits in Greek theaters. One, masks gave actors anonymity. If they played an unpopular part, or didn’t act well, the mask could hide their identity, and protect them from scorn.
Two, wearing masks cut theater costs by reducing the number of cast members needed in a production. One person could play several characters.
Three, masks let large audiences clearly see an actor’s emotions. Before magnification screens, people in the cheap seats could not see facial expressions.
It is easy to see how the word for actors, “hypocrites,” changed from having positive implications to having negative connotations. The word easily lent itself to being transferred from actors in a theater to people who play-acted at religion.
By calling the Pharisees hypocrites, Jesus was saying they were pretending to be something they weren’t. They were religious actors, pretending to be Godly, but Jesus unmasked them. He exposed them for what they really were: fakes.
Calling someone a hypocrite is one of the most defaming terms we can use to describe a person. Thus we need to be extremely careful in how we use it.
Unbelievers often call Christians hypocrites. Sadly, we too often deserve the title. But at times the word is used against us wrongly.
A word to our detractors may be in order. Do not always equate failure with hypocrisy. A hypocrite is an actor, a fake, a person who knowingly pretends.
Many sincere believers fail often, their shortcoming being the result of weakness, not hypocrisy. We believers are not perfect. We strive to be. It is our goal. But we will never achieve it fully in this lifetime. We acknowledge this sad truth. We must never use it to excuse sin, but it does help explain why we do sin.
Matt. 15:7b-8 “Isaiah prophesied correctly about you when he said: These people honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.”
People who would rather appear good than be good had been around at least 700 years, since Isaiah’s day. The prophet warned (29:13) of people whose whole concept of religion was outward only, thus leading to a smug self-righteousness.
The Pharisees flaunted themselves as paragons of virtue, but their polished words hid hearts as sinful as the worst transgressor’s. They dared not touch a corrupt corpse, but had few scruples about entertaining a corrupt thought.
Fearing ceremonial uncleanness, they would have never touched Jesus’ dead body to take it from the cross, but had no qualms putting His living body on it.
Some look good on the outside, but inside hide anger, unforgiveness, porn, lust, hate, envy, fear. God’s delay in punishing these inner evils is not an act of His ignoring them, but rather a blessed gift, a wonderful, kind warning from Him.
Believers don’t “fall” into open sin as much as they “slide” into it. Christ-followers travel a rather predictable slippery slope toward outward transgressions.
When trying to serve the Lord, we often begin well. Good deeds are done right. They spring from within us, built on prayer and pure spiritual motives.
As time goes by, we are tempted to begin doing good things in our own strength, in the flesh from carnal motives. We don’t pray as much as we once did.
Even after true inner spirituality is gone, we can still go through the right outward motions. Rituals and correct behavior can be maintained a good while.
This season of inner dryness is a grace period, a wonderful time of warning from God. It is His way of letting us know we are slipping, in danger of falling.
If we do not heed Jesus’ kind warning, we will at some point take the next fateful step, we will commit outward open sin. Let’s inwardly test ourselves often. Is our religion for today coming from our lips only, or from deep within our heart?
Parents, help your children in this. Do require your children to attend public worship; also teach them to live a private life of unending worship. Do require your children to carry the Bible to church; also expect them to open it regularly at home, and teach them to reverence it as the Holy Book.
Outward forms must be undergirded with private at-home vigilance, with parents leading the way by their own example and with words of encouragement.
Matt. 15:9 “They worship Me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commands of men.”
When Jesus used the word “worship” here, He was not referring to what we usually think of when we hear the word. To us, “worship” means a corporate gathering, what we term a worship service. This is one aspect of what the word conveys, but only a small part of its full meaning.
To Jesus, worship was to be the essence of one’s whole life; each moment each day is to be worship. Don’t divorce our corporate worship on Sunday from our individual worship Monday through Saturday. Sunday worship is built on the past week’s daily worship, and helps prepare us for the next week’s daily worship.
All week long our worship should rise like a wave. Sunday is the crest, the worship crescendo that in turn energizes us to return to our daily worship.
Public worship, though only a small part of worship, is extremely important. By examining how engaged and blessed we are in corporate worship, we learn a lot about how effective our private worship is. Our involvement, or lack thereof, on Sunday reveals what we did or didn’t do privately the other 6 days of the week.
When we gather, are we as individuals expressing the kind of worship God has ordained, or is it merely human form or ritual? This is vital to know, because God receives and rewards only the kind of worship He has commanded.
In God’s estimation, worship is first heart-work, only secondly mouth-work. Lip-worship counts only if it is offered up to God from a fount of heart-adoration.
In God’s estimation, worship entails a desire for His glory. This does not mean He is egocentric or self-centered. True worship blesses the One worshiped and then rebounds to bless the worshiper. We must be careful to clarify what we mean when we say we have an audience of One. In a way, yes, but in another huge way, no. We too are our own audience, being blessed by what happens here.
The issue is one of degrees. We are to worship God, with blessing returning to us. Pharisee worship is full of self. It couldn’t care less about God, and doesn’t seek God’s glory. Pharisees worship themselves, not God.
In God’s estimation, worship changes us. It results in our spiritual growth. No one can enter the presence of the Holy One and remain the same. One of the ways we know we have truly worshiped is that something inside of us was altered.
We should enter the presence of the Holy One, desiring to be holier. The Pharisees came satisfied. Do we come to church saying, “Change me”?
Too often our religion is pedantic, containing no serious thoughts about what God wants from our lives. We too easily fall into routines and habits, showing no serious love for God, and no desire to learn to love Him more.
If we fail to worship God aright, what is the result? Fruitless, vain worship, unacceptable to God, unprofitable for us. Jesus deserves better worship than this. Let’s offer Him heart-worship, give Him glory, and let ourselves be changed.