The Encarta dictionary says a hypocrite as, "somebody who pretends to have admirable principles, beliefs, or feelings but behaves otherwise."In Matthew 23:27-28 Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. "So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
This commentary isn't about those who make a habit of sin, or those who deliberately teach false doctrine. There are plenty of those individuals hidden within the body of Christ, who have done unspeakable damage to other Christians, the church, and the name of Christ among unbelievers. Believe me, God will deal with them justly. (See Matthew 13:24-30.)
But, I think the term is too often and too easily applied. To me, a hypocrite is someone who claims to be walking righteously before God and yet in secret—knowingly and willingly—violates the standards to which they hold others. There's a huge difference between that person and one who tries and sometimes fails to attain the high standards God’s Word sets. Need convincing?
In Romans 7, the Apostle Paul wrote, “For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
So, was the Apostle Paul a hypocrite? I think not. He was a Christian who fell short of the high standard of perfection. In my opinion, a better measuring stick would be not what am I as a Christian, but what am I becoming. Compare who I am, now, to who I was when I came to know Christ. We cannot expect a new babe in Christ to walk with the same wisdom and constancy as one who'd been walking with God for many years. Am I growing? Am I becoming more like Him? Am I beginning to yield spiritual fruit? Am I allowing God to work on my “stuff?” Working on it myself? Do I harbor ungodly habits, thought patterns and attitudes?
As my husband puts it: God says, “I AM that I AM.” Popeye says, “I yam what I yam.” Greg Morgan says, “I am what I am becoming.”
In Matthew 7:2 Jesus warns us all, "For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you." It’s not that we don’t render judgment at all. It’s that in our dealings with others, if we judge harshly and dispense little mercy, that is how God will judge us.
I can hear someone screaming. But Jesus, himself, called some of the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites. But take a look at the scripture again. He knew their thoughts. He knew the condition of their hearts and deepest motivations. Can we truly know what a person is thinking? Their deepest motivation? It isn’t that we’re not supposed to judge actions and even attitudes, at all. But we must do so with the same wisdom and compassion that God does. In my opinion, we are to judge an action or attitude, not the person.
If my attitude or actions fall short, I pray someone close to me will speak the truth in love and call me on it. I want never to bring shame to the name of Christ. If what we want is to help an erring brother or sister, we’d best approach them with love, even if it needs to be tough love.