For years, when I have read the word "hypocrite" in the Bible I assumed I knew what it meant. A hypocrite is someone who says one thing and does another. And to be sure, when the Bible uses the word hypocrite, it sort of carries a flavor of that meaning.
However, as it turns out, the word hypocrite is much deeper and more nuanced than that.
Hypocrite is a two part word, as most Greek words are:
HYPO = under
CRITES = judgment
HYPO is where we get our words: hypothalmus "under the thalamus", hypoglycemic "under the right amount of sugar in the blood".
CRITES is where we get our words: critic "someone who judges", criticism "a cutting remark against someone"
A hypocrite, then, is someone who presents on the outside as being totally accepting and loving, but underneath is quite judgmental.
The original use of the word "hypocrite" carries with it the notion and image of a person wearing a mask. The mask, as it most often occurs in the Bible, is one of overabundant religious expression (piety, righteousness, religiousness, overflowing religious demonstration, religious talk, God talk...). However, underneath the mask is a deep sense of judgment, derision, looking down, being pejorative, and thinking less of others.
The word hypocrite actually occurs quite regularly in the New Testament, especially in the context of Jesus' ministry. Here are two of my favorite examples:
* "When you pray, do not be like the 'hypocrites', for they love to pray standing on the street corners to be seen by others" (Matt. 6:5)
* "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? You 'hypocrite', first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." (Matt. 7:4-5)
What Jesus is upset about here is the attempt to present on the outside (the mask) as being accepting, but actually, underneath the mask, being judgmental.
Here is something I have observed in my own 15 year ministry. Where you find an overabundance of outward religious expression in people it is often a mask which is covering a deeper sense of judgment.
Not long ago, I was with a gathering of pastors. Most of the pastors were quite kind to me, but one in particular seemed to have an edge. I can't explain it, but it just seemed like he might have a particular issue with me for some reason. I shrugged it off, and moved on to talk to other people. Later, at the end of the meeting, when a group prayer was offered, the aforementioned pastor spread his arms wide and raised his face to the air. When a prayer request was made he said, "Yes Lord, thank you Lord, I do pray for that, in Jesus name!" Another prayer request was offered, "Oh Lord, yes almighty, I do pray for that!" What I felt that I was witnessing was something akin to what Jesus observed in His ministry. Outer religiousness, inner judgment. And what I have found is that where you find outward over exuberant religious expression, sometimes you find a mask which covers something less lofty underneath.
And I suppose, now that I think about it. I was also being a bit of a "hypocrite" to the person who was praying so demonstratively. On the outside I was presenting kindly. On the inside I was judging...
Now, one strong caveat. Not all religious expression is a mask. Sometimes the human soul just needs to express itself publicly to one another, to God!
C.S. Lewis wrote an incredible novel called, "Till We Have Faces". It is about a woman who wore a mask her whole life, and had a hidden life beneath it. What I am going to strive for in my own life, is being a person with just one face of honest expression, and to be less judgmental in general.
Till We Have One Face!
All For Now,