Dear Heavenly Father,
I know all too well that I am a sinner, and fall short of your glory when left to my own devices. Thank you for your constant willingness to forgive my sin and hypocrisy. Please place in me a desire for purity in my walk, and surround me with others who can hold me accountable, as I hold them accountable.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Guarding Against Hypocrisy
How many of you guys have ever heard the term hypocrite before? I’m sure you’ve been around the church for an extended period of time, you’ve heard the term in connection with someone who isn’t setting the best example. One of the great excuses I receive from people who don’t attend church is that the church is full of hypocrites. This leads me to the question: is it really? Is the body of Christ truly made up of only fake people who point out the flaws in others in order to cover up their own? Or, does the world have a skewed view of what hypocrisy actually is?
The term “hypocrite” actually comes from a Greek term for a “play-actor.” The connotation here is that a hypocrite is actually putting on an act. In other words, a hypocrite is someone who professes to believe something, but in all actuality, does not truly hold that particular belief. This hypocrisy often manifests itself when a person does the opposite of what they claim to believe. So what about the Christian? Christians claim to hate sin, yet scarcely a day goes by in which we do not somehow fall into it. I would argue that there is a big difference between hypocrisy and imperfection. A person who genuinely pursues something, yet occasionally falls short in that pursuit, is hardly a hypocrite. When I go out here tonight and miss my first fifteen shots, I totally expect you guys to taunt me. However, in all my years of missing shots, I’ve never been taunted with the term “hypocrite.” Clearly I want to make every shot I take, but my inability to do so is a circumstance of physical imperfection, not hypocrisy. Samuel Johnson, an eighteenth century English author, said this about hypocrisy: “Nothing is more unjust, however common, than to charge with hypocrisy him that expresses zeal for those virtues which he neglects to practice; since he may be sincerely convinced of the advantages of conquering his passions, without having yet obtained the victory, as a man may be confident of the advantages of a voyage, or a journey, without having courage or industry to undertake it, and may honestly recommend to others, those attempts which he neglects himself.”
Our Scripture reading tonight comes from Galatians 2:11-13 which says: “When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.” Here we are reminded that no one, not even the pillars of the early church, is totally exempt from the possibility of hypocrisy. Upon his arrival in Antioch, Peter had intimately fellowshipped with the Gentiles there. However, as is often the case with legalism, he gave into peer pressure from some Jews who looked down on the Gentiles. Scripture is clear that even Barnabas had begun to join in on this hypocrisy.
As we have studied Barnabas, I think it is clear that he knew better than to partake in this type of hypocrisy. What may have started off small (perhaps a gradual decline in sharing a meal with his Gentile brothers) slowly became full blown hypocrisy. Barnabas showed through his prior actions of giving to the poor, and celebrating God’s hand at work in the Gentile churches, that he knew that legalism was wrong. Somewhere in the midst of his time in Antioch; however, he had numbed himself to the importance of fellowshipping with the Gentiles.
We are not told of Barnabas’ reaction to being confronted with his sin, but we can assume from the legacy that he had established that he responded with humility and repentance. Men, we constantly have to be checking ourselves against the light of Scripture, as well as, godly counsel in order to keep from committing hypocrisy. When we are in danger of committing hypocrisy, or in the middle of it, we have to be humble enough to recognize it, and willing to repent. Tonight, I challenge each of us to remember Barnabas’ example of hypocrisy in Scripture, and also challenge us to strive against falling into it ourselves. Hypocrisy is not imperfection, but it can find a way into our lives if we are not careful.