How to Handle Hypocrisy

I don’t know the man; not even his name. But if I ever did, I’d tell him what a jerk he is. No, that’s not true. My thought language as I read about what he did was much stronger. I can get really angry at the blatant duplicity of some of the supposedly “Christian” men I hear about. This unknown man had multiple affairs, which he denied and lied to his wife about. He even went on vacations with his women “friends;” sent them money; and more.

Yet when his wife had enough, and legally separated herself and their children from his emotional abuse and manipulations, he called foul. He also argued that garnishing his wages to ensure that child support was paid would bankrupt them. He said she was ruining him and out for revenge. Then he pulled out the big guns. He claimed that her actions in going to court over child support was “unbiblical” because the ungodly shouldn’t determine what they do within their family. What a hypocrite!

In Matthew 15 is an example of how Jesus handled a bunch of hypocrites. Jesus was approached by a group of Pharisees and scribes who had traveled all the way from Jerusalem to Galilee to see him. They came all that way to ask why his disciples broke the traditions of the elders by not washing their hands before they ate.

In this particular case, the tradition was an extension of the ceremonial washing required of the priests (Exodus 30:17-21). Contact with unclean things made your hands unclean. And if unclean hands touched food, that too became unclean. The tradition of hand washing before meals to remove ceremonial defilement can be traced back to the teachings of Hillel and Shammai, two of the greatest rabbis in Jewish tradition. Both were Pharisees. So these Pharisees weren’t seeking to be enlightened by Jesus. They were trying to pick a fight.

Using a typical rabbinic technique, Jesus answered their question with another question, “Why do you break God’s commandments for the sake of your tradition?” Quoting the 5th commandment in Exodus 20:12, and then citing Exodus 21:17, Jesus pointed to how the tradition of Corban could be used to justify not helping others in need; even someone’s parents. Corban meant that money or other material resources that were pledged to the temple could not be transferred or given to anyone else. When the individual died the funds or resources would be turned over to the temple, BUT the materials could still be used by the giver while they were still alive! In this way, the Corban tradition of men nullified the word of God.

So these upright, religious Pharisees were really just hypocrites; they said one thing but did another. Jesus again turned to Scripture, quoting Isaiah 29:13 to show how they honored God with their lips, but their heart was far from Him. Their “spirituality” was in vain, for they presented their own wisdom as being on par with the word of God.

Verse 14 of Isaiah 29 adds to their condemnation, and would likely have been understood by the Pharisees as being implied, but left unsaid by Jesus. In Isaiah 29:14 God said: “I will again do wonderful things with this people.” BUT “The wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.” In other words, the traditions taught to you by the Pharisees will wither and die. Turning from the Pharisees and calling the people to him, Jesus prophetically acts out the application of Isaiah 29:14 in his situation.

Jesus turned away from these religious leaders who had come from Jerusalem to see him and started to teach the ordinary people who had gathered to hear him. And he has the audacity to negate the very tradition they had come to confront him about. He said that it wasn’t what went into a person that defiled them. Rather, it was what came out of them that defiled the person.

The disciples apparently missed what Jesus said at this moment. Seemingly overcome with jaw dropping amazement at what he had just said, they watched the Pharisees walk away in a huff. The elite spiritual, religious group of that time and Jesus had just insulted and humiliated them—intentionally!

The disciples essentially asked him if he realized that he had just offended the Pharisees. Jesus responded by saying that the Pharisees were blind guides; let them alone—don’t chase after them. Peter then asked Jesus to explain what he meant when he said: “It’s not what goes into a person’s mouth that defiles them, but rather what comes out of their mouth.”

Seemingly frustrated that they still didn’t get it, Jesus said that whatever a person puts into the mouth passes into the stomach and is eventually “expelled.” Rather, what comes out of the mouth, what proceeds from the heart, is what defiles a person. Things such as evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander all come from the heart. These are the things that defile a person. “But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”

So how did Jesus handle the hypocrites? First, he confronted and exposed their hypocrisy. Second, he didn’t chase after them to smooth over the perceived offense. Third, he neutralized the hypocrisy and taught that true defilement begins in the heart of the individual.

So how do you handle your own hypocrisy? Confront it. Don’t rationalize or justify it; don’t coddle it. And walk your talk—be sure that not only do you say what’s true, but that you do what’s true.