At the 1993 annual meeting of the American Heart Association, 300,000 people met in Atlanta to discuss, among other things, the importance of a low-fat diet for a healthy heart. Yet, during meals they consumed fat-filled foods, bacon cheeseburgers and fries, at the same rate as other conventions. When one cardiologist when asked if he thought it set a bad example, replied, “Not me, because I took my name tag off.”

Hypocrites! When you read the word someone came to your mind. In fact, that is the #1 view about Christians by non-church goers. Christians are perceived to be hypocrites. Are we? The truthful answer is Yes and No. Why are Christians hypocritical? One answer is that we are not surrendered to Jesus. We give Him partial control of our lives. We try to be a Christian in our own strength leading to hypocrisy. Another reason is we are trying to be something we are not. In other words, we’re trying to act a Christian but we really aren’t.

Jesus’ final teaching in Luke 11 is about hypocrites. Jesus reserved his harshest words, not for thieves or murderers, but to religious folks He identified as hypocrites. We are quick to judge who we think may be a hypocrite, but most of us never consider we might be one.

Our story begins when Jesus didn’t wash His hands properly. The Jews had an elaborate hand-washing ritual. Before he ate, a man must pour water over the hands from the tips of his fingers to his wrist. Then the palm of each hand must be cleansed by rubbing the fist of the other into it. Finally, water must be poured again over the hand, this time beginning at the wrist down to the fingertips. They were concerned about their dirty hands but not their dirty heart. They were concerned with what a man did. Jesus was concerned with what a man was.

A man spent the night at the home of a farmer. In the morning the farmer’s wife went out to the hen house to gather eggs for breakfast. The man noticed some barnyard on them. He didn’t worry because she put them into boiling water to cook. She asked if he would like a cup of coffee. He gratefully accepted, only to watch the woman put instant coffee into a cup and then pour the dirty egg water into it.” Now he was concerned with what was inside the cup!

Six Marks of a Hypocrite

Jesus pronounced six “woes” on the religious leaders that also reveal six marks of a hypocrite. The word “woe” warns of judgment to come, but also conveys a feeling of regret because Jesus knew the listeners would refuse to change.

1 – Hypocrites major on the minors.

But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. (Luke 11:42)

The Pharisees tithed, that is more than can be said for most professing church members today. They made sure to tithe their spices (which wasn’t required), but neglected love for others (which was required). They majored on minors and completely neglected the majors.

2 – Hypocrites are pre-occupied with being noticed.

Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets. (Luke 11:43)

The most important seats in the Synagogue were those in the front, unlike the Baptist church were they are in the back. In fact they were not only in the front they were facing the congregation. They did what they did to be seen and notice by others. Are your acts of service to Christ done to be seen by men? Are you satisfied to serve unnoticed?

3 – Hypocrites make people worse not better.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them. (Luke 11:44)

The Jews had to be especially careful about ceremonial defilement from dead bodies so they made sure that graves were carefully marked. But the Pharisees were like “unmarked graves” that did not look like graves at all.

4 – Hypocrites produce burdens, not blessings.

And he said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers. (Luke 11:46)

They added to people’s burdens with no desire to help carry those burdens. They made serving God a burden.

5 – Hypocrites build monuments to their guilt.

Woe unto you! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. Truly ye bear witness that ye allow the deeds of your fathers: for they indeed killed them, and ye build their sepulchres. (Luke 11:47-48)

They honored dead prophets with memorials, but dishonored living ones with persecution and death. They tried to hide their guilt by showy memorials.

6 – Hypocrites make the truth harder to find.

Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered. (Luke 11:52)

They spent much time dissecting the Word, but made it impossible for others to hear it. They believed they had the key of knowledge, but they were an obstacle to the truth. Jesus is the key to the Scriptures. When you take away the key, the door of understanding remains closed.

So, how did these hypocrites react?

And as he said these things unto them, the scribes and the Pharisees began to urge him vehemently, and to provoke him to speak of many things: Laying wait for him, and seeking to catch something out of his mouth, that they might accuse him. (Luke 11:53-54)

It is natural to react in anger when our hypocrisy is revealed. We either deny it or deflect attention to something else. A wise person will accept that God allowed his inner life to be revealed in its corruptness, confess it, receive healing, and take steps to be a better person.

It is easy to see the marks of a hypocrite in others, but not near as easy to see them in our own lives. My challenge to you is not to consider how this might apply to someone else but to hear what the Lord may be trying to say to you!

Never try to cover wrong inside by cleaning the outside.

The way to clean up a dirty vocabulary is not to brush your teeth but to cleanse your heart. I realize how absurdly obvious this advice might sound, but hypocrites to cover internal sin by looking good externally.

Always pay more attention to the inside than the outside.

Externals can help discern what’s going on inside, but get to the heart. Let’s ask some hard questions: Why do we do what we do? Why do we not tell the truth? Why is that person’s opinion of me so powerful? Why is our family so unhappy and dysfunctional, while everybody in the church thinks we’re fine? How long can we continue to pretend?

“We’re all like the moon, we have a dark side we don’t want anyone to see.”  – Mark Twain

Final story: A rather pompous-looking deacon was endeavoring to impress upon a class of boys the importance of living the Christian life. “Why do people call me a Christian?” the man asked. After a moment’s pause, one youngster said, “Maybe it’s because they don’t know you.”