Luke 11:37-44 – Hypocrisy, Part 1


This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on September 14, 2014.  To listen to the audio click on this link – Hypocrisy.

Understand What Hypocrisy Is.

The Context: Jesus’ Objection to Hand Washing:  “Now  when he had spoken, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him.  And entering Jesus reclined.  But the Pharisee, seeing that he did not wash before dinner, was amazed. But the Lord said, ‘You Pharisees cleanse the outside of the dish and cup, but the inside is full of wickedness and perversity.

This reaction, by Jesus probably sounds extreme to most of us.  After all, Luke does not say that the Pharisee attacked Jesus in any way, he was just amazed that Jesus did not observe what was an appropriate religious ritual.   Jesus, on the other hand, turned to the Pharisee and launched into a series of very strong accusations against Pharisees in general. Why?

Was Jesus just irritable that day?  Was he offended?  No!  Rather, Jesus was confronting what is a very dangerous and harmful lie.  The lie of hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy is Spiritual Play-Acting:  The Greek word for hypocrite means “play-acting,”  and refers to actors in a play who spoke from behind large masks, taking on roles in a play, pretending to be other people.  When we play-act at spirituality, we are focusing not on God but on people.

The truth is that any spiritual looking thing we do in order to be seen by people so that they will have a good opinion of us spiritually is like the Pharisees hand washing.   We play-act.  We are much more prone to respond to how people think about us than we are to truly engage God.  Hypocrisy is not just something that the Pharisees did–all people can be tempted by the desire to pose as spiritual.  Often, whether we pose or not, our presentation depends on who we are with.

Play-Acting Distorts Our Relationship with Both God and Others:  When we play-act, we are acting a part for people that creates a toxic situation.  Hypocrisy tells lies about who God is that can only serve to turn people away from him when they see the falsehood of our lives.

Jesus responded to the Pharisee both, because his view of religious ritual as spirituality revealed how far he was from real interaction with God–how hollow his life had become–and because his hypocrisy was harmfully distorting for other people.  He was neither loving God nor men.

Turn Away from Hypocrisy By Responding to God’s Call.

Offer What is Inside to God and Be Healed:  Jesus begins by talking about washing–a direct reference to the hand washing issue.  Hand washing is something that observant Jews did to show that they were religiously observant, but it did not show anything about what was in their hearts.  Jesus exposes this by saying, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed (lit.graspingness) and wickedness (or twistedness).

But Jesus desire is not just to criticize.  Jesus’ words, though hard to hear, were like surgery, meant to be healing if the Pharisees would hear.  He tells them two things.

  1. God cares about both the outside and the inside of a person:  “You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also?”  Jesus poses this as a question–one that we should be asking ourselves regularly.  Do we really think that God is only concerned with our outward actions?  Do we really think that God doesn’t care, doesn’t see, the grasping desires and the distortions of malice and meanness in our hearts?
  2. God will heal us if we offer him what is inside:  “But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.”   A better translation is, “But now, give the things within you as alms, and behold, all things will be clean to you.”  Jesus is not demanding a legalistic offering to the poor, but he is telling the Pharisees to offer up the things that are inside of them to God–in confession.  He is telling them to bring the grasping desires and their inner wickedness into the light by confessing them to God–to be honest before God about their sin–and they will be made inwardly clean–healed spiritually by God himself.

And this is what we need as well.  Confession of what is truly going on in our hearts, works against the sinful tendency of hypocrisy.

Learn to Love and Value What God Loves:  Jesus takes the issue a step further from confession of what is inside to a challenge to love God.  The Pharisees were very strictly observant in certain ways.  They prided themselves in their tithing–even tithing the herbs in their garden.  In other words, they tithed everything, to the smallest, least significant plant in their gardens.

The tithe was given to the Temple in order to help the poor. The Pharisees were doing their part to help the poor–and that was not insignificant.  Jesus is not accusing them of doing anything wrong by tithing–he even says that they should not neglect it.

~ Obligatory Spirituality: “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God.

But, the heart issue that Jesus was exposing was the hypocrisy of Obligatory Spirituality–the tendency to say, “I did my part–I did my good deed for the day”.  For many believers, their good deed for the day is Bible reading.  We sleepily read our five chapters, or we decide to read through the Bible in a year.  Jesus is not against Bible reading, or good deeds, or tithing.  He is against our tendency to turn spirituality into an obligation we can control in place of  love for God and justice for people.  Hypocrisy is exposed by going to great lengths to read through our Bible in a year while, at the same time, we are hating our enemy or our neighbor–while, at the same time, our hearts are cold and lifeless towards God.

Practice Love for God and Justice for your Neighbor:  Again, Jesus’ goal is not condemnation but change. Jesus advises the Pharisees, “You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.”  The word for “Love” here is “Agape,” or sacrifice.  Sacrificial love for God means more than just fulfilling our obligation for the day.  Jesus ties it together with the idea of justice for people.  Rather than merely meeting an obligation to the poor, Jesus called the Pharisees to care about issues of justice with their neighbors as well–to sacrifice in order to do good to their neighbor.  Where he defines this, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Recognize the Toxicity of Hypocrisy:  Thirdly, Jesus addressed the toxic effect of hypocrisy on others.  “Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces.

Hypocrisy is toxic!  Jesus described the Pharisees as “concealed tombs, and the people who walk over are unaware.”  In other words, their behavior and play-acting defiled people.  Why?  Because there is something that becomes obvious in us when we act hypocritically.  Other people see the falsehood of hypocritical spirituality.  Other people see the lack of love, the lack of concern for true justice, the lack of self-honesty.  They think that these lacks are lacks in God–that, in the hypocrite, they are seeing the true nature of God.  Consequently, (and we all knew this already), hypocrites defile and ruin other people’s understanding of who God is–they distort his image.

Be Aware of Your Own Hypocrisy.

Hypocrites are Not Just Other People:  The tendency of most people is to assume that the hypocrite is only the obnoxious, obvious person whom it is easy to despise.  The truth is that the tendency to hypocrisy is in all of us.  Outward observance that does not engage the heart and turning the worship and love of God into a manageable obligation is much easier and often feels better than confessing the reality of the sin that is in our hearts–than truly and sacrificially caring about the needs of justice for our neighbor.  And also, the approval of men can feel more real to us than the approval of God.

But Jesus can bring us into the presence of the God who cares for us, delights in us, and who can change us deeply.  Hypocrisy makes us into people with an outer shell that keeps the life of God and the ways of God away from us.  Jesus wants us to trust him, to engage with him through confession and prayer and worship, and to become people who know the care and love of God.

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