Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Toxic Hypocrisy

“Then the Lord said to him, ‘Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.” – Luke 11:39

The story is told of a zoo that was famous for its great variety of different animals. One day the gorilla died, and to keep up the appearance of a full range of animals, the zookeeper hired a man to wear a gorilla suit and fill in for the dead animal. During his first day on the job, the man made some feeble efforts to move and act like a gorilla. But as he tried to move convincingly, he tripped and fell over a perimeter wall and ended up in the lion exhibit. He began to scream, convinced his life was over…until the lion spoke to him: “Be quiet, or you’re going to get us both fired!”

It’s not very often that we run into people pretending to be apes or lions, but every day there are those around us who pretend to be much nicer on the outside than they really are on the inside. And far too often these individuals are quick to criticize others’ bad behavior while ignoring their own internal rottenness.  We have a word to describe such people: hypocrites.

In Luke 11:37-44, Jesus tackles hypocrisy head-on. And I’ve got to warn you: For some of us, his words sting a little. For others of us, his words sting a lot!

The passage begins with an invitation to dinner. One of the religious legalists (aka, a Pharisee) asked Jesus over to his house for a meal, and Jesus accepted his invitation. But as Jesus made a beeline from the front door to the dinner table, the Pharisee was shocked. Jesus didn’t join the other dinner guests in their traditional hand-washing ritual before dinner. Now, this wasn’t a matter of hygiene – it was purely ceremonial. For several generations the Jewish legalists had prided themselves in their meticulous observance of legalistic traditions that their forefathers had added to the Old Testament. Sadly, strict adherence to these rituals had become a litmus test for religious sincerity, and the Pharisees were the biggest promoters of this religious snake oil. On this occasion in Luke 11, Jesus had had enough. So, he spoke up and leveled 3 warnings against the Pharisees for their hypocritical legalism.

Warning #1: (v42) You major in the minors. Jesus challenged the Pharisees’ priorities. They spent considerable time counting out 10% of every seed and herb in their garden to give as their tithe. Meanwhile, their neighbors were suffering injustice and God was not being worshiped. What a travesty! The Pharisees had reduced their relationship with God to a list of rules, and it had backfired. Just as a healthy marriage cannot be reduced to a list of rules to follow, our relationship with God cannot boil down to a “Top 10” list either. The Pharisees believed that they were in God’s favor because they split hairs over the most insignificant religious acts. But they were dead wrong! God is much more concerned with love, compassion, justice and internal righteousness than He is with seeds and herbs.

Warning #2: (v43) You put your reputation before your character. In Jesus’ day the seats in a synagogue worked a lot like the seats at Dodger stadium. The seats up front were the VIP seats, and the seats in back (in the “nosebleed section”) were cheap seats for the unimportant people. Guess where the Pharisees always wanted to sit? You guessed it—in the front row where EVERYONE could see them and be impressed by them. The Pharisees had somehow forgotten what God had taught the prophet Samuel in the days of King Saul: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” Warren Wiersbe says it so well: “Reputation is what people think we are, character is what God knows we are.” Therefore, since our character is what’s most important to God, it must be what’s most important to us as Christ’s followers.

Warning #3: (v44) Instead of helping people, you’re harming them. In verse 44, Jesus compare the Pharisees to unmarked graves. According to Numbers 19:16, any Jew who touched a dead body would be ceremonially unclean for a whole week. Because of this, the Jewish people would walk far out of their way to avoid touching any grave or tomb. Yet Jesus told the Pharisees at the dinner table that they themselves were unmarked graves and tombs. In other words, when people came to the Pharisees to receive godly counsel and sound biblical teaching, what they actually received was ungodly counsel and false teaching. Instead of moving people closer to God, the Pharisees actually pulled them away from God. Instead of blessing people, they corrupted them.

Sadly, in First Century Israel the Pharisees were doing more harm than good. It was bad enough that their hypocrisy had corrupted their own relationships with God. But their hypocrisy was actually corrupting the whole community as well. Innocent bystanders were being defiled by their teaching. And Jesus knew that when this happens, judgment day will be especially severe for these toxic teachers and leaders.

Jesus’ stern warning to the Pharisees two thousand years ago stands as a stern warning for you and me today. Hypocrisy is a serious matter in the eyes of the world. But it’s an even more serious matter in the eyes of God. He calls you and me to be sincere: The same on the inside as we are on the outside. He calls you and me to eradicate hypocrisy from our lives and live as authentic, honest believers and followers of Jesus Christ. Until Christ returns, toxic hypocrisy will most likely remain in our world. But it doesn’t have to remain in you and me. 

Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville and the author of "Holy Huldah: Lessons You Should Never Forget from Bible Characters You've Never Heard Of." For more information, visit, and join us for our Worship Celebration Sundays at 10 a.m.

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