A study on the Sermon on the Mount. Matt.6:1-18
In this section of our Lord’s Sermon, He used the word “Hypocrite” to describe the activities of certain people, particularly the Scribes and Pharisees.
Now the word “Hypocrite” is frequently used today, and as far as I can gather, it has a slightly different thrust to its earlier meaning in our Lord’s day. Nuttall’s English Dictionary has the following entry:- HYPOCRISY. A feigning to be what one is not, especially pretence to virtue; dissimulation. But using Liddell & Scott’s Greek Lexicon, we find the following entries.The playing a part on the stage, playing or acting, the player’s art, declamation. Metaphorically, playing a part, feigning, hypocrisy.
There is no getting away from it, this word was originally a THEATRICAL WORD. It refers to PLAY-ACTING, a recognised pursuit, where a person puts on a mask, so to speak, and becomes someone else. But whereas we all recognise this when we attend a performance of a play, the Lord used the concept to condemn the practice in everyday life by religious people who wanted to “make a fair show in the flesh”, and appear to be something which they were not.
Once again, we are here considering the ways of Lucifer, the one who above all wants to put on a show, and make the world believe that he has the answers. He started in Eden, deceiving Eve, and has been performing his act every day since then, right down through history to our present era. Those who emulate his ways are playing into his hands, and becoming his puppets. He is the grand puppet-master over all who would follow him.
PLAY-ACTING may be of two types. (a) When we pretend to be what we are not. And (b) when we conceal what we truly are. In Matthew 6:1-18 the Lord deals with three distinct areas of “play-acting”, namely, GIVING, PRAYING, and FASTING, all of which come under (a). He said that the Pharisees were always wanting people to SEE what they were doing. They were fond of Display, Showmanship, Advertisement, Propaganda, the “Look at Me!” syndrome.
But true spirituality is constantly at pains to HIDE rather than to DISPLAY, to CONCEAL rather than to foster SHOWMANSHIP. Our Lord condemned the “play-actors”, saying that they always obtained their reward, in other words the applause of men. So far as heaven is concerned, their theatre had no audience, and no applause. I have read that Keith Green was always angry when people clapped at his appearances. Likewise David Wilkerson. But how easy it is to feel that you are “someone” when your name becomes almost a household word amongst Christians, and when there is always a demand for your “services” in the Christian world. Danger is always lurking. The Serpent is always at hand to elevate, propagate, and advertise those who seek a public image as believers. The more they fall for his ploy, the greater sway he has over their character development.
But there is also the danger of concealing what we truly are. This is the second area of play-acting. If we truly have the Christ-spirit within our hearts, then we should behave daily as though this was the case, rather than conceal it for fear of “reputation, liberty, property, and even life itself.” This area of “play-acting” is dealt with in Luke 12:1-2. Whereas the former might be styled “Overt-hypocrisy”, this type must be called “Covert-hypocrisy.” And the Lord cautioned His disciples on both counts. He finds nothing to applaud in ostentatious display. Neither does He find any joy in those who “hide their light under a bushel.”
But there is another area to be considered, known as “the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” Leaven, or Yeast, is a well-known active agent. When put in a batch of dough it permeates the whole and causes it to rise. That is good. It’s how we make our bread. But when applied to the Pharisees, it depicts a man who is part of an assembly, making himself out to be one with the rest, but inwardly of quite a different calibre altogether. His manner of life may not be seen as “play-acting” because he wants to be a part of the church. But nevertheless he is acting like yeast, and his ways permeate the whole. The saints find his ways more and difficult to handle, but can’t quite understand why. There is as yet no “unmasking”. And the precious truths of God’s word are shared, and noted by this “play-actor”.
Suddenly the way becomes too tough for him, and he becomes offended with his “brethren.” He then takes all the “secrets” and blasts them into the open amongst outsiders, speaking in such a way as to undermine the integrity and sanctity of the rest of the church. It has happened on numerous occasions. Why, even Judas Iscariot was not recognised until right at the end, though the Lord knew him inside out.