Have you ever heard this (or a version of it)? “Hypocrites. I don’t go to church because of the hypocrites. You know, the people who say they’re Christians, but who don’t live it out.” I don’t buy that definition – to me any follower of Christ could then be called a hypocrite, because even though we don’t want to sin, to do wrong, &/or miss the mark, we DO. That doesn’t make us hypocrites, it makes us humans in process. And rather than beat ourselves up over our failures, the response of a Christ-follower is to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, repent (turn from our wrong thinking & actions & turn to God) & relentlessly continue our relationship with God, through Christ, confident that we’re forgiven & He’s at work in our lives.
So what is a hypocrite? In Jesus’ day, the word “hypocrite” meant “actor; one who plays a role in the theater.” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus called the religious leaders hypocrites, because their very loud & very public displays of devotion to God were merely an attempt to draw attention to themselves & make other people think they were “all that” – pious, devoted followers of God.
The religious hypocrites made sure EVERYONE knew when they were giving to a charity or making a donation to help a person in need. They’d actually have someone blow a trumpet as they gave in a way of saying “Hey! Look at me! I’m Awesome!.”
Their prayers were long & loud, delivered eloquently in public, with many flowery, spiritual sounding words. When they fasted (going without food for a predetermined period of time,) they made sure EVERYONE knew it by putting ashes on their heads, wearing a burlap sack, & wandering around with pained, hungry looks on their faces. The message their actions & words put forward was, “this is what it looks like to be spiritual.” And all the while, they were secretly plotting Christ’s death.
So what DOES it look like to be spiritual? What kind of instructions did Christ give His followers about giving, prayer, & fasting?