The word hypocrite is thrown around a lot today; sometimes rightly and sometimes wrongly. Since words are the building material for our thinking, it’s a good thing to think about what they mean before we use them, and even after we use them, lest we discover that the building material for our thinking and communicating are faulty.
So why don’t we start with the definition of the word, “hypocrite”? To get to the root of the meaning we will look at the word hypocrisy. A quick google search defines it thus:
The practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform;
Now I want you to think hard about this definition, but not in light of how other’s lives may be hypocritical, but rather how your own life is hypocritical. I want you to notice two important components in the definition. There’s the objective component, “the standard”, and then there’s the subjective component, “one’s own behavior”. So let’s start with an examination of these.
One method of escaping the charge of being a hypocrite involves the claim that there is no such thing as an objective standard by which all human beings ought to conform. This sounds easy enough on the surface, but life still forces the one who holds to this view into hypocrisy, because holding to the “truth” that there is no standard is in itself a standard. This view makes too many assumptions as it attempts to free the man for libertine freedom while holding humanity to the confines of a civil society. One can’t, on the one hand, for example, insist that there are no such things as objective moral standards, and then on the other leave their house in the morning and expect its contents to be there when they get back. According to their standardless standard, they have no right to impose the moral standard, thou shalt not steal, on their neighbor. But those who live according to this extreme do just that, and so qualify as hypocrites. They say there are no absolutes, then expect others to live as if there are.
But it gets worse. According to this standard of standardlessness, one can’t even make the charge of hypocrite without becoming one. If there is no objective standard that applies to all human beings, then it only follows that living a life of hypocrisy doesn’t fall short of any standard becasue standards don’t exist.
But we, your parents, don’t live that way. We do have a standard. And, we not only preach that standard, we have taught it to you as best we could. And I also realize all too well that where there is a standard, there is the opportunity for hypocrisy. What’s worse is that our standard includes a prohibition against hypocrisy. We have no problem with, “thou shalt not steal”, and we have no problem with, “hypocrisy is sinful”, even though we are guilty of both. So it would seem then–if we do not forego the trial of thinking–that no matter what happens hypocrisy is impossible to escape. As for me, I’d be inclined to agree with that suspicion except for one thing, and that’s the Gospel. But before we get into the Gospel, and its application to this topic, let’s explore the subjective and objective just a little further with a little story I made up.
A man robs a bank. The police show up and surround the building and the robber is trapped inside and so takes hostages and begins to make demands. During the standoff, he manages to kill seven hostages, one because he found out that he was gay, one becasue he could see that he was a foreigner, one because she was Muslim, one because he was black, one because she was a woman, and he hated women, one because he was poor, and he hated poor people, and one because he could see that he was a man wearing women’s clothes. He also raped two women, one of which he made pregnaunt and then forced her to have the baby. But alas, in a stroke of genius he manages to escape his predicament with over a million dollars that he didn’t even need becasue he was already very wealthy. He was just greedy and wanted more, plain and simple.
On the way home, after stealing another ten dollars from a homeless person, he stops by his extremly rich buddy’s store to buy a bottle of liquor and a hundred cartons of cigarettes to hand out to minors in his neighborhood. While there he noticed a young boy, who was obviously very poor, slipping a nickel-piece of gum into his pocket. When the boy attempted to leave with his stolen good, the robber alerted the store owner that the kid was shop lifting, and he lectured the kid that stealing was wrong.
So here’s my question to you, was what he said to the kid true or false? Was the kid stealing? Yes. Is stealing wrong? Yes. This story highlights the confusion that we can find ourselves in when our sins mix themselves up with each other. We find comfort in making counter accusations of being a hypocrite when anyone points out our sin. But you need to know two things. Your failure to hold to a standard does nothing to negate the existence of that standard, nor does it mean that you can’t point to that same standard and assert that we are all accountable to it. And just because someone else has fallen short of it, the same is also true. It doesn’t mean that they can’t point to it as a standard that you ought to make every effort to live up to, even though they’re failing to live up to it themselves. To realize that there is a standard, and to pretend there isn’t because of the fear of being considered a hypocrite is a form of oppression. That oppression swings the door wide for anarchy and beckons it in. No one wants to live in that kind of Hell on earth. But unfortunately, that’s exactly where the culture in which you live is headed. No one can point to a standard because once anyone does the response is predictable. “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone”, you might hear. “Are you perfect? Then what gives you the right?” None of these pay homage to the standard. They only ridicule anyone who suggests that its best for everyone if we all do our best to live up to it.
The Gospel does, however, impose itself into this situation, so let’s dissect it a bit. It has two components, the bad and the good news, that apply to our discussion of hypocrisy. The bad news is that all men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. God is sinless. He is no hypocrite. He can and does point to His own standard, and holds all men accountable to it. In fact, all of humanity is under God’s judgment for falling short of His standard. But the good news is that He loved the world so much that he provided a way of escape from His justice. That escape is through Jesus’ righteousness and His atoning sacrifice. We, your parents, make no pretense of righteousness. We do admit, to ourselves, to God, and to our fellow man that we have fallen short, not of our own weak standard, or any standardless standard, but of God’s holy and righteous standard. We, at the same time, like the robber in the story, point to His standard as the standard by which all will be judged by God, even though we ourselves have fallen under that same judgment. We do realize that that looks a lot like hypocrisy to those who have not sought refuge from God’s judgment through Jesus. But we don’t point to ourselves as holding to the standard, only that there is a standard by which we are all held to account. And we call all men to repent, just as I, a man whom you’ve watched up close and personal live a sub-standard life, call you to repent also.
But it’s not like we repent and live a life of righteousness. No, we repent and then live a life of repentance. We sin, we repent, and we call all men to live repentantly also, and there’s no hypocrisy in doing that. And yet still, I don’t claim to not be a hypocrite. I only claim that to the extent that I am a hypocrite, it’s wrong and sinful, and I pray God will grant me the faith and grace to repent and change.
My dear children, there is much hypocrisy in this day; yes, very much indeed. And, yes, it’s in the Church too just as it’s in your own home. But there’s no less of this sin to be found in those who stand outside the Church and point their crooked little fingers at Jesus’ Bride and accuse it day and night of hypocrisy. They should take Jesus’ words seriously and remove the log from their own eye before they attempt to help the Church remove the speck from its eye. And in the same way, beloved, if you find yourself observing the same thing in me, I pray that you would do the same. It’s my prayer, in fact, that you, dear children, would live as unhypocritical a life as you can, and by doing so you will be able to perhaps help your own father remove the logs that blind him so much. My need is excessive, and nothing blesses me more than to have my own children rise up to help me defeat the formidable foe of hypocrisy that plagues me.