Side-stepping the Snare of Hypocrisy

By Thom Mollohan

The world is full of dangers—many that lurk within our own hearts. These stealthy creatures subtly show themselves in our attitudes, speech and actions, seeking to increase their influence over all areas of our lives. Pride is one such foe, as are bitterness, discouragement, envy and the devious fiend of hypocrisy. The bane of real spiritual growth and fruitfulness, this cousin of pride covers our cankered hearts with pretense and seeks to thwart the cleansing effect of God’s forgiveness and the healing power of His grace.
Hypocrisy can set up a stronghold within us. Its walls are mortared with satisfaction over our accomplishments—evidence of our worth. Its roof is an overarching sense of having achieved our own righteousness, as if we can somehow placate God with our own goodness. Yet far too many good deeds we have done end up as headdresses of shame rather than the crowns of glory we desire, because we do not acknowledge the hidden agendas and false motives of our actions.
Hypocrisy is revolting to God because it robs God of His glory by shifting the focus to our “righteousness,” and because it hinders others in their pilgrimage to know God. Hypocrisy distorts the perception of God, painting Him with unholy hues that turn away those who do not yet know Him. It also hinders other believers who are genuinely seeking God by dumping an ugly litter of inconsistencies onto their paths.
Jesus warned against hypocrisy in the Sermon on the Mount: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:1-6).
Scripture encourages and exhorts us to do good deeds, but it also pointedly reminds us that we perform them for an audience of only One, who will be pleased by our quiet and humble service. If we are sincerely doing our good deeds for God’s glory, we won’t care about getting credit, we won’t feel the need to toot our own horns and we won’t go looking for pats on the back. God forbid that we settle for such infantile spirituality by seeking the immediate gratification of others’ praise.
Whereas it is very good to praise others, knowing that such encouragement may help strengthen weary backs for the difficult path of life, it’s no good if our own faithfulness hinges on praise and recognition. It is contemptible to allow idols of selfishness magnify our own accomplishments and then feel good about it. Not only is this bad for us, it’s bad for other believers who may be tempted to criticize us, or worse, make their own selfish idols, emulating someone they mistakenly believe to be more spiritually mature.
In the same way, being able to deliver a decent public prayer is not a benchmark of spirituality, nor does it endear us to our Maker. Beware also of undoing the good of a prayer made in private by a prideful, public declaration of it once it has been answered. “You got the job? I prayed that you would!” As if God were waiting for us to chime in before He responded!
That doesn’t mean, however, that we should avoid anything that draws public attention. Public prayer, for instance, is simply one voice representing the petitions of many to the Father. And there are plenty of ways to help others that inextricable from some degree of recognition. We don’t need to obsessively avoid being found out for good deeds; we just need to be careful not to perform them for the benefit of witnesses. If our criterion for good deeds and prayer includes having a witness, then we are not really serving or worshiping God; we are serving ourselves.
The service or act of worship that furthers a deeper and more fruitful relationship with God is the one that is done whether or not anyone else ever learns of it. The bottom line for spiritual integrity is this, “If no one else were to ever know that I prayed or gave or helped another, would I still do it?” God should be so enthroned in my life that the only recognition for which I yearn is to hear these words, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24). Be renewed today with a true desire to know God and to seek His good will above the mundane praises and rewards on which the world thrives.

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