So you want to be a hypocrite … If you believe the gospel, you’re at a disadvantage. You may not ever achieve the elite-level hypocrisy we find in Matthew 23, which probably requires a Pharisee-like depth of unbelief. But don’t be discouraged. Even believers can achieve several forms of high-quality hypocrisy.
Since all humans lapse into hypocrisy from time to time without even trying, I’m confident that, with just a little work, even you can achieve a noticeable level of expertise.
1. Get very comfortable with inconsistency.
Hypocrisy is more than inconsistency. True, in Matthew 23:3 Jesus faults the Pharisees because “they preach, but do not practice.” But consider the inconsistencies of Jesus’ hand-picked twelve. They were not consistently believing (Matt. 17:20, 14:31; John 20:25), or consistently compassionate (Matt. 19:13). They were certainly not consistently humble! (Luke 22:24, Matt. 26:33). But Jesus never called them hypocrites.
So, though it’s common practice to cherry pick perceived inconsistencies in others’ lives and call it hypocrisy, you won’t achieve the real thing unless you’re aware of your inconsistencies and get very good at rationalizing them away — maybe even coming to see them as virtues (1 Cor. 5:2).
2. Judge others by a higher standard than you judge yourself.
They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. (ESV, Matt. 23:4)
Those who achieve high-quality hypocrisy work hard at laying duties, burdens, and blame on others. They break bruised reeds and quench smoldering wicks (Matt. 12:20). Devote generous amounts of energy to pointing out what others ought to do while thinking little of taking on responsibility yourself. Insist that others must succeed where you’re not even going to try.
Look also for opportunities to harshly judge others for failures you would readily overlook or forgive in yourself (cf. Eph. 4:2). We all make mistakes while acting with good intentions. We have moments of stupidity. But skilled hypocrites excel in spinning others’ failures as deep and profound spiritual problems, bad theology, mean-spiritedness, malice, arrogance, or love for the praise of men. (Gotta love the irony of that last one, since hypocrites actually do love the praise of men!)
3. Keep your superiority front of mind and expect others to recognize it.
In Matthew 23:5-7, Jesus identifies these practices of the true hypocrite:
- Deeds calculated to impress (Matt. 23:5)
- Appearance calculated to awe (Matt. 23:5)
- Maneuvering calculated to self-elevate (Matt. 23:6-7)
In combination, these moves can cause people to accept unquestioningly that you’re a superior class of human being, and this serves an important goal for all aspiring hypocrites: occupying the office of esteemed critic while being personally beyond criticism. In addition to the Pharisees, Diotrephes is an outstanding example (3 John 1:9).
If you’re instinctively respectful toward your fellow human beings — as those cut from the same cloth as yourself (Rom. 12:3, Acts 10:26) — you’ll have to get over that. This is not the attitude of the hypocrite.
4. Create barriers to others’ progress.
[H]ypocrites! … you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. (Matt. 23:13)
When you become a high-grade hypocrite, you don’t possess the wisdom you feign. That presents a problem: how do you increase and maintain your dominance?
For one thing, ensure that others possess as little wisdom and knowledge as possible. Avoid actions that make others’ stronger (Rom. 14:19). At every opportunity, spread misinformation, distract from important questions, and avoid fact-based reasoning. Maneuver to discredit anyone who is in the business of empowering people with truth and skills (2 Cor. 10:10).
You should aim to be more subtle than Diotrephes, but he had the true hypocrite’s agenda. Part of John’s description:
… talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church. (3 John 10)
5. Make a big deal out of small things while trivializing the truly weighty.
In Matthew 23:16-24, Jesus offers an extended rebuke on this theme. You may not rise to the level of “blind guide,” but some approximation of the Pharisees’ habits is easy for any son of Adam. The essence of it is majoring on minors. Jesus points out two expressions of this:
- In Matthew 23:16-22, a focus on technicalities in the area of keeping one’s word rather the truly important issue of personal honesty and dependability (cf. Matt. 5:37, 2 Cor. 1:18, Ps. 15:4, Eph. 4:25).
- In Matthew 23:23, fuss over tithing spices while neglecting “weightier matters” such as “justice and mercy and faithfulness.”
The Pharisees honed their skills and habits until straining out gnats while swallowing camels (Matt. 23:24) was their everyday routine, their way of life. This is easier to achieve than you might think. As the cliché goes, the long journey starts with a single step. So, don’t worry about getting all the way there; make a start by zeroing in on some relatively minor point and elevating it to supreme importance. Remember that the big picture and the long view are your enemies. Banish them from your thinking. Soon you’ll be straining out gnats and swallowing camels like the best of them.
6. Give little thought to your true inner character.
Accomplished hypocrites are very comfortable with finger-pointing and passing judgment on others. A key to their success in this is something they’re careful not to do: honestly introspect. The best hypocrites are like the vampires of lore, stealing life from others while never truly living themselves – and avoiding mirrors.
In Matthew 23:25-28, Jesus points out that the hypocrites maintained an impressively clean appearance while being truly corrupt in heart and character. He pointed out that if people prioritize belief, values, and motives – matters of the heart – the outward appearance tends to follow along (Matt. 23:26).
All that fakery may sound like hard work, but it’s easy enough to forget what we’re all really made of, just by not paying attention to it (Deut. 6:12, 2 Pet. 1:9, James 1:24). At the judgment, we’ll give account for ourselves, not others (Rom. 14:4, 12, 1 Cor. 3:13, 2 Cor. 5:10), but try not to think about that. It’s disturbing (1 Pet. 1:17). I only mention it so you’re aware of the risk. Dwelling on it can drain the hypocrisy right out of you! Keep your critical energy pointed away from yourself and fixed on condemning the actions and motives and others.
7. Reject, or at least forget, the gospel.
Though they appeared be respectful of the prophets (Matt. 23:29), the Pharisees were actually the “sons of those who murdered the prophets” (Matt. 23:31). They continued the ancient tradition of unrepentance and unbelief with aggressive rejection of those sent by God to speak truth (Matt. 23:34).
What truth? The prophets repeatedly called sinners to faith and repentance. Though their message was shadowed, it was the gospel — and it’s this gospel truth that is most incompatible with the ways of hypocrisy.
Christians don’t believe their own righteousness is superior to the righteousness God offers (Rom. 10:3), but they can sometimes approximate that attitude by forgetfulness. They can certainly slip into thinking their righteousness is superior other people’s. The trick is to not think too much about the gospel truth that we’re all stuck in the mud (Psalm 40:2) until graciously rescued.
But let’s get off that topic. If you want to be a hypocrite, think only rarely and superficially about the gospel, or just think of it as something other people need — not you, not now. You’re better than that (Luke 7:39).
Aaron Blumer is a Michigan native and graduate of Bob Jones University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He and his family live in small-town western Wisconsin, not far from where he pastored Grace Baptist Church for thirteen years. In his full time job, he is Information Coordinator for a law-enforcement electronic library service.