3 Tips for Dealing With Hypocrites
by Jeremy Lallier - August 29, 2017
Hypocrisy is a tricky subject—it’s difficult to be sure of and even harder to know how to handle. Here are some tips for dealing with it in a positive way.
You know what’s super annoying?
People who pretend to be one thing and then do something completely different when they think no one’s looking.
It’s insulting. It’s infuriating. And it’s something you’re going to find within the Church (and in basically any group that includes people).
How things should be
I know. It shouldn’t be that way. If the Church is filled with people who are following God, we shouldn’t be running into people who are putting on a show just for the sake of looking good.
But we do. And when we do, it’s easy to lose faith in the whole system. If this person is a fake, we wonder, how many others are doing the same thing? Is anyone here actually a Christian, or is everyone just pretending?
We’re going to look at some godly ways to deal with hypocrisy—but first, let’s lay some groundwork.
The act of hypocrisy
Hypocrisy comes from an old Greek word, hupokrisis, which literally means “stage-playing.” In those days, a hypocrite, or hupokrités, was an actor—someone who pretended to be someone else on stage. By the time Jesus walked the earth, the word was also used as an accusation—a hypocrite was someone pretending to be someone or something he or she wasn’t.
Jesus found plenty of opportunities to use the word. Again and again in the Gospels, He called out the Pharisees (religious leaders of the day) for their shameless hypocrisy. In Matthew 23 He calls them hypocrites seven times, along with several other less-than-flattering epithets: Devourers of widows’ houses. Clean-looking vessels filled with extortion and self-indulgence. Whitewashed tombs filled with dead men’s bones. Sons of hell.
Judging the heart
Because He was God in the flesh, Jesus was able to see beyond the act and into the hearts of the Pharisees, and what He saw there was something rotten and wicked. They had abused their position as trusted spiritual guides and become no better than spiritual mobsters, taking advantage of every opportunity to extort and deceive those who followed them.
Here’s our challenge:
We are not God in the flesh. That means we can’t see people’s hearts to know what’s going on in there. Sometimes—probably a lot of times—what looks like hypocrisy to us is really the result of a condition known in the medical world as “being a human being.”
Think about it. When’s the last time you did something you don’t believe in doing? When’s the last time you altered the truth just a little or compromised just a little on the Sabbath or took just a little liberty in a morally gray area?
More important question: Did you do it because you’re a hypocrite—or because you’re a human being who sometimes makes bad decisions and mistakes? Are you trying to orchestrate some kind of mass deception about the person you are, or is it more likely that doing the right thing all the time is hard and sometimes you have moments of weakness?
And if that’s true for you, could it possibly be true for other people?
Dealing with hypocrites
That said, you’re still going to encounter hypocrisy (or at least moments that look like hypocrisy) during your time here on earth, and it’s important to know what to do about it. Here are three tips to keep in mind the next time it happens:
1. Seek to understand.
Since we can’t peer into the hearts and minds of others, we have to allow for the possibility that our impressions can be wrong. The Bible warns, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion” (Proverbs 18:2, English Standard Version). Before we jump to conclusions about what’s happening and why, it’s important to talk with the person in question.
Be polite and kind—it’s not an interrogation—but be honest too. Try something like, “I know we believe ______, but it seemed to me like you did ______, and I don’t understand why.”
One of the following might happen:
- You’ll discover you didn’t understand the whole situation.
- The person you’re talking to will see the contradiction and apologize (and hopefully repent).
- The person you’re talking to won’t care about the contradiction.
The first two possibilities are ideal; the third isn’t. But no matter the outcome, gently addressing the issue is better than making assumptions and doing nothing at all.
2. Separate the principle from the person.
This one’s tough, but important. Suppose I’d spent years and years telling everyone how bad stealing is and why God doesn’t want us to do it—and then one day, you find out I’ve been arrested for a decade’s worth of embezzling and petty theft.
Would I look like a hypocrite without a conscience? Absolutely.
Would that invalidate everything I’ve ever said about how wrong it is to steal? Not for a minute.
I would be the problem. Not the truth about stealing.
The apostle Paul wrote about a similar problem. Some people in his time were spreading the gospel out of “selfish ambition, not sincerely” (Philippians 1:16). Their motivations were wrong, but their message was right, and because of that, Paul wrote, “In every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice” (verse 18).
If a habitual liar tells you that lying is wrong, well, he’s right. If a serial killer talks about how unethical it is to murder someone, his own hypocrisy doesn’t invalidate his argument. No matter where it comes from, truth is truth. God’s Word still has the answers we need—even when the people teaching them aren’t fully following them.
The same principle applies to hypocrisy you may see in the Church. Just because someone in God’s Church practices hypocrisy, that doesn’t invalidate the truths of God’s Word and rightness of His way of life.
3. Use it as motivation.
If you’ve encountered hypocrisy, you know what a frustrating and painful experience it can be, especially when it comes from someone you love and respect.
You have a choice. You can dwell on that disappointment, constantly reminding yourself of how you’ve been wronged and deceived—or you can use it as motivation to do better and to be better in your own life.
In your life you’re going to have opportunities to say one thing and do another—to look good while doing the wrong thing in secret. In those moments, you’re going to have to remember the damage and the pain hypocrisy can cause, and you’re going to have to commit yourself to being better than that.
The prophet Micah asks, “What does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).
It’s not about those in your life who have pretended to be something they’re not. Even if every person around you was actively living a life of hypocrisy, it wouldn’t change who you need to be.
“On this one will I look”
People make mistakes. They have moments of weakness. That’s not hypocrisy—that’s humanity. It doesn’t excuse sin and it doesn’t make it okay, but it does make it something we all have to deal with—in ourselves and others.
True hypocrisy, though—setting out to deceive and mislead others about who we are and what’s important to us—that’s a problem. When we encounter it in others, there’s not always a lot we can do to change it. But we can use the experience to change ourselves.
God tells us, “On this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word” (Isaiah 66:2).
Don’t worry about the hypocrites out there. Worry more about not being one yourself.
Go be someone God can look upon and be pleased with.
Learn about making the right kind of life choices in “Decision Making: Seven Steps for Making Good, Christian Choices.”