Leaven of Hypocrisy"
Theme: This passage warns us of the dangers of spiritual hypocrisy.
(Delivered Sunday, August 5, 2001 at
Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are
from the New King James Version.)
Someone once defined Christianity as "a religion that believes that
the Bible is inspired by God and is perfectly suited for one's neighbor."
We all have a tendency to think about how the Bible applies to someone else
- especially the particularly indicting passages. I know that I've been
guilty of doing that at times; and I suspect that you have been too. And
if there was ever a portion of the Bible that would be tempting to pass off
on to our neighbor, it would this morning's passage. We almost always have
someone else's face in mind whenever we hear it.
But if there was ever a time to resist that temptation, this would
certainly be it. I urge you - as I also exhort myself - not to dismiss
what God has to say, as if it applied to someone other than yourself.
Please let the Holy Spirit do His work in you through Jesus' words in Luke
12:1-3. It's there that we read;
In the meantime, when an innumerable multitude of people
had gathered together, so that they trampled one another, He
began to say to His disciples first of all, "Beware of the leaven
of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. For there is nothing covered that
will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known.
Therefore, whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in
the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms
will be proclaimed on the housetops" (Luke 12:1-30).
* * * * * * * * * *
Nobody likes a hypocrite. And what's more, nobody likes to think
that he or she really is one. And so, simple arithmetic will tell you that
a lot of us are kidding ourselves. This reminds me of the man who invited
a friend to his church; only to hear his friend brushed the whole idea off.
"Aw; church is full of hypocrites." "Which is exactly why you should go,"
came the reply; "... You'll feel right at home."
But what exactly is a hypocrite? Some people believe that, if you
say you love Jesus Christ and profess to follow Him, but then stumble and
fall in sin, then you've earned the right to be called a hypocrite. That's
why, I suspect, many people say that the church is "full of hypocrites".
Actually, it's more accurate to say that the church is full of sinners who
are forgiven of their sins, and are being taught to leave those sins
behind. Our church is a church full of sinners; some of whom are
hypocrites. But it doesn't necessarily follow that, if someone stumbles in
sin, that they've been hypocritical about their profession of faith. I
believe that one of the distinguishing marks of a true disciple of Jesus
Christ is that he or she is ready to admit to being a sinner. There's
nothing hypocritical about admitting the truth of how far short we are of
what we should be.
Rather, a hypocrite is someone who puts on the pretense of being
all that they should be; but who, in reality, is not. A hypocrite is
someone who pretends to be, in the eyes of people, something that he or she
really isn't in the eyes of God - pretending even to the point of deceiving
himself or herself in the process.
Someone who pretends to be a follower of Jesus Christ, knowing full
well that they really aren't, is a hypocrite. And someone who pretends to
have it all together, and who boasts that they don't need God - when the
truth is that their life is a mess and they know it - is being just as much
of a hypocrite as a spiritual phony.
The 'hypocrisy' sword cuts two ways.
* * * * * * * * * *
Do you know how the word "hypocrite" came to be? It comes from a
Greek word: hupokrites. Many centuries before the New Testament was
written, the ancient Greeks used the word hupokrinomai to describe the act
of explaining or interpreting something. And so, originally, a hupokrites
was the noun form of the word used to describe a great orator or great
speaker; someone who, in the ancient world, was masterful at reciting great
poetry, or expounding on great ideas. One ancient writer, for example,
paid the great orator Demosthenes a complement; saying, "He is an
exceptional and many-talented hypocrite." (How would you like to have a
complement like that paid to you? Well however you might have felt about
it, Demosthenes would have been flattered!)
Later, the name hupokrites came to be given to anyone who was a
professional actor in a theatrical play. Usually, these plays involved the
recitation of poetry; and so, it was natural that they would be called
"hypocrites". By the time the New Testament was written, however, the word
came to be extended beyond someone who was 'acting in a play' in a
professional sense to someone who was 'play-acting' in an ethical sense -
someone who was pretending to be something he or she was not. Such a
person, who pretends to be something on the outside that he or she isn't on
the inside - hiding, as it were, behind a theater mask of phoniness - is a
hypocrite in the sense we've become accustomed to today.
A sinner who is sorrowful is truly honest before God; and such a
sinner will always find God to be gracious toward them. But the
fundamental characteristic of a hypocrite is dishonesty. A hypocrite
doesn't care about how he or she looks before God. All such a person cares
about is how he or she looks before people. As I read the Bible, I find -
thankfully - that Jesus is always very compassionate and understanding
toward sinners who are truly sorrowful over their sins, and who struggle to
leave those sins behind. But I've also noticed that He reserved some of
His most sharpest rebukes and most harshest words for "hypocrites".
In fact, Jesus saved up some of His best satire for teaching about
hypocrisy. He said;
Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before
men, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you have no reward from
your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable
deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the
synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men.
Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you
do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what
your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in
secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you
And when you pray, you shall not be like the
hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the
synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by
men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you,
when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your
door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your
Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
... Moreover, when you fast, do not be like
the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces
that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to
you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your
head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to
be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and
your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly (Matthew 6:1-6;
And why do you look at the speck in your
brother's eye, but do not consider the plank that is in your own eye?
Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your
eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the
plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck
from your brother's eye (Matthew 7:3-5).
Jesus sometimes spoke humorously about how silly religious
hypocrites can be. But it was also something that He spoke of in very
serious terms. The religious leaders of Jesus' day accused Him of
disregarding their ceremonial traditions; but He accused them of using
their traditions as an excuse for disobeying the commands of God. He told
them, "Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: 'These
people draw near to me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but
their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as
doctrines the commandments of men'" (Matthew 15:7-9). And that's truly the
heart attitude behind 'hypocrisy' - drawing near to God in outward
appearances; but keeping far from Him in the heart. All their "worship" is
* * * * * * * * * *
Jesus loves and forgives sinners; but He passionately hates
hypocrisy. He hates it because its a lie; and because it keeps people from
admitting the truth about their sin and from being saved by Him. He used
strong words to warn us about it; and we need to pay attention to what He
First, notice ...
I. WHAT 'THE LEAVEN OF HYPOCRISY' IS.
The context of these words is an encounter Jesus had just had with
the Pharisees and the Scribes. The Pharisees were members of a political
and religious party within the Jewish culture of Jesus' day. They were not
priests; but they had set aside a significant portion of their time to
study the law of Moses, and to see to it that it's implications were
applied to the details of everyday cultural life. They worked in close
relationship with the Scribes (or Lawyers); who were professional scholars
of the law of Moses. They sought to study it, and interpret it to the
The crowds were beginning to gather around Jesus in remarkable
numbers. And even though some tension existed between Jesus and the
Pharisees, a particular Pharisee invited Him - along with some other
Pharisees and some Scribes - to dinner. Perhaps it was because they wanted
to get to know this very popular Teacher, and to learn what it was He was
teaching first hand.
But things didn't get very far. Something happened when Jesus sat
down to eat that resulted in Jesus launching into some of His harshest
words of rebuke in all the gospels. The Bible says that, when the Pharisee
watched Jesus sit to eat, "he marveled that He had not first washed before
dinner" (Luke 11:38).
This wasn't a matter of hygiene, by the way. The Judaistic
writings had added traditions to God's law about ceremonial washings and
cleansings before eating - traditions that were the inventions of man, and
that had nothing whatsoever with true holiness. The only purpose of these
ceremonial washings was so that the one performing them might appear holy
to others - washing one's self, as it were, from the defilement of the
world. They accomplished nothing with respect to the condition of the
heart before God.
No one seems to have said anything to Jesus; but perhaps their
looks betrayed their shock that He hadn't 'washed' before eating. And for
Jesus, this particular display of their hypocrisy was the last straw! (I
don't know if He had a napkin; but in my imagination, I see Him wading it
up and throwing it onto the table in anger.) Jesus really let them have
it; and what He said teaches us much about the hypocrisy that He hated so
Then the Lord said to him, "Now you Pharisees make the
outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full
of greed and wickedness. Foolish ones! Did not He who made
the outside make the inside also? But rather give alms of such things as
you have; then indeed all things are clean to you. But woe to
you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and all manner of
herbs, and pass by justice and the love of God. These you
ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Woe to you
Pharisees! For you love the best seats in the synagogues and
greetings in the marketplaces. Woe to you, scribes and
Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like graves which are not seen, and the
men who walk over them are not aware of them" (vv. 39-44).
Jesus' words describe four characteristics of the sort of hypocrisy
He saw in the Pharisees. First, it's only concerned with the outward
appearance, and not with the heart. It focuses on cleaning the outside of
the cup; ignoring the fact that the inside - which is the most important
part of the cup - is filled with all sorts of sin.
Second, it's concerned with minor details, and not with weightier
issues. It focuses on ridiculous minutia - counting out seeds and herbs to
make sure that a tenth is given to God - yet not concerned with giving a
heart to God that seeks justice and love.
Third, it's concerned with being applauded by people, and not with
being pleasing to God. It makes a goal out of sitting in the seats of
honor, or being greeted on the streets as a 'holy man' - but not of seeking
the honor from God that will never fade away.
Finally, it's concerned with being outwardly admirable, not not
caring that others might be defiled in the process. In Jesus' day, the
Jews would sometimes clearly mark graves so that no one would inadvertently
walk over them and thus be defiled by contact with the dead. But He said
that the Pharisees were like human 'unmarked graves'. People could
interact with them as religious leaders; and yet never realize how truly
defiling that interaction was, because everything looked so good on the
* * * * * * * * * *
I've often wondered what constitutes the stupidest statement
recorded in the Bible. In my opinion, the words of the man who spoke next
in the story is a sure contender. The Bible says, "Then one of the lawyers
answered and said to Him, 'Teacher, by saying these things You reproach us
also'" (v. 45). This guy must have wanted to have his own foot for dinner!
His arrogant, self-righteous outburst simply led Jesus to turn His
attention to the lawyers.
And He said, "Woe to you also, lawyers! For you load men
with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens
with one of your fingers. Woe to you! For you build the tombs
of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. In fact, you bear
witness that you approve the deeds of your fathers; for
they indeed killed them, and you build their tombs.
Therefore the wisdom of God also said, 'I will send them prophets and
apostles, and some of them they will kill and persecute,' that the
blood of all the prophets which was shed from the foundation
of the world may be required of this generation, from the blood
of Abel to the blood of Zechariah who perished between the alter and the
temple. Yes, I say to you, it shall be required of this
generation. Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of
knowledge. You did not enter in yourselves, and those who were
entering in you hindered" (vv. 46-52).
Here, then, were three more characteristics of the sort of
hypocrisy that Jesus hated. First, It's more concerned with rules than
with people. In fact, it seeks to load people down with a burdensome,
pointless set of rules and regulations - none of which were going to be
kept by the ones who gave them. It was all just to help them make a good
outward show of phony religiosity and pseudo-spirituality.
Second, it's more concerned with fake reverence and showy displays
of sorrow than with true reverence and repentance of the heart. Jesus
accused the lawyers of spending a bunch of money and effort in decorating
the tombs of the prophets - whom their fathers had killed - instead of
sorrowing over the fact that their fathers were murderers and, in true
repentance, seeking to follow the godly example of the prophets whose
bodies were buried in the tombs.
Finally, it's more concerned with handling the things of God for
other people, than with allowing those things to change them. The lawyers
pretended to be the trustees of God's word, and to hold the responsibility
of ministering it to God's people; but instead, they obscured its true
meaning, rebelled against it, and hindered others from obeying it.
I'm sure that, after that, dinner was over! The Bible tells us
that the Pharisees and lawyers vehemently argued with Him; and then went
off to find ways to trap Him - showing the true character of their hearts.
An encounter with Jesus usually reveals what's really going on under the
mask of hypocrisy.
But as I study the characteristics of the hypocrisy Jesus
describes, I have to wonder how often I've been guilty of much of it. It's
pretty easy to say that I'm not hypocritical - if I don't get into details.
But when I think about hypocrisy in Jesus' terms, I have to admit to more
"Pharisee" in me than I'd like to. How about you?
* * * * * * * * * *
Next, let's consider ...
II. WHY 'THE LEAVEN OF HYPOCRISY' IS SO DANGEROUS.
First of all, I'd like to suggest that it's dangerous because of
the ease with which it permeates our lives once we allow it to get a
foothold. Jesus called it "the leaven of the Pharisees". "Leaven" (or
"yeast" as it's translated in some Bibles) is a fungus that gets kneaded
into bread dough to introduce fermentation into it. When the bread bakes,
the fermentation causes gas bubbles to pop within the bread dough; and
that's what causes bread to rise and have that 'spongy' look. One of the
main characteristics of leaven is that it permeates the whole bread dough,
and spreads its fermenting influence throughout the whole lump. The Jews
were often required in the Scriptures to eat bread made without leaven; and
so they often removed all leaven from their homes during the celebration of
Jesus is using leaven as an illustration of how, once hypocrisy is
permitted into our spiritual life, it permeates the whole thing. Someone
can't keep a little bit of hypocrisy isolated to one area of their life and
leave the rest of life unaffected, anymore than a baker can bake a loaf of
bread half-leavened and half-unleavened. If the leaven is there, it'll
spread and invade the whole thing. It's like the old saying: "O, what a
tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!"
Someone doesn't simply wake up one morning and say, "Today, I'm
going to become a total hypocrite!" It's something that happens because
they thought they could live a lie in one area of their life and not have
it affect the whole thing. Once we begin to covet the applause of other
people for what they see on the outside - hiding our sins from the eyes of
others so we don't lose those precious applause - then we will soon find
that we've built our whole life around a lie. We will cease to be honest
with God so we can maintain honor in the sight of men. Once we've
permitted such hypocrisy to invade our lives, it spreads its influence all
the way through into every other area. It's like "leaven" - spreading it's
fermenting properties throughout the whole lump. And so, Jesus says,
"Beware ..." Don't even go there.
A second reason that it's dangerous is because it ignores the fact
that God knows the truth. The Bible says, "For the LORD does not see as
man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at
the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7). We may be able to keep things a secret from
people; but as the Bible says, "... Does not He who weighs the heart
consider it? He who keeps your soul, does He not know it? And will He not
render to each man according to his deeds?" (Prov. 24:12).
There used to be a song that was taught to children in Sunday
School; but like most of those songs, this one is profound enough for all
ages: "Be careful little hands what you do. Be careful little hands what
you do. There's a Father up above, and He's looking down in love; so be
careful little hands what you do." We should sing the same warning for
"big hands" too. One of the dangerous aspects of hypocrisy is that it
deliberately ignores this truth. It behaves as if God doesn't see or know
what's going on. It wickedly asks, "How does God now? And is there
knowledge in the Most High?" (Psalm 73:11).
Jesus issues this sobering promise: "For there is nothing covered
that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known" (Luke 12:2).
I don't believe this means that all of the sins of all the saints will be,
one day, paraded on a humiliating big-screen in heaven for all to see.
Those of us who have confessed our sins and have repented of them can be
confident that the blood of Jesus has covered it all. But I do believe
those who deliberately cover-up the sin in their own lives in a
hypocritical spirit - seeking the applause and praise of men in exchange
for the forgiveness of God - will be featured stars in a special public
screening. Jesus' blood is the only sure covering for our sins; and if we
would have them covered then, we should seek the covering of His blood now.
And thirdly, the leaven of hypocrisy is dangerous because it gives
us a false sense of security in our sins. It makes us think that, if we
can cover our steps, it doesn't matter where we put our feet. In other
words, hypocrisy emboldens us into further sin.
Jesus put it this way; "Therefore whatever you have spoken in the
dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in
inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops" (Luke 12:3). And it gives
us a picture of someone who thinks that they're safe in living a double
life - speaking and doing evil - because they can do what they do in the
dark, and speak in hushed whispers in the ears in inner rooms; far from the
eyes and ears of the people they don't what to have see or hear. Jesus
promises that such secret deeds will all be revealed by God; but they do
what they do because they think that it won't be revealed. And that's
perhaps the most insidious aspects of hypocrisy: it actually hardens us in
our sins, and emboldens us into further areas of sin.
* * * * * * * * * *
This leads us, finally, to ...
III. WHAT WE CAN DO ABOUT 'THE LEAVEN OF HYPOCRISY'
IN OUR OWN LIVES.
I'd like to suggest that, as a general principle, one of the most
important things we can do to defeat hypocrisy in our own lives is to draw
close to Jesus in a personal and intimate relationship. The closer drawn
we are to Jesus, the more honest and real about our spiritual life we'll
be. And conversely, the more committed we are to cover up our sins, the
further we'll withdraw from Jesus. Jesus said, "And this is the
condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved
darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone
practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his
deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light,
that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God" (John
You cannot genuinely draw close to Jesus and still keep a hold of
sin. The closer you draw to the light of Jesus' holiness, the more the
truth about our sin is exposed - and the more desirous we are to repent of
it. So, we should cultivate a deep, personal relationship with Jesus if we
would defeat hypocrisy in our lives.
Second, I'd like to suggest that we ask God to take away our 'fear'
of men. Proverbs 29:25 says, "The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever
trusts in the LORD shall be safe." We can either "fear" man in that we're
afraid of other people; or we can "fear" man in that we have an inordinate
desire to be well-thought-of in the sight of people. Either way, the fear
of man is a snare. People put on a hypocritical display of phony religion
in order to maintain an image in front of other people - not God.
Now this, of course, isn't saying that we shouldn't care how our
lives affect other people. Obviously, we're to be paying attention to
other people. But we mustn't let a fear of other people become the ruling
principle in our lives. And so; we should seek God's help in ridding
ourselves of the fear of man, and cultivate instead a sense of reverence
toward God. In the passage before us, Jesus goes on to say, "And I say to
you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after
that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should
fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes,
I say to you, fear Him!" (John 12:4-5). We should live in the general
principle that the writer of Hebrews spoke of; "So we may boldly say: the
LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?" (Heb. 13:6).
"Confess your trespasses to one another," James writes, "and pray for one
another, that you may be healed" (James 5:16).
And finally, I suggest that we can defeat hypocrisy in our lives by
cultivating a sense our true value to God in Christ. Jesus went on to say,
"Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is
forgotten before God. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows" (Luke
Jesus is speaking here of why we can be confident of God's
protection over us when threatened by people who are hostile to our faith.
But I believe it also has bearing on the fear of man that causes hypocrisy
to take root in our lives. When we cultivate a sense of how much God loves
and values us - of what infinitely greater value we are to Him than the
sparrows over which He carefully watches - then we're less inclined to try
to inflate our value in the sight of men. Paul wrote, "But 'he who
glories, let him glory in the LORD.' For not he who commends himself is
approved, but whom the Lord commends" (2 Cor. 10:17-18). If we have the
love and acceptance of God in Christ - who forgives all our sins and
cleanses us from all unrighteousness - then we certainly don't need the
approval of man.
* * * * * * * * * *
May God keep us from the sort of hypocrisy that Jesus hates so
much. May we love Him so much that we hate the hypocrisy in us too. May
we learn to be so real with God that we can be real with each other. May
God help us to "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy."
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