Some people who claim to be Christians are hypocrites. For example, the man who leads a Bible study, but is not faithful to his wife. Or the woman who teaches Sunday school, but abuses her children. Those kind of hypocrites are obvious, and we rightly condemn them.
But there is another kind of hypocrite. This kind of hypocrite actually has a life that looks exemplary. This person does all the right things. No one would expect that such a person is a hypocrite. And yet, Jesus says they are.
Jesus points out this second type of hypocrite in his famous Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, chapter 6. There, Jesus warns about hypocrites who give money to the poor, pray to God, and fast from food. These are all fine activities, but Jesus has insight into the motives: he says they are hypocrites because they give money “to be praised by others” (v. 2), they pray and fast “to be seen by others” (vs. 5 and 16). The problem isn’t that they do these good things, the problem is that they are doing them so that others will think well of them.
Why is this so bad? What’s wrong with praying to God and letting others think well of you? To understand why we can’t have both, we need to know what the word “hypocrite” means.
Hypocrite is the word the ancient speakers of Greek would use for people who performed in a play: The word “hypocrite” means “actor.” Now, there is nothing wrong with being an actor, unless people don’t know that you are “pretending.”
When we go to a play, we know people are acting, and we can applaud their fine performance. But if someone pretends to do something he really didn’t do and attempts to deceive others, that’s being a hypocrite. This is the type of actor Jesus is exposing.
Jesus motivates us to examine our behavior by revealing that a hypocrite gets one kind of reward, and the one who serves his or her Father in heaven gets a different kind of reward.
Jesus says that an “actor” who is giving money to be seen by others will be rewarded with applause. This is only right isn’t that the reason an actor performs in the first place, to be applauded by others? And so, Jesus says, “the actor gets his just reward applause.”
But there is another kind of reward a reward that the Father gives to those who aren’t motivated by the opinions of others. That reward is seen in the promises given in the famous “beatitudes,” which Jesus spoke at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus describes the kind of people who are blessed those people will receive the “Kingdom of God” (v. 3), be comforted (v. 4), inherit the earth (v. 5), be satisfied (v. 6), receive mercy (v. 7), see God (v. 8), and be called sons of God (v. 9). These are massive promises, in which a relationship with God is at the center.
If you give of yourself because you want people to praise you, the proper reward is human applause, nothing else. But if you give because you love God, and you desire to please Him, the proper reward is the joy of a present and future deepening relationship with him.
Do these words of Jesus expose you? What is the real reason you do good, religious things?