Hypocrisy or Zeal?
[M]an looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.
~ 1 Samuel 16:7
In his book The Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Matthew (Edinburgh, 1957: The Saint Andrew Press), William Barclay had a nice description of the exchange between Peter and Christ in Matthew 16:21-23:
“In that moment there came back to him with cruel force the temptations which he had faced in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry. There he had been tempted to take the way of power. ‘Give them bread, give them material things,’ said the tempter, ‘and they will follow you.’ ‘Give them sensational acts,’ said the tempter, ‘give them wonders, and they will follow you.’ ‘Compromise with the world,’ said the tempter. ‘Reduce your standards, and they will follow you.’ It was precisely the same temptations with which Peter was confronting Jesus all over again.”
Hypocrisy is the endemic state of Christianity. But we should not suffer agony when we see that our actions fall short of Christ's teachings. We cannot expect spiritual perfection; but there are two very different kinds of people.
The word hypocrisy generally connotes a self-satisfied person who will defend and rationalize his spiritual shortcomings, not a person actively seeking out his shortcomings and attempting to grow in the Spirit. God does not expect that we will be perfect; if He did, we would not need Christ. But He does expect us to give it an honest try. Alcoholics Anonymous has a nice phrase for this: “We expect spiritual growth, not spiritual perfection.”
Samuel Johnson took note of this distinction several hundred years ago: “Nothing is more unjust, however common, than to charge with hypocrisy him that expresses zeal for those virtues which he neglects to practice; since he may be sincerely convinced of the advantages of conquering his passions, without having yet obtained the victory, as a man may be confident of the advantages of a voyage, or a journey, without having courage or industry to undertake it, and may honestly recommend to others, those attempts which he neglects himself.”
Lord, lead me to never deny your commandments, even where I fall short. Amen.
~ Mason Barge
Editor, Daily Prayer