There is a lot of accusation today that Christians are hypocrites. There is some truth to this charge at times. After all, Christians proclaim truths that they cannot perfectly live out. In that sense, Christians are hypocrites. In that sense, everyone who has any ideals or values is a hypocrite because nobody can live out their ideals perfectly. Nobody is perfect. Nevertheless, this does not lower or diminish the ideal or truth claim itself.
The Greek word, from which we get our word “hypocrite,” is hypokrisis, which means: actor. A hypocrite was an actor. Actors play roles. They pretend. They portray characters and fictitious plots, but it isn’t real.
Jesus had a problem with hypocrites. He especially had issues with the religious hypocrites of his day, the Pharisees. These guys would bark out the law to people, even added to it, but then missed it on issues of the heart. They knew the letter of the law, but missed the heart of the law. The most infamous place in the Gospels where Jesus addresses the Pharisees and their hypocrisy is Matthew 23. Jesus goes on a tirade about their hypocrisy. He calls them whitewashed tombs that look good on the outside, but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones (vs27).
Many people today make this charge against Christians. Sometimes the charge is right and accurate. But a growing trend has developed to label anyone who stands up for something, but isn’t perfect, as a hypocrite. The name-calling of “hypocrite” is meant to silence people from speaking up about beliefs, morals, or character.
Many attempts are made to discredit Christian claims because of Christian failures. In order to shut a Christian up, unbelievers will point out examples or situations where Christians, or at least professing Christians, have screwed up or not represented Christ very well. This is done to discredit the argument being made by the Christian. However, this is a logical fallacy called the Ad Hominem. This logical fallacy seeks to discredit an argument based on behaviors or past actions of people who believed the same argument. It is a character attack on a person or group, not the argument itself. That would be like arguing 2+2=4 is not true, because Hitler believed 2+2=4 and look at him!
People may point out the shortcomings of Christians and call them hypocrites, but that does not discredit or discount the Christian claims or arguments. Jesus demonstrates this when he tells the listening crowds concerning the Pharisees to “practice and observe whatever they tell you – but not what they do.” (Matthew 23:3) ESV. Jesus says to do what they tell you because the credibility of what they are telling you is not dependent on the behavior, attitude, or character of the Pharisees. Jesus tells them: do what the hypocrites tell you. Just don’t do what they do. There is a difference.
So next time someone attempts to discredit a Christian claim by stating that Christians are hypocrites, tell them playfully, “Do what the hypocrites tell you…Jesus says so.”