“They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men” (Matt. 6:5).
This is the working definition of hypocrisy: “to be seen by men.” The Greek word for hypocrite, hypokrit?s, originally meant “actor.” First-century actors wore masks. A hypocrite, then, is one who puts on a mask, a false face.
Jesus did not say, “Do not do good works.” Nor did he instruct, “Do not let your works be seen.” We must do good works, and some works, such as benevolence or teaching, must be seen in order to have an impact. So let’s be clear. To do a good thing is a good thing. To do good to be seen is not. In fact, to do good to be seen is a serious offense. Here’s why.
Hypocrisy turns people away from God. When God-hungry souls walk into a congregation of wannabe superstars, what happens? When God seekers see singers strut like Las Vegas entertainers . . . When they hear the preacher—a man of slick words, dress, and hair—play to the crowd and exclude God . . . When other attendees dress to be seen and make much to-do over their gifts and offerings . . . When people enter a church to see God yet can’t see God because of the church, don’t think for a second that God doesn’t react. “Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding” (Matt. 6:1 MSG).
Hypocrisy turns people against God. So God has a no-tolerance policy. Let the cold, lifeless bodies of the embezzling couple issue their intended warning. Let’s take hypocrisy as seriously as God does. How can we?
1. Expect no credit for good deeds. None. If no one notices, you aren’t disappointed. If someone does, you give the credit to God. Ask yourself this question: If no one knew of the good I do, would I still do it? If not, you’re doing it to be seen by people.
2. Give financial gifts in secret. Money stirs the phony within us. We like to be seen earning it. And we like to be seen giving it. So “when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matt. 6:3 NLT).
3. Don’t fake spirituality. When you go to church, don’t select a seat just to be seen or sing just to be heard. If you raise your hands in worship, raise holy ones, not showy ones. When you talk, don’t doctor your vocabulary with trendy religious terms. Nothing nauseates more than a fake “Praise the Lord” or a shallow “Hallelujah” or an insincere “Glory be to God.”
Bottom line: don’t make a theater production out of your faith. “Watch me! Watch me!” is a call used on the playground, not in God’s kingdom. Silence the trumpets. Cancel the parade. Enough with the name-dropping. If accolades come, politely deflect them before you believe them. Slay the desire to be noticed. Stir the desire to serve God.
Heed the counsel of Christ: “First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too” (Matt. 23:26 NLT). Focus on the inside, and the outside will take care of itself. Lay your motives before God daily, hourly. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (Ps. 139:23–24 NLT).
Do good things. Just don’t do them to be noticed. You can be too good for your own good, you know.
But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:3–4 NIV)
Lord, you make it plain in your Word that you hate hypocrisy, especially because it turns others away from you. So, Father, I pray that you would blunt my natural inclination to seek personal recognition for whatever good things you allow me to do. I don’t want to be a phony, but neither do I want to be a glory hound. Fill me with your Spirit, and teach me to follow his example in gladly giving all glory to your Son. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.