Bible Reading Blog

Bible Reading Blog

“Woe to You, Hypocrites!”

Categories: Congregational Bible Reading


If you want to know what Jesus really thought about those pesky religious leaders… here it is. “…they preach but they do not practice… They do all their deeds to be seen by others… [they] are blind guides… hypocrites!” (Matthew 23.3, 5, 24) … Jesus just unloads on them.

If this chapter seems a bit out of character for Jesus, it’s because it is. This was not his typical approach, even with the Pharisees. Up to this point, Jesus has dealt reasonably and patiently with the religious leaders, but they refused to “see” his authority (Matthew 21.32). And so, this section was the climax of their interactions. Jesus was at a point in his ministry where he needed to clearly expose the fallacy of their hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy is a buzz word in our world today. Many foolishly use this as justification for why they can’t go to church or follow God – “the church is just filled with a bunch of hypocrites!” But notice that Jesus didn’t use the term flippantly. Only after he had reasoned with these people did he resort to addressing them as hypocrites. His goal was not name calling but rather to expose their inconsistency.  Something worth considering is the fact that no other New Testament writer uses the term “hypocrite”. Only Jesus called men hypocrites… and only Jesus truly knew the hearts of men (Matthew 9.4).

Nobody wants to be like the Pharisees, but we are not that different from them at times. Maybe we don’t outwardly express the same pretense , but none of us are exempt from self-deception. Jesus’ comments in Matthew 23 highlight some important truths that will help us self-evaluate and guard against hypocrisy in our lives:

  1. Learning is imperative to real discipleship… Despite their apparent failings, these religious groups respected God’s word, and throughout this gospel, Jesus commends their knowledge of the law to his hearers (Matthew 5.20; 23.2-3). We must not only appreciate the need to hear what God has to say but have a commitment to knowing it like these men.
  2. …but with understanding comes expectation. Being a disciple is not merely an academic pursuit. One must become a “doer of the word and not a hearer only” (James 1.22). The Pharisee’s defined themselves by what they didn’t do. However, this negative approach to God’s word did not make them righteous (Matthew 23.13). Their pursuit of knowledge overshadowed the intent of the law: to produce lives filled with justice, mercy and faithfulness (Matthew 23.23). God’s word is designed to produce a change in our actions and attitudes that will serve others and not ourselves (Matthew 20.26-28).
  3. God knows your hearts. You may fool others but before God, no pretense will matter. Remember Jesus’ words from Matthew 6: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6.1). God is the rewarder of those who seek Him (Hebrews 11.6) and He knows who you truly are.

My guess is that no one intends to be a hypocrite, but there are many worldly pressures that can lead us down that path into self-deception. Jesus’ words to the Pharisees are a wake-up call for all of us. Do my actions align with who I claim to be? More importantly, do my actions align with who I claim to follow?