Robert Redford was walking one day through a hotel lobby. A woman saw him and followed him to the elevator. “Are you the real Robert Redford?” she asked him with great excitement. As the doors of the elevator closed, he replied, “Only when I am alone!”1
There’s something insightful about Redford’s statement. We all are really only who we really are when we are alone. The people closest to us see most of the real us, but there is still more hidden underneath.
And then, there’s Sunday morning, when our faces are smiling and our clothes are clean—when we can be the furthest from who we really are.
We are all hypocrites to some degree. The question is whether or not we admit to that and see the hypocrisy in our lives or if we continue to pretend that we are someone who we are not.
In Luke 12, we will explore hypocrisy. Let’s start with…
1) SEEING HYPOCRISY IN OUR LIVES (12:1-3)
1.1) Hypocrisy Described (12:1)
Luke 12:1 In the mean time, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trode one upon another, he began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.
As the crowds pressed around, Jesus turned to His disciples to have a little word about the Pharisees. He was evidently concerned that they see that the Pharisees are hypocrites, not great spiritual giants to be trusted and followed.
Their hypocrisy, Jesus says, is like “leaven,” or yeast. One effect of yeast that, once it is injected into a piece of bread dough, it spreads throughout the entire lump (1 Corinthians 5:6).
Jesus needed His disciples—who would be so essential for spreading the gospel after His death, resurrection, and ascension—to remain uncontaminated from the hypocritical legalism of the Pharisees.
And in fact, a few years later, in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we find out that Peter struggled with slipping back into the legalism of the Pharisees. Paul would have to rebuke and rescue him.
What is “hypocrisy”? The word “hypocrisy” comes from the Greek word, hypokrisis, which is the word for an “actor” in Greek theatre. An actor in Greek and Roman theatre would wear a mask that represented the person that he was pretending to be. The connection with our understanding of a hypocrite is obvious. Hypocrisy is pretending to be someone that you are not. It is saying one thing while doing another.
The image of “leaven” or yeast is also a picture of hypocrisy. What is the primary purpose of yeast? To make bread dough rise. Yeast creates a chemical reaction that increases the size and appearance of the dough, but doesn’t actually add any more weight to it. It puffs it up! It gives the false impression that there is more mass there than there actually is. That’s what a hypocrite does!
The Pharisees were the best at being hypocrites. Examples throughout the gospels abound of their hypocrisy.
The Pharisees were show-offs in their giving:
2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. (Matthew 6:2)
They were show-offs in their praying:
5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. (Matthew 6:5)
The Pharisees were also show-offs in their fasting:
16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. (Matthew 6:16)
They loved to be fawned over by others, as Jesus says in Matthew 23—
5 But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, 6 And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. (Matthew 23:5–7)
Now, the problem wasn’t necessarily that they let people know how much they gave, that they prayed and fasted in public, or even that they enjoyed people greeting them in the markets. Some Christians have taken these words of Jesus too literally and missed the point.
The problem was that, underneath that pious, spiritual exterior, was a corrupt heart that really didn’t care about the reason for giving, praying, or fasting. They didn’t do those things out of a love for God, but for a love for self.
1.2) Hypocrisy Discovered (12:2-3)
Hypocrisy is, like all sins, first and foremost a heart disease. It’s something that takes place inside us. Often we like to think that we can keep such sins covered up, so that no one ever knows.
Hypocrisy is especially a sin that we think we can cover up because the whole point of hypocrisy is to cover up the sin within us with an exterior that looks good! But Jesus tells us that hypocrisy, like other sins, will be discovered:
Luke 12:2 For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known.
Luke 12:3 Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.
The word “closets” (tameion) refers to an inner room of a house, one that is not against the outer wall. This was a “safe” room from thieves, so that they could not dig through a wall and steal one’s valuables in the middle of the night (cf. Matthew 6:19).
Jesus is saying that a person’s secret sins are not even safe in the “safe” room of your life. They will be dragged out to the roof and proclaimed to the world.
All over the Bible we find this truth declared: God sees everything, even our deepest sins.
24 Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord. (Jeremiah 23:24)
13 Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. (Hebrews 4:13)
So all the work that the hypocrite does to hide his true self from others will not work with the One Who really matters—God Himself.
Since this is the case, it would be wise for us to discover hypocrisy in ourselves first. What are some symptoms that we are hypocritical? Try asking yourself questions like these:
Are you prone to rationalize your sins? A hypocrite will turn their vices into virtues. They are not thieves, they are shrewd in their dealings with people. They are not uncaring and ungenerous, they are simply careful with their money. They are not conceited, they are strong and manly. Whatever the vice is, the hypocrite rationalizes it and makes it into a virtue. They put on their best face to the world.
How do you respond to persecution and trial? Like a farmer beating his grain with a stick, persecution separates the wheat from the chaff.
Hypocrites are like a rotten branch on a tree—it might look okay to the eye, but when a wind comes up and breaks the branch off, the rotten core is revealed.
How do you respond when life goes badly for you? When you get put down for your faith? When suffering hits you? That’s not to say that we don’t grieve or struggle in tough times, even a healthy branch can be blown off the tree. But what does the trial or persecution reveal about your heart?
Do you have a guilty sub-conscience? By sub-conscience, I mean that it’s something you keep buried, but comes out under stress.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame used to playfully tell a bogus tale about how he sent a telegram to each of twelve friends, all men of great virtue, reputation, and considerable position in society. The message simply said: “Fly at once, all is discovered.” Within twenty-four hours, Doyle says, all twelve had left the country!2
Does your outward behavior change depending on place and time of day? For instance, a hypocrite will be faithful to be at church on Sunday morning, dressed nice with a smile on their face. But on Monday, you’ll find him yelling at an employee with foul tongue or telling dirty jokes with the guys. As Spurgeon says,
Fine clothes make fine gentlemen, and fine places make fine hypocrites; but the man who is true to his God and to his conscience, is a Christian all day, and all night long, and a Christian everywhere.3
After seeing the hypocrisy within us, what can we do to fight against it in our lives?
2) FIGHTING HYPOCRISY IN OUR LIVES
2.1) Fear God Not Man (12:4-5)
Luke 12:4 And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.
Jesus is speaking directly to His disciples again. Beware of hypocrisy. Beware of letting it seep into your lives. And beware of hypocritical people who might persecute you and attempt to get you to follow them.
Beware of them, but don’t be afraid of them. What is the worst that they can do to you? The worst is that they could kill you, that’s all. Don’t fear them, but there is Someone you should fear.
Luke 12:5 But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.
Who is he who has “power [or authority] to cast into hell”? Our first inclination might be to say Satan, but that is the wrong answer. Satan does not have that power, and one day he himself will be thrown into Hell (Revelation 20:10). He will be the Al Capone of Alcatraz for all eternity—the most notorious prisoner of Hell.
Who is it that has the authority to throw people into Hell? It is God Himself. I know that really bothers some people. Some deny the existence of Hell because it bothers them so much. Others try to skirt the issue by saying that God doesn’t send anyone to Hell, they send themselves to Hell. Well, yes and no. They are responsible for their sin, but God is the Judge of their sin.
Why does God judge sin? Because He is the Creator and has that right. He is also holy and so He must judge sin or He would no longer be holy. Hell is necessary because God is holy.
But God has provided a way of salvation. He put the punishment for our sin on Jesus Christ. In addition, Christ lived a perfectly holy life. So when we turn to Christ in faith, God transfers our sin to Christ and Christ’s righteousness to us. That means, that in God’s eyes, when He sees us, He sees His perfect and holy Son, Christ.
We no longer have to worry about Hell because, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
What is the point that Jesus is making about hypocrisy here? Hypocrites are preoccupied with what people think instead of what God thinks. The disciples could be swayed by hypocritical Pharisees because they would be concerned about what those false teachers thought of them. Peter fell into this trap in Galatians:
11 But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. 12 For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. (Galatians 2:11–12)
As you can see, in fearing man, Peter became hypocritical. He was preoccupied with what people thought of him, and it caused him to act in ways to look good to those around him.
What we need to do is to set God before us first. We need to remember how Christ delivers us from Hell. That should be the driving motivation—to honor Christ for what He did for us, not to make ourselves look good to others.
Fear God, and not man, and hypocrisy won’t have a chance to grow in your heart.
2.2) Remember God Knows Everything About Us (12:6-7)
Luke 12:6 Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God?
Luke 12:7 But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows.
Sparrows (or other small birds) were sold for food in those days—they were among the cheapest things that you could buy (a person could buy forty on an average day’s pay). They were so common that a person might kick one off the sidewalk like we would a stray french fry today. But yet God takes notice of the poor sparrow.
The average person has one hundred thousand hairs on their head (of course, some people are better than average!) How many of those are you concerned about on a daily basis? We brush our hair, maybe put it in a braid or a ponytail, and then we forget about it. Even then, we’re not concerned about the individual hairs themselves. But God knows and numbers your hair. In other words, He is concerned about the smallest detail of who you are.
What does this have to do with fighting hypocrisy? It all has to do with God’s omniscience—His ability to know everything. This is a great comfort for those who believe. We rest secure knowing that God has every detail of our lives in His infinite mind.
But it is also a challenge to us as hypocrites. Do we really think that God can’t see our hearts or know our thoughts?
David begins Psalm 139 with the words, “O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me.” (Psalm 139:1). And he ends Psalm 139 with the prayer…
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart: Try me, and know my thoughts: 24 And see if there be any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23–24)
You see what he is doing? He is acknowledging that God already knows everything about him, but also inviting God to search his heart for sin.
He fears God in the sense that he knows God is all-knowing and all-powerful. But he is not afraid to invite God to see the wicked ways in his heart. David has a proper view of God.
As Christians fighting our hypocrisy, we need to both fear God and not be afraid of Him. A fear of Him helps us to obey Him. Not being afraid of Him keeps us from covering up the sin in our heart, thinking that He won’t see it.
And this brings us back to the gospel. There must be a fear God because of the bad news of sin: “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
But then there is this:
8 But God commendeth [shows] his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
Hey, you hypocrite! God knows your inner sin—and He still loves you and has sent His Son to die for you! Will you cast off the hypocrisy and trust the Son to forgive your sins?
Will you stop pretending that you are better than you are, and admit to God that you need Jesus to change you from the inside out?
We’ll close with a challenge from the old pastor, J.C. Ryle:
If we would not become Pharisees, let us cultivate a heart religion. Let us realize daily that the God with whom we have to do, looks far below the outward surface of our profession, and that He measures us by the state of our hearts. Let us be real and true in our Christianity.4
1. AMG Bible Illustrations, Bible Illustrations Series (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2000).
2. R. Kent Hughes, Luke: That You May Know the Truth, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1998), 38.
3. C. H. Spurgeon, “Hypocrisy,” in The New Park Street Pulpit Sermons, vol. 5 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1859), 101.
4. J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke, vol. 2 (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1879), 59.