The Stain of Hypocrisy

Matthew 23:1-12

Jerry A Collins




v     What are the dangers of hypocrisy?

v     What characterizes one as being a hypocrite?

v     What are the consequences of hypocrisy?


I want to remember Barney Onkala. A man you never knew and most likely would have overlooked in any average crowd. Barney never sought recognition. He was the guy who drove the church bus on early Sunday mornings even in the dead of winter to pick up kids and families in the outskirts so they could be in a church service and then drive them home afterwards. He was the guy who volunteered for the dirty jobs and was always available when a crisis required someone to do something. He was a valuable asset for the Kingdom of God precisely because He never cared about getting any credit. That God knew was enough for him. His example is one we should emulate no matter what we do for God’s Kingdom. Be a Barney Onkala but please do not be a Pharisee! With the obvious hypocrisy and unbelief of the nation’s religious leaders exposed Jesus is prompted to warn the mass of people about them.


Jesus speaks to the crowd and disciples about the scribes and Pharisees. There are two things addressed about them.

1. If your leaders teach you the scripture, do what they say vs 2-3a. Here we learn they have seated themselves in the chair of Moses in vs 2. That is, they are teachers of the Law. So leaders do have the authority to tell you what the Bible says but not more than the Bible says or something else than the Bible. These religious leaders authority was limited to what was communicated in the Law of Moses. Leaders do not have the right to violate what the Scripture says or add to it. Today in churches, Pastors and Elders can usually be thought to have authority over other matters as well and have the right to impose upon us what our convictions should be or decisions we should make or spiritual protocol we should follow. I do not have to follow any man-made rules or additions to please God but I must follow everyone one of God’s. So be taught the Word.

2. If your leaders teach and do what is contrary to Scripture then refuse it vs 3b-7. There are two reasons why we do not do according to their deeds: (1) They say things and do not do them vs 3-4. They are hypocrites.  They cannot be trusted or followed. How would you know what was right or wrong with such a duplicitous example? They lack sympathy are unloving and uncaring vs 4. The heavy loads tied up are the religious rules and rituals. Piled on men’s shoulders they were unbearable and impossible to carry. If you failed to keep them you were doomed—chided and rebuked by the leaders these loads only added the burden of guilt to an already wearisome regimen. There is no grace or rest as Jesus had promised if you came to Him Mt 11:28-30. Beaten up and bruised you could only try harder not to fail. (2) They do their deeds to be noticed by men vs 5-7. Pleasing God is not in the picture. Only that which would advance one’s standing and foster the admiration of people. Jesus lists ways these leaders sought to be noticed by others in vss 5-7.

*They broaden their phylacteries—small square boxes of leather with copies of OT passages (Ex 13:1-10; 13:11-16; Dt 6:4-9; 11:13-21) strapped around their heads and left arm wide and conspicuous.

*They lengthen their tassels—(Num 15:38-40) as reminder of all the commandments of the Lord for all to see their devotion.

*Love places of public honor—whether in secular or religious circles—banquets and synagogues.

*Titles and recognition vs 7—marketplace greetings and scholarly recognition.

3. Leaders must be servants and leadership positions used as opportunities to serve others 8-11. So Jesus warns us that His followers must not have the attitude of these hypocritical leaders. First, do not use titles of pride which exalt yourself—avoid titles 8-10. Instead, we have a brotherly relationship to one another vs 8. We are family and the dynamics are much different (But do not be called; and do not call; and do not be called). We are no in business together so stop relating to each other that way. Second, greatness and honor are based in being a servant vs 11-12. This is opposite of the world’s standards for recognition. The Pharisees who exalted themselves would be humbled—Jesus followers by humbling themselves would one day be exalted, remembered, and honored vs 12. Pride assumes value independent from God so it is always evil in the Bible. So we must warn people about the dangers of hypocrisy just as Jesus did.


Since  hypocrisy is a dangerous way to live, expect God to judge it. Why is it dangerous? Jesus lists several ways it causes harm.

1. It prevents people from entering God’s Kingdom 13. Their antagonism toward Jesus turned people away from Him. They placed a stumbling block in the path of the people and were culpable. Following the regulations does not change anyone’s heart and leaves people in their sin. It would be like putting programs today over the teaching of God’s Word.

2. It produces inconsistencies in one’s life 14. You can make long prayers to impress people but also oppress the widows you should have been helping. Oppressing the widows house is saying they took their money and more of it but did nothing for them. So money is placed over compassion.

3. It converts people to legalism and disciples them to be like them or worse 15. They will actively pursue anyone they can convert to legalism and make these new converts doubly hellish and doubly damned. Hypocrisy does not make you better off but worse off-eternally worse off.  

4. It perverts the truth of God 16-22. Here he calls them blind guides not hypocrites emphasizing they were ignorant of the truth even though they of al men should have known it. They developed a double standard for swearing oaths which standards did not obligate them to keep these oaths (Gold and Temple—Altar and sacrifices). So people could renege on their promises without guilt. Jesus pointed out that since God is Creator of all to swear by anything at all involves God and God is no party to a double standard so there is no getting away with it.

5. It inverts divine priorities by majoring on minor mechanical things and neglecting major spiritual things 23-24. The insignificant replaces the essential. Painstakingly about formalities but unmoved by dishonesty, cruelty, greed, selfish.

6. It emphasizes anything to make you look better to others while neglecting what is right morally 25-26. Robbery is fulfilling your profit motive at the expense of others. Self-indulgence is living in luxury. Jesus says first clean the inside so the outside can be clean.

7. It appears that you are godly but in reality you are contaminated 27-28. It looks like one is righteous but inside are full of sin. In the previous it was how they sin against other people. Here is how you are sinning against God. Hypocrisy is no way to have a relationship with God.

8. It cannot recognize a messenger of God who does not promote their hypocrisy 29-36. If you are not from our group you cannot be from God—so they killed the prophets even tho they said otherwise—they are plotting even now to kill Jesus and they will do the same to the apostles. Hypocrisy cannot tolerate the truth. Even tho Jesus wept over Jerusalem vs 37, they would not aee Jesus publicly teaching again and there would be no hope for them and their hypocritical ways until the Second Coming vs 39.  (1. Do not do anything for the purpose of being honored & seen by people, socially, religiously, financially or any other way. 2. Be aware of hypocrisy caused by & promoted by a religious institution or person.)