I dare say we’re all familiar with the problem of hypocrisy in the church. For most of us, it’s something we’ve had close experience with. We’ve found ourselves disgusted with others who we identify as hypocrites and we may even have caught ourselves doing hypocritical things.
As we wrap up our study of how James talks about godly wisdom, we come to the last characteristic on his list. “The wisdom from above is … without hypocrisy” (James 3:17, WEB). In Greek, the words for hypocrisy and hypocrite have to do with someone playing a part, as if they were an actor on stage. They’re dissemblers, pretenders who simulate, feign, and pretend to be something they are not (Thayer’s dictionary, entries on G5273 and G5271). The opposite is what we find in wisdom — anupokritos (G505), something that is unfeigned, undisguised, sincere.
The Bible tells us “wisdom is the principle thing, therefore get wisdom” (Prov. 4:7, KJV). Wisdom is something God has in abundance and which He is eager to share with those who ask for it (James 1:5). As we grow in wisdom we will become people who are sincere, authentic, and live without hypocrisy.
Traits of the Hypocritical
Before we talk more about living without hypocrisy, let’s take a look at what a hypocrite is like. Jesus talked about this quite a bit in the gospels recorded by Matthew, Mark, and Luke (in fact, the word hupokrites, G5273, only appears in these three books).
- Hypocrites call attention to the godly things they do in order to be seen and respected by other people (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16)
- Hypocrites judge others before fixing up their own problems and repenting of their own sins (Matt. 7:5; Luke 6:42)
- Hypocrites have double standards when applying God’s law (Matt. 15:4-7; Luke 13:14-16)
- Hypocrites try to tempt others to sin (Matt 22:17-18)
- Hypocrites block others from getting closer to the Lord (Matt. 23:13-15)
- Hypocrites are greedy and have misplaced priorities (Matt. 23:16-19)
- Hypocrites get distracted by minutia and neglect the things that are most important to God (Matt. 23:23)
- Hypocrites appear righteous on the outside but are inwardly wicked (Matt. 23:25-28; Luke 11:44)
- Hypocrites play lip-service to God but their hearts aren’t committed (Mark 7:6)
Jesus rebukes hypocrisy strongly. He sees through insincere shows of “faith” and condemns them. We can’t play-act into a genuine, heart-connection with God. He doesn’t care how righteous we look on the outside, but rather how much we’re like Him on the inside.
Above All Things Avoid Hypocrisy
Avoiding hypocrisy is not as simple a matter as it may seem, even for mature Christians. For example, Paul speaks of a time when the Apostle Peter and “even Barnabas” were carried away by hypocrisy, along with other Jewish Christians (Gal. 2:11-14). We all need to be vigilant.
But above all things, my brothers, don’t swear— not by heaven, or by the earth, or by any other oath; but let your “yes” be “yes”, and your “no”, “no”, so that you don’t fall into hypocrisy (James 5:12, WEB)
You’ve probably read translations of this verse where the last line reads “lest you fall under judgement,” but the Greek word here is hupokrisis (G5272). I think knowing James is talking about hypocrisy makes his “above all things” statement make more sense. There is a great need for us to live genuine, godly lives without dissembling, lying, double-standards, and pay-acting.
Living Without Hypocrisy
The word used in James for “without hypocrisy” is used only five other times. In addition to wisdom being without hypocrisy, we’re also to love without hypocrisy (Rom. 12:9; 2 Cor. 6:6; 1 Pet. 1:22) and have faith without hypocrisy (1 Tim. 1:5; 2 Tim. 1:5). Sincere, unfeigned faith and love are core parts of a Christian life. As one of God’s most important character traits, love is foundational to having Godly wisdom. Faith and wisdom are also linked (Matt. 24:45; 2 Tim. 3:15).
Putting away therefore all wickedness, all deceit, hypocrisies, envies, and all evil speaking, as newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the Word, that with it you may grow, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious: (1 Pet. 2:1-3, WEB)
We have all tasted the Lord’s grace and love if we’re in a relationship with Him. As such, we owe Him our whole hearts — not some outward, play-acted version of insincere faith. It’s time to put away the things that are not of God and put on wisdom instead. The Lord promises to give wisdom to those who ask, and He will fulfill that promise for each of us when we seek Him with sincerity and truth.
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