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Friday, November 21, 2008

On Hypocrites

We often hear the word 'hypocrite' bantered about in modern culture. Typically it is used in a context that denotes our disapproval of someone. Usually it is said with snide tone of voice, indicating judgment of someones conduct. Ask people what they think defines a hypocrite and they will usually question the motives of the individual in question. They may refer, for example, to Christians who don't seem very Christ-like ... in their opinion.

In other words, it seems we project the definition of hypocrite onto anyone who doesn't meet our expectation of their own definition of themselves. If you say you are a Muslim, for example, we expect you to behave a certain way. If you don't meet our expectation of a Muslim - then we conclude that you are a hypocrite. Similarly, and more commonly, if you say that you are a Christian - then we expect you to meet our expectations of what Christians are and do. When you fail to meet those expectations, we write you off as a hypocrite.

I believe there is fine line here though, and we cross it mistakenly. The true definition of a hypocrite seems, in my humble opinion, to only be achieved when behavior creeps up a scale. So what does that mean? Well, it means that not everyone whom I think is a hypocrite actually is. Some of those we think look like hypocrites are actually just imperfect humans, striving to live a virtuous life. Because they are imperfect, they may fail at times. But their failure doesn't mean that they are a hypocrite. In fact, failure at living a virtuous life may be the best evidence that someone is not a hypocrite.

True hypocrites are great actors and actresses. They can put on a facade of righteousness that doesn't easily crack and almost never fails. They are the ones who look truly righteous and holy. But their hearts will reflect something else. In their hearts, for example, maybe they don't actually love God above all else. Perhaps they love themselves even more. Or they love money more. It may be that a true hypocrite is the one who looks righteous - but who truly doesn't love others as Christ loves them. The thing is, most of us will never get to see such dichotomies in the true hypocrite. For if they allowed these character flaws to show, that would mean they failed at being a hypocrite. No, the things that make someone a hypocrite aren't going to be obvious to the rest of us.

So if you think someone is a hypocrite, you are probably wrong. For only the true condition of one's heart can reveal the depths of his or her hypocrisy. And of course, only God can really know the state of one's heart. What should we do with those whom make us think they are hypocrites? Let's start with forgiving them and showing them grace. For he (or she) who hungers and thirsts for righteousness, but fails in their humanness, is the one Jesus came to save.

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