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Becoming a Better Hypocrite

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Luke 11:37–54

Jesus has very strong words for spiritual hypocrites. We are wise to heed those words and be ever alert to the underlying attitude of the world that fuels it—namely, the pride that promotes a focus on ourselves and on impressing others.


I read about an emperor in China who formed his own personal orchestra of several hundred people. Being a member of this royal orchestra was very prestigious, and it brought personal fame and fortune. One member of the orchestra was actually an imposter. He had somehow maneuvered his way into the flute section of the orchestra.

One day the emperor announced that each member of the orchestra would be scheduled to come to the palace and perform a solo piece for the royal court. Knowing his scam was about to be discovered, rather than confess his hypocrisy and face his shame, the imposter took his own life. Out of this event came the phrase, “He refused to face the music.”[1]

Well, here in a Pharisee’s dining room in Judea, some religious leaders are about to face the music—they are going to be called out by the Lord and exposed for their hypocrisy.

This scene takes place in Luke chapter 11; and what we see is a classic description of hypocrisy—which is a danger every Christian faces. In fact, if you would like to become a “better” hypocrite, here are six ways to do just that!

And the first is this: Focus on external appearances rather than internal attitudes.

While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. (verses 37-38)

By the time of Christ, this hand washing was not so much related to dirty hands; it was a religious ritual some 500 years old.[2]

Jesus can read their minds, as is clear from His words here in verses 39-40:

“You Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also?”

In other words, “If you want to be clean before God, you don’t need your hands washed; you need your heart washed—that is where sin grows.” So, number 1: If you want to be a better hypocrite, focus more on external appearances than on heart attitudes.

Number 2: Applaud yourself for small successes, while turning a blind eye to greater failures. Verse 42:

“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God.”

The law of Moses never commanded tithing every herb and spice.[3] But these hypocrites are counting out these tiny little seeds, while ignoring the major issues of treating people justly and lovingly.

Here is the third step to becoming a better hypocrite: Learn to value public commendation more than personal character. Jesus communicates that in verse 43: “Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.”

In those days the best seats in the synagogue were down front. In all my years of pastoring, evidently, the best seats have always been in the back, but not here. And this front row was reserved for religious leaders. In fact, these seats were actually behind the speaker’s podium, facing the audience. You were somebody if you sat up there.

Jesus goes on to say, “Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it” (verse 44).

Now to come into contact with a tombstone or walk over a grave was prohibited by the Mosaic law—it made a person ceremonially unclean for seven days according to Numbers 19. A lot of these laws were God’s way of protecting his people from the spread of disease, long before germs and microbiology were discovered.

Jesus compares the Pharisees to “unmarked graves” that people unwittingly touch, making them unclean. So, He is effectively saying that anybody who comes into contact with these Pharisees is becoming corrupted and defiled.

Listen, religious hypocrites are never going to help you become more holy. They are really not interested in you anyway. So, beware of those who are more interested in impressing you than helping you develop godly character.  

Now if you would like to stay open to the wrong influences out there and become an even better hypocrite, do this instead—number four: Be quick to teach others to do things you refuse to practice yourself.

Listen to Jesus’ words here in verse 46:

“Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.”

Jesus is referring to religious rituals, traditions, and rules, literally thousands of them, taught by these “lawyers,” or experts in the Mosaic law, and imposed on the lives of the people. The word Jesus uses for “burdens” refers to an incredibly heavy burden that no person can bear.[4] And the “experts” are not going to lift a finger to help you. In fact, Jesus indicates here they don’t even follow these rules themselves.

Beloved, Christianity is not a burden of rules you will never remember perfectly. Christianity is an honest relationship with your Savior who died for every sin, every failure, every shortcoming.

But if you really want to be a better hypocrite, here is number 5: Admire people who cannot challenge how you think or live.

Listen to Jesus here in verses 47-48:

“Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed. So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs.”

The religious leaders had built monuments honoring former prophets their forefathers had murdered! Oh, they claim to admire those prophets, but look at them—they are already planning to kill the greatest prophet ever, the Lord Jesus. One author noted that it is so much easier to admire dead Christians than to imitate living Christians—that is, those who confront us and challenge us.[5]

The truth is, these Pharisees and lawyers are hindering people from discovering the truth of the gospel. Jesus says as much here in verse 52:

“You have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.”

Jesus essentially says, “You should have put out a welcome mat, but instead, you are trying to lock the door and hide the key.”[6]

Well, if you still want to become a better hypocrite, here is one final step: Whenever you are exposed to convicting truth, do not repent; resist.

As he went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard and to provoke him to speak about many things, lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say. (verses 53-54)

Rather than consider Jesus’ words, they get angry. Who does He think He is? I will tell you who He is; He is that Emperor, and He’s calling them—and us—to face the music.

It is easy to see the hypocrisy in these men, but I wonder if we can see our own hypocrisy in the mirror of God’s Word.

Several decades ago, a rather famous Christian musician was being interviewed, and he made this transparent admission: “My tendency is to only let people know enough about me to give you a good impression. I am a recovering hypocrite.”[7]

That is true for all of us. So, let’s be careful; let’s face the music of God’s Word and avoid the path that will lead us to becoming better hypocrites. Instead, let’s become more humble and dependent followers of Christ.

[1] Robert Jeffress, The Solomon Secrets (Waterbrook, 2002), 128.

[2] Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Luke (Zondervan, 2012), 307.

[3] Bruce B. Barton, Dave Veerman, and Linda K. Taylor, Life Application Bible Commentary: Luke (Tyndale, 1997), 305.

[4] John MacArthur, Luke 11-17 (Moody Publishers, 2013), 104.

[5] J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Luke (reprint, Evangelical Press, 1975), 206.

[6] Swindoll, 315.

[7] “Recovering Hypocrite,” Sermon Illustrations,

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