Battling Hypocrisy

Editor's note: This article was originally scheduled to appear in the Messianic Times the week before Passover, but did not appear due to unforeseen circumstances (hence the reference to Passover).

The Struggle

After Moses received the commandments on Mount Sinai, Scripture says that he “took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people” (Exodus 24:7). Immediately, the Children of Israel responded by saying, Kol asher diber Hashem na’aseh v’nishmah — “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will hear.” They immediately resolved to submit to the voice of the Holy One and live within the parameters set forth for them as a redeemed people. However, as we know, this resolve did not have lasting results. Shortly thereafter, their Redeemer quickly took a back seat to the egel hazahav, the golden calf. It seems that within both Judaism and Christianity, this has been the struggle of our spiritual existence ever since.

James, the brother of our Master, reminds us that even after the coming of Messiah, his followers continued to struggle with the same duplicity. He commissions the disciples of Yeshua to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:22–25). Do we, as Messianics, struggle with these issues even today?

James tells his audience, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10). Unlike the traditional Christian interpretation that one must keep the entire Torah perfectly or be guilty of breaking all of the commandments, we know James’s argument to be one against hypocrisy. He is reminding us that the Torah was given as a whole and we do not decide if one commandment is worth keeping or breaking because of our perceived benefit from it. To do so is hypocrisy. Messianics, however, must take this passage seriously and be constantly on guard against the constant threat of hypocrisy.

Battling Hypocrisy

One of the main purposes of Yeshua’s first coming was to address the issue of hypocrisy within the community of faith. Repeatedly within the Gospels we hear his chastisement of the Pharisees for this singular flaw. We have multiple accounts in which he spells out their hypocritical acts and rebukes them for “setting aside the [weightier] commands of God” (Mark 7:9) for things of lesser importance. Because of these things, Christianity has stereotyped the whole of Pharisees as hypocrites. In fact, it has been so common that even our English dictionaries have the word ‘Pharisee’ associated with ‘hypocrite.’ Although this is indeed a sad commentary on the reputation of the Pharisees, As Christians, we are not too far from this designation ourselves. When many non-believers are asked why they would not consider becoming a follower of Messiah or engage with the believing community, the response has been that they do not want to be hypocrites.

As disciples of Yeshua, it is our job, through the empowerment of the Ruach HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit), to bring these two seemingly disparate forces — hearing and doing — together as one for the glory of our Creator. For far too long have the people of God wrestled with this ideal. Either we have been fixated upon the mechanics and minutia of the biblical injunctions to the detriment of the weightier matters of the Law — justice, mercy and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23) — or we have had an obsession with the gnosis of saving faith, with little motivation to be transformed into the likeness of Messiah. It is the purpose of this blog to help us address these chasms of faith and, God-willing, help motivate us towards reconciling our belief with our actions. As the midrash teaches us, “The wicked are under the control of their heart (i.e. the evil inclination), whereas the righteous have their heart under their control” (Genesis Rabbah 34:10). As a God who is Echad (One), the Holy One of Israel desires a people who are echad in their creed and their deed. Claiming to be born of the Spirit and having the seal of His Spirit upon us, we can live life in one of two ways. We can choose a life which is kiddush Hashem, a term that literally means “sanctification of The Name,” and refers to a life which brings glory and honor to our Heavenly Father — or we can choose that of chillul Hashem, a term that means “desecration of The Name,” and refers to a life which brings dishonor and shame upon the Holy Name of our Redeemer.

As those who hold to both the commandments of the Torah and gaze into the face of Yeshua, our Messiah, we must continually inspect our lives so that the yeast of the Pharisees — hypocrisy (Luke 12:1) — has not begun to permeate our lives. What better time than now to begin this inspection as we prepare to enter into the season of Pesach (Passover) and Chag HaMatzah (Unleavened Bread). May the flame of the Holy Spirit begin to reveal to us the leaven hidden in the corners of our hearts so that we may give it over completely to the Holy One and be purged from dead works and all which leads to the desecration of the holy name of our Heavenly Father.