Intentional Hypocrisy (Matthew 6:16)

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Throughout the Bible, fasting and prayer seems to have a special place in finding positive  responses  from the Lord. That doesn’t mean we can manipulate God, obviously – He is God after all, and we are not. But unfortunately, that doesn’t stop people from trying to manipulate others around the subject.

Fasting any period of time creates discomfort. If you fast severely (no water and no food) you become dehydrated. That starts to show up in how you look. Fasting longer will result in loosing weight. Eventually it becomes quite noticeable to those in your circles that something is happening to you. If they connect that you are fasting with how you look, it can appear that you are taking your relationship with God most seriously. Sadly, some people are more interested in making sure others notice piety than in actually being pious. That’s nothing new. The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible notes, “In general, in the OT, fasting was abused. Instead of a sincere act of self-renunciation and submission to God, fasting became externalized as an empty ritual in which a pretense of piety was presented as a public image.”  For this reason Jesus said, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting.”

In our culture, it is almost laughable that someone would go so far as to disfigure their face to try to demonstrate that they are fasting. Yet Jesus’ admonition has a real application to us too. Deliberately casting a wrong impression so that others think more of you is actually more prevalent in our modern culture, not less. It is actually expected that we present a good image to all around us, and the fashion, hair dye and makeup industries attest to that. It is not uncommon to only post pictures that demonstrate your ‘good side’.  It is not uncommon to exaggerate the time spent at the gym or in study or in work. And one has only to  think of the many examples of influencers on Instagram who have been caught filtering their pictures to deliberately give a very wrong impression. In a world full of cameras, such immature foolishness is bound to be noticed. That is bad, but the foolishness of misleading others by appearing to please God is much worse, and only equaled by God’s ironic response to it. Christ notes, “I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.” In other words; instead of receiving praise from God for having sought Him, the deceiver’s only praise is their own self-satisfaction at having appeared to have done so – something they themselves know is just a foolhardy fabrication. 

Yet it is worse than that. The one who lies about their appearance or their labour is being dishonest to men before God about that which matters for little. But the one who lies about their devotional/prayer life is being dishonest to God before men about that which matters much. 

Those who hypocritically mislead others into thinking they are pious when they are not succeed only in trading a most positive response from God Most High (which is worth much for eternity) for a fake knowing glance by other human beings (which is worth less than nothing for but a moment). It is like trading a bag of pure gold for a single fair token to a rigged game of chance – one that you rigged yourself to ensure all bets loose. That is not just foolish. It is downright stupid.

It is possible to state partial truth in such a way as virtually to lie, and to be silent when silence may be designed to convey a false impression. [But] wise reticence will always be consistent with truthfulness.

Henry D.M.S. Jones

APPLICATION: Intentionality

Are you honest when a brother or sister in Christ asks you about your prayer/devotional life? Are you honest with God about the state of your own soul?

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