How to Better Judge Hypocrites

Paul confronts Peter in Galatians 2 for not acting consistent with the Gospel. Peter (who some think is the first pope, thus eliminating any confusion over whether popes are infallible), was cool with Gentile company until some of the leaders of the church in Jerusalem came to town.

“Gentiles? What’s a Gentile?” suddenly became Peter’s attitude.

Well, that’s weird Peter. Why cool with Gentiles until bigwig Jewish believers come to town? Something isn’t right there.

The big problem with Peter’s actions is that other people follow Peter’s lead. Paul is concerned that “other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.

Even Paul’s partner on his first missionary journey, Barnabas, is led after Peter’s sin. (Some think this is the initial conflict that later led Paul and Barnabas to split over Mark.)

The KJV uses the words “dissembled” and “dissimulation,” which is cool. Very fun to say. But what do they mean?

They both share the same Greek root word “upokri,” from which we get our word “hypocrite.”

What Paul is saying to Peter is “your actions led other Jews to be hypocritical and even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.”

Hypocrisy is a word that gets thrown around a lot. Christians all over the place are judged for being hypocrites. But many of these charges really aren’t hypocrisy.

The Greek word means “acting under a feigned part,” and, as you’ve probably heard many times, it’s a word used to describe an actor playing a role, a role he plays on stage, not at home.

Are there actors playing the part of Christians in the church? Absolutely. But most people aren’t being hypocrites, they’re just being bad Christians!

Allow me to explain.

I am a pastor. I have absolutely committed myself to the Gospel and to Jesus Christ. I have put myself in a position to lead in the Church, to help others know Christ better. I love this. I am absolutely sincere about this all the time.

Even at the time when I lose my patience with my kids, or when I make that joke I probably shouldn’t have made, or when I blow off talking to someone because I want to get going.

OK, I blew it. I messed up. This doesn’t mean I’m a hypocrite, it means I messed up. Messing up is part of life. It happens. Most theologies deal with this problem.

This doesn’t mean messing up is OK. It doesn’t mean people shouldn’t hold Christians to a high standard (Christians should welcome a high standard and strive to meet it). It doesn’t even mean I shouldn’t be judged or criticized for having blown it.

But hold off on the hypocrite charge. I’m not playing a role that shifts based on who I’m with, I’m not fake, I just messed up.

Hypocrites are people who play one part in front of one group and another part in front of another group.

I guarantee you, whatever group of people I am with, I will say a joke I should probably not have said. That’s not me playing a part, that’s me not quite getting the oft-repeated lesson that I should shut up more.