The Hazard of Hypocrisy for Heralds of the Gospel (Luke 12:1-12)
Luke 12:1-12 Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.
2 There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 3 What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.
4 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
8 “I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. 9 But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God. 10 And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.
11 “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”
I heard somewhere, perhaps it was one the radio, that a man and a woman stopped to buy some chicken (or some other quick meal) and after they had paid for their food, they were handed a paper bag which, they assumed, contained their food. When they arrived at the place where they planned to eat, they opened up the sack and found that it contained the day’s proceeds, and not their food. The man closed the bag, went back to the place where he had been given the sack, and handed back the money, much to the relief of the employee who had mistakenly handed him the wrong bag.
The management of the business was so delighted at the man’s honesty that they wanted to do something to honor the man. They started to call the press, so that a photographer could come and take his picture. The man was very insistent that this not be done. Finally, because they seemed intent on calling the press anyway, the man explained his reluctance. “The woman with me is not my wife.”
Hypocrisy is all about us. In the immediately preceding context of the Gospel of Luke our Lord has just rebuked the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. In the passage we will be studying in this lesson, the Lord Jesus will warn His disciples to avoid the “leaven of the Pharisees” which, He says, is hypocrisy. Two questions come to mind as we consider our Lord’s words, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”
(1) In what way is hypocrisy “yeast-like”?
(2) In what way is the hypocrisy of the Pharisees a danger to disciples?
In our study, we will seek to discover the answer to these questions. To do so, we will attempt to distill the essentials of hypocrisy, and to discover that form of hypocrisy of which the disciples were in danger of practicing. We will learn from our Lord why such hypocrisy is both foolish and evil, and the means which God has provided so that it can be avoided.
The Structure of the Text
Our text is at the beginning of a new section. In Luke 12:1-53, our Lord is addressing His disciples. There are three major sections:
(1) The Disciple and Persecution—12:1-12
(2) The Disciple and Possessions—12:13-34
(3) The Disciple and Preparedness for Christ’s Second Coming—12:35-53
At verse 54 Jesus begins to speak to the multitudes, beginning with the same subject of His return (12:54-59). In 13:1-9, on the same occasion, Jesus showed the Israelites that their (Jewish) sins were no less than the (Gentile) sins committed by men like Herod, for the nation of Israel had persistently failed to produce the fruit of righteousness.
The structure of our passage can be outlined as follows:
(1) The Setting: the heresy of hypocrisy—verse 1
(2) The folly & futility of hypocrisy—verses 2-3
(3) Hypocrisy and our fears—verses 4-7
(4) Hypocrisy and the gospel—verses 8-10
(5) Hypocrisy and apologetics—verses 11-12
Hypocrisy and a Hostile Environment
The first verse is perplexing in many ways, for it places our Lord’s teaching of His disciples in the midst of a very large and unruly crowd:
Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy (Luke 12:1).
In his book, Shantung Compound, Langdom Gilkey tells about life in an internment camp for westerners in China during the Second World War. Because of some infraction of the rules, one of the Japanese officers went about the camp, strongly rebuking various groups, and threatening very severe consequences if any further violations occurred. Gilkey describes how his group, made up of a number of seasons veterans, used to “tough talk” were nevertheless frightened by this little man with a big voice and a big gun. When he had sufficiently “put the fear” into Gilkey’s group, he moved on to the next, which happened to be a group of monks.
Gilkey wondered how this group of monks would handle the scorching words and frightening threats of this Japanese officer. A little later he heard the sound of loud laughter coming from that direction, and so he investigated. The Japanese officer was beating a hasty retreat and the monks were holding their sides as they laughed at the little man. The group of bearded and robed monks had encircled the little man to hear his words. Then, on the signal of one of the monks, they all started to move in, closer and closer. Finally, the officer was encapsulated by this group of very large men, holy men, and he was very frightened by them. The officer pushed his way through them and ran. That group of monks was simply too intimidating to this officer, who shortly before had been intimidating others. Some crowds can be too much for a person.
I think that this story helps us to understand how the disciples must have felt as they realized that they were encircled by a crowd of thousands, and not, it would seem, a very friendly crowd. Luke tells us that this large crowd was trampling on one another. Crowds sometimes tend to turn to a hostile group. We know of riots which have broken out at various sports events, where many were hurt. This unruly crowd must have given the disciples a rather uncomfortable feeling. Jesus had just attacked the religious leaders, the leaders whom they regarded as holy, the leaders they had respected. Was the crowd threatening to become hostile?
I believe that our Lord captured this occasion as an opportune moment for teaching the disciples. Soon, all too soon, Jesus and the disciples would be in Jerusalem, and there would be a hostile crowd, demanding the release of Barabbas and the crucifixion of Jesus. The hostility of that group would prove too much for all the disciples, who seem to have fled, and for Peter, who denied his Lord (cf. Luke 22:54-62). Jesus thus sought to prepare His disciples to face a hostile crowd, for their rejection by the nation would soon come to pass. An angry (at least unruly) crowd was the setting for our Lord’s teaching of the disciples concerning their boldness in proclaiming the gospel in such circumstances. The crowds may have heard Jesus’ words, but they were specifically addressed to His disciples. It was time to prepare them for the persecution which would surely and quickly come.
The subject which Jesus was addressing was hypocrisy, and the Pharisees have just provided an example of its dangers. On the outside, they looked fine. The had long, pious-sounding, prayers, and they had all of the trappings of men of dignity and holiness, but inside, Jesus said, they were full of “greed and wickedness” (11:39). But how could the disciples possibly be tempted to be hypocritical, like the Pharisees?
The answer, I believe, is that the form of hypocrisy which would be tempting for the disciples was different from the form of hypocrisy which characterized the Pharisees. Jesus pointed to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and showed it to be evil. Indeed, all forms of hypocrisy are evil. Thus, Jesus warns the disciples against all hypocrisy, but as He goes on it will be obvious what form of hypocrisy the disciples will be tempted to practice.
Before we identify the form of hypocrisy which is a danger to the disciples, let us first look at those characteristics which are common to every form of hypocrisy. Let us consider the “fundamentals of hypocrisy.”
(1) Hypocrisy is conformity to the values and expectations of someone else. This characteristic is not immediately apparent, but it is obvious after a little reflection. We are hypocritical because some other person’s values. Hypocrisy is bowing to the idol of other people’s values, which are not really our own. Hypocrisy is dying our hair green if the group we are a part of has defined spirituality as having green hair, knowing in our hearts that green hair has nothing to do with godliness. Hypocrites adjust and accommodate their appearance to what people think or feel.
(2) Hypocrisy is an inconsistency. Hypocrisy is the discrepancy between what appears and what is, between the way things seem and the way they are. The Pharisees appeared to be righteous on the outside, but in reality they were wicked.
(3) Hypocrisy is a deliberate deception. Hypocrisy is deliberately appearing to be what we are not. It is not accidental, but purposeful. Hypocrisy is a charade. Appearance does not match reality, deliberately so.
(4) Hypocrisy, is deception by our actions or our words. Hypocrisy is often acting in such a way that people will come to the wrong conclusion. This, to a large degree, was true of the Pharisees. It is also possible for our words to represent us in a way that is not true to fact. More about this as our study continues.
(5) Hypocrisy is sin.
(6) Hypocrisy is a deliberate deception, with either a positive or a negative motivation. Generally speaking, we are hypocritical either to achieve men’s praise or to avoid their persecution.
This last point is the key to understanding the difference between the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and that which would tempt the disciple of our Lord. People are deliberately hypocritical, they have a goal in mind. For the Pharisees, that goal was positive. They were hypocritical so that they could receive the praise of men. But for the disciples, the motivation to be hypocritical would have been negative—to avoid the persecution of those who hated true righteousness, who would reject and crucify Jesus, the Messiah, and who would also persecute and kill many of His disciples.
The hypocrisy of the disciples was likely to be trying to appear not to be righteous, in order to avoid the persecution of a hostile nation. The hostile crowd which encompassed the disciples was but a foreshadowing of the hostility of the nation which would reject Jesus as its Messiah. While the Pharisees desired the praise of the people for appearing to be righteous (hypocrisy), the disciples would be tempted to try to avoid the anger and violence of the crowds by not appearing to be righteous, a follower of Christ.
The context of our passage strongly reinforces the likelihood of this kind of hypocrisy. Jesus spoke to His disciples about fear, the fear of dying, which is a valid fear in the light of Israel’s hostility toward Jesus and His followers. Jesus also spoke to the disciples about their response when brought before the synagogues, which we know will happen from the Book of Acts. Just as men may be hypocritical by attempting to represent themselves as righteous, when they are not, others, may attempt to disguise their righteousness and their relationship to Christ, to avoid persecution for His sake. This is definitely a different form of hypocrisy from the Pharisees, but hypocrisy nevertheless.
The Lord’s First
Argument Against Hypocrisy
Having learned how a disciple would be tempted to be hypocritical, we will now find the remainder of our Lord’s words more easily understood. In verses 2 and 3 Jesus gave the first reason why hypocrisy is foolish and futile:
There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs (Luke 12:2-3).
Summarized as a principle, Jesus’ meaning would be something like this: HYPOCRISY, HIDING THE TRUTH, IS FUTILE, BECAUSE THE TRUTH CANNOT AND WILL NOT BE CONCEALED FOR LONG. Trying to conceal the truth is something like attempting to conceal a pregnancy: sooner or later it will be obvious to all. Paul says this:
The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not cannot be hidden (1 Timothy 5:24-25).
Simply put, the truth cannot be hidden for long. Some truth is more quickly evident than others, but sooner or later all truth will be evident to all. Hypocrisy is foolish and futile because it seeks to avoid the inevitable.
The words of our Lord in verses 2 and 3 may be taken several ways:
(1) Jesus may be saying that the evil men do will eventually be revealed.
(2) Jesus may be saying that the good news of the gospel will inevitably be revealed, in spite of our hypocrisy.
(3) Jesus may be saying that all truth, good or evil, will be revealed, so that in essence both “a” and “b” above are true.
We can see from Paul’s words that both options are true. Both the good and the evil which men do will eventually be made public knowledge. The question is, which of these lines of thought is Jesus attempting to emphasize? I find the evidence more heavily in favor of the second option. In the first place, Jesus is speaking to His disciples, not to men at large. Not that disciples would not sin, but that this first option would be more appropriate when addressed to the Pharisees. Second, the emphasis here is not on the disciple’s deeds (which Paul emphasized above), but on their words. Third, almost the same words are used by our Lord for the gospel. Note the words of our Lord in the passages below, both of which use the same imagery as we find in Luke chapter 12, and both of which refer to the unveiling of the gospel, which for a time is concealed:
“No one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open” (Luke 8:16-17).
“So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs” (Matthew 10:26-27; cf. Mark 4:21-22).
The hypocrisy about which the disciples are being warned is that of seeking to conceal the gospel which they have believed, to conceal their discipleship. Jesus tells them that the gospel is going to be proclaimed publicly—it cannot be concealed. Trying to conceal the gospel is like trying to hide the sun. Thus, hypocrisy is futile.
The Lord’s Second
Argument Against Hypocrisy
We have already characterized hypocrisy as having either a positive (praise) or a negative (persecution) motivation. The motivation for the disciples to be hypocritical by concealing their faith in Christ would be negative—the fear of persecution by their Jewish brethren. The normal pagan fear is the fear of man, and his ultimate fear is the fear of physical death (cf. Hebrews 2:15). Jesus defused this fear by showing that His disciples should rather fear God:
“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Luke 12:4-7).
The Lord’s word “friends” for His disciples sets the tone for this paragraph. While there is a very legitimate sense in which men should “fear” God, this is a very different “fear” than the fear of man or the fear of death. Jesus’ disciples, as He said elsewhere, are not His slaves, but His friends.204
The reason why the disciples would fear men enough to seek to conceal their faith in Christ is that they could, indeed would, be killed for their faith, like many of the prophets. Jesus did not seek to minimize the fact that many of them might die, but did seek to put that death into perspective. He told His disciples that physical death was not to be feared, but rather spiritual death—spending eternity in hell. Man can only take away one’s physical life, but God is the One who has the power to throw men into hell. Thus, the fear of man, which might incline one to hypocrisy, is overshadowed by God, who calls for honesty, indeed boldness.
While on the one hand the disciples’ fear should be of God, the greater emphasis of Jesus’ words falls on the faith which the disciples should have in Him. The One who is to be feared is also the One who has a deep love and intimate concern for His disciples. He knows and cares about the sparrows, which have little value to man. He also knows the very hairs of a man’s head. The disciple need not fear (as man does) for He is of great worth to God, who cares for Him. Nothing, then, will happen to the disciple, even death, outside of God’s infinite knowledge, love, and care. And since God has the keys, as it were, of heaven and hell, death can only usher the disciple into His presence. What need, then, to fear men, and to try to be a hypocrite?
The Lord’s Third
Argument Against Hypocrisy
There is yet another reason why the Lord’s disciples should beware of the hypocrisy of silence, of trying to appear that one is not a disciple:
“I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven (Luke 12:8-10).
At first appearance this text seems to be warning the disciple that he might lose his salvation by denying the Savior, by his hypocrisy. This is not the case, however. There are several reasons why this cannot be the case.
(1) Man’s salvation is not based upon his works, or his faithfulness, but on Christ’s shed blood and His faithfulness.
(2) The Scriptures consistently teach that man did not choose God but that He has chosen man, and that the one who is saved is eternally secure.
(3) In our text, there is a definite change from the second person (“you”) to the third person (“whoever,” “him,” “everyone”).
(4) The unpardonable sin, referred to in verse 10, is elsewhere clearly a sin which an unbeliever commits, which terminates any further opportunity to be saved.
It is therefore not the disciples who are in view here, but those who would respond to their message for salvation. I believe that Jesus is saying, just as the apostles preached in the Book of Acts (2:38-41), and the epistles teach (Romans 10:9-10), that in order to be saved one must publicly identify himself with Christ, which, as I understand it, was by profession and by baptism, which usually happened together.
But what does this have to do with the disciples? Why would our Lord teach His disciples not to be hypocritical by referring to the requirements God has for man’s salvation? Very simply. How can the disciples call upon men to publicly profess their faith in Christ for salvation if they are, at the same time, trying to conceal their own faith? In times of persecution, such as the early days of the church, a decision to trust in Christ was most unpopular, and could lead to persecution by some and rejection by one’s family. The disciples must not waver in their boldness, for they must set and example for those who would come to faith.
Fourth and Final Argument
The Lord’s fourth and final words pertain directly, this time, to the words of the disciples when they are brought before the authorities, where they will be charged, and at which time they could be put to death:
“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say” (Luke 12:11-12).
The Lord is speaking to His disciples about their rejection by their Jewish brethren. They are brought before synagogues, rulers, and authorities, they are brought before the Jewish powers that be. The Book of Acts records just such instances. After Peter and John had publicly and boldly proclaimed Jesus as the Christ, as Israel’s Messiah (Acts 3), they were arrested by the Jewish authorities:
The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day … The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?” (Acts 4:1-3, 4-7).
Jesus’ instructions to His disciples were thus not in the least hypothetical.
Our Lord’s words conveyed several important truths, which were vitally related to the hypocrisy of veiling one’s discipleship and the gospel.
First, the Lord’s words made it clear to His disciples that they would suffer rejection and persecution for their faith in Him. Jesus did not say to them, “If you are brought before synagogues.…” but “When you are brought before synagogues … ” Persecution was coming.
Second, the Lord’s words to His disciples cautioned them not to think or to worry about their defense ahead of time. While Jesus was telling His disciples ahead of time that they would be persecuted and resisted for their proclamation of the gospel, He did not mean for them to worry about this, or to spend time thinking up ways to defend themselves. For one thing, this would not be profitable for they would not know, in advance, what the circumstances were, to be able to make a proper defense. For another, they would be inclined or tempted, in their defense, to be hypocritical—not to be as bold and forthright as they should be. And for yet another, the more they thought about the dangers which lay ahead, and their reaction to them, the more they would be tempted to avoid the confrontation altogether by simply “backing off” in their proclamation of the gospel.
Can you imagine, for instance, a politician working on his concession speech, weeks before the election? How foolish! Rather than working to win such a person would be preparing for defeat. So it is with the disciple. To prepare our defense speech is to plan for the worst. Even though it may come, we need not borrow on tomorrow’s trouble. “Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.”
Third, the Lord’s words to His disciples reassured them that at the time they were needed, the Holy Spirit would teach them the right words to say in their defense. Disciples of our Lord are to be more intent upon proclaiming the gospel to men than they are defending themselves. The Holy Spirit, Jesus said, would minister in a special way to those who are accused, so that they can speak the gospel clearly and forcefully.
We see a number of examples of this in the Book of Acts. Peter and John, when arrested, boldly preached the gospel as their defense (Acts 4). Stephen, when arrested and charged before the crowd, powerfully preached the gospel as his defense (Acts 6 & 7). So, too, with Paul (cf. Acts 22). The Holy Spirit is God’s special gift to those in such difficult circumstances. As I understand it, He gives men under duress a special sense of God’s presence (cf. Acts 7:55-56), thus comforting and assuring them. He also gives men the words to speak, and the power to speak them boldly. Stephen’s words struck hard, even though they were rejected. When the Holy Spirit provided and empowered men’s words, their defense was awesome, even if rejected. We must therefore leave our defense to Him, and we must faithfully proclaim the gospel, knowing that it may lead to persecution, even death.
At the beginning of this lesson I mentioned two questions which arose from the text, based upon this statement of our Lord: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”
These two questions are:
(1) In what way is hypocrisy “yeast-like”?
(2) In what way is the hypocrisy of the Pharisees a danger to disciples?
As we conclude this lesson, let us seek to answer them. I believe that we must begin by observing that our Lord is not dealing with hypocrisy in its broadest form, but as it particularly confronts the disciples, which is a hypocrisy which consciously or unconsciously affects the proclamation of the gospel, of which they were to be heralds. Hypocrisy, in this context, is very “leaven-like” in that even a touch of hypocrisy can greatly corrupt the gospel. It was the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, which put on a pious appearance, but had a godless and wicked heart, which caused them to pervert the message of the Old Testament to a gospel of works, rather than of faith, a gospel which looked for a very different kind of Messiah. Thus, the Pharisees, who thought they were leading men to eternal life were actually turning men away from it (cf. Luke 11:52).
Hypocrisy in the lives of the disciples would also have a devastating impact on the gospel which they were to proclaim. This is precisely why Paul reacted so strongly to the “hypocrisy of Peter” and those who followed him in dissociating from the Gentiles and eating with the Jews alone, as depicted in Galatians chapter 2. Why make such a big issue of such a little blunder? Paul made a big issue of it, publicly calling Peter to task, because, he said, it was a denial of the gospel. They gospel declared all men, Jews and Gentiles alike, to be lost in their sins, with nothing to commend them before God. The gospel offered salvation to all men, Jew or Gentile, on the same basis: faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ, who died for the sins of men on the cross of Calvary. To give preferential treatment to the Jews and to avoid the Gentiles was to imply that the Jews were on a higher spiritual plane than Gentiles, and thus to deny the gospel, which makes all believers equal (equally lost, equally saved, but the same things). Paul rooted out this little bit of leaven, knowing where it could go.
James, too, talks much about hypocrisy in his epistle (the Book of James). In the second chapter of this epistle James cites two examples of hypocrisy (although it is not called this in this chapter). To say that we are Christians and yet to discriminate between the poor and the rich in church is hypocrisy (James 2:1-13). Furthermore, to say that one has faith and then to fail to minister to the needs of the unfortunate is also hypocrisy. That faith is worthless. Hypocrisy in these areas denies the gospel, it lives inconsistently with the gospel, and thus causes men to look down on the gospel as having no real value or benefit.
Our text teaches us many lessons. Allow me to cite a few:
(1) Opposition to the gospel and to the godly life which is to accompany it is to be expected. The gospel never has been, and never will be, a delight to the ears of the natural man. Only when the Holy Spirit has warmed our sinful hearts to its message will it appeal to us. Thus, today, as in the days of our Lord and His apostles, the message of the gospel will produce opposition. We are foolish and thinking unbiblically to expect otherwise (cf. 2 Timothy 3:10-12). If we would be His disciples and proclaim His gospel, opposition is to be anticipated.
(2) Hypocrisy is to be suspected. If hypocrisy was something about which Jesus warned His most intimate friends and followers (and as the New Testament tells us was a reality in their lives), then surely we should suspect that hypocrisy will often try to raise its ugly head often in our lives. Indeed, hypocrisy is woven into the fabric of our lives and of our culture.
(3) The opposition which we are to expect may take a different form than that which the disciples experienced. Jesus’ words to His disciples made it clear that their opposition was to come largely from Jewish unbelievers. Thus they were warned that they would be “brought before synagogues, ruler and authorities” (Luke 12:11). Just as the form of hypocrisy was different for the disciples than for the Pharisees, so the form in which our opposition comes may be different from that which the disciples experienced. THE FORM WHICH THE OPPOSITION TOOK IN THE DISCIPLES’ DAY WAS THE RAISED FIST. THE FORM WHICH THE OPPOSITION TAKES IN OUR DAY IS THE RAISED EYEBROW. To the Jews the message of the cross was a stumbling block—”fight’n words,” but to the Gentile the message of the cross was foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).
The danger for the disciples, as I understand it, was to hold back from “telling it like it is.” The message of the cross was so violently opposed by the Jewish unbelievers that it would be easy to keep silent about it, or to play down those aspects of it which might prove offensive. To some degree, it would seem that this is the danger of those to whom the Book of Hebrews was addressed. But for us, the danger is a little different. We may, because we do not wish to be thought of as fools, keep quiet about our faith, but we are also tempted to revise the gospel, so that it seems to offer to the heathen exactly what they want, intellectual status, prestige, pleasure, power, riches, or what ever. Paul calls this kind of hypocritical “gospel editing” adulterating the Word of God, “catching with bait” as it were (2 Corinthians 3:17; 4:2). This form of hypocrisy cuts out the heart of the gospel, for the very thing which is the most offensive to the heathen mind is also that which is the heart and power of the gospel:
“But we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24).
Our temptation to by hypocritical, when we are called to be heralds of the gospel, may take the form of keeping quiet, or the form of distorting the gospel. Both of these kinds of hypocrisy are leaven-like and evil, and they must be recognized as sin and repented of. Ultimately our hypocrisy will be revealed, and the gospel will be proclaimed. The boldness with which we are to proclaim that gospel is to be matched by the boldness with which men respond publicly to it.
It is in the light of all of this that I can begin to appreciate the role which baptism played in the early church. Baptism, as one young man in a church I attended put it, is “being advertised.” I know that there are many who say, “My faith is a very personal, a very private matter.” But, my friend, I believe that Jesus says it cannot be that. One’s faith, in the preaching of the apostles, had to be publicly professed. If you have never publicly identified with Christ you not only should, I believe the Bible says you must. If you have never publicly identified with Christ in baptism, I believe the Bible requires it, if not for salvation (baptism does not save us), for discipleship. In this day and age when everyone is “coming out of the closet” is it not time for Christians to do so, to make public their relationship to God through Christ?
The boldness which Christ calls for in this text, boldness in the faithful proclamation of the truth, cannot come from within us, from our own strength. Jesus says in our text that this boldness to be unhypocritical comes from the Holy Spirit. Let us cease to worry about the consequences of our boldness and focus our attention on the source of it—God’s Spirit.
There is one form of hypocrisy which is the most dangerous of all. It is not committed by a disciple, but by the one who acts (and perhaps think of himself) as though he were a true Christian, but is not. This hypocrisy is damnable! When men stand before the judgment seat of Christ, all false professions of faith will be exposed as hypocritical, and those who have falsely claimed to be one of God’s children will be condemned to outer darkness, eternal damnation. It may be that neither your works nor your profession have any indication of the eternal life which God has offered in His Son, Jesus Christ. If the Spirit of God has witnessed to the truth of this possibility, deep within your spirit, come to Him today. Acknowledge your sin and accept Christ’s death on your behalf. Set the hypocrisy which leads men to hell aside, once and for all.
204 I am referring to John 15:13-15. Several times in this portion of Scripture Jesus refers to His disciples as His friends. In the synoptics, however, Luke 12:4 is the only time Jesus calls His disciples “friends.”