Lesson 20: “Woe unto You, … Hypocrites”
The lesson in today’s manual teaches us to “recognize and avoid hypocrisy and thus strengthen their commitment to Jesus Christ,” illustrated by several New Testament examples. In 1958, the Sunday School manual Christ’s Ideals for Living, written by Obert C. Tanner, taught a lesson with a similar point, by drawing on scriptural sources beyond the New Testament as well as entirely non-scriptural sources.
“But let your communication be yea, yea; nay, nay … be not as the hypocrites are …”
It is said that “nothing can ever be right in a man’s life, if he is not sincere.” The ideal of sincerity is central to the religion of Christ. The demand of this ideal is genuineness, honesty of mind or intention, transparent candor. to use an example Christ gave, it is the simple, unaffected sincerity of a child that is required of us.
Our thoughts and intentions are invisible. They are known to others by the words we speak, our outward expression, the signals we give to represent our invisible personalities. if we tell a lie, we mislead others as to what is inside. Then the lie becomes part of one’s character and the insincere person shatters the trust and confidence other people may have or want to impose in him.
On the positive side, he who puts out the true signals of his invisible self, becomes one of life’s great privileges to know. such a person is the salt of the earth, the light of our lives, and the joy of real friendship. It is a wonderful thing to meet and know a person of integrity so great as to be everlastingly trustworthy.
Writing of Plato’s portrait of a philosopher, Raphael Demos describes in his own words the idea man that Plato brings out in his dialogues:
The most important question we can ask about a man is whether he be genuine or not. Is he authentic, does he ring true? The function of thought in life is to impart truth of character to man … The philosopher hates the inner lie above everything else. The outer lie is the falsehood in words, arising out of the inner lie, and is not altogether unmixed falsehood. But the inner is the veritable falsehood entering into the most vital parts of the sou; it consists of ignorance or rather the belief that we know when we do not. [Demos, Raphael, The Philosophy of Plato, published and copyrighted by Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1939, p. 382.]
Young people sometimes doubt the truth of the Gospel or some part of it, and feeling the worthy desire to be sincere, they cease to be active in the Church. The answer to them is to be sincere always. One must never violate one’s integrity, whatever it may cost. but must one believe all or nothing? Must one cut off Church participation – the great source of righteousness in one’s life and in the community, because there is some doctrine doubted or disbelieved? Rather, is it not wisdom to begin, not with doubts and faults, but with the simple truths and virtues one can believe, then move on from there to others? Surely no one would claim to know all the Gospel. Great truths are always just around the corner for those who seek. Jesus told us to knock, seek, and ask, not just once, but continuously. One step at a time applies to progress in the Gospel as it does to education or any worthwhile achievement. One is not a hypocrite if he has honest questions and is active in the Church at the same time. The leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would offer this suggestion:
Start where you are. What do you believe? Start with that and take it as far as you can down life’s highway. Another truth will meet you at nearly every bend in the road. God has never intended that an honest; mind should be humiliated or made unwelcome in the Church by any other member because of honest inquiry. Above all, keep the virtues of integrity, sincerity, and genuineness. Nothing else can be right in a man’s life if he is not sincere.
The Ideal of Sincerity from Scripture
From the New Testament:
A. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil. (Matthew 5:37)
B. And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. (Matthew 6;5)
C. If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. (James 1:26)
D. And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity; so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setting on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.
But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. (James 3:6, 8)
E. wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor … (Ephesians 4:25)
F. Lie not one to another … (Colossians 3:9)
From Other Latter-day Saint Scripture:
G. For they had a place built up in the center of their synagogue, a place for standing, which was high above the head; and the top thereof would only admit one person.
Therefore, whosoever desired to worship must go forth and stand upon the top thereof, and stretch forth his hands towards heaven, and cry with a loud voice, saying:
Holy, holy God; we believe that thou art God, and we believe that thou art holy, and that thou wast a spirit, and that thou art a spirit, and that thou wilt be a spirit forever.
Holy God, we believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren; and we do not believe in the tradition of our brethren, which was handed down to them by the childishness of their fathers; but we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children; and also thou hast made it known unto us that there shall be no Christ.
But thou art the same yesterday, today, and forever; and thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell; for the which holiness, O god, we thank thee; and we also thank thee that thou hast elected us, that we may not be led away after the foolish traditions of our brethren, which doth bind them down to a belief of Christ, which doth lead their hearts to wander far from thee, our God.
And again we thank thee, O god, that we are a chosen and a holy people. Amen.
Now it came to pass that after Alma and his brethren and his sons had heard these prayers, they were astonished beyond all measure. (Alma 31:13-19)
H. Now, after the people had all offered up thanks after this manner, they returned to their homes, never speaking of their God again until they had assembled themselves together again to the holy stand, to offer up thanks after their manner.
Now when Alma saw this his heart was grieved; for he saw that they were a wicked and perverse people; yea, he saw that their hearts were set upon gold, and upon silver, and upon all manner of fine goods.
Yea, and he also saw that their hearts were lifted up unto great boasting, in their pride. (Alma 31:23-25)
I. do not pray as the Zoramites do, for ye have seen that they pray to be heard of men, and to be praised for their wisdom.
Do not say: O God, I thank thee that we are better than our brethren; but rather say: O Lord, forgive my unworthiness, and remember my brethren in mercy – yea, acknowledge your unworthiness before God at all times. (Alma 38:13-14)
J. Wo unto the liar, for he shall be thrust down to hell. (2 Nephi 9:34)
The Ideal of Sincerity in Christ’s Life
When Jesus spoke about religious observances, they were to be a deep and inward experience, not an external formality as one acting ap art in a play. He said: “…when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of sad countenance …” (Matthew 6;16)
Jesus illustrated the ideal of unaffected sincerity: “… he took a child, and set him in the midst of them: and when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them,
“Whosoever shall receive one of such little children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me.” (mark 9:36-37)
The worst form of insincerity is not the deliberate effort to mislead others. At its worst it occurs when we allow a complacent outward show to substitute for a genuine, inward life. This was the meaning of Christ’s sweeping statement: “… Ye shall not be as the hypocrites …” (Matthew 6:5) It is not enough simply to avoid speaking insincerely; one must not be insincere. It is not enough to avoid killing; one must not be angry. It is not enough for one to avoid legal punishments for impure conduct; one must strive for a life of inward purity, and of wholesome thoughts. (Matthew 5: 27-28) it is not enough to avoid outward acts of hostility; one must possess a positive love and good will toward others. he said to people attending church with grudges and resentments int heir hearts: “Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” (Matthew 5:24) It is not enough to keep our written, formal oaths, but so live that our simple statements and oral promises are utterly dependable. He said: “… Swear not at all; … let your communication be yea, yea; Nay, nay: …” (Matthew 5:33-37) It is not enough to give, or render free service; one must do so from the motive of care for persons, privately and without show or ostentation. He said: “… do not your alms to be seen of men … let not thy left hand know what the right hand doeth.” (Matthew 6:1-3) And even with prayers, one must be sure to avoid the theatrical and make it an experience of an invisible fellowship with god in quiet places where others may not see. He said: “… when ye pray, use not vain repetitions …” (See Matthew 6:5-6)
In summary, Jesus gave a standard of goodness that lies, not in outward performance but inward motive; not in faultless ceremonial, but way back in secret thoughts; not in public approval, but what we really are to God who “knoweth your hearts.” His ideal is that of genuineness as against what might b4e only outward show and appearance. It is the state of our mind and soul that counts over against the state of our body and outward circumstances. Goethe said: “He who is plenteously provided for from within needs but little from without.” Fundamental health comes from what is built up inside. Blessed and happy are those of pure motive. This is the heart of the religion of Christ.
The Ideal of Sincerity in Our Lives
The ideal of sincerity si difficult of achievement because we are always tempted to appear better than we are. We want the approval of men and we make their approval our standard. Outward social standards are not difficult to meet, not only because men’s standards are not generally so high, but also it is not difficult because men cannot see our motive. We find it generally quite easy to appear well, without paying the price of being right.
This standard of sincerity is most often tested by the words we use. As mentioned above, language is the use of symbols whereby we signal to other people a meaning we want them to receive. Sometimes our signal is a true representation of how we ourselves feel, and sometimes not. That is, sometimes we tell the truth and sometimes we deceive by false signals – words which misrepresent our true selves. consider, then, truth-telling in three phases of our lives:
1. Telling the truth to others.
2. Telling the truth to ourselves.
3. Telling the truth in worship.
1. On telling the truth to others, Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote: “Sin has many tools, but a lie is a handle that fits them all.” No better admonition for telling the truth was ever expressed, than these words of Jesus: “… let your communication be, Yea, yea; nay, nay …”
commending on the power of words, the Interpreter’s bible commentary observes: “They are deeds – the deeds of the lips. They are fraught with power. Gamaliel Bradford’s Damaged Souls says of certain discredited figures in American history that almost without exception they achieved their ends by skillful but unworthy words. consider the mendacious adjectives in our advertising, and our eagerness to be “brilliant conversationalists.” Compare this with Jesus’ insistence that society cannot stand and God cannot be honored except by truth on the lips and truth in the heart. Law courts, strong boxes, and state control are at long last no safeguard: the only guarantee is that a man’s word shall be his bond. Yea and nay commended by Christ come from prayer’s silence, and then from speech sober and reverent.” [Buttrick, George A., The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 7, published by Abingdon Press, copyrighted by Pierce & Smith, 1951, p. 300.]
It is a terrible thing to deceive. It shatters confidence and creates suspicion and disillusionment and cynicism in the person deceived, so that he loses faith, not only in his fellow-men, but in the worthwhileness of life itself. Those who thus break confidence and faith have been called “the arch traitors against the human race.”
2. About telling the truth to ourselves, John Homer Miller wrote:
they know eve4r so much more about what is wrong with the world than they do about what is wrong with themselves. They take more delight in pointing out what is wrong with the world and with other people than they do in facing what is wrong with themselves. Jesus was constantly meeting such people in his day. Otherwise he never would have preached as he did about “motes” and “beams” and “passing judgment,” pretended piety, standing in public places praying to be seen by men; and he never would have concluded with the appeal that people hear his words, build their lives upon the truth, be honest with themselves, strip their minds of their illusions.
Every man has an image of himself which fails in one way or another to correspond with reality. It’s the size of the discrepancy between illusion and reality that matters. The closer a man gets to knowing himself, the less likely he is to trip up on his own illusions. [Miller, John Homer, Take a Second Look at Yourself, published by Abingdon Press, copyrighted by Pierce & Smith, MCML, p. 74.]
Telling the truth to ourselves is one of the most difficult things we do. It requires careful avoidance of self-depreciation until we underestimate our capacities and, therefore, our opportunities. But it also requires that we do not excessively appraise our abilities until we crack up in the vain effort to reach beyond our powers. One such biography is summed up by Dr. Fosdick:
One boy had shone in the limited community where he was born. he was the pride of his large family and alike the handsomest and ablest boy in town. In everything he undertook he was always first, and he grew into young manhood a serious, high-minded youth, headed for one of the major professions but with a dangerous factor in his situation of which he was unaware – a dominant picture of his desired self as always a shining first. Then in a large university he found himself good but not eminent. The expectations of peerless priority, built into him by his family and friends, proved fallacious. he suffered a serious nervous breakdown without knowing why. Only when he found out why, saw clearly the absurd tension between his actual and imagined self, and went through a thorough process of self-acceptance, did he get himself in hand and go on to make a creditable and serviceable use of the self he really had. 4. [Fosdick, Harry Emerson, On Being a Real Person, published and copyrighted by Harper & Brothers, 19433, p. 55.]
3. Worship, among other things, is a time when no signals are needed. No deception is possible to God, who “looketh upon the heart.” “Religion,” writes Willard L. Sperry, “is the leash that keeps at your heels that single hound, your own identity.” and worship is a leash that keeps at our heels our own integrity. In church we do not pray for victory alone. We pray, “If possible, give me victory; in any case, give me right.”
The Ideal of Sincerity in Quotations from Church Leaders
The fundamental thing for a latter-day Saint is to be honest. The fundamental thing for a Latter-day Saint is to value his word as faithfully as his bond; to make up his mind that under no circumstances, no matter how hard it may be, by and with the help of the Lord, he will dedicate his life and his best energies to making good his promise. [Grant, Heber J., Gospel Standards, copyrighted by Deseret News Press, 1941, p. 30, (Improvement Era, Vol. 41, p. 327).]
Ananias and Sapphira sold a possession; but they brought only part of the money, and said it was all. Thus they told a falsehood, and showed themselves to be among the worst people in the world, for,
Who dares think one thing,
And another tell,
My soul detests him,
As the gates of hell.
Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Peter detected the lie, and said to Ananias,
“Why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?”
‘Why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart?”
“Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.”
[McKay, David O., Ancient Apostles, published and copyrighted by the Deseret Sunday School union, 1918, p. 84. (See Acts 5:1-11)]