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It was Cicero who said, “Of all villainy, there is none more base than that of the hypocrite who at the moment he is most false takes care to appear most virtuous.”
When Jesus walked the earth, he saved his most scathing words not for the sinners of the day, but for the self-righteous, religious hypocrites. That doesn’t mean that he approved of sin. The same hand that wrote on the ground, driving the religious hypocrites away from the woman caught in adultery, also wrote the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone. God is very clear on how He wants us to live.
But Jesus had some harsh words for the Pharisees, the hypocrites of the day, because they pretended to be something they were not. They pretended to be holy when they were unholy. They pretended to be committed when they were uncommitted. And God doesn’t like that. He would rather that we would be up-front and say, “I am a sinner. I am living the wrong way, but this is the way I choose to live,” rather than saying, “I am a Christian,” and then hiding our sin from him. We can’t pull the wool over God’s eyes.
Jesus said to the Pharisees and all who would live this way, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:27–28 NIV).
The Bible tells the story of how God dealt with two hypocrites in the early church, Ananias and his wife Sapphira. The church was living communally at this time. They chose to share their possessions, although it was not mandated or commanded. If you had more than you needed, you could give it to the church, and it would be distributed to others who had need. They did not live indefinitely in this communal system, but it was something the early church was doing at this particular time.
So Ananias and Sapphira had a choice: They could give a lot, they could give a little, or they could give absolutely nothing. Nothing was required of them, but they decided to act as though they were giving a lot when they really were not. Perhaps they wanted to appear to be a little bit more holy than everyone else. But this was a sin of hypocrisy, and it was offensive to God.
The Bible says they lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3, 9). The sin Ananias and Sapphira committed was pretending to be something they were not. They were hypocrites. Ananias was a man who wanted people to think he was thoroughly devoted to God when he wasn’t.
It is interesting that the name Ananias means “God is gracious.” But Ananias also found out that God is holy. The name Sapphira means “beautiful,” but her heart was ugly with sin. They tried to play this little game and pull off this little charade. But they found out you can’t fool God. And when Peter confronted them separately and they both lied, God struck them both dead on the spot.
But before we are too quick to condemn Ananias and Sapphira, we should ask ourselves whether we have ever done anything to impress someone else regarding our spirituality – done something that maybe appeared very pious, very religious, very holy so that someone else might think we are really devoted to God?
I am not saying that it is better to just be a sinner. But I am saying it is worse to pretend to be holy when you really don’t want to be.
Ananias and Sapphira were pretending to be something they were not, and it is my belief they really never were Christians to begin with. I think they were pretending to be Christians when they really were not at all. I believe they had, as the Bible says, “a form of godliness but [denied] its power” (2 Timothy 3:5 NIV).
There are counterfeit Christians today. There are false preachers and teachers. They may stand behind pulpits. They may wave Bibles. They may say they are messengers of God. But they are false Christians. The apostle Paul wrote, “I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers” (2 Corinthians 11:26 NIV).
However, we all have our moments of hypocrisy, times when we are not behaving as we ought to behave as Christians. But there are a lot of people in the church today who are pretending to be something they are not. And it is offensive to God.
We may wish we could see more miracles today on the scale of what took place in the Book of Acts, but the way God dealt with Ananias and Sapphira is one miracle we should be grateful we don’t see more of today. If God dealt with believers today as he dealt with Ananias and Sapphira, every church would need a full-time undertaker on staff and a morgue in the basement. People would be dropping like flies.
Never pretend to be a holy man or a holy woman if you don’t really want to be such. This is offensive to God. And the only person you fool is yourself.
Jesus didn’t contradict himself. Jesus wasn’t inconsistent. It seems to me that Jesus has been everything He has promised to be. That doesn’t mean that his followers don’t fall short. People are going to fail, but God will not fail. So don’t follow Jesus’ followers. Follow Jesus Christ.