The Beatitudes

Beware of Hypocrisy

Series: The Sermon on the Mount

Speaker: Pastor Justin Wheeler

Scripture: Matthew 6:1-4

Manuscript PDF


I’m going to need your help with something this morning. I need you to help me define a term that we are all familiar with. It is a term that is used quite a bit within the church and it is used by the world to describe the church. It is a term that always carries a negative association, no one wants to be called out by this term. But it is also a term that describes all of us at one point or another. The term is hypocrisy and there are several different ways that it is commonly used.

One way this term is used is when those outside the church use it to complain about Christians. We are called hypocrites when we fail to live up to the cultures standard of what a Christian is supposed to be like. A skeptic might claim…

“I have to doubt any religion that has so many fanatics and hypocrites…There are so many people who are not religious at all who are more kind and even more moral than many of the Christians I know.”[1]

In this case, hypocrisy is being defined by not living up to certain expectations or cultural standards and there is some truth to this.

Another way the term is used is when a high profile Christian leader is exposed in a scandal involving sin. When this happens, the first thing out of people’s mouth is, “Hypocrite!” They are calling this person a hypocrite because while they were leading people in Christian ministry they were also leading a double life. Their day job as a minister was hiding some secret sin and that sin has finally caught up with them. They are hypocrites indeed.

There’s another way this term is being used. Some Christians have begun to use this term as an assessment of their own personal relationship with Christ. Kevin DeYoung writes:

It’s common (today) to think of hypocrisy as the gap between your actions and your feelings. So, if I do something without having my “heart” in it then I’m a hypocrite. Evangelicals are especially sensitive to this charge because we believe (quite rightly) that Christianity is more than “just going through the motions.” We believe faith must be sincere (otherwise it is hypocritical).[2]

There is some truth here as well. In this case, hypocrisy is being defined as doing religious things without having appropriate religious feelings. We’ve all been in this position. We come to church and don’t feel like singing, or like giving; but we do it anyway and we pray that our hearts will catch up with our actions. I’m not so sure we should call this hypocrisy, maybe we should call it maturity. There are plenty of times in our lives as Christians when doing what is right doesn’t always feel good.

So, which one of these do we think is the right definition of hypocrisy? Is hypocrisy the failure to live up to cultural standards? Is it living a double life? Is hypocrisy simply going through the motions without engaging the heart? Or is there another definition that we need to consider? I think there is.


Jesus used the term hypocrite more than any other person in Scripture and He used it as a way to confront a certain group and their approach to religion. He also used it to teach His followers how to live or better yet, He used it to teach us how not to live.

Matthew 6:1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 

2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 

Jesus began this sermon by describing the essential elements of Christianity. The Christian faith is not simply the result of accepting certain theological truths, nor is it simply adhering to certain religious practices. At its core Christianity is religion in the heart. It begins when we are brought face to face with the reality of who God is and with the reality of who we are in contrast.

In Matthew 5, Jesus took us on a journey through a series of Biblical laws and each one of them was aimed to show that deep down the biggest problem we face is the problem of sin in our heart. He wanted to teach us that true religion must begin in the heart. Now moving into chapter 6, Jesus wants to teach us that true religious practice must also begin in the heart.

Sermon Focus…

I. Beware of Hypocrisy (V. 1)

Matthew 6:1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness…

In this verse, Jesus is warning us about something that is common and once again it is primarily an issue of the heart. He tells us to beware. He wants us to be in a state of focused awareness about how we live out our religious devotion. Jesus is not warning us against practicing religious behavior, in fact, all of chapter 6 is about the practice of religious behavior.

In this chapter, Jesus is going to teach us about giving, prayer and fasting. He is going to help us understand how to truly serve God and how to faithfully trust God while worry and anxiety are trying to take over. This chapter is about how we live our lives out of a sincere relationship to God. But the warning here in verse 1 is aimed to show us that there is a way that we can carry our religious behaviors and they be completely worthless.

It all comes down to our motive. It all comes down to the state of our heart.

Matthew 6:1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 

So, this is what we need to know in order to define what it means to be a hypocrite. According to Jesus, a hypocrite is someone who carries our religious practices merely to be seen by others. They do the right thing but with the wrong motive. They are trying to appear deeply religious/pious but in reality, they are phony.

John MacArthur tells the story of a holy man from the middle east. Every day the man would come and sit in a prominent street corner in the city and he would cover himself in ashes as a sign of his humility and devotion to the practice of asceticism. Tourist would often come to the city and see this man and ask permission to take his photograph. The old man would reply, “Just a moment, let me rearrange my ashes.” He wanted to make sure that people would see just how humble and devoted he was to his religion, so he would quickly get into costume.

The kind of hypocrisy that Jesus is describing is nothing more than rearranging our ashes. It’s the art of getting into costume so that the people around us will think that we are serious about God, serious about our religious devotion, serious about spiritual things; but in the end, it’s all a game. Hypocrites are little more than actors in their own stage play and they are surrounded by an audience of men and women.

The Greek word for Hypocrite (v. 2) refers to a stage actor, someone who wears a mask and plays a role. An actor wears a costume and memorizes lines so that they can portray a character, but it’s all a show. The whole business is to act the part in order to be seen by the audience in a way that is believable and draws you into the story being portrayed. In other words, the religious actions of a hypocrite are nothing more than a performance designed to impress those who are watching.

But notice that Jesus doesn’t just warn us about those hypocrites, he warns us about being a hypocrite. Beware of your own empty religion. That is how Jesus opens the middle section of His Sermon on the Mount. Beware! Now why does Jesus need to tell us to beware of being or becoming a hypocrite? Because sometimes we just don’t see it coming.

Culturally speaking, there are these games that we play in the Bible Belt. Everybody here is a Christian, no matter what they believe or what they don’t believe. We are Christians down here because we are American, which is Biblically ridiculous but culturally normal. What this really means is that we have adopted a mask of Christianity and much of the religious practices that go along with that, but for many it’s all a show. As long as life is easy, and no problems arise, folks maintain their mask and keep going about their religious performance.

But the reality is that these people are just playing a game or playing a part. They have no intention of actually submitting to Jesus, they just want to make people believe that they are. They have no intention of trusting in God’s Word, or repenting from sin or adopting a Biblical worldview, they just want to be lifelong worship attenders. They are treating church as a hobby and Christianity as a game and if we aren’t careful we can be made to believe that the game is the real thing.

The Pharisees certainly didn’t see themselves as hypocrites or actors. They thought that their religion was pure. They thought of themselves as the guardians of true religion. They were the ones that took the law seriously. They were the ones who weren’t afraid to point out other people’s sins. They were the ones that God would reward in the end…or so they thought.

But Jesus came to show them that they were playing a game. He came to reveal that their religion was nothing more than an outward show and that God was concerned with the heart. God is concerned with humility, mercy, and sincerity that flows out of a heart that had been changed by the gospel of grace, but the Pharisees were whitewashed tombs. Pretty on the outside but full of dead men’s bones and they had no idea. They were blind to their own hypocrisy.

But Jesus has come to warn us against following their lead. He has come to show us what life with God is really like and to help us understand this life with God, Jesus gives us some real-world illustrations. Let’s look at the first one.

II. What Not to Do (V. 2)

V. 2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.

This first example has to do with giving money to the poor. Now, this is not the same thing as giving your tithe on Sunday although the principle still applies. In Jesus day, it was common and considered essential to true piety for people to give food, money or clothing to the poor. In a time when there was no such thing as government assistance, the needs of many were met by the people of the community. This was not only the custom of the day but also the instruction God gave to Israel.

Deut 15:7 “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, 8 but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be…11 For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore, I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ 

Once again, we see that Jesus is teaching an already established Biblical truth. He is not doing away with giving to the poor, but the emphasis that He wants to make focuses on the heart of the giver. He wants us to check our motives. He wants us to ask the question, “Why am I giving?” And to press this question into our hearts he gives us an absurd illustration.

He says, “When you give, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do, that they may be praised by others.” Now, it doesn’t appear that this was something that actually happened. There is no evidence to suggest that Jews were accustomed to blowing a trumpet when they gave to the poor. Jesus’ point is to show how ridiculous it would be to seek attention in this way for doing what was right. It reeks of the kind of self-centered sinful attitude that God rejects.

When we give money to others in order to be recognized and praised, our motive is not to help the poor it is to please ourselves. Our real desire is not to please others, but to make them think better of us which is ultimately about our own self-gratification. This is pride plain and simple. This is self-exaltation and God doesn’t reward sin.

Luke 18:14 everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” 

The only reward that comes to the hypocrite is the fact that he/she impressed a couple of people, but God was not impressed. What pleases God is humility. What pleases God is a sincere concern for the needs of others. What pleases God is sacrificial giving because that is how He gives.

For God so love the world that He gave His only begotten Son…

God gives with grace and His giving is a sacrifice. He gives the best He can give, and He gives it to those who don’t deserve it. This is the essence of the gospel and it is the model for how God wants us to give as well.

Now, you will notice that we don’t have a trumpet set up here at Cornerstone for when you give; but that doesn’t mean we are immune to this type of selfish giving. There are many trumpets that people use today and there are other selfish motives propelling people to give.

I’ve served in a church where members would refuse to give because they didn’t like a decision the pastor made, and they wanted him fired. The pastor hadn’t committed sin it was just that this guy didn’t like him and wanted to put pressure on the deacons to get the pastor out. It’s like he saw himself as a shareholder and he wanted to use his money not for praise but for influence.

There is another reason why some people give, and it isn’t to influence the church nor to win the praise of men. Sometimes people give because they think they can influence God. They think that when they give money they are somehow going to earn spiritual favor from God. But salvation can’t be bought, no matter what the Pope tells you.

In Acts 8, we read about a man in Samaria who was a magician. When he saw the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of the apostles he offered them money in the hopes that he could secure the same power for himself.

Acts 8:20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.

Money can’t buy you love and it can’t buy you salvation either. All it can do is impress the world. But there is a type of giving that God rewards.

II. How to do what God Rewards (Vv. 3-4)

3 But when you give to the needy,

Now, I want to point out that Jesus doesn’t say if you give but when you give. There is a certain expectation that as the people of God we will use our money in ways that God commands. Throughout the Scriptures we learn that God doesn’t need our gifts because He is entirely self-sufficient. But our gifts are intended to meet the physical and spiritual needs of others.

The Bible teaches that giving is an act of worship and it is done when we gather to praise God. Giving is an act of joy because God loves a cheerful giver. Giving is an act of mercy aimed at meeting the needs of others. Giving is an act of ministry as it is used to support the work of the church and to fuel the spread of the gospel. Giving is a personal responsibility because God doesn’t want us to give under compulsion but as each man had decided in his heart. Giving is an act of faith because we are trusting that God will provide for us even when we give sacrificially.

Here in Matthew 6, Jesus also teaches us that giving is an act of secret devotion from the heart.

V. 3 do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 

What does it mean to give with your right hand but not to let your left hand know about it? Jesus is using another metaphor here of one side of the body doing something while at the same time not announcing what it has done in order to gain recognition. IOW, he is telling us to give in a discreet way that avoids self-promotion. This doesn’t mean that you should be sneaky when you put your offering in the plate, it means that you give with the desire to glorify God, not to glorify yourself.

If your giving comes from a heart of humility and love for God. If your giving is done with a sincere desire to obey God’s calling to care for those in need, to spread the gospel, and to support the church; If your giving is done as an act of worship to God and not for the influence or praise it might bring us, this is what God rewards. This is the type of giving that pleases God.

The hypocrite craves the praise of men and thinks little of God, so he gives for his own gain. The Christian seeks the glory of God and thinks little of man’s praise, so he gives generously to help those in need.

John Calvin, commenting on this passage, writes, “By this expression (Jesus) means that we ought to be satisfied with having God for our only witness.” As Christians we don’t live for the clapping of men, nor do we live so that we can pat ourselves on the back; we live for God. We live for the one who rescued us from ourselves. We live for the one who gave His life for our freedom. We live for the One who knows the secrets of our hearts and still loves us.


So, what are the big ideas that God wants us to understand from this passage?

1. Going through the motions of religion alone will get you nowhere with God. External religion alone will earn you nothing with God. Salvation by works is a complete lie. God wants our religious devotion to be fueled by integrity in the heart. He wants to have a relationship with us that changes us from the inside out. He wants our religious devotion to be fueled by love for Him and that results in love for others.

2. I love this quote from Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “There is no reward from God for those who seek it from men.” If you are seeking the praise of men through your religious life, then the praise of men is all you can ever hope to gain. The root of man’s longing for the praise of others is pride and God opposes the proud, but He gives grace to the humble. If you do what you do for the admiration of the crowd, you have your reward.

3. The reward of sacrificial giving cannot be measured. The motivation for us to give sacrificially is surely tied to the fact that Christ gave sacrificially. He gave His life to meet our need. He drained the storehouse of his wealth to buy our freedom. God did not hold back His Own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things.

The hypocritical life is nothing but smoke and mirrors, attempting to earn a reputation that is undeserved. But deep down the hypocrite knows that it’s all an act that he/she uses to hide the shame and guilt in their heart. The only real escape is to be exposed by Jesus, and why not, He knows the truth already. He’s not fooled, and He never will be.

Jesus knows our hypocritical games too well and He is not only willing to call us out on them, but He also offers us freedom from the guilt and shame that we are so desperately trying to hide. He will give us a new identity in Him and will allow us to live without the mask.  

Let’s repent of our hypocrisy. Let’s go to Jesus for forgiveness and cleansing. Let’s go to His Word and let it teach us, humble us, grow us and make us more like Him.


[1] Tim Keller The Reason For God (pg. 51)