May 1981

Church Hypocrities

Robert F. Turner

The church has hypocrites, and I will name them: Simon Peter, Joses, whom the apostles surnamed Barnabas, and — maybe you can supply a few. We are told about Peter, Barnabas, and "other Jews" in Gal. 2:11-13. Barnabas was "carried away with their dissimulation" (hupokrisei, or hypocrisy). The same word is used in Matt. 23:14-f where Christ condemned the Pharisees.

Peter had preached, by inspiration, that "whosoever" shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved (Acts 2:21,39). Then a special vision had been given to convince him that "God is no respecter of persons" (10:10-f, 34); and he had declared publicly that there was "no difference between us (Jews) and them (Gentiles)" (15:9). In Antioch he had associated with Gentiles as equals in Christ; but when some of his Jewish peers came down from Jerusalem ("from James" — influential men) he "separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision" (Gal. 2:12). He knew it one-way, but deliberately practiced it another. He "play-acted, wore a mask, pretended" to be one with the Judaizing teachers, apparently for popularity or prestige — maybe to avoid ridicule or criticism. I am reminded of a couple who left a church whose practice and teaching they said they approved, to be with a more popular and far more liberal church. When asked "Why?" the woman said, "Brother Turner, they laughed at us."

Is it a "little matter"? Paul said, "When I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel..." Believing in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ did not exhaust the meaning of "gospel." It included the Lord's teaching of universality — was opposed to circumcision or other forms of Judaizing. The error of Peter and others was far more than a social faux pas.

The desire to put God first must be back of all obedience, or it is an empty shell. (We must "deny self" to follow Christ, Matt. 16:24.) Our faith (subjective) and acts in matters of indifference are viewed on the basis of conviction toward God (Rom. 14:4-8) or conscientious determination to do what we believe God wants us to do. To act otherwise, is sin (vs. 22-23). What Peter did was not a matter of indifference, but I am persuaded he had the proper basic desire to serve God, and that consequently his conscience bothered him. His later life shows he changed his practice to conform to truth (See 1 Pet. 1:1-f). Had he not changed he could not have been justified (Gal. 2:16-21). There is ample evidence that Barnabas also changed. The application to today should be clear. People who come to Christ can still sin. An awareness of this possibility should keep us humble, examining ourselves, confessing and praying to God. Many become hypocrites by "going along" with practices they know to be wrong — and continue this way until their conscience is seared and they feel no pain. Others act the hypocrite with their "holier than you" attitude, knowing deep down it is not so. And some are hypocrites by blaming hypocrites for their unfaithfulness. Christ, not fallible church members, must be our standard; and we must "give ourselves" to please Him.