first cast out the beam
out of thine own eye;
and then shalt thou see clearly
to cast out the mote
out of thy brother’s eye.”
“For I know this, that after my departing
shall grievous wolves enter in among you,
not sparing the flock.”
“Now I beseech you, brethren,
mark them which cause divisions and offences
contrary to the doctrine
which ye have learned;
and avoid them.”
Throughout the New Testament, Christians are warned about hypocrites, wolves in sheep’s clothing, and divisive individuals. There are religious charlatans in the kingdom of God. There are individuals who have entered the Church some other way, than the way of the cross. Some have climbed over the spiritual wall lining the narrow path of righteousness, to try and walk with those going to Zion.
John Bunyan spoke about such people in the Pilgrim’s Progress. Bunyan used the name, Formalist.
Formalist is a man who climbs over the wall of Salvation to access the narrow way, instead of entering the prescribed way, through the Wicket-gate [Christ]. Christian warns Formalist that he is a thief in the Lord’s territory and thus will not be welcomed when he reaches the Celestial City.
After taking an easy path to avoid the Hill Difficulty, Formalist is never seen again” (LitCharts).
Jesus spoke against Formalist as being a Hypocrite.
“Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye” (Matt. 7:5).
Sometimes in Scripture a
Ananias and Sapphira
In Acts 5, Peter called out by name two hypocrites, Ananias, and his wife Sapphira because they lied to the Holy Spirit and misrepresented themselves to the church (v. 1-11).
The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy about a pretentious hypocrite named Alexander. “Alexander the coppersmith did me [Paul, and by extension, the church] much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works” (2 Tim. 4:14).
The apostle also named a man named Hymenaeus (“god of marriage”) whose conscience was defiled, and whose faith was repudiated. Paul was led by the Holy Spirit to deliver Hymenaeus to Satan “that he may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Tim. 1:19-20).
Then, there was Demas of whom Paul wrote saying, “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica…” (2 Tim. 4:10).
In addition to the pretentious hypocrite, Paul spoke about spiritual ravenous wolves. With tears in his eyes, the apostle Paul warned the elders in Ephesus saying, “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also, of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30).
Sometimes the Ravenous Wolves
For example, the main characteristic of the Judaizers was a fierce determination to make sure all Christians, Jew, and Gentile, kept the Law of Moses.
“For before certain men came from James [in Jerusalem], and [Peter] did eat with the Gentiles. However, when [the Judaizers] were come [to the Church in Galatia], Peter withdrew and separated himself [from the Gentile brethren], fearing them which were of the circumcision.”
The Judaizers were feared because they were angry, and critical of Christians who did not keep the ceremonial Laws of Moses, especially the Sabbath and the holy days. Even Barnabas was carried away by the zeal of the Judaizers, and violated his conscience and his nature of kindness (Gal. 2:12-14).
The spirit of the Judaizers is still prevalent in the church in Messianic Judaism. This movement began in the 1960’s when many Jews were said to have been converted to Christ. Instead of forsaking the Law of Moses, they insisted the New Testament Church incorporate the ceremonial facets of the Mosaic Law into worship. By ignoring much of the New Testament, the Messianic Movement has grown worldwide.
In an Atlantic article, titled “Kosher Jesus: Messianic Jews in the Holy Land,” Sarah Posner states, “there are an estimated 175,000 to 250,000 Messianic Jews in the U.S. and 350,000 worldwide, according to various counts.”
The apostle Paul would characterize this movement as being guided by “ravenous wolves,” sincere to be sure, but teaching “another gospel: than what is set forth in Romans, Hebrews, Galatians, and Ephesians.
In addition to warning the people of God about Hypocrites, and ravenous wolves, the Scripture warn of false prophets. “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you” (2 Peter 2:1).
Two distinctive marks of a false prophet are being wrong, and scaring God’s people.
“When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follows not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him” (Deut. 18:22).
There is a body of truth once delivered to the saints that must be contended for (Jude 3).
As Jesus warned of hypocrites, as Paul spoke against ravenous wolves, the apostle John spoke about a person with a divisive personality.
Sometimes the Divisive Person
was Publicly Identified
“I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church” (3 John 9 -10).
Diotrephes was a man who needed to be in total control. There are several techniques a person can use to control a congregation.
One way is through money. Money talks. To me, it usually says, “Good-bye,” but for others it gains influence and access. James warned against giving pre-eminence to a person in the congregation, simply because they are wealthy (James 2:1-6).
There are people whom God has blessed financially, and the Spirit has given them a spiritual gift of generosity (Rom. 12:8; Luke 8:1-3). But these dear saints do not try to control others with their resources. They simply want to bless others, because they have been blessed.
Some people come to control a congregation through the force of their dominating personality. There are people who hold strong opinions, and are determined to see them enforced, by any means.They will use humor, passion, anger, shame, or bargaining to get their way. In politics, in the 1950’s, there was a strong personality who was able to get things done in the Senate. His name was Lyndon Baines Johnson. People on the receiving end of a “persuasive” talk with the future 36th president of the United States called it, “The Johnson Treatment.”
A third way some individuals come to control a congregation is by claiming to have a special message from God, and getting people to believe it. Ellen G. White (November 26, 1827 – July 16, 1915) would go into a trance. When she woke, she claimed to have been in the presence of God, and then proceeded to give progressive revelation. To this day, in the minds of many in the Seventh Day Adventist movement, Ellen G. White is, “The Prophetess.”
A fourth way an individual can become a Diotrephes, and control the congregation, is through zeal in performing good works, but with a less than honorable motive. I remember my father saying, “If you want something done, give the job to a busy man.” That principle works in religion.
The most zealous workers in the church are honored, and rightly so, until it is shown they are zealous for the wrong reason. They want personal glory, not necessarily the good of others, or the smile of heaven. God looks at what people do, but also why they do what is performed. The heart is judged.
The Pharisees kept the Law of Moses, and they kept the Oral Laws of Tradition. Their zeal knew no boundary. A Pharisee would circle the globe to make one proselyte to Judaism, and yet Jesus condemned the Pharisees in the most severe terms.
Because despite their zeal, their heart was to exalt themselves. They wanted “respect” at any price.
“whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted. But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in” (Matt. 23:12-13).
While it may be disappointing to discover a religious hypocrite, a ravenous wolf, or a disruptive personality in the Church, it should not be shocking, for the Word of God warns that such individuals will be found in the church, placed there by the Evil One.
With foreknowledge that tares will be sown among the wheat, wolves will devour sheep, and strong personalities will divide the church, the truth is that sometimes, a person we might consider to be a hypocrite, a wolf, or a divisive personality is declared to be a righteous person. One prime example of this is the man in the Bible named Lot. He was born in Ur of the Chaldeans to Haran, the brother of Abraham.
When his father died unexpectedly, Lot was taken into the family of his uncle, Abraham. As part of an extended family, Lot grew to manhood, and prospered. He was blessed by association, and became a wealthy sheepherder.
When the family clan moved from Ur of the Chaldees, to dwell in the land of Canaan, Lot found himself in conflict with his uncle, Abraham. The issue was the land where they dwelt. Both men were prosperous. Both men owned much livestock. Both men needed enough land to support the livestock they owned. But there was not enough grazing area to sustain such a large combined herd. There was conflict among the sheepherders. As the patriarch of the family, Abraham decided to defuse the hostile situation.
He and his nephew would part company, with their respective livestock. Lot would have the first choice of the land he would occupy. So, Lot explored the terrain, and chose the lush and rich fertile land near the Jordan River. Lot left Abraham, and settled his family, his herdsmen, and his livestock near a city called Sodom, which was notoriously steeped in sexual immorality of the most degrading kind.
Having settled near Sodom, it was not long before Lot allowed his family to be entrenched in the city, and its debasing culture. There was a high price to pay for Lot’s look of greed, and his movement towards sin city. Then the time came when God decided to destroy Sodom in holy wrath.
In matchless grace, God sent two angels to warn Lot to flee from the wrath to come. While in the city, the angels were mistaken for ordinary men, whose appearance was so attractive, the perverted passions of the male citizens of Sodom lusted after them.
A crowd of men gathered outside of Lot’s house. They demanded access to Lot’s guest in order to have homosexual relations with them (Gen. 19:4-5).
In response, not wanting to lose his social standing as a hospitable guest, Lot offered his two daughters to the aroused men to do with as they pleased. Even in the retelling, the whole scene is shocking, until it is remembered,
“Sin will take you farther than you want to go,
keep you longer than you want to stay,
and cost you more than you want to pay.”
~ Ravi Zaccharias
What is astonishing about this biblical narrative is the surprise ending.
In the New Testament we learn that Lot was counted in the court of heaven as a righteous man. In an act of infinite mercy and grace, Peter tells his generation how the holy angels, “delivered just Lot, [who had] vexed [covered himself] with the filthy conversation of the wicked: (For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;) (2 Peter 2:7-8).
There is much that could be said about Lot, but the point is established. We must be careful when we label someone with the term, hypocrite, because there is a human perspective, and there is a divine conclusion. With that in mind, let us remember the following when dealing with professing Christians.
First, a Christian need not be labeled, hypocrite, simply because there is residual sin in the life. The Bible teaches that if we, as Christians, say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8).
Second, a person need not be labeled, hypocrite, because there is an internal struggle with an inappropriate, but repetitive behavior. Abraham was a repetitive liar. The lies Abraham told were not youthful fibs; his lies were told in his maturity, age 75, while dwelling in Egypt (Gen. 12:10).
Twenty-five years later, another lie was told to the king of Gerar, near the Negev desert. And yet Abraham is presented in the Bible as a man of extraordinary faith in God. Though a good man, a just man, may stumble, yet he shall rise again to walk in righteousness (Prov. 24:16).
Third, a person need not be labeled, “hypocrite,” because his conscience is violated. It is the work of the Devil to Accuse the saints, day, and night. This is easily, and gleefully done. Many accusations against the Christians are true, at least in part. Nevertheless, listen to the good counsel of Martin Luther.
“So, when the devil throws your sins in your face, and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this:
‘I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it?
For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf.
His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is, there I shall be also!” ~ Martin Luther