Question: Why did the Savior rebuke the Jewish religious leaders of His day for the sin of hypocrisy?
Answer: The Pharisees paid a great deal of attention to outward ordinances and actions that would make them appear righteous, but they were not as concerned with actually being righteous in their hearts. For this Jesus referred to them as hypocrites--people who try to appear righteous but who do not try to live righteously. Their empty teachings and outward demonstrations of holiness gave no spiritual nourishment.
Matthew 23:1-7, 13-17, 23-28
1 Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,
2 Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat (have offices of high authority among you):
3 All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works (don’t behave like they do): for they say, and do not (they are hypocrites).
4 For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers (but they won’t lift a finger to help).
5 But all their works they do for to be seen of men (everything they do is for show): they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments.
Note: Phylacteries were leather boxes containing strips of parchment with scripture passages written on them. Jews attached these small boxes to leather bands and wore them around their foreheads or arms as a way to remember the commandments. Out of pride, the Pharisees wore unusually large phylacteries so that everyone would see how much they loved the word of God.
6 And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues,
7 And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.
13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men (you make so many nit-picky rules that nobody could get into heaven): for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.
14 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses (foreclose on widows’ mortgages and take their houses from them), and for a pretence (for show) make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.
15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte (you travel far and wide to get one convert), and when he is made (when he joins your church), ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.
16 Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear (make vows, covenants)by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor!
17 Ye fools and blind: for whether (which) is greater (more important), the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold ?
23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise (dill) and cummin (you weight out the tiniest amounts of seeds and spices with exactness to see how much tithing you should pay on them), and have omitted the weightier (more important) matters of the law, judgment (fairness), mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
24 Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.
(JST Ye blind guides, who strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel; who make yourselves appear unto men that ye would not commit the least sin, and yet ye yourselves, transgress the whole law.)
25 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion (greed) and excess (self-indulgence).
26 Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.
27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres (whitewashed graves, tombs), which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.
28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity (wickedness).
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Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“No Hypocrisy and No Deception”
Truth can also describe “that which is [actually] the case rather than what is manifest or assumed,” as in the true dimensions of a problem or the true nature of an individual.
Do we, indeed, actually live the gospel, or do we just manifest the appearance of righteousness so that those around us assume we are faithful when, in reality, our hearts and unseen actions are not true to the Lord’s teachings?
Do we take on only the “form of godliness” while denying the “power thereof”?
Are we righteous in fact, or do we feign obedience only when we think others are watching?
The Lord has made it clear that He will not be fooled by appearances, and He has warned us not to be false to Him or to others. He has cautioned us to be wary of those who project a false front, who put on a bright pretense that hides a darker reality. We know that the Lord “looketh on the heart” and not on the “outward appearance.”
The Savior taught us to “judge not according to the appearance” and warned us against wolves who “come to [us] in sheep’s clothing” and whose deception can only be discovered “by [examining] their fruits.” Nephi taught that we must walk the path of faith “with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God.”
We know that “a double minded man is unstable in all his ways” and that we cannot “serve two masters.” President Marion G. Romney wisely observed that there are too many of us “who try to serve the Lord without offending the devil.”
“The Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind.” Hence, the first of the Ten Commandments is, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” and the Savior declared that the first and great commandment is, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” Only when we give our all and overcome our pride and walk the path of faith without deviation can we honestly sing, “Lord, accept our true devotion.”...
This most important stewardship is the glorious responsibility your Father in Heaven has given you to watch over and care for your own soul. At some future day, you and I will each hear the voice of the Lord calling us forward to render an account of our mortal stewardship. This accounting will occur when we are called up to “stand before [the Lord] at the great and judgment day.” Each day on this earth is but a small part of eternity. The day of resurrection and final judgment will surely come for each one of us.
Then our Father in Heaven’s great and noble heart will be saddened for those of His children who, because they chose evil, will be cast out, unworthy to return to His presence. But He will welcome with loving arms and with indescribable joy those who have chosen to be “true to the truth.” Righteous living, combined with the grace of the Atonement, will qualify us to stand before Him with clean hearts and clear consciences.
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Source: Come, Follow Me–For Individuals and Families, p. 78-80; The New Testament Made Easier, Part 1, Volume 2, by David J. Ridges, 71-73; Excerpts from General Conference, April 1997, “True to the Truth” by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.