Popular pastor and author Chuck Swindoll tells the story of how his sister once bought him a gag gift for his birthday. The gift was a full-face rubber mask, the kind that you pull down over your entire head. She told him, “I’ll give you $10 if you will wear it into the pulpit one Sunday morning.” Chuck’s children loved the possibility of seeing him do that, and so they chipped in to raise the potential reward to $15.
While the idea of wearing the mask in a church service was a little too much for Chuck, he did get bold enough to wear it one night to a speaking engagement for which he was scheduled. Without offering any explanation for why he was wearing the mask, he simply walked to the podium and began his remarks. And what was his topic for that evening? Being authentic.
As you might expect, Chuck didn’t get too far into his comments before the entire room erupted with laughter. At that point he took off the mask and explained that the English word “hypocrite” is derived from a Greek word that referred to a stage actor in the plays from ancient Greece and Rome. It was customary for the actors in such plays to cover their faces with large masks that came complete with mechanical devices that were used to augment the actors’ voices. During the course of any given play one actor would portray multiple characters by donning multiple masks. Thus, the word “hypocrite” literally refers to someone who dons a mask of disguise in order to perform a fake role. The hypocrite isn’t authentic; he isn’t who he pretends to be.
In Matthew 7:3-5, Jesus says:
“And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (N.K.J.V.)
Boy, Jesus sure loved hyperbolic illustrations. Imagine a person who has a plank sticking in his eye. Now imagine that same person peering intently into another person’s eye and saying, “Let me remove that speck for you.” The absurdity of such a scene isn’t hard to grasp. The person who has the plank sticking in his eye is merely playing a make-believe role. He’s not real. He’s not authentic. He’s appearing to care about objects sticking in peoples’ eyes when all the while he has a plank sticking in his own eye.
I suppose that we’ve all had times when we’ve played the role of hypocrites. We’ve fussed at our kids for texting while driving, but then we’ve hit the open road ourselves and started texting. We’ve complained when gossip was being spread about us, but we’ve had no problem spreading gossip about others. We’ve condemned people for not attending the Sunday morning worship service, but then we’ve thought nothing of skipping that week’s Wednesday night service. See how that works?
Perhaps now would be a good time for you to examine your own life and be honest about any masks you are wearing. Obviously, there is a certain level of authenticity that you’ll never be able to reach as long as you are keeping your true self hidden. Sure, you might be able to fool your friends and acquaintances. You might even be able to fool your family and friends if you are a talented enough actor. But one thing is for sure: you’ll never fool God. He always knows exactly who you are, and He wants all hypocrites to stop playing their fake roles, repent of their sins, and actually become the people they are pretending to be.