This blog is devoted to discussing the pursuit of eternal life.
Discussion and participation by readers is desired,
but contributions should correlate to the book,
The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology
of Perseverance & Assurance

Thomas R. Schreiner
& Ardel B. Caneday

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Fear of Man Produces Hypocrisy

When Fear Produces Hypocrisy

The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor.

Luke 20:19-20 (ESV)

The oft-quoted, nineteenth-century poet and novelist Oscar Wilde famously quipped, “Those who try to lead the people, can only do so by following the mob.” There is a grain of truth to be found in his expression. Sometimes leaders are not really “leaders” at all; they are simply clay in the hands of an opinionated public. Of course, the crowd is not always wrong. Good leadership knows when to change the course of a crowd and when to get in line. However, the leader who merely takes his cues from the people, and not from the Lord, will prove to be shallow and insincere. In other words, the fear of man is one path to hypocrisy.

If the scribes and chief priests, the Jewish leaders, objected to the ministry of Jesus Christ—nobody knew, for they “pretended to be sincere.” At least their spies did, those Jews they sent out with the express purpose of watching Jesus and waiting for Him to break the law. However, Luke knew their sincerity to be a pretense; they intended to harm the Christ, “to lay hands on him.” Jesus had just finished telling the parable about the tenants who killed the vineyard owner’s son. The Jewish leaders recognized this as an indictment of them (v. 19), but they also knew that Jesus had won the support—at least for the time being—of a good number of Jews. Fearing the people, the leaders played along, pretending to support Jesus when, in reality, they despised Him. The fear of the people had made them hypocrites.

The charade continued in the verses that follow. The spies, intent on trapping Jesus, asked if it was lawful to pay a cash tribute to Caesar. If Jesus responded negatively, He proved himself an insurrectionist; if He responded affirmatively, He proved himself a traitor to His own people. Jesus saw through the hypocrisy and deflated their attack with the now famous retort, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (v. 25).

There is a stunning contrast between Jesus and the Jewish leaders in these verses. Jesus was bold, clear, and direct. From the message of his parable in Luke 20:9-18 (the Son of Man will be rejected by those who should know better) to the cunning response to the spies in 20:24-25 (God and the state are separate and significant spheres of authority), Jesus communicated honestly, sincerely, and helpfully.

Compare this to the Jewish leaders. Fearing the people, they tailored their demeanor and their message to meet the approval of their audience. They embraced duplicity and welcomed deceit. They proved themselves hypocrites (in fact, “pretended” in verse 20 is hypokrinomenous).

There are many reasons people seek to look more virtuous than they really are. Perhaps they desire the praise of others, or maybe they are addicted to sin and incapable of self-control. However, it seems clear from this passage that the fear of man is also a reason hypocrisy sometimes rears its ugly head. It may be something as simple as inflating attendance figures during a members’ meeting. It may be as serious as always feigning a healthy walk with God out of the fear others will be disappointed to know a pastor is struggling. Yes, this man of God should fear the Lord first, but in a fallen world, men are prone to fear men. Whatever the example, the fear of man is a poisonous pill that needs to be excised from the minister’s life, lest he live for the congregation instead of Christ.

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