The word “hypocrite,” in its original context, is not a negative description. It is a great old word right from the Greek and Roman theaters of ancient times that means “play-actor.” A hypocrite was a person who played multiple roles on the stage. In one scene he or she played one character. Later, the actor would don a mask or a costume and play another character – maybe three or four different personalities on stage in a single night.
But over time a hypocrite came to mean a person who changed his or her mask depending on the circumstances. As Jesus used the word, a hypocrite was one who played to the crowd. He or she was someone who performed for the audience – like Elmer Gantry – and at points, like every one of us.
No matter what it is: Missionary work, teaching, preaching, giving, praying, singing, organizing, helping – if it is done to impress or draw the attention of others, no matter how noble the act, it is wrong – for if it is not driven by love for God and neighbor, it becomes driven by pride and ego.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.