What is hypocrisy?

One of the most common accusations we see online (on social media now, and on forums and blogs before that) is hypocrisy. Often, that accusation is true and necessary. In some cases, though, there is no “hypocrisy” and the accusation of “hypocrisy” is a smoke screen to hide from inconvenient facts or uncomfortable arguments. We need to develop the judgment needed to separate this from real hypocrisy.

Real hypocrisy is when someone excuses behavior that violates the standards or principles he has previously advocated – behavior by himself or by a public figure he is defending.

But often the best person to tell you not to do something is the person who has done it and regrets it now. When someone warns others away from a bad behavior he has abandoned, that is not hypocrisy. That is someone who has learned a lesson and cares enough to try to keep others from making the same mistake and suffering the same consequences. What is the harm in listening to that wisdom?

Where people are most likely to use a false charge of “hypocrisy” as a cover is with moral teaching. It is much easier to justify one’s own bad behavior by maligning the character of the person warning of the dangers and consequences of a particular sin. So the “hypocrite” charge becomes a defense mechanism to either distract from that moral teaching or to dismiss that teaching outright.

Many times, God uses the wounds caused by sin to help warn others against that same sin. The Bible itself is filled with warnings of how God’s people did wicked things as a warning to us not to follow the same path. But the Christians who would not dare dismiss the Bible’s teaching as “hypocritical” would do the same to a fellow Christian trying to steer someone away from the path that caused him grief.

This should not be the case. We should be humble enough to be open to the wisdom that comes from experience, even from (and sometimes especially from) a flawed source.