Confront Hypocrites, But Don't Cancel Them
By Will Anderson
In several key ways, Matthew 23 teaches us through three lessons that Jesus—not headlines—should shape our response to hypocrisy.
1. Hypocrisy in leaders doesn’t negate obedience in us.
Jesus holds nothing back in Matthew 23, calling the Pharisees “sons of hell” and “blind guides,” yet surprisingly his opening words instruct listeners to obey their teaching:
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’s seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach (Matt. 23:2–3).
Jesus’s point is clear, if countercultural: Every disciple is to obey biblical truth, regardless of who teaches it. Perplexingly, bad pastors often teach good things. Jesus isn’t telling us to be indifferent about pastoral phonies—his scathing critique later proves that. But Jesus knows we’re prone to throw out the baby (faith-fortifying truth) with the bathwater (faith-crushing hypocrisy). Even when sin nullifies someone’s ministry, God’s Word should never be nullified (Isa. 55:9–11). As commentator Michael J. Wilkins explains:
Any and all accurate interpretation of Scripture is to be obeyed. The Pharisees had many good things to say, and their doctrine was closer to Jesus’s on many crucial issues than to other groups. . . . Jesus does not condemn the pursuit of righteousness itself; rather, he criticizes only certain attitudes and practices expressed within the effort to be righteous.
When a spiritual authority deceives, it’s tempting to dismiss not only the person, but everything they taught too. It feels safer to ditch everything, doctrine included. But this creates cynics who perceive all spiritual authority as abusive and any call to obedience as legalism. God wants us to be tough on tyrants but tender to his Word. To abandon truth is to lay down our strongest weapon against evil. Let’s stay armed.
2. God hates hypocrisy more than we do.
Matthew 23, along with all Scripture (see Ezek. 34), shows God’s anger when spiritual leaders mislead and mistreat his people. Christ has zero sympathy for covering up or minimizing practices that slander his name and batter his bride. His holy fury is intense, not indifferent—specific, not ambiguous.
In Matthew 23:4–36, Jesus slings some eyebrow-raising rebukes at the Pharisees: hypocrites, children of hell, blind guides, blind fools, blind men, greedy, self-indulgent, whitewashed tombs, wicked, snakes, brood of vipers. Far from sophomoric insults, these words reveal Christ’s love for his people. Like a parent telling off someone trying to harm a kid, intensity shows intimacy.
Love is also evident in the specificity of Jesus’s anger. With razor-sharp arguments, he prosecutes the Pharisees with precision, as Wilkins notes in his commentary on this passage: they lay legalistic burdens on people (v. 4), show their piety pretentiously (v. 5), exploit their position in ways that undermine God’s authority (vv. 6–12), play religious games (vv. 15–22), major on minors (vv. 23–34), value tradition over God (vv. 25–28), and stifle righteous voices with their own (vv. 29–32).
Jesus makes it clear: those who presume on his name, at the expense of his people, do so at their peril. Justice will come.
3. God longs to heal hypocrites.
With righteous wrath pulsing through his veins, Jesus’s last words in Matthew 23 are striking:
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. (v. 37)
This is remarkable—God rebukes hypocrites, but he also wants to heal them. When they reject his grace, as they often do, he laments. Do we? Are we willing to emulate Jesus’s anger and his compassion? All Christians undergo the same metamorphosis: enemies of God made friends of God by the grace of God (Rom. 5:10). God’s grace, if firmly rooted in us, longs to see it take root in others.
Article excerpt taken from The Gospel Coalition (U.S. Edition). Read the full resource here: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/confront-hypocrites-dont-cancel/.