Why Jesus Condemns Hypocritical Leaders

Why Jesus Condemns Hypocritical Leaders

Don’t do what the hypocrites do 

Chapter 23 of Matthew’s Gospel records Jesus’ outrage and strong condemnation of the hypocrisy of leaders, and also gives us a glimpse of the consequences of leaders’ hypocrisy for those who follow them. 

Referring to the conduct of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, early in the chapter, Jesus summarized His condemnation of their hypocrisy by saying to His listeners and disciples, “... do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach” (Matthew 23: 3). By the way, “they do not practice what they preach,” is a textbook definition for hypocrisy. 

This problem of leaders teaching one thing and living another is a timeless problem; we can see this around us, today. The temptation facing leaders to say one thing and do another is always present. 

It is easy for leaders to teach but it is much harder for leaders to practice what they teach; this is TRUE TODAY.  

Do you practice what you preach?

The responsibility of those being taught 

Referring to hypocritical leaders/teachers, when Jesus said, “do not do what they do,” His words beg the question, “How does the listener know what the leaders/teachers do?”  Clearly, by implication, Jesus is telling His listeners they need to watch or pay attention to what their leaders/teachers do. Thus, Jesus is placing a burden on those being taught—they are to pay attention to their teachers to see if they practice what they teach. 

Jesus was instructing His listeners that the life and actions of hypocritical leaders should not guide them, when their life and actions are INCONSISTENT with their own teachings.  

The consequences of leaders’ hypocrisy 

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to” (Matthew 23: 13). 

In the above passage, there is a warning directed at the hypocritical Pharisees and other leaders/teachers, who were known to assume they have EARNED their right to enter the kingdom of heaven.  But Jesus tells them otherwise. 

Further, Jesus warns that hypocritical leaders and teachers can lead their followers away from the Kingdom of Heaven (“you shut the door of the kingdom in people’s faces ... nor will you let those enter who are trying to” (vs. 13)). In other words, Jesus implies, “watch out for hypocritical teachers, who can take you astray from the kingdom of heaven.” 

From this encounter of Jesus with Pharisees and teachers of the law, we learn, in no uncertain terms, Jesus wants leaders to be authentic and transparent, without a trace of hypocrisy.  If not, leaders and their followers will NOT enter the kingdom of heaven that Jesus has prepared for His followers (Matthew 4: 17). 

Jesus asks Christian leaders and teachers: “Do you practice what you preach?” 

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Paul Swamidass

Paul Swamidass, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus, Harbert College of Business, Auburn University, Auburn, AL, USA. INTEREST: Leadership training for leaders of Christian organizations. He has published some articles on Christian leadership and contributed to some Christian-leadership training in India in partnership with The Kerusso Institute for Global Leaders

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