The best actors in the 1st century were the scribes and Pharisees. Unfortunately, they didn’t receive an Oscar, but rather condemnation. Many times in the gospels Jesus calls them by that blistering term “hypocrites.” The meaning of the word “hupokrinomai” in the New Testament Greek referred to an actor under mask, and that is exactly how they practiced religious activities. They pretended to love God, but they were really after the approval of men. They fooled themselves into thinking that God was pleased with external observances when He was really after the heart of the worshipper.
Because of their selfish desires to gain approval from people rather than from God, Jesus pronounces, not salvation, but judgment upon them. “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which, on the outside appear beautiful, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:28).
The very thought of Jesus saying those words makes me cringe. Many were confronted by Jesus to repent, but the Pharisees received the strongest condemnation. Why? There were several reasons but the rotten core of the problem was that they lied to God and to others about their love for God. They pretended to be devout so that people would be impressed. They used God for their own personal gain.
Like the old TV commercial said, “You can learn a lot from a dummy.” We can certainly learn from the scribes and Pharisees how not to practice our righteousness. We learn to “practice righteousness” for one reason… to please God! No acting, no pretending, just an earnest desire to live for God and please Him and Him alone in all respects.
Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 6:1).