By Laura Leavitt

Gospel Doctrine lesson 20 covers John 12 and Matthew 21-23. The objective stated in the manual is “to help class members recognize and avoid hypocrisy and thus strengthen their commitment to Jesus Christ.”

Our Objective

To focus on Christ’s identified behaviors of hypocrisy as found in Matthew 23, that we may reflect on our own character. The working definition for hypocrisy (sourced from Google) will be: “The practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform; pretense.”


The lesson manual invites the teacher to ask class members to silently consider these questions: “Am I paying tithing, giving to the poor, attending my meetings, and serving others for my own glory or for the glory of God? In all my actions, do I seek to draw closer to my Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ?”

As I tried to wrap my head around the idea of what hypocrisy really is, it became a little confusing in the sense that we, especially as disciples of Christ, cannot possibly live up to everything we profess to believe. Does that automatically give us pretense? I can think of people who think so. It’s a difficult task to think of attempting to draw closer to the Father “in all things” when so much of our lives involve mundane matters like getting to work on time.

Lately I’ve been trying to increase my weekly running mileage. Is that for my glory or for God’s glory? I could spend an hour meditating on all the reasons I’d like to run more and still not be entirely sure of the answer.

My gut reaction when considering the concept of what it means to be a hypocrite was thinking of a billion examples of rotten hypocrites and not stopping to think of how to improve my own hypocritical tendencies. There’s something so unpleasant about considering your own moral/behavioral dissidence. It’s tough to know where to start.

The good news is that I did find some answers. The first comes from President Uchtdorf from his conference talk, “Come Join With Us”. He says:

If you define hypocrite as someone who fails to live up perfectly to what he or she believes, then we are all hypocrites. None of us is quite as Christlike as we know we should be. But we earnestly desire to overcome our faults and the tendency to sin. With our heart and soul we yearn to become better with the help of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
If these are your desires, then regardless of your circumstances, your personal history, or the strength of your testimony, there is room for you in this Church. Come, join with us!

Let’s contrast “earnestly desir(ing) to overcome our faults and the tendency to sin” with the attributes of a hypocrite as defined by Christ in Matthew 23.


“say and do not”
“bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.”
“all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries (a small leather box containing Hebrew texts on vellum, worn by Jewish men at morning prayer as a reminder to keep the law) and enlarge the borders of their garments”
“love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues”
“devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer”

There are many more examples of what hypocrisy is in Matthew 23 and they are all pretty egregious, but I do think it can be easy to adopt hypocritical attitudes about some things. The lesson manual does a great job of pointing some of them out: “For example, when we attend Church meetings we may be more concerned with being seen by others than with worshiping God. We may complain about Church assignments where we do not receive much attention for our service. We may sustain our Church leaders and then criticize their decisions.”

A deep sense of honesty and humility seems to be the first step to overcoming hypocrisy. We have to look beyond that natural reaction to point our finger and defend all of our actions as just. We need that earnest desire to overcome our faults and then have the courage to act upon it.

I can’t help but think of my mom when talking about this ability and awareness to overcome hypocrisy. My mom has always been quick to admit her own faults and failures and really, truly always wants to overcome them to be more Christlike. Here’s just one concrete example: We never used to discuss politics. I told my mom when I was 18 that I’d registered for the opposing party. It escalated with raised voices and ended with a silence that lasted for years (only on that particular topic.) We both thought we were right. We wanted to defend what we knew to be true. Over time however, she softened. She still doesn’t side with me politically, but we’re able to discuss it. She recognizes that I’m trying to do what’s right and she’ll listen to my reasoning. It has helped me listen to hers. And honestly, at some points in my life, this development felt impossible. In order for that change to happen, my mom had to identify herself as someone who couldn’t listen the way that she wanted to be listened to during a political discussion (something nobody wants to admit). The change wasn’t overnight, but I am so grateful for it now. We’re much closer than we were back then.

Related Mormon Women Project Interviews

Tis A Gift To Be Simple, Rachel Whipple

I’ve grown into our current practices, and honestly I have a long way to go. We are still very wasteful, profligate Americans. I have more pairs of shoes than my husband; he has pretty much exactly the number of pairs of shoes that he needs. Why do I need more than he does? Well, because I feel like I do. It’s just an entitled attitude. So we can definitely do better and everything is a process. There are a lot of things that we assume we need in our society but we really don’t.

A Champion for Diversity, Sui Lang Panoke

I believe that when each of us is able to get to the point where we can sit down with people of opposing views and genuinely seek to understand where their beliefs are coming from, this is how our country–and, ultimately the world–will be healed. It is very difficult to get to that point, and it always ultimately begins with us. I feel that the gospel is what’s going to get us there. Or at least it is what’s gotten me to where I’m at right now spiritually. I haven’t always been as open and accepting as I am now.

Other Related Women’s Voices

Blessed By My Callings, January 2006 Ensign, Sheila Kindred

My children are older now. Because they have at times struggled with their testimonies, I have sometimes felt like a failure as a parent and unworthy to serve in Church callings. So when I was extended a call to serve as a stake missionary, I was surprised and grateful. As I taught in my new calling, I often felt like a hypocrite for inviting people to attend a church that one of my own children would not attend. At those times I’d try to remember that Heavenly Father knew about my family situation and called me to do missionary work anyway.

Increase in Faith, Patricia P. Pinegar

What are the things that distract us from the Savior, that turn our hearts and our minds away from Him? It may be thinking more about pleasing our friends or other people than we do about pleasing God (see John 5:44 ). It may be the loud and confusing voices we hear on TV, in videos, in music. Sometimes we just don’t care. Our hearts are hard (see John 12:37 ). There will always be distractions, winds boisterous, but if we choose to turn to the Lord, to believe in Him, to follow Him, we can increase our faith.