In the midst of a very large and somewhat hostile crowd, Jesus teaches His disciples, and us, about the problems associated with hypocrisy. This is what the Pharisees were an example of. They were inconsistent, deceived, and they practiced deliberate deception.
We can be hypocritical to achieve praise. The problem is that covering up one’s heart by outward appearance is sheer folly. It is futile to think that you can get away with it. The truth cannot be hidden for long. You will be exposed (1 Timothy 5:24-25).
We can be hypocritical to avoid persecution. We are afraid of what people might think or do. They might indeed do terrible things, but Jesus tells us that in the long run they cannot harm us like God could if He wanted to. He has the greater power (Hebrews 2:14-15). Therefore we ought to fear God rather than men. Now this is not a call for an unhealthy fear; this is about who our allegiance is with. God loves His children, and He knows them and their situations perfectly. We should thankfully and graciously accept that. God has us on His mind.
Our lives are to be lived as a testimony to God’s grace. We must speak out in behalf of our Lord, not shrink back. We must not deny the power of the gospel and its exclusive claims. Jesus is not speaking of a believer losing his salvation, but about people who will or will not believe. He is calling on bold witnessing which calls on men to publically identify with Christ (Acts 2:38-39 / Romans 10:9-10), even in times of persecution. But how can we call upon people to publicly profess their faith in Christ if we are trying to conceal our own faith?
Jesus knows that many people will be rejected, and some even martyred. But we are to be more intent upon proclaiming the gospel than defending ourselves. The right words will come if the time ever happens upon us. Then we won’t have time to be hypocritical.