Do you ever have those moments in church when the Word of God cuts you at a deep level? That is exactly how I felt two Sundays ago. God, lovingly, will use His Word to convict our hearts at times when it is needed. We do not always love those moments, but they are extremely needed. I wonder if what I needed to hear is something that you may need to hear as well. Open your heart and allow God to use His Word in the next few minutes!
Let me give a little context to the story before we get to the three verses in Luke 11 that I want to discuss. A Pharisee asked Jesus to dine with him, so Jesus went to eat with the man. As Jesus reclined around the table, the Pharisee was shocked that Jesus did not wash up before dinner. Pharisees were the religious ones who knew the law inside and out and tried to follow the rules and be as “good” as possible. Their aim at perfection created extreme judgement and condemnation in their hearts towards people who did not follow the law perfectly. Jesus not washing before dinner was shocking to the Pharisee. Jesus, however, had some strong words for the judgmental man.
“And the Lord said to him, ‘Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.’” (Luke 11:39)
As the Pharisee was casting judgement on Jesus, Jesus was simultaneously exposing a heart that looked clean on the outside, but was actually dirty on the inside. That is the text that hit me like a ton of bricks two weeks ago. I am so quick to try and look the part. However, looking the part means nothing if the inside is full of greed and wickedness. Do you need to hear that as well? We, just like the Pharisee, love to appear to have it all together. We spend so much time cleaning the outside of the cup. However, our focus should be on the inside of the cup. Who cares about an appearance if the heart is unclean?
“You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.” (Luke 11:40-41)
“Fools!” Jesus calls those of us who try to talk the talk without actually walking the walk. Giving as alms is a term that refers to giving to the poor and needy. Jesus is saying that we should put our money where our mouths are. How we live should match how we appear. He is telling us that our focus should be on our hearts. Jesus is putting an emphasis on creating the type of inside that matches the type of outside we are trying to portray. Pharisees had a ritual of cleaning the outside of cups to make them as spotless as possible. Jesus was telling them that the elements on the inside were still going to be dirty, regardless of how clean they could get the outside. What a perfect image of our lives! As Matthew describes a similar encounter, his words may be a bit more clear.
“You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.” (Matthew 23:26)
We should be more worried about cleaning up what is inside of us than what we try to portray on the outside. If we first focus on the inside, the result is a change on the outside. That is amazing! What we are trying to manufacture by focusing on the outer appearance, according to Jesus, will actually be a natural byproduct as we focus on cleaning the inside. A clean inside will create a clean outside. Incredible! Purifying our hearts will then purify the appearance of our lives.
I need this. Do you? We live in a world where we feel as if we need approval from other people, so we are continually putting our best image forward. If our Instagram picture is not perfect, we will not post it. That is a problem. We are so worried about what the outside of the cup looks like. The outside means absolutely nothing if the inside is full of garbage. An image is worthless if the character inside of that image does not match it. Therefore, the Son of God tells us to focus on the inside and let our change of heart create the change in appearance.
I am deciding to give my daily focus to the inside of my cup. I want what people see in me to match the heart that they cannot see in me. If I focus on my own heart, I will start to lose my judgmental tendencies as well. Focusing on ourselves gives us a real sense of how much work needs to be done in our own hearts. When we see our own issues, we suddenly stop judging others for theirs. We finally notice that acting perfect, like a Pharisee, does not mean that we really are perfect. That is where we can truly love each other, instead of constantly being against each other. That is where we begin to join arms and encourage each other through our struggles, instead of always judging and condemning each other for those struggles.
Let us become free from the bondage of Pharisee living. Instead of caring so much about the outside of our cups, let’s instead give our attention to the inside. We need pure hearts. Pure hearts will lead us into a pure appearance. If we can get the inside clean, the outside will clean itself up as well. Amazingly, we will also stop judging other people and their appearance. We will want to help clean the inside of their cup instead of condemning them for the dirt on the outside.
No more acting the part. No more trying to pretend that we have it all together all of the time. Instead, let our effort be spent on self-reflection. We need to let God examine and expose our hearts so that we can begin to clean the inside. I want to pull up the roots of wickedness that linger in my heart. I want that to create a massive change in my appearance. No more living for the outside of the cup. A spotless outside does nothing for what remains on the inside. However, if I clean the inside, the outside will become clean as well. Amazing. The same is true for you.