Sunday Sermons

Sunday Sermons

Clean The Inside - Some More

Clean the Inside Some More

This lesson is a continuation of Matthew chapter 23.  23:24 “Who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel”: When we have improper motivation (Matthew 23:5) and love something even more than the truth (23:13), it is easy to hold beliefs that are not only completely contradictory but are also a sign of incredible blindness. I often see this in people who will do anything to save the life of an animal, but are in favor of abortion. Or people who are very stringent about the food they put into their body – but who are also doing drugs at the same time. Recently I listened to Ted Nugent discuss the fact that various animal rights groups opposed his concerts because he hunts and eats meat, while at the same time he gets email death threats against his family from the same segment of society. In the case of the Pharisees and scribes they were so concerned about some sort of contamination, like being touched by an unbeliever, while at the same time they were completely okay with plotting the death of an innocent man (Jesus).

23:25  “You clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence”:

That is, on the surface they did look like decent, good moral and spiritual people, “So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men” (Matthew 23:28). For me this verse is very helpful:

  • We need to be far more discerning than simply judging things according to their “appearance” (John 7:24). At times Christians can be puzzled by the person who is not faithful to God but appears to be very religious or spiritual. Instead of seeking to pronounce them saved, we need to reach out and share Jesus with them. When they hear the truth that is the real test for how sincere they are. I have often found that very spiritual looking and sounding people all of a sudden don’t act so spiritual when they hear the truth from God’s word. We find many examples of this in Scripture (Mark 10:21-22; Acts 13:46).
  • We can fool people if we are living a double life – but we cannot fool God, He sees everything (Hebrews 4:12).
  • People can appear to be very selfless, spiritual, kind and good – and yet be incredibly evil, “full of robbery and self indulgence” (Matthew 23:25). Compare with 2 Corinthians 11:15 “Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness”.
  • It is not enough to clean up a few things on the outside. Yes, it is absolutely essential that we stop sinful practices (1 Corinthians 6:9-11), but the devil can fool us into thinking that simply stopping the outward manifestation of self indulgence is enough.

Matthew 23:26 “First clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also”

There are a number of things about this verse that really impresses me:

  • It’s simplicity. Nothing complicated here. The tremendous hope of in the verse.  Even the Pharisees and scribes who were full of corruption could change – really change, completely change.  Jesus would have never given such a command to them if they were beyond hope.  In verse 33 He will say, “How will you escape the sentence of hell?”, yet this verse reveals that such will be their fate if they do not heed His solution. There is only one way they can escape condemnation in hell – they must apply Jesus’ solution in these verses. And the same is true for all of us. All of us have sinned (Romans 3:23), and that means that all of us outside of Christ have corruption that needs to be clean up on the inside.
  • First – reveals why some attempts to break from a sinful practice are unsuccessful. Trying to stop a sinful habit without addressing the selfish desire that is feeding it typically ends in failure. In other passages Jesus specifically addressed the inner desires and attitudes that need to be challenged and removed (Mark 7:20-23).
  • We are only kidding ourselves if we think that we can handle and control a certain amount of selfishness, evil thoughts, arrogance, or foolishness in our hearts. These verses also assume that the Pharisees and Scribes knew when they were being greedy and selfish, that such attitudes would be recognized. In like manner, we also typically know when we are being rude, selfish, unkind, mean, or ungodly.

Sadly I have found that some people want to argue with Jesus here. They claim that this is too simple, that there is no way that we can clean the inside, that we are full of so much selfishness and sin and our motivations for why we do things are complicated and very hidden. Yet I find that sometimes when people argue with Jesus on this point that the real issue is that they don’t really want to change.

Are We Pulling Ourselves Up?

Someone might claim that cleaning the inside of the cup sounds like “pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps” and that they have tried this before and it does not work. Yet this verse is not talking about just putting forth a lot of human effort, because without God telling me what to remove from my life and add to it I would be clueless (Colossians 3:5-15). In addition, the motivation for removing it is not something I have invented. I did not invent the idea that God loved me so much that He allowed His Son to die for me. I did not invent the idea that God wants me to be with Him in heaven. In addition, Jesus does not require the impossible:

  • Look at what an unbeliever can do – they can love those who love them: Matthew 5:43ff
  • None of us were born sinful – rather we were born innocent and good.
  • Each one of us were created in the image of God, each one of us is a created spirit, who has far more in common with God than with evil (James 3:9).
  • The life that Jesus calls us to is not somehow totally at odds with who were really are, actually, is perfectly fits who we really are: Romans 12:2 “that which is good and acceptable and perfect”.

But I Don’t Feel It?

I am convinced that many people are not happy with the lives they are living but are waiting for some sort of feeling to come over them so they can change. “A friend of mine was speaking recently. Afterward a guy came up and told him, ‘I would go serve God... but, honestly, if I went right now it would only be out of obedience”.  My friend’s response was, “Yes, and... ?” Jesus said, ‘If you love me, you will obey what I command’ (John 14:15). Jesus did not say, ‘If you love me you will obey me when you feel called or good about doing so’” (Crazy Love, Francis Chan, p. 169). I have seen people mess up their marriages because they were waiting for a feeling before they started treating the other person right. True love, like that of Jesus in the Garden goes ahead and does what is right even though it might not feel good at all. I am thankful that Jesus did not wait for a good feeling, or a time when His obedience would be easy and effortless – before He died for me.

Matthew 23:30 “If we had been living in the days of our fathers”: Jesus’ generation was very mindful in caring for and adorning the tombs of former prophets (23:29). His generation boasted that “if they had been alive back then” they would have treated men like Isaiah or Jeremiah with respect. The truth of the matter is that one greater than any prophet was among them and they were not listening to Him and were even plotting His death. In addition, they would also persecute the messengers that Jesus would send to them in the years to come (23:34). This passage reminds us that people who are presently godly would be godly in any age and people who are presently wicked would have been wicked in any age. If I am not listening to God now – I would have been one of those outside the ark mocking Noah, or one of those who rebelled against Moses in the wilderness, or one of those who opposed Jesus and the apostles. So instead of dreaming about what we might have done in the past, we need to be faithful in the present. The opportunity to prove ourselves is right now. Or as Annie Dillard observed, “How we live our days is – how we live our lives”.

Mark Dunagan  |
Beaverton Church of Christ  |  503-644-9017