Now when He had spoken, a Pharisee asked Him to have lunch with him; and He went in, and reclined at the table. When the Pharisee saw it, he was surprised that He had not first ceremonially washed before the meal. But the Lord said to him,”Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the platter; but inside of you, you are full of robbery and wickedness. You foolish ones, did not He who made the outside make the inside also? But give that which is within as charity, and then all things are clean for you.” Luke 11.37-41This week, I would like to conclude my thoughts on religious systems that place a greater emphasis and importance on the outside of the cup versus the inside of the cup in order that we may move on next week to what I believe Jesus meant by giving that which is within, on the inside of the cup, as charity, so that both the inside and the outside of our cups are clean.
To wrap up, I wish to discuss my third reason for believing that these types of religious environments are dangerous and spiritually destructive, namely that they breed people who focus more on other people’s outer appearances than on what is taking place inside of them. There are countless beautiful people on this planet; if we, as Christians, can, like Jesus, ignore what is occurring on the outside and look into their hearts, we will see who they really are inside. In addition, if we do not begin to place a greater emphasis on the insides of other people’s cups, rather than on their outsides, then we will continue to make those who come into contact with us feel as though we care more about their outer appearance than about THEM. Let me give you an example:
Recently, I bumped into a dear sister, who had decided to visit a church in her area that took a strong stance against wearing any outward adornment. I belong to a denomination that has historically taken a strong position against certain forms of outward adornment, but strangely enough, ignores others. Thus, I possess first-hand knowledge of the head-space of the interpretation of some of Paul’s and Peter’s statements. Let me briefly share some of the relevant background with you.
In Paul’s letter to the Timothy, we find the following words:
Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension. Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness. 1Timothy 2.8-10
What I find odd about those who take a strong position on this text is that those individuals with whom I have come into contact reject the parts regarding lifting up hands when they pray. They also ignore the prohibition of braiding hair or wearing expensive garments. Yet they take the sections about gold and pearls very seriously. How they know which portions of this text should be taken as timeless truths that are valid in all ages, situations, and cultures and which parts should be interpreted to apply only to Paul’s day and situation, at the very least, makes me scratch my head. But before we look at what I believe Paul is actually saying in this text, let us add Peter’s comments as well:
Your adornment must not be merely external — braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. 1Peter 3.3-4
Peter’s words make it extremely clear. Like Jesus, Peter warns us here of the same focus and emphasis, of the danger of placing more importance on the outside of our cups versus the inside. He is applying the principle to his situation in his day, but the principle remains the same in all ages. As followers of Jesus, we are called upon to place greater importance and emphasis upon the inside of our cups than upon our outsides. We are not to content ourselves with merely looking as though we have it all together. We are to allow God’s healing work to enter first and foremost into the inside of our cups.
Yet, there are some religious environments in which these passages are taken and utilized for the exact opposite purpose. Continuing to fixate on the outside of the cup, wearing earrings, rings, necklaces, and the like is strictly prohibited (meanwhile, gold broaches or pins with pearls and hair clips are acceptable, which still leaves me scratching my head), while everything else in Paul’s and Peter’s statements is forgotten. In other words, if you were to show up in one of these environments wearing one of these prohibited items, the people in the environments that I have witnessed would, for a minute, fail to notice what was going on within you. All that they would see is what you were wearing on the “outside,” which would greatly impact the manner in which they treated you. In other words, these environments utilize the very words that Paul and Peter wrote in order to help people focus more on the INSIDE of their cups so as to place a greater emphasis and importance on the OUTSIDE of people’s cups! This interpretation is clearly a gross misunderstanding of Paul’s and Peter’s true intention. These texts become the foundation of systems that place a greater emphasis and importance upon external, outward, performance-based religion, when, in fact, these statements were intended to bring about just the opposite in environments and situations in which more emphasis and importance was being placed upon outward appearances than upon matters of the heart, upon the inside of their cups rather than the outside. Such religious environments take these texts and turn them upon their heads, employing them for a completely different purpose than for which they were written.
Let us return to the example of my dear friend. She showed up to church one weekend wearing earrings and was met in the foyer by one of the saints, who informed her that if she desired to “wear that idolatry on her ears, then there was a church down the road where she would be more welcome.” My heart broke when I heard this story.
Picture for a minute the crowd that would be attracted to Jesus, knowing what you know of Him, if He were to show up in our day. I imagine not just prostitutes, but folks with piercings and tattoos, on the one hand, and tax collectors or the very wealthy on the other. BOTH would be in the crowd. Now, just ponder for a moment what Jesus would notice about the crowd. Would He focus upon the outside of their cups or upon what is taking place within their cups? What would He try to affect? What would receive His focus and emphasis? Would those gathered there feel as though He were placing a greater emphasis upon their outward appearances, valuing this above their own intrinsic worth and value? What would they feel really mattered to Him? And, in addition, what would be going on in the hearts of all of those who place a greater emphasis upon the outside of people’s cups as they look around at those who are attracted to Jesus?
The Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying “Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered and said to them, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick.” Luke 5:30-31
Again, these types of religious systems presume a picture of a God who places greater emphasis and importance upon individuals’ outward appearances than upon their insides and attempt to pass this picture on to others. This representation is one of a God who cares more about what people look like than about who they really are.
I was introduced to a system like this 19 years ago as a teenager. Rather than being repulsed by it, I was extremely impressionable, swallowing it hook, line, and sinker. I cut my hair. I threw away half of my clothes. On the outside, externally, I went through dramatic and drastic changes. The transitions during those years were violent and extreme in every new direction. But on the inside, I remained lost, broken, and in need of a Savior. Externally, I may have appeared to be perfect. But internally, I was an extreme train wreck. And my picture of God was such that I did not feel as though He really cared about me; instead, I thought He cared only for my appearance, my diet, my intellectual beliefs, my externals. This period began a spiritually and religiously self-destructive two- year journey from which God finally saved me by means of a very private revelation of who He really was and of His unconditional, no-strings-attached love for ME above all else.
Let me close this week by challenging you to ponder the kind of environment that our churches must become in order to convey to others that what matters most to us is what is taking place on the inside of their cups rather than on the outside. The kind of environment in which people clearly matter first and foremost as who they are within themselves, in which people actually can feel from us the worth that Calvary ascribes to them, in which they can sense that the God of this universe cared so much for them that He was willing to die for THEM, regardless of their “outsides.” And lastly, I invite you to ponder the kind of picture of God that we must embrace in order to produce this type of environment. I propose to you this week that the kind of picture that each of us, including myself, must embrace is the exact representation of God that we find in the person of Jesus Christ. When Jesus Christ becomes the center of everything we believe about God, when the Old Testament God is held subject to the Jesus-looking God, instead of the other way around, then, I believe, the followers of Jesus will be radically altered. We won’t merely be Biblical; we will be true followers of Jesus.
Once again, I have certainly given you a great deal to think about this week. May our picture of God continue to be ever more strongly influenced by the birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, and intercession of our Lord, Savior, Friend, and Lover, Jesus Christ.
Next week, we will turn to what it means to actually emphasize the inside of our cups, giving what lies within away as charity.
Keep basking in God’s unconditional love for you this week. Continue living in that love as it is expressed to others, loving like Christ.
I love you guys. Now go build the kingdom.