Filthy Cups

Back in our youth, I spent a lot of weekends at my brothers house since he lived very close to where I worked and my working hours were all clumped in the weekends.  I usually earned my keep by cleaning the house which included tackling the dirty dishes...and I think I was the only person in the house that ever washed the dishes, and that was only on the weekends. 

The smells were ripe with rotting waste and filth was caked onto the rim of the cups.  I never once thought of picking up a glass, cleaning the outside, and filling it with a beverage for human consumption, yet that is exactly what Jesus accuses the Pharisees and scribes of doing:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also (Matthew 23:25-26).

The Pharisees were primarily interested in the outward appearance of the law.  This focus on outward appearance is why the Pharisee that invited Him to dinner was appalled that He would let a 'sinner' touch Him (Luke 7:36-39).  They took the appearance of the law as more important than the righteousness behind the law and in so doing, were focused on making their outside appearance perfect while inwardly they were filthy.  Specifically here, Jesus declares that they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. Jesus was calling them out on their external appearance, and in Matthew 5:20, he calls us to be more righteous than them: For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Our righteousness is not to be more externally perfect, but rather changed at the level of the heart by God's saving power.  James Montgomery Boice comments:

When the law said, "Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy," [the Pharisees] could tell you precisely what one could do on the sabbath and still keep the law, and what one could not do.  Thus, it was possible to move about, but only a sabbath day's journey; to eat, but not to cook food; to bandage a person who became hurt, but not to apply ointment or anything actively to promote healing (An Expositional Commentary on The Sermon on the Mount)

The list of rules they had was all about the external condition, and if we thought that the law given by Moses was difficult to follow, the law according to Pharisees was more of a burden.  Jesus came to lift that burden from us (Matthew 11:28-30).

The Modern Church

Some modern churches have managed to rid themselves of extra rules while others have not.  Just recently I was visiting a town with a friend and we had in mind to do a Sunday morning hike, so I searched online for a church in that area and found an early morning service to worship.  We were a little apprehensive as we pulled up.  I reminded him this is a small church in the woods.  We were dressed for a hike and we were not sure if we were going to walk into a suit-and-tie service.  We were still in the car an a guy pulled up without a suit and it was like grace raining down!  We enjoyed the service and went on our way, but I know where I am going to church next time I am in that town!  This church had it figured out. Unfortunately I have also attended churches that have such a focus on outward things including appearances, Bible translations, and the like.  There is a certain clout that some churches have with their appearance.  In these churches they would prefer (if not verbally than vicariously) that everyone in attendance wear certain clothes or read a certain Bible translation.  A friend just recounted a recent case about visiting a church where the pastor actually said that if you are not reading the King James Version Bible that you are risking going to Hell because you are getting a polluted Bible.  Other Christians are so caught up in things like drinking and smoking, which certainly are not a great thing to be doing in excess or at all, but never-the-less will not be sending us to hell. Ultimately, smoking and drinking cannot keep us out of heaven, but neither can adultery, fornication, pride, theft, murder, or homosexuality.  These may be symptoms of an unsaved condition, but in and of themselves, it is a denial of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior that gives us our one-way trip to Hell.  The outside of the cup can be as shiny as we like, but if our insides are full of self-indulgence than we have a problem.  What Jesus commands us and the Pharisees to do is to first clean the inside of the cup, only then can the outside be truly clean.  The best way to do this is to follow the advice of Paul:

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).

God alone has the power to transform our heart.  He works first by restoring our soul by bringing us to saving faith, and then through His word to sanctify us.  Paul says earlier in Romans that Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.  This is the essence of what Jesus tells us to do: First, clean the inside of our heart.  Clean out all the self-indulgence so that we are not walking around outwardly clean and inwardly filthy. When we as Christians learn to clean our own hearts by truly understanding and acting on the Gospel, we will be able to share that Gospel with others.  When we collectively know Christ by having transformed hearts, our life will be clean from the inside out, and when people who are clean on the inside out make up the Body of Christ, than the church will likewise be clean from the inside out.  Seek to be clean, and disciple others to that end.