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First Things First

Guard your heart above all else,
for it determines the course of your life.
Proverbs 4:23 (NLT)

Series Focus: “Cleaning House”

Dirty dishes! Do you like to have a sink full of them? Maybe it doesn’t really bother you. Either way, we know not to eat or drink from dirty dishes and so we’ve all washed them. How do we wash the dishes? Usually from the inside out, right?

If I had to pick a “favorite” chore, it would be washing dishes. I am thankful for a dishwasher, but I prefer washing my dishes by hand. Why? Because I know the cup or dish will be 100% clean, inside and out.

In Matthew 23:25-26 (NLT), Jesus says:

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy, full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First, wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.”

He talks about not just cleaning the outside of the cup or dish, but also the inside. The same is true for us! We can’t just be focused on our outside appearance. We must clean the inside too. Psalm 51:10 (NLT) says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.”

Jesus calls the Pharisees hypocrites because they appear clean on the outside, but on the inside, they are full of greed. Hypocrite comes from the Greek term for “actor.” It is someone who pretends to be one thing but is really another. It describes someone who is fake. Jesus used this term to brand the scribes and Pharisees as religious frauds. They appeared to be pure, holy, and righteous, but inside they were full of evil.

If we are walking around acting on the outside that everything is good, while on the inside we are carrying things like hate, bitterness, anger, or unforgiveness, then we are in the same boat as the Pharisees. We don’t want to be considered hypocrites or actors.

Jesus compared their moral behavior to a cup and a dish. He said you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish so that it appears to be clean and ready for use. But the inside of this cup or bowl is full of grime, dirt, or rotten food. They are filthy and unfit for use.

God wants His people to be pure and morally clean, set apart from the sinfulness of the world, to accomplish His purposes. Instead of only serving self and exploiting others, God wants us to seek the best for others and treat them as they wanted to be treated.

First, clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean as well.

The inside of the cup and of the dish represents our heart. The heart is the center of our being. It is the seat of our desire, will, and intentions. It shapes our attitude and outlook of the world. The heart is where our decisions and choices are made. All of our actions and words flow from its motivations.

“For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil.” (Matthew 12:34b-35 NASB)

Our external behavior is influenced by the interior of our heart. In terms of Jesus’s metaphor, the outside of our cup will also become clean if the inside of our cup is clean. Instead of focusing on our behavior, we should pay closer attention to the condition of the heart that our behavior springs from.

May the inside and the outside of our cup be clean…

Holding Fast to Hope,
(Guest Writer)

Scripture References: Psalm 19:14, 51:10; Proverbs 4:23; Matthew 12:34-35, 23:25-26


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