July 12, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 11:37-41 (NRSV)
While he was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to dine with him; so he went in and took his place at the table. The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner. Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you.”
Sometimes we get so obsessed with how others see us that we fail to pay attention to our hearts. We can be clean on the outside but mucky on the inside. Jesus urges us to focus, not on the “outside of the cup,” but rather on the “inside.” Instead of making sure we do the right things with water when we wash our hands, we should allow the Lord to give us new hearts, pure hearts filled with God’s love.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
When you hear the word “purity,” what comes to mind? For some reason, I think immediately of water, which, when all contaminants are filtered out, is gloriously pure. Or I picture water of the frozen variety, as in the phrase “pure as the driven snow.” Snow that has not yet landed and therefore is free from dirt is also wondrously pure.
Many Jews in the time of Jesus would have associated water with purity. They used water, for example, to wash their hands before they ate. People like the Pharisees did this for ceremonial rather than healthful reasons. By pouring water over their hands before a meal, they signified their ritual purity. Though they lived in the world, they were not polluted by it. The Pharisees actually had quite precise rules for how much water to use and how to use it when washing their hands. It was much more complicated than “wash with soap and warm water for 20 seconds” (see, for example, Mishnah, Yadayim 1:1ff).
Thus, in Luke 11, when Jesus went to dinner at the home of a Pharisee, his host “was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner” (11:38). Jesus, supposedly a holy man, was not doing what any Jewish holy man should do. Apparently, Jesus knew what his host was thinking, so he said, “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you” (11:39-41).
Jesus’s point was that a person could look great on the outside, all cleaned up, without being great on the inside. You could look like a holy person but have your heart “full of greed and wickedness” (Luke 11:39). This was not okay, according to Jesus. So, he advised the Pharisees with whom he was dining, “give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you” (11:41).
What did Jesus mean by “give for alms those things that are within”? When we remember what he had just said about the Pharisees being full of greed, it’s likely that Jesus was urging them to give away their financial resources rather than clutching to them. The very act of giving can help set the heart free from greed. It can lead us down the road of genuine moral purity. At the same time, the more your heart is pure, the more you’ll be eager to share generously with others what God has generously given to you. Giving is also an expression of a pure heart.
I’ve been a follower of Jesus for over five decades. I will admit that during this time I have sometimes cared more about my “outside” than my “inside.” I want to look good to others, to have people think of me as morally upright. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I can easily worry much more about virtue signaling than the substance of my character. I know I’m not alone in this. Maybe you can relate, too.
Jesus is not saying that our behavior doesn’t matter. Not at all. But he is reminding us that what’s in our hearts is of paramount importance. If our hearts are pure, then from our hearts will come pure actions of grace, mercy, and generosity. If our hearts are pure, then we can stop worrying about how others see us. We can offer the “alms” of our heart to God, honoring God with our inner intentions, with the things we do, say, and think when we’re away from the gaze of others. No one will see us . . . except the Lord, and the Lord will be well pleased.
When you think of the words “pure” or “purity,” what comes to mind?
Are you ever tempted to focus on your moral appearance rather than the character of your heart?
What helps you to get your focus back in the right place?
Are there elements of your life that fall short of genuine purity? Are you willing to let the Lord deal with these?
In light of what Jesus said about giving alms, talk to him about whether you should make a contribution to some worthy charity today. If you feel led to give, then do so.
Lord Jesus, though I’m not obsessed with hand-washing, I confess that I can sometimes care more about how I look than how I am on the inside. I want people to think highly of me. But what about my soul? What about making sure that you think highly of me?
Lord, help me to open my heart to you. May your Spirit show me where I need to repent, where I need to be forgiven, where I need your grace to renew me. And then, Lord, with a heart made pure by you, help me to live not for my reputation but for your kingdom and glory. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Blessed Are the Pure in Heart
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.