Tuesday, October 6, 2020

The Inside of the Cup

While the Pharisees are most well-known for placing a high burden of obedience on faithfulness, that was not the only error they made. Another very serious error of the Pharisees was their emphasis on outside things, to the neglect of the inner life. Jesus even called them on this - why do you worry so much about the outside of the cup when it's the inside that's going to poison you?

In other words, the Pharisees had over-emphasized how you are supposed to look over how you are supposed to live, or love. This is happening in the church today in two significant ways.

The first way that this is happening is in a call to have a faith that seems to be more certain than it is, a faith that doesn't entertain questions because it doesn't even have any. We are supposed to be a people who never doubt, who never wonder about God, who never question whether He's good or whether He hears us or whether He cares. We're told that if we have doubts, and if we reveal them, then we might be a discouragement to our brothers and sisters or to seekers in our community, and essentially, nothing good can come out of having questions.

So the moment our faith is tested, we are taught to double down on it without any real reassurances. We are told not to let doubt even get a hearing in our lives. We are told to push our questions aside in favor of the 'answers' we're already supposed to have. We're told this will show the world what 'real faith' looks like. 

But what it really looks like is an unexamined, fragile sort of faith that can't stand up to the real brokenness of this world. What it looks like is blind, misguided optimism and a disconnect from the messy human life. What it looks like is a faith that will break the moment anything comes up against it, so it has to wall itself off and put its fingers in its ears and just hum Amazing Grace until hard times pass. 

This isn't our faith. At least, it's not meant to be. This is the Pharisee's faith - more concerned about what it looks like than its actual substance. No wonder the world doesn't want it. 

The second way this error of the Pharisees manifests in our lives is in persons who have high standards for their own outward appearance, but less concern over their inner life. What we're talking about here are those who set social standards and keep a different set of private behaviors.

We're talking about persons who won't drink or smoke or go to the bar, but they'll swear up a storm. Or someone who dresses never-casual or keeps up a certain hairstyle or chooses a particular 'look' and then, through their tongue, reveals themselves to be just as perverse as the world. I'll be honest with you - some of the dirtiest talk and some of the dirtiest jokes I've ever heard have come out of the mouths of those with a high standard for their Christian appearances/outward modesty. They invest a lot of time and energy convincing you how conservative and devoted and devout they are, but then they speak, and you wonder if they haven't got some sailor in their background. 

This, too, turns away the world from the faith. And why shouldn't it? It's hypocrisy at its finest. It's claiming that God cares so much about certain things, and then completely disproving that with your next breath. It's presenting to the world a God who is wrapped up in the superficial, but in the end, doesn't really look a whole lot different than the world. It's telling them that God cares very much what you look like, but has no interest at all in your heart. And the world has plenty of that without bogging it down with religion. They don't need a god like that, and they don't want one. 

Meanwhile, you run into these men and women all around your life that you wouldn't give a second look to - the old, wrinkled, haggard sort of men and women with whiskers coming out of their moles and crooked noses and missing teeth, and you think these must be the 'least of these' that Jesus talked about, but when you actually talk with them, you hear their gentle spirit. You hear their faith-filled soul. You hear their world-weariness and heaven-mindedness, even though by looking at them, you'd think they hadn't spent a day in their life worried about what they look like. And maybe, just maybe, they haven't. 

God is more concerned with the inside of the cup than the outside of it. He's more concerned with the substance of your faith than the appearance of it. This emphasis that we have on externals makes us Pharisees, plain and simple, and Jesus Himself condemns us for it. 

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