Working on the inside, not only the outside

Working on the inside, not only the outside

How do you prepare your house if you know that people are coming to visit you tomorrow? I suspect most of us would clean up a little bit. We would put the areas that visitors will see into some kind of order. Yet what about the bedrooms and areas that visitors wouldn’t usually go into? If you’re like me, you probably wouldn’t bother doing much about these rooms. The aim is to welcome visitors and not pass a rental inspection! So we end up with a house that looks clean on a cursory glance, but in reality is rather messy.

Jesus speaks about this concept of being clean on the outside and rotten on the inside in one of his memorable woes directed at the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.       

                                                                                                                         (Matt. 23:27-28 ESV)

Jewish law declared that anyone who came into contact with the dead became ceremonially unclean and could not enter the temple. This would be an especially significant issue for those who travelled a long way for the festivals. Imagine having been on the road for weeks only to be declared unclean and be unable to participate in what you came for! To avoid this tragedy, the custom was to paint the tombs around Jerusalem white in the month prior to the festivals. Travellers would then clearly see where the tombs were for the purpose of avoiding them. They would look distinctive but be places to stay away from.

Jesus said that the Pharisees were like these tombs. They looked so religious and respectable on the outside. Most thought of them as role models and good people. Yet they are not the same on the inside; they are full of hyposcrisy and lawlessness. More than this, they corrupted those that they taught and influenced, much like the tombs that made those who touched them unclean.

Jesus is calling people to a consistently godly life here, not one that only looks acceptable on the outside. It is easier to look godly than to actually be godly. We must work on the kinds of things that others do not see, things like resisting temptation, cultivating prayer, and deepening in our understanding of God’s word. As we do these things, our outside will also change. The inside matters more than the outside does if we are more interested in honouring God than impressing other people.

Sometimes someone who is struggling with their own sin will tell me that they feel like the only ones in church who has a messed-up life. Everyone else looks so put-together and godly. I have felt this before as well, but it is not true. The more you get to know people, the more you understand that everyone is messed up to some degree. Everyone has sin and temptation and broken relationships in their lives. Let’s not pretend to others that we have it all worked out. Don’t judge others on how they look on a Sunday when we gather together. We’re all sinners; let’s work hard on becoming more like Jesus on the inside, not just the outside.