Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you. Luke 11:39-41
Jesus says a lot about things “inside-out” versus “outside-in.” If we want to live right side up in our upside down culture we have to do it from the inside out. There’s no other way. As Oswald Chambers says, “It’s the inside out that makes the right side up possible!”
The upside down world attempts to live a quality life at the circumference regardless of quality of life at the center. It can’t be done. God always begins at the center. He insists that we can’t live at the circumference unless we’re alive at the center.
That’s why it’s so important to remember that Jesus is a “Live-In Savior.” He’s not the sort that makes periodic checkup visits. He moves in! And when he does, we get better in every area we choose to submit to him, including how we relate to our possessions and properties.
The outside-in approach doesn’t please God, make us better Christians, or help the world around us. It’s only the inside-out version that does those. The way and why we share our resources with others is an apt example of this. Let’s listen in on Jesus’ conversation with some outside-inners.
Some such folk invite Jesus to dinner, who then proceed to make a fuss about him failing to perform the ceremonial washing of his hands before the meal was served. They make a Matterhorn out of a molehill, something for which religion is famous, and then something for which he is famous, Jesus turns it into a teaching moment.
He goes straight from the pre-meal hand washing to post-meal dishwashing. “You guys clean the outside of the dishes, but from the inside you’re chock so full of greed that you excrete wickedness.”
We all have an “outside.” It’s what appears in the bathroom mirror into which we look long enough to regret it. And there’s the “inside” that only the mirror of God’s Word reveals. Standing in front of it is even more risky than the other, but much more productive. The only way to successfully and fruitfully live like Jesus is from the inside out. Regrettably, greed and wickedness* dwell inside all of us, at least everybody I know, but then you might have better friends than mine.
*In Matthew’s version Jesus says “greed and self-indulgence.”
The only way to extricate these is to reach in and pull them out like weeds. And one way––maybe the only way––to do that, Jesus says, is to be “generous to the poor.” Sounds a little weird, yes? But check out what he said: “as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything (as in inside and out) will be clean for you.” Wow!
Of course this is no blanket guarantee that every time we give something to a poor person we automatically get all squeaky clean. There’s giving and then there’s giving. There is a sort of charity that promises no substantial reward at all. These guys he’s addressing were meticulous givers and tithers down to the herb leaves from their gardens, the spirit of which doesn’t seem to have any cleansing quality––inside or out.
Sheer dutiful giving, while it may put food on someone else’s table that otherwise might’ve been bare, won’t necessarily actually cleanse our own soul. The givees might be fed and the givers might feel better about themselves, but there’s no guarantee of anyone’s insides improving.
If, while giving, we “neglect justice and the love of God,” our tithing and other alleged acts of generosity may pay the pastor’s salary (not an altogether bad thing in itself), keep the lights on at the church, and buy some soccer balls for the poor kids in Honduras, but it does little to change the life of the giver, and offers limited benefit to the reputation of Christ’s Bride in the world.
“American churches,” writes Ronnie McBrayer, “spend $19 billion a year (every year) on building construction and maintenance. That much money spent every year on food and on education programs could eliminate global starvation and malnutrition in less than a decade.” Hmmm.
Make no mistake; being generous doesn’t earn us points with God or trick him into forgiving us for all the bad stuff we do. Jesus isn’t talking here about forgiveness, the cleaning up of our record. Only the blood of his cross can do that. In this instance he’s talking about the cleaning out our soul of its greed and self-indulgence. If that’s what we want we’ll have to take what he prescribes to get it.
Giving from the inside, i.e., from a heart of compassion, is something altogether different than heartless, mindless check writing for our tithe or another good cause. It’s the kind of selfless benevolence that washes us all over! Like bleach, it cleans out greed and washes off wickedness. It has purifying power. Put another way: Generosity murders Mammon!
As Clarence Jordan says, “Since Mammon is a particularly unruly type of god when it’s anywhere except on the throne, it will be necessary to put it completely outside in order to keep it quiet.”
Let’s take one more pass at this passage next time…
You might find an example of this soul-cleansing, world-changing generosity in my book, Reaching Rahab: Joining God In His Quest For Friends. Just a thought.