Consider a different question. How do you know that you are a person who pleases God? Your first response might be that there is nothing about you that pleases God. If you were talking about salvation, you would be right. There was nothing about us sinful human beings that caused God to choose us. He just did. But what about after you have been born again. Is it possible to please God? Yes. Why else would Jesus have given us the parable of Matthew 25. Remember that longed for greeting? “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Even Paul looked forward to God’s approval at the end of his life.
So, we know that it is possible to please God. But how do we do it? What really matters to God? The answer to these questions can by examining what our Lord said to a Pharisee in Luke 11:37-44.
And as He spoke, a certain Pharisee asked Him to dine with him. So He went in and sat down to eat. When the Pharisee saw it, he marveled that He had not first washed before dinner. Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness. Foolish ones! Did not He who made the outside make the inside also? But rather give alms of such things as you have; then indeed all things are clean to you. “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass by justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like graves which are not seen, and the men who walk over them are not aware of them.”
What matters to man? (37-38)
All that mattered to this Pharisee was whether Jesus had washed his hands before the meal. I imagine him standing with mouth and eyes wide open staring at the Lord. What was the problem? The problem was not hygiene. The problem was that Jesus had not followed a tradition set down by the Pharisees.
A “ceremonial ablution” is what the Pharisee was expecting. He was expecting Jesus to follow the tradition instituted by some Jewish leader. The tradition said that you had to pour water over your hands before eating. Why was this? We don’t know the reason, but it was expected.
Humans have something built into them that makes them want to do something to make them feel better. Don’t bother with the heart, just be consistent in doing something and you will feel better about yourself.
Christians can fall into this trap. You might think that as long as you have attended Sunday School, morning worship, the nursing home service, the evening service, and prayer meeting, that you are right with God. But does the doing of these things accomplish anything? Does it make us better off in God’s eyes? Not necessarily.
What matters to God? (39-41)
This is the big question. What is it that really matters to God? Some today point to outward actions. If you look and act a certain way, you are sure to please God. Others recoil from such teaching and say that it is the heart that really matters. Which is right? What really matters to God?
Is it the outside that matters? (39)
To answer this question, Jesus compared the Pharisees to a cup and platter that had only been washed on the outside. On the outside they looked very good, but on the inside they were filled with wickedness. The words used in the King James Version to describe their sin are “ravening and wickedness.” Ravening refers to extortion, robbery, and plundering. Apparently, these religious leaders were all about money. They made everyone think that they were good on the outside, but inside they wanted to exploit every widow who walked across their paths.
We all know that it is easy to be deceived by the outward appearance. A good example of this is found in 1 Samuel 16. There Samuel was sent to Jesse to anoint one of his sons as the new king of Israel. When Samuel looked at the oldest son, he thought that he looked like the right pick. But God told him that he was wrong.
Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.
Is it the inside that matters? (40)
In verse 40, Jesus points out the foolishness of the Pharisee’s attachment to his rituals. These religious men were consumed with what looked good on the outside but had missed the fact that God made the inside as well. What point was Jesus trying to make? He was pointing out that God the Father had made the physical and spiritual parts of their bodies. And since that was true, they should not think that they were pleasing God just with external actions. They needed to please him on the inside as well.
The Pharisees seemed to think that God only knew as much as man does. As long as they looked good on the outside, they thought that God would be pleased. What more could he ask for? But the truth of the matter is that God does expect more than people can see. He wants people who love and serve him from their hearts.
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. (Deut. 6:5)
For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;
You do not delight in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart—
These, O God, You will not despise.
So, what really matters to God? Is it just the external? No, it is more than that. Is it just the heart that matters? Well, actually it is not just the heart that matters. It doesn’t seem possible (and perhaps it is not) but some people stress the heart so much that they neglect any action. I have heard of people that say don’t judge that person, he has a good heart. But is it possible that a person can say that his heart is right and still not be doing what is right? I think that is possible.
I read recently about a supposedly Christian singer who is also a lesbian. “Now don’t judge her. No doubt her heart is right.” If her heart was right, it would be evidenced in her actions. So, when you think of it that way, it is not enough to have a right heart if your actions don’t show it. So, what is it that matters to God?
Is it both? (41)
What our Lord says next indicates that God is pleased when he has more than just the inside or just the outside. He wants both.
You remember that Jesus had previously reprimanded the Pharisees because their inward desires were wicked. The example he used was that they were outwardly clean cups which were inwardly dirty—full of extortion. What was the cure for these religious leaders? Jesus laid it out on the table very plainly. If these men truly wanted to please God, their heart desire would be to do something for others instead of being so selfish. Instead of thinking of ways to trick people out of the money they had, they should give money from their own stash to those who had need.
While it is true that nobody can see your heart, your actions often show where your heart is. Do you remember what James said about actions and faith?
But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works
No doubt there are numerous examples that come to your mind. Students in a Christian school or college can become expert at looking right without having a heart that backs up their appearance. You can complete a Sunday School lesson but not allow the Spirit to speak to your heart. You can sing in the choir but not let the words touch your heart.
What really matters to God? He wants Christians from the inside out. In other words, he wants first your heart and then your actions.
What happens when you only emphasize the external? (42-44)
After reading the rest of the chapter, I am convinced that Jesus never got to finish his meal. The scribes, lawyers, and Pharisees lit into him with all they had. But what Jesus said in the next three verses may be helpful to us. He gives three woes to the Pharisees. A woe is an exclamation of grief about something. Jesus was filled with sadness for what these men had become. We would do well to listen to these as warnings because if you only emphasize the external …
You will emphasize minor things while leaving out major ones (42).
God gave to Moses a set of commandments to teach the children of Israel. One of these laws was the tithe. The people were to give the Lord one tenth of their income. The idea was that each family was to give a portion of their harvest to the Lord. So, a tenth of the corn, wheat, or cattle was set aside for God. This was God’s way of teaching his people to be thankful for what he had provided. It was also his way of providing for the Old Testament priests.
The Pharisees were very particular about how they observed this law. They tithed everything. Jesus pointed out their tithing of spices and herbs. I get the picture of a man counting out the grains in a salt shaker to be sure he had given God exactly what was required.
Was it wrong to give tithes to the Lord? No, but when a person becomes so absorbed with the details of tithing that they neglect other important things like judgment (pointing out what is wrong) and the love of God (devotion) he is in error.
You will want to be recognized by man (43).
When you emphasize the external over the internal, you may become as proud as the Pharisees. These religious leaders were very happy to be given the best seats in the synagogues. They also liked to be given special greetings in the market. Imagine trumpet fanfares and someone announcing your arrival into Wal Mart. Wouldn’t that be something? Apparently, these men were more interested in themselves than pleasing God.
How is that a result of emphasizing only the external? Pride is the natural outcome of making yourself look good to people. When you leave out the heart, you will long for people’s approval. It will no longer matter what God thinks. Your life will be about what people think.
You will contaminate other people (44).
The final woe is something that must have caused Jesus much grief. He pointed out that these men were contaminating other people. To understand this last woe you have to understand God’s law about graves.
According to Numbers [19:16] everyone who touches a grave in the open is for seven days ceremonially unclean. For this reason the Jews as far as possible tried to mark all graves clearly by whitewashing them (Geldenhuys 342).
So what was Jesus saying? He was saying that the Pharisees were like unmarked graves that people were constantly walking across. In other words, every time a person came in contact with the Pharisees they were being contaminated by them. Their hypocrisy was affecting everyone unknowingly.
Unfortunately, his words were not well received. Notice the response of the lawyers, scribes and Pharisees in verses 45, 53, and 54. There is no record that any of these people repented after hearing Jesus’ rebuke. The vast majority of them defended their actions and tried to cause the Lord to stumble.
What have we learned from this passage?
First, we have learned that God wants more than just action. He wants our hearts to be right also. When our hearts are right and we are doing what God has commanded, then we will please him. Secondly, we have learned that an emphasis on the external can lead to many sins: neglect, pride, and contamination.
So, what can we do? How can we guard ourselves from becoming like the Pharisees? It starts with the heart. Ask God to show you areas of your heart that need to change. Then from a pure heart, do what God has commanded whether anyone notices or not. Then you will be someone who pleases God from the inside out.