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We’re back in Matthew 23:25-26 today. Our title is “On washing dishes (#2). How to make our possessions clean and acceptable to God.” As we saw last week Matthew 23 is a really intense critique of the scribes and Pharisees. Our verses constitute the fifth of seven woes, or pronouncements of judgment against them. And this one has to do with washing dishes and their overemphasis on outward ritual purity.

25Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

Now, this passage can be read in two ways, because Jesus is making two points simultaneously. We have already seen the first, which is that –

The dishes represent the Pharisees

That is, in talking about the dishes, Jesus is making a point about the Pharisees and their spirituality. He is saying that the Pharisees have an excessive focus on the outside, in terms of being ritually pure. They have many rules beyond even what Moses taught about what defiles someone through contact and how to wash in water to be made pure. But inside their hearts are full of “greed and self-indulgence.” In other words, outward ritual purity doesn’t fix the problem of moral impurity in the heart. A focus on the outside does not reach into the heart.

By contrast, Jesus teaches us to begin first on the inside, which is where the real problem lies; the moral impurity in our hearts. And he teaches us this “(in order) that the outside may also become clean.” That is, if we begin within, with a new heart, then our words and deeds will also be clean and acceptable to God. For as the heart goes – the inside, so goes our behavior – the outside.

Today, we look at a second way to read these verses, where –

The dishes are simply dishes

Let’s look at this in four points. 1. Jesus says, “You clean the outside of the cup and the plate.” They clean the outside of the dishes so that they are meticulously ritually pure.

2. “But inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” The “they” here refers to the plate and the cup. So Jesus is saying that the inside or the contents of the cup and the plate are full of greed and self-indulgence. He’s saying, the Pharisees have more food than they need – they have an excess. And they are keeping it for themselves. Their dishes are full of greed and self-indulgence.

What’s the solution? 3. “First clean the inside of the cup and the plate.” Jesus is saying, do what is right with the contents of the dishes. As opposed to being greedy and self-indulgent and keeping all your food and drink for yourselves, share your food and drink with the needy.

Luke’s version confirms this reading, when it says at this point, “Give for alms those things that are within” – Luke 11:41. That is, give to the needy from what you have inside your cup and plate.

4. “(In order) that the outside also may be clean.” Here we see the completion of Jesus’ turning of the concern from one of ritual purity to one of moral purity. And he is saying that our dishes can be morally unclean or clean. If we keep the excess food and drink that is in our dishes, our dishes are morally impure before God. But if we share from what is in our cup and our plate, this will make the cup and the plate morally clean and acceptable to God. As Luke 11:41 says, “and behold everything is clean for you.”

This leads to a question –

Are your dishes clean and acceptable to God?

We can wash them so that they are sparkling clean, but are they clean before God? It all depends on what you do with them. If you have more than you need in terms of food and are you keeping it for yourself; that is, are you greedy and self-indulgent, or as Jesus says it, our dishes full of greed and self-indulgence, then they are defiled before God. But if we share with the needy, they are truly clean. This is an important question to ask given our context of abundance and prosperity.

Now, Jesus would not just apply this to dishes. He would certainly apply it to all that we can be greedy and self-indulgent about. So we can ask more broadly – Are your possessions clean and acceptable to God? Not just your dishes, but your closets, your house, your garage your storage shed – and whatever else you own.

If we are greedy and self-indulgent with what we own, keeping it all for ourselves, then what we own is impure before God. But if we share, for instance, what is in our closets – our clothes, then these possessions become clean and acceptable to God.

But first –

We need new hearts

And this is where the two readings of this passage come together. For us to share from the inside of our dishes, we must first cleanse our hearts of our greed and self-indulgence, we must cleanse the inside of us. We must repent and let God give us a new heart in this regard, and then we will be willing to joyfully share with others in need.

Once the heart is taken care of, the right outward actions, sharing with the needy will come forth. Then our hearts and our actions will be clean before God. And as we share from what is in our dishes, or whatever we own – they will be clean and acceptable to God. Where is your heart???

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camelAccording to Jesus it is hard for those who have more than they need to receive God’s Kingdom salvation. Indeed, it’s impossible, like trying to get a camel through the eye of a sewing needle (Luke 18:24-25). It’s impossible because what God demands is so hard for us to do. Here is what Jesus and his apostles teach about what God demands.

1. Give up greed

Jesus said, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). Jesus warns us against every kind of greed. Wealth is so dangerous that we should not seek to have it (Mark 4:18-19; I Timothy 6:9). Why is this?

  • First, when we store up earthly treasures we are led to trust in them rather than God (Matthew 6:24).
  • And second, when we store up earthly treasures we are led to enjoy comforts while others suffer (Luke 16:19-31). In other words, seeking wealth leads us to hate God and our neighbor, the opposite of the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:36-40).

Rather than this we are to trust God for our provision (Matthew 6:25-34). We are to be content with what we have (Hebrews 13:5), simply praying for our daily bread (Matthew 6:11). We know that “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

2. Give up all you possess

Jesus said, “none of you can be my disciple who does not give up all his own possessions” (Luke 14:33). Here are some things to note about this command:

  • It applies to all who have possessions.
  • “Give up” can be translated “renounce.”
  • This covers “all” our possessions, not some.
  • This command primarily has a vertical focus. It has to do with our possessions and God.
  • This command is interpreted by Luke in Acts 4:32, “not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own.”

It means that we accept that our possessions are no longer ours. We renounce them. We give them up to God. They are God’s now. Jesus tells us why we must renounce our possessions. “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24).

3. Give to the needy

Jesus said, “sell your possessions and give to the needy” (Luke 12:33). Here are some things to note about this command:

  • It is addressed to all who are not themselves needy. (But sacrificial giving on the part of the needy is highly commended – Luke 21:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8:3).
  • This command has primarily a horizontal focus, giving our resources to the needy.
  • This has to do with our excess possessions, including our accumulated money, not necessarily all our possessions and money. In Luke 12 the context of this command is the farmer’s surplus crop. Jesus is not saying here “become needy” (2 Corinthians 8:13-14).
  • All such giving is to be done voluntarily and freely (2 Corinthians 9:7). Ananias could have kept what he pretended to give (Acts 5:4).
  • Sometimes an initial dispersion of wealth happened at conversion. Zacchaeus gave half of his possessions to the needy (Luke 19:8).
  • This giving is to be continuous, however. As Paul said, “each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn” for the purpose of meeting needs (I Corinthians 16:2). As long as there are needs we are to keep giving what we can.
  • This command is interpreted by Luke in Acts 2:44-45 and 4:34-35. When there was a need in the community of believers, those who had would give to those who had need.
  • The giving can be done one on one, or it can be given to the common fund of the church to be distributed to the needy (Matthew 6:2; Acts 4:35; 6:1-4).

4. Who are the needy?

There are three categories of the needy:

1) Those who are needy because of God – evangelists, missionaries, pastors and those who are persecuted. These have sold all they have (Luke 18:22), or left it behind (Luke 18:28-30), or have given up earning money (Luke 10:7; I Timothy 5:17-18) or have had their possessions taken from them (Hebrews 10:32-34) – all for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

2) Those who are needy among the people of God – the sick, the oppressed, widows, and orphans (James 1:27; Galatians 6:10). If we are not needy, our salvation depends upon giving to these two groups of the needy (Luke 16:19-31; 6:24). For we cannot love God and ignore a needy brother or sister (I John 3:16-17). When we do give, they will welcome us into the Kingdom of God (Luke 16:9).

3) We are also to give to those who are needy among the unbelievers (Luke 10:30-37; Galatians 6:10; Luke 6:33-36).

We are not to give to the idle, those who choose not to work. Rather we are to teach these to work hard, earn their own living and help others in need (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12; I Thessalonians 4:11-12).

5. How much should we give?

There is no set requirement of how much we are to give; no percentage is given. Those who give much, however, like Barnabas, are honored (Acts 4:36-37).

Love for God and our neighbor should control our giving. Those who give out of love are willing to give sacrificially for others in genuine need. They are not concerned about percentages, but helping the needy. Paul said, “each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). But remember this, “the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully (2 Corinthians 9:6). How much treasure do we want in heaven (Luke 12:33)?

6. Caring for family

None of this giving to the needy excludes us from our responsibilities to care for our family. It is evil to neglect this (Mark 7:8-13; I Timothy 5:3-8). Caring for family can involve storing up resources for our parents in old age (Mark 7:9-13), and for our children’s needs (2 Corinthians 12:14). Caring for family, however, should not be used as a pretext for greed so that we can live in indulgence.

7. Sharing all that we possess

Jesus said, “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (Luke 14:13). Whatever is not used to support family needs and to give to the needy is still God’s and must be used for God’s purposes. This means being hospitable and sharing what we own.This means blessing the needy with our resources. Philemon had a room for Paul to stay in when he traveled through his area (Philemon 1:22). Gaius allowed his large home to be the meeting place for the church in Corinth (Romans 16:23).

8. Doing the impossible

What God demands of us is impossible because we are evil. We store up treasures for ourselves because we do not believe that God will take care of us. We store up treasures for ourselves so that we can live in comfort while others suffer; because we think it’s alright if others suffer lack as long as we don’t.

But there is hope for us. Jesus tells us that with God all things are possible (Luke18:27). If we truly desire it, God can change our evil hearts. God can enable us to give up all our possessions and be generous with all that we have.

William S. Higgins – 2003

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