Galatians 5:22-23 tells us:
We’ve looked at love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness, so this week we’re talking about “goodness.” When we think of goodness, we often think of “right behavior.” But goodness is about both behavior and heart – the outer actions and the inner attitudes. A Greek dictionary defines it as “uprightness of heart and life.”
We’re going to talk about Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees this morning – not because the Pharisees are an example of goodness, but because Jesus lays out the claim that they are precisely the opposite of goodness.
We’ve seen in past lessons that the Pharisees hated Jesus. This passage shows us pretty clearly where some of that animosity comes from; Jesus has some very harsh criticisms that he levels against them, both in Luke 11 and in Matthew 23. Luke 11 will be our primary passage this morning, and we’ll consider Matthew 23 toward the end of the message.
Luke 11:37-44 reads:
There you go: if you wondered before why the Pharisees disliked Jesus, I bet you’re not wondering anymore!
So, Jesus was speaking to a crowd one day and a Pharisee came along and invited him to his house for lunch. Jesus comes, and does not wash up for the meal before it begins. Now, for us, “washing up” has a very specific purpose: it is a matter of protecting ourselves – and others – from the spread of disease. But for the people of Israel, washing was a religious ritual that symbolized being ready to approach God. So, when the Pharisees complained that Jesus hadn’t washed, they weren’t saying, “Hey, your hands are dirty and nasty!” They were saying, “You are slighting God Himself by not properly preparing yourself.”
Jesus’ response shows that He has far bigger concerns than whether someone is ceremonially clean. To understand His answer, imagine that you’ve just had supper, and you’re washing up afterward. All the cups that were used need to be cleaned. You look at the cups, and you think, “Well, the only part of this that anyone sees is the outside, so why should I waste my time washing the inside?” So, you wash the exterior of the cups, dry them, and put them away. The next time you use those cups, they’ll look great on the table, but if anyone knows the truth of how you washed them, will anyone want to use them?
In fact, if I had a choice between someone who washes the outside of the cup but not the inside, or someone who washes the inside, but leaves the outside dirty, even though the second choice would look nastier, that’s the option I’d choose.
Jesus tells the Pharisees that every human being is like a cup. They have an inside and an outside. The inside is our heart attitudes which are hidden from everyone else. The outside is what everyone sees – the actions. And just as it is most important to clean the inside of the cup, it is most important to clean the inside of the person.
Then Jesus says something which – though we haven’t heard it in exactly these words – will sound very familiar to all of us, having gone through a study of the book of Galatians. If your heart is right with God, the law becomes unnecessary. Think of this: if you are perfectly loving toward your neighbor, you will not slander him, murder him, covet his goods, steal from him, or any of the things that the law instructs. Similarly, if you are perfectly loving toward God, you will not speak of Him in vain ways or have other gods and idols before Him.
What happens in our outward lives is a direct consequence of what happens in our inner lives.
Jesus then points out that the Pharisees are good at tithing – giving to God – when it comes to little things. He uses – perhaps as a bit of hyperbole – the example of giving God a tenth of everything in your spice rack. But in the things that really matter – a concern for justice and a love for God, they are sorely lacking.
In the next sentence, Jesus warns them of judgment to come upon them, and what is the reason for this judgment? Because they crave attention and adulation from the people. Isn’t that interesting? It’s not because they do wrong things, but because they have an unhealthy desire in their hearts. So we see clearly that Jesus’ issue here is not with their behavior, but with the condition of their hearts.
And that leads us back to Galatians, and the fruit of the Spirit. When Paul lists “goodness” in his list of fruits of the Spirit, he’s talking about the quality that was lacking in the Pharisees: inner goodness that leads to outer goodness.
If we don’t understand this concept, our danger is that we will see this as, “we must be good” and focus on our external actions (like the Pharisees did) without questioning the inner state of our hearts. Our awareness must be more heightened than that. When our actions are wrong, that must always lead us to ask what is wrong in our hearts. As James 4:1 says:
Every outward deed that is not good points us to an inward attitude that is not good.
But how does the heart change? How does goodness grow within our hearts? Is it something that we do? While we can change our actions, changing what is in our hearts is a much harder proposition. Is it something that God does? And if so, do I not bear any responsibility in that work?
Well, since this is the fruit of the Spirit, that suggests it’s God’s work. This is why, you may have noticed, in these sermons I have on more than one occasion used the word re-form, rather than reform. The word reform implies a deliberate change of outward behavior on our part (like the Pharisees). The word re-form implies that God is making deep-rooted changes, forming us into something new – a new creation.
So this means we bear no responsibility in this process, right? Not so fast! Let me show you, from Scripture, how this process works. We can find it in 2 Corinthians 3:18:
The work we do is in beholding the glory of the Lord. The work God does – in the midst of our beholding – is to re-form (transform) us to be like Him. This is why, when I’m preaching – no matter where I am in the Bible, I make it my goal to bring us back to something Jesus said or did in the gospels. It forces us to behold His glory once again and invite the work of the Spirit in our hearts, re-forming us into His goodness.
When we read and hear the words and deeds of Christ, the glory and the beauty of His character of goodness create a longing within us -- a humble longing to be like that. Not “I wish I could do the things Jesus did,” but “I wish I were more like Him.”
I believe that humble longing is the entry point for the Spirit to begin re-forming our hearts. It’s not much – it’s just a seed – but that seed is all God needs to begin a transformational work.
When we studied Jesus feeding the five thousand, for example, my goal in teaching was not just to get you to see Jesus as the Bread of Life, but also to help you see the deep goodness of the Savior who – tired and hungry himself from ministry – had compassion on the crowd and took care of them. That compassion calls out to us, and we long for it, and God uses that humble longing to build the same compassion in our hearts. And, as Jesus explained to the Pharisees, once it takes root in our hearts, it pours out into our actions.
So, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. It is only by doing so that God begins to re-form us into the image of His perfect goodness.
The last thing Jesus says to the Pharisees is that they are like unmarked graves that people walk over without knowing. That seems very strange, until you remember that under the Old Testament law, corpses were unclean, and touching a grave made you ceremonially unclean for a week. Suddenly this makes sense as a horrible indictment of the Pharisees. In essence, Jesus says, “You are so unclean that everyone who comes into the circle of your influence becomes unclean without even realizing it.”
What makes it worse is that, since their uncleanness is under the surface, no one knows it’s there, and so they become contaminated without realizing it.
Look at it this way: if someone is physically violent and abusive, we know immediately what sort of person they are, and we exhibit caution around them. But someone who is prideful, greedy, or has a heart filled with bitterness, we might not ever realize the ugliness in their hearts, because it’s not on the surface. Nevertheless, Jesus says, that ugliness can contaminate all of us.
In a way, these inner sins are the most dangerous, because they contaminate everyone without warning. Another way of saying this: if you had a bushel basket of apples, and one of them was rotten, would you want that rot to be visible? Or invisible? At least if it were visible, you could deal with it. But if it’s invisible, it will infect all the other apples before you even know what’s happening.
And make no mistake, if there is rot in your heart, it will infect others, even if no one sees it.
Jesus’ statement that the Pharisees are like unmarked graves that people walk on unaware, reminds me of something else that he said in Matthew 23. These may very well be the harshest words Jesus ever spoke to the Pharisees. In verse 15 he says:
What a horrifying idea. You decide that you want to convert people to your faith, and so you go on a long and dangerous journey to faraway lands, and once you’ve finally made a convert, you contaminate that convert and he ends up being even worse than you are!
For this reason, I sometimes fear for our churches. Our lives are to be centered around Christ and His goodness, and the impact that goodness has on our lives. But what happens if that is not where our hearts are centered? We give in to our own desire for attention and adulation. We are driven by anger, rage and bitterness, either over our own circumstances or the circumstances of the world. Our own rights and desires matter more to us than the needs of others. We more eagerly desire to be seen as right, than to spend time earnestly seeking truth (and in many cases, we have redefined “truth” to mean “any story that fits with my view of the world”). We stop seeking to understand other people, and put words into their mouths in order to excuse our low view of them. We are indifferent to justice and mercy and the plight of those less fortunate than ourselves. We are willing to sacrifice integrity on the altars of power and prestige.
If these things are true of us, this is also true: our inner heart attitudes will infect others, even if we – and they – are unaware of it. Those we bring into our churches will be infected by the very worst of what we have to offer. The future of our churches depends on the hearts of God’s people NOW.
So, who are you? And don’t answer that based on your outward actions; answer it based on what is in your heart. Even long before Christ said any of these words, King David understood that the worst wickedness was in the heart:
Let us not be like the unmarked graves that people are contaminated by simply by drawing close to us. Let us not be like the Pharisaical missionaries who made converts only to turn them into sons and daughters of hell. Let us pray with David, “Search my heart and show me my wicked ways.” Let us gaze upon the Savior and behold, with humble longing, His glory. Let us pray for His goodness to transform us into His image, so we can be ambassadors of Christ rather than ambassadors of uncleanness!
Search our hearts, Lord, and pour out the light of your truth and goodness on us. Help us to hear, at all times, the voice of our Savior in all His goodness, help us to see, at all times, the goodness of His deeds. As we gaze upon His perfect glory, use the humble longings of our broken hearts to re-form us in His image, we pray. Amen