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God’s Word for You

Luke 11:37-41 inside you are full of greed

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Woes and Warnings
(Matthew 23:13-39)

37 After Jesus finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to have a meal with him. He went in and reclined at the table. 38 When the Pharisee saw that Jesus did not wash first before the meal, he was amazed.

Luke is referring to the Jewish practice of ceremonial washing, not to washing one’s hands before a meal. A ceremonial washing before a meal was a requirement invented by the Pharisees. They taught that this rule was especially binding, to be observed more carefully even than the Commandments of Moses. This is precisely why Jesus could not observe their tradition. If he had, he would have appeared to have agreed that their tradition was superior to the Law of Moses or any other part of the word of God.

It’s for this same reason that many Christians in the world do not immerse when we baptize. One or two denominations insist that immersion is the only acceptable means of applying the water in the sacrament, although those who say this also deny that baptism is a sacrament at all. Since the Bible does not give any binding method of applying the water, Christians are free to apply it as they see fit. We would of course prefer to immerse, especially since Paul pictures baptism as being buried with Christ: “We were buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4; see also Colossians 2:11-12). But since one group insists on making a law out of what should be a freedom, we cannot do what they insist on.

Jesus’ word for “wash” in verse 38 proves this very point. Jesus says ἐβαπτίσθη, the passive of baptize. Commentators who insist that baptize must only and always mean the immersion of the entire body are forced to admit that the context here cannot allow this meaning. Why then would they fail to see that the context of a passage like Acts 16:32-33, with a jailer and his family clearly being baptized within their own home in the middle of the night—probably a mere apartment attached to the jail—would hardly permit a full immersion baptism?

Yet even in this, we must still sometimes be flexible. Two winters ago, a family from another country was in the process of attaining membership in our church. The daughter, who was eleven or twelve, wasn’t baptized yet, and she asked if I would baptize her. But since everyone from their community in their country had been baptized by immersing under water, she asked that she might be immersed, too. She and her family understood our teaching about this, but she wanted to have the same baptism as her mother and brother and cousins. Her head understood, but her heart and her conscience wanted the way of her family, and so I consented. I did so because of her conscience, not because one way or the other is right or wrong.

39 The Lord said to him, “Well now! You Pharisees wash the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You fools! Didn’t the one who made the outside make the inside, too?

Jesus might have made the point that the Almighty God does not need to wash his hands before he eats. But he is not speaking for himself as God. He is speaking on behalf of his people as the LORD (ὁ κύριος), the one who makes promises and keeps them.

“Well now!” is my poor translation of nun (νῦν), “now,” which is usually a reference of time but here is a progression of logic. The tradition of the Pharisees concentrated on the outward appearance, whether of a cup, a dish, or a man. But, Jesus says, your insides are what needs washing! He summarizes the problem with the words “greed and wickedness.” Paul associates these same words with those who have not retained the knowledge of God: “They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed, and depravity” (Romans 1:28-29). Living a godly Christian life is not about an outward appearance but is about holding on to Christ and the cross. Tertullian says: “O sinner, hurry to embrace (the cross) the way a shipwrecked man clutches at the protection of some plank. When you are sunk in the waves of sin this will raise you up and bear you to the harbor of the divine mercy” (De Poenintentia, 4).

If we want to live a life that pleases God, we need to be clean on the inside (in our thoughts) as well as on the outside (in our words and actions). Jude, the Lord’s brother, also condemns the ungodly for sinning in thoughts, words and actions (Jude 8, 16). Solomon warns that our outward sins betray our inward ones: “Do not revile the king even in your thoughts, or curse the rich in your bedroom, because a bird of the air may carry your words, and a bird on the wing may report what you say” (Ecclesiastes 10:20). In each and every case, God has made the whole person, inside and out. Worship him with what’s on the inside as well as what’s on the outside.

41 But give what is inside the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.

One way of showing your faith is in giving your offerings. Some of these naturally go to God through the Church, to support the preaching of the gospel. But some of these also might go to various charities. Jesus told the Pharisees to care more about giving what was in his dish to the poor than cleansing the dish with a ceremonial washing.

Pray and think about the way you thank God for his blessings. How does the shipwrecked man feel about the plank he clings to? This is how we feel about the cross and this guides us toward the way we want to thank our Savior.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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