Matthew 23:23-28 (ESV)

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! 25 “Woe 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. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. 27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Jesus pronounced three more woes upon the scribes and Pharisees. All three times, he denounced them as hypocrites. First, Jesus addressed the issue of tithes, which were paid to the Levites. The Jews were required to pay a tenth of all God had blessed them with. The religious leaders went above and beyond what was normative, tithing from every herb in their gardens. They wanted to make sure they weren’t missing anything. Next, Jesus drew attention to the fact that they were extremely concerned with their appearance before others, like a cup cleaned only on the outside.  And they obeyed every rule to impress others like whitewashed tombs, which were externally beautified for others to see. So why were they hypocrites? What did they do wrong? Jesus didn’t condemn them for trying to give much to God, keeping the outside clean, or living consistently with God’s law. All these things were good. The problem was that they focused on the details, but neglected the important things and failed to deal with their hearts. Jesus said God is more concerned with the “weightier” matters such as fairness, showing others the mercy received from him, and faithfulness. Jesus revealed that the fruit of genuine love for God manifests itself in the way we treat others.

When a person is clean on the inside, it affects the outside too. Because the religious leaders were focused on external righteousness, not caring to make that righteousness an inward reality, they were lawless (v. 28). What about you? Are you more concerned with the way you appear before others than with your inner man? Do you work and strive to impress people by trying to show them you are following every rule, yet live with a heart that lacks love? When we become angry because others think poorly of us but don’t mind when others think poorly of someone else, it reveals that our hearts are out of step with God’s design for humanity. If you are lacking in Christian love, ask God to cleanse you from the inside out. Only Jesus can make your heart right. Pray that he would replace your heart of stone with a heart of flesh. And if he already has, then pray that he would help your inner person to be satisfied in him as you put the needs of others before your own today.