Have you ever accepted a dinner invitation that you knew would not be pleasant? Jesus did. He politely accepted an invitation to dinner from a Pharisee only to be accused of being unclean because he neglected to wash his hands before dinner (Luke 11:37-38)! Jesus, however, handled this impolite Pharisee quite differently from what we might expect. Instead of taking offense at the Pharisee or politely brushing off the Pharisees remark, Jesus launches full bore into a lesson on true spirituality.
Politeness is a prized virtue of our day. We want people to be polite to us and we teach our children to be polite to others whether they see eye to eye with them or not. I suppose there is something noble about being polite but Jesus often times was not very polite. When this Pharisee took offense at Jesus’ neglect to wash his hands, Jesus’ response was to tell the Pharisee—“inside you are full of greed and wickedness” (Luke 11:39). This is the sort of conversation that would end the dinner party in most American homes!
So was Jesus being a jerk? Didn’t Jesus know that if he wanted to win this Pharisee to the Lord, that he needed to befriend him first and politely eat dinner with him without too much controversy? Didn’t Jesus know that this conversation would go better if he got to know the Pharisee a little before pointing out his sin?
Jesus was no jerk. He just sounds like one because of our own misplaced values. You see Jesus responded to the Pharisee so pointedly because Jesus valued truth over manners. If Jesus sounds like a jerk to us, then perhaps what we value needs to be examined.
The flesh is not our friend. It does not have good intentions for us—sin and the devil have one hope in mind for us—to destroy us and deceive us (John 10:10; Heb. 3:13), to ignore this reality is not polite, to ignore this reality is foolishness. Jesus valued truth over our human understanding of politeness. He could have eaten with this Pharisee in relative peace—they could have talked about the weather, the economy, and their favorite hobbies and never broached any sensitive topics. Jesus, however, loved people too much to merely talk about such safe things. Jesus is interested in the heart. Jesus always talked with people about heart issues, even if it was unpleasant. Why? Because he counted obedience to God more precious than the fleeting pleasures of sin.
This is clear in Jesus’ interaction with this Pharisee in Luke 11 as he says to the Pharisee and his house, “You fools! Did not he who made the outside [of the cup] make the inside also? But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.” Jesus sees the foolishness of overlooking this Pharisee’s sad spiritual estate. Jesus isn’t into the business of keeping up appearances and pretending like things are ok. The Pharisees, however, were skilled at keeping up appearances. That is why Jesus’ words here are so piercing—he is saying you are worried about the outside of the cup but God doesn’t care about the outside. What needs to be changed is not behavior or appearance but the condition of your heart!
Jesus loved people too much to simply overlook their sin. Jesus loved people so much that he spoke frankly and openly about sin. Certainly there is a place for manners in gospel ministry (1 Peter 3:15), but do you love people enough to be honest with them about sin (Heb. 3:12-13)? Certainly we need to be careful and take the log out of our eye, but do you love your brothers and sisters in Christ enough to lovingly help them take the speck out of theirs (Mat. 7:5)? Do you work to keep up appearances or are you longing for spiritual transformation of the heart? One way to test yourself is to honestly answer these questions—do I live so as to please men or to please God? Do I love the truth enough to speak it even when it hurts? Join me in praying that we would be men and women who value truth over appearance.