June 16, 2008
“Then Paul said to him, ‘God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck.”
Acts 23:3 (NIV)
Have you ever painted over a dirty wall, only to have more handprints and marks appear just days later? I noticed this recently after we had some interior painting done in our home. The painters had painted the wall that leads down our stairs—the same wall that our kids drag their hands across as they race up and down the stairs. This wall had grown dingy gray from years of dirty hands, stray pencil marks, and the occasional crayon scribble. After the wall was painted, I admired how clean and pristine it looked. Ahhh, I thought, at last.
About a week later, I discovered marks on my beautiful wall. While the wall had been painted over, the habits had not changed. The children were still racing up and down the stairs, dragging their dirty hands behind them. Making what was once white and clean, gray and dirty all over again. As I looked at that wall, the Lord showed me that I am like that wall if I am not careful. I can cover what’s there—wear the cool Christian tee shirt, carry my Bible, smile like everything’s great and talk a good game about my walk with the Lord, but deep inside the ugly old habits are still there, waiting to be revealed the moment life gets messy. If I am not careful, I can become a modern-day Pharisee who focuses on the whitewash covering and ignores the dirty stuff underneath.
In Matthew 23:27, Jesus called the Pharisees whitewashed tombs because they appeared perfect on the outside, but inside were full of deceit, lies and hypocrisy. In Biblical times, tombs were whitewashed to make them attractive and visible, but that didn’t change the death and decay they held inside. Jesus compared the religious Pharisees to these tombs. He knew the danger that lurked inside an overly religious person who spends more time perfecting how they appear than working on the condition of their hearts.
For those of us who are in the church and living committed Christian lives, I think it is easy to slip into the mindset of the Pharisees. The more comfortable we get in our Christianity, the more tempting it is to think certain ways and allow that thinking to supersede grace, mercy and compassion. So, how can we stop that from happening? We can stay in the Word, concentrating on what Jesus taught as He walked on this earth and connecting with who He ministered to—the broken, the less-thans, the lost and lonely. We can focus on being thankful and rejoicing in Him. We can pray often, asking God to reveal any patterns of behavior that are more surface-oriented than heart-oriented. We can surround ourselves with friends who are real and transparent and allow us to be as well.
Most of all, we can admit that, while we are saved, we are still sinners who struggle with bad habits and bad decisions just like everybody else. In a world that is mostly based on appearances, it is easy to become concerned with how we appear to others. We have to daily depend on Jesus to bring us freedom from striving and peel the whitewash away.
Dear Lord, Help me to remember that it’s not the outside You care about, but the inside. Help me to be more concerned with what You think of me than what others think of me. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
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Write down anything God brings to mind that you do that is more surface-oriented than heart-oriented. Work on these issues in the coming days, making this a matter of prayer.
Am I more concerned with how I look to others than how I look to Jesus?
Do I tend to gloss over my bad habits or sins?
Matthew 23:27-28, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (NIV)
Luke 11:40, “You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also?” (NIV)
Psalm 51:7, “Cleanse me with hyssop and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” (NIV)
© 2008 by Marybeth Whalen. All rights reserved.
Proverbs 31 Ministries
Matthews, NC 28105
Originally published Monday, 16 June 2008.