Insiders and Outsiders, in need of Grace {A Devotional on Jesus and the Pharisees in Luke 11}

I wandered into the Church when I was 19, an outsider in every sense and found grace and love and Jesus. I was one of the sinners Jesus welcomed, not at all like the Pharisees He condemned.

But it wasn’t long before I became an insider. And I like being an insider. I like clear lines between who’s in and who’s out, between who’s wrong and who’s right.

Somewhere along the way, I became less like the sinners Jesus welcomed, and more like the Pharisees He rebuked.

I am helping lead a Bible study this Fall for a precious community of women who are studying the table scenes in the book of Luke, looking at the way Jesus treated and interacted with people. I love how this study is allowing us to focus on passages and conversations that don’t always make the Sunday School Top 10. For example: That time a Pharisee invited Jesus to lunch, and He spent the meal rebuking his host and his host’s friends. #awkward

I learned a LOT from my study of the Pharisees, and the drift toward phariseeism in my own life. I think this is the natural drift of humanity, the pull toward being a religious insider. And I want to take this seriously, learn from this passage and respond the Jesus’ rebuke.

What does Jesus rebuke the Pharisees for in this awkward lunch?

Cleaning up the outside while letting the inside grow rot.

Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the platter; but inside of you, you are full of robbery and wickedness. You foolish ones, did not He who made the outside make the inside also? But give that which is within as charity, and then all things are clean for you. (Luke 11:39-41)

This metaphor is such a compelling image. Imagine coming over to my house and admiring my beautiful dishes, shiny and sparkling, and then finding maggoty food inside them.

When I was first making notes on this passage, one of my take aways was “inside > outside”. And if you stick with the metaphor, it is more important for the inside of the cup to be clean. But the point here is that God made the WHOLE CUP! My outward actions AND my inward heart are God’s, and I want to care for both. I need the blood of Christ for BOTH.

The outside is what people see, so the outside is what the world cares about, and it’s easy for the outside (my appearance and actions) to become my focus. But the whole cup is God’s.

My questions for myself, for us in response to this idea of making sure we’re not valuing outsides over insides:

  • On a very basic, surface level: How much time do I spend on my appearance v. my character? How much time do I spend on Jesus-oriented or Christian activities that people see compared to invisible things, caring for my heart, character, soul?
  •  Do I talk ABOUT God more than I talk TO God?
  •  As a parent (UGH.): To what extent am I driven in my parenting by what people think of ME? Do I have success as a Christian parent wrapped up in my children’s behavior?

Jesus also rebukes the Pharisees for


“You love the chief seats in the synagogues and the respectful greetings in the market places…” (Luke 11:43)

 Pride tends to make us into nonlisteners. We can speak, but we cannot hear. We think no one has anything to tell us. If so, we are slipping into a legalistic, prideful mind-set, which is death to genuine spirituality.  (NIVAC)

 This one is the most convicting to me. Pride is such a danger to our souls, particularly in matters of faith and religion.

Pride puts me at the center of the universe. Pride can twist even the most spiritual, holy behavior, and make it about me.

I look like I’m serving others, I’m serving God. But if it’s rooted in pride – in being important, in getting titles or positions, or even just the lovely important feeling of being needed and necessary – then it’s for me, not for you or for God. GROSS. Lord Jesus, save us from the temptation to “preen ourselves in the radiance of public flattery.”

So I ask myself, and I ask you:

  • With every action, choice, habit, especially those others see: Who is this FOR? What is my WHY? And I try to answer honestly…
  • When I’m not thanked or appreciated or noticed, how do I respond? And what does that tell me about my motivations?
  •  My God, whom I love and follow, had no place to lay His head. He was a homeless itinerant. He had no material possessions, and walked the road to the cross, laying down His life. Am I using Him to advance my own fame, my own reputation?


The Pharisees in Luke 11 do not respond well to Jesus’ rebuke. I believe He spoke in love for them, as He speaks in love for me.

Am I humble enough to hear Jesus, even if He’s revealing things I don’t want to see?


Photo in my image by Ehud Neuhaus on Unsplash

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