By Pastor Steve Kelly / Books /
(Adapted from the Accent of Leadership)
Imagine it is early morning, and you are eager to begin a new day. Rubbing the sleep from your eyes, you wander into the kitchen and prepare a pot of coffee to brew. As the sun’s warm rays poke through the morning mist, your body is ready for that morning jolt of caffeine. As you reach into your cupboard for a mug to pour your hot beverage in, you are drawn to your favorite one. This glossy ceramic piece with the logo of your favorite team is your frequent choice in the morning. However, as you begin to pour the hot black liquid into your mug, your bleary eyes widen in dismay – the inside of the mug is filthy! Unfortunately it is too late, and the coffee you just poured is now ruined.
In this scenario, the cleanliness of the inside of this mug was of utmost importance to your morning coffee experience. While the outside of the mug was sparkling and clean, the inside had bits of dried-on oatmeal or residue from soup that you’d eaten a few days earlier. Whichever, regardless of the exterior of the mug, the state of the inside matters. The same is true of our souls and our bodies. As much as we take the time to shower and use deodorant, we need to be much more adamant about the conditions of our hearts.
Throughout the Gospels, we read accounts of Jesus interacting with the Pharisees, who were the Jewish religious leaders of that day. In the book of Matthew Jesus says to them, “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 the bones of the dead 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” (Matthew 23:27).
The Pharisees prided themselves in their ability to uphold the law and present the image of a morally righteous life. However, Jesus’ emphasis was that God was more concerned with the condition of the heart than He was with outward works. This caused conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees on many occasions. The Pharisees were meticulous about maintaining their public reputation, and neglected the condition of their heart, which was only seen by God.
Earlier in this same passage, Jesus compares this lifestyle to a cup that is only clean on the outside. If you clean only the outside of a mug, it is rendered useless, as the inside remains unable to hold anything of worth without tainting or defiling it. This is the same in our lives; if you do not place priority in maintaining a clean heart condition, you will not be able to possess anything righteous within.
As a Christian, this example serves as a condition to developing a spirit of excellence. It is easy to go through the motions of living a righteous and excellent life, but how is your heart? If you are simply doing tasks because they are required of you, or to meet a certain standard, you are missing the point. Excellence flows from a clean heart that is purposed to glorify God, and there is a distinction between accomplishing actions of excellence and carrying a spirit of excellence in your life. Acts of excellence simply focus on the exterior, like the Pharisees, while carrying excellence is ensuring that the inside of the cup, your heart, is clean first. When you direct your focus to the condition of your heart, the cleanliness of the outside will follow. Be encouraged to do things well and to the best of your ability because your heart is set on the things of God and in pursuit of His glory.