24 “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ 25 When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. 26 Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.”
28 He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”
39 Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.
Jesus was talking about spiritual warfare and what goes on in the inner life of an individual. A person may be cleansed of the evil that is inside of them but there is a need to be filled with something! Interestingly the impure spirit looks for rest in "arid" or "waterless" places. Yesterday we were looking for wells -- places in which the Spirit of God flowed. The impure spirit is also looking for water -- for a place to find rest but it finds none in the "waterless" regions and decides to go back to the house it left. The only way that the impure spirit will leave the individual alone is if that person has filled their house with a new Spirit. Unfortunately the person tried on their own power to look respectable on the outside -- while on the inside the house remained empty. Jesus' response was that the person who heard the word and obeyed it would be blessed. Obedience meant to allow the Holy Spirit to enter in and fill every room in the house!
But the Pharisees too were convinced that they could clean things up on the outside and make them look good. They were constantly judging the outside of one another. Jesus called them "foolish people!" Jesus again placed emphasis on the inside of the individual, knowing that it would result in a change of behavior. If they allowed the Holy Spirit to fill them, they would be generous to the poor -- and the result would be complete cleansing.
When Christianity came out of the shadows of persecution during the early fourth century they also came into favor with the government of the Roman Empire. From that early period of acceptance the Church was granted tax-exempt status. Why? Because the Church cared for the poor and the government respected the work of the Church in meeting the needs of society and therefore allowed them to retain their funds so that they could continue this ministry. When the Church was clean and pure, she was generous to the poor.
During the rule of Peter the Great the Patriarch of Russia, Nikon, attempted to wrestle power and political control from the Czar. He wanted an earthly kingdom to rule. As he exerted his authority he was met by disdain from the Czar. Peter restructured the Russian Orthodox Church removing the position of Patriarch. He also made it illegal for the church to engage in charitable work. No longer did the church provide health care or programs for the needy, but instead it became the responsibility of the government. Little by little the church was no longer able to live out her mission in the world and she fell into demise making the Russian Empire ripe for the transformation into an atheistic nation and forced Communism.
If the house is swept clean -- it must be refilled! We cannot simply try to live good lives on our own, without the complete and total infilling of God's Holy Spirit. Without the presence of the Spirit we will be empty shells and Jesus knew this! It was more than just hearing the word of God -- it was absorbing the word of God until it was completely and totally transformational. The result was a person so filled with God's Holy Spirit that they lived daily in radical obedience to him, and somehow radical obedience to him was reflected in being generous to the poor.
The people known as the "holiness" people have been preaching for over 100 years about being "entirely sanctified" and being "cleansed." Unfortunately somewhere along the way the message began to be described as the change in exteriors, such as what we wear, whether we cut our hair, do we wear earrings or make-up, etc. and we became hung up or distracted on the outside. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for the same behavior long ago. They had been hung up on the very same issues -- cleaning the cup on the outside and yet not concerned with what was on the inside. And somehow the complete cleansing resulted in a change from the inside out which became visible in ministry to the poor. Why are governments around the world take up the responsibility of caring for the poor? Could it be because they are filling the void which has been left by too many Christians who have been cleaned on the outside, but have not allowed the Holy Spirit to so fill them that they become generous to the poor? The early "holiness" people firmly believed the connection between holiness and ministry to the poor. Many of them began work among the most needy of society. But what has happened to us today? Have we become too "respectable" to work in those areas?
The call to all of us is to be completely clean -- on the outside and the inside. The only way the inside remains clean is to be completely and totally filled with God's Holy Spirit. This will be visible to the world around us by the way in which we interact with those who have great need. This is what it means to be completely clean!
Lord, please fill me again today to overflowing so that I can touch the needy world with you. Amen.