Inside and Outside

Posted on April 30, 2014 by Jeff

I’m trying to focus on my inner life more than my outer life.

In our social media world, we have become programmed to focus on outer life – affirmation, recognition, outer signs of success and maturity. We clamor for approval. Life events get reduced down to status updates. Much like a tree falling in a forest when no one is around, If any life experience isn’t posted immediately to Instagram, did it happen? Did it have meaning? What’s the point of experiencing something if you can’t get public affirmation for experiencing it?

Indeed, one of the biggest hindrances to me developing a strong inner life is my desire for outer recognition. The more I strive for the appearance of strength, the weaker I feel. The more I clamor for public affirmation, the less content I am. The more I focus on putting good stuff on the outside for people to notice, the more miserable I am. Straight up, miserable. I become discontent, insecure in my relationships and easily swayed by opinions of others.

So, I’m trying to focus more on the ‘inner’ and less on the ‘outer’.

Side note: We have a middle school boy in our house. He tends to wear the same clothes everyday and not shower. If left unattended, he will quickly start to smell like damp foot. We are trying to get him to focus somewhat on the outer life. This is fine. Middle school boys should pay attention somewhat to the outer life. Hygiene is not what I’m talking about today.

In Mark 11, right after Jesus triumphantly enters Jerusalem, a few days before his crucifixion, He and his disciples come across a fig tree.

The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When He reached it, He found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then He said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” (Mark11:12-14)

Later, the disciples noticed this fig tree had completely withered and died.

When you first read this you think Jesus is using this tree to make the point that if your life doesn’t bear any fruit, He has no use for you. But also says ‘because it was not the season for figs.’ So what’s Jesus’ deal? It wasn’t fig season. The tree wasn’t supposed to have fruit. That’s like getting mad at an apple tree right now (late April) in Minnesota for having no apples -right after our apocalyptic, never ending, depression-inducing, social media whine-fest, hell froze over, wish for global warming, dark, bitter, eternally bleak winter! It’s not the season for apples! Apple season is the fall – when apple orchards lure you into their grasp promising a wonderful day of apple picking complete with kids frolicking, hand holding and family memories being made while you gleefully pick the perfect apple from the tree – only to hit you with the bill. Those 8 apples you picked will cost you $45.00 to take home.

Anyway, why is Jesus mad at a fig tree for not having figs when it’s not even fig season?

Jesus wasn’t mad simply at a lack of fruit – he was ticked at the presence of the leaves without fruit. Leaves on a fig tree grow at the same time the fruit does. You wouldn’t see a leafy fig tree with no fruit. Leaves meant fruit. Except in this case. This tree had produced the outward signs of life – but with nothing going on under the surface.

Jesus is making a statement here regarding people who focus strictly on ‘outer appearances’ of fruit without developing fruit on the inside.

It’s no coincidence that the fig tree incident happened immediately before Jesus entered the temple and cleared out all the hypocrites who had the outer appearance of religious fervor but were only focused on personal gain. They had the outer leaves of right living. But it was all about the outer life, with nothing going on under the surface.

So when I read this, I realize I should spend more time on developing a strong inner life.

The book of Colossians is a letter written by the Apostle Paul to a group of Christ followers in Colosse. He is writing to refute false teaching that is being preached in their midst. The language Paul uses reveals that he’s fighting against similar ‘fig tree’ fruitless “all about the surface” faith:

Just as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him, rooted and built up in him. Strengthened in the faith as you were taught (2:6-7)

See to it that on one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of the world. (2:8)

These (human traditions) are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. (2:22-23)

Paul’s message is clear. Don’t associate with this false teaching – it’s about outward appearance of maturity but completely lacking when it comes to heart change – It’s all outer, surfacey, leafy garbage and there’s no real fruit to it. Stay away from it.

Even his use of the word ‘rooted’ in verse 7 suggests the importance of inner strength. Nobody sees the roots of a tree. The roots are hidden. The roots are the foundation. The hidden roots are central to a healthy tree.

Paul is teaching these new believers that the inner life is the key. What’s happening on the inside is what’s most important. Make sure that part is strong.

Then, in verse 12 of Colossians 3, Paul says, “Therefore, as God’s people, clothe yourself….”

Paul now uses the word “clothe.” Clothes go on the outside. Paul switches from talking about the inner life to the outer life. He’s about to tell his readers what ‘outer stuff’ we should be noticed for. What are we to clothe ourselves with? What should we put on the outside? What should we make sure other people notice about us??

Here’s what should be on the outside:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (3:12)

Paul is blasting the false teachers for being all about external recognition – they are all about showing off leaves. He tells the believers rather, to be concerned with transformation on the inside to have their lives rooted in Christ. He tells them if there’s every anything on the surface to get noticed for, it should be how well you’re treating others.

Maturity, strength, heart change is stuff that happens on the inside. Our outer clothes should be humility, kindness and patience.

How’s your inner life? What are your roots like?

How’s your outer life? What “clothes” are you wearing?