Empty Bottles

by The Mad Preacher, Rod Davis

Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23 NIV)

“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.” — Jesus (Matthew 23:27-28 NIV)

 “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” — Common English IdiomEmpty_Wine_bottle_edited

I think it was Jamie Buckingham who said, “It doesn’t do any good to put a label on an empty bottle.” Jesus said, “…out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.”[1] In other words, a person is measured by the contents and not by the container. Ministerial credentials or seminary degrees are of no value if the one holding them has nothing to spiritually worthwhile to give to others.

In my academic and ministerial experience I have come across several people with fancy religious labels. They had diplomas from well-known graduate schools and seminaries and had a bunch of letters after their name like B.A., M.A., M. Div., D. Min., Th. D. and Ph. D. after their name. There’s nothing wrong with that. I have a few of letters myself. Much like the chief priests, the Pharisees and the Scribes of Jesus’ day, they have loads of head knowledge and lofty titles. Indeed, they were bottles with fancy labels but they were empty bottles. They possessed no real answers and, therefore, offered none. In fact, these empty vessels needed to be filled themselves.

Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools. (Romans 1:22 NIV)

                    … having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. (2Timothy 3:5 NIV)

I remember one such man who was my advisor and the head of the religion department where I studied for my pre-seminary degree. Dr. Chris was well educated and was fluent in ancient Greek and Hebrew. However, he possessed some very twisted and damaging views about The Bible. The basis of his warped thinking was this; he didn’t believe that the Bible was the inspired infallible Word of God. Because of his foolhardiness, many young, impressionable students had their faith shipwrecked by his foolish blabbering.

 … always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth. (2Timothy 3:7 NIV)

He and I often butted heads in class. I would openly, but respectfully, call his outrageous claims into question. Unlike the others in my class I was a more seasoned Christian and was not as easily deceived.

 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 13:52 NIV)

On the other hand I have known many great men and women of God much like those described in this passage. They had the same type of formal education and had all the credentials. Yet, these powerful men and women of God were overflowing with something that empty bottles, like Dr. Chris, were woefully short of—joy, the fullness of the Holy Spirit and faith. They were also full of God, his Word and his passion for people. Plus they possessed something else that these others did not—authority. They were able to pour themselves into the lives of others because these bottles were not empty. Like King David of old they could say, “You anoint my head with oil; my cup [or my bottle] overflows.[2]

 [Jesus] said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it. (Mark 16:15-20 NIV)

 “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely.” — Jesus                      (Luke 20:46-47 NIV

Jesus warned us to beware of empty bottles. A whitewashed tomb is what he called them. They have nothing to offer but words of death. Don’t be fooled by their fancy labels. What are the contents of their hearts?

 “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance [the label], but the LORD looks at the heart [the contents].”             (1Samual 16:7 NIV)

What are the contents of your heart? Maybe you’re someone who has a fancy label and little more.  Maybe you have no label at all, but you’re still an empty bottle that desperately needs to be filled. Jesus is standing by waiting for you to allow him to fill you to overflow with his presence, his peace, his forgiveness, his joy, his love and a life with a purpose.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:3 NIV)

This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:23-24 NIV)

See a video version of this message at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCia0tyH1QBhvNUSz3OsaJQg

[1] Matthew 12:34

[2] Psalms 23:5

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