Lord, help me to keep my eyes on Your rules only.
Read MATTHEW 15:1–20
That Which Defiles
15 Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
3 Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ 5 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ 6 they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
8 “‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
9 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’”
10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”
12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”
13 He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”
15 Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”
16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. 17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Focus your thoughts, with John, on the risen and exalted Jesus, “the First and the Last… the Living One… alive for ever and ever” (Rev. 1:17,18).
What does being godly really mean? Clearly, we can get it quite wrong, even if we start with the right desire. The Pharisees and teachers of the law ended up coming under the condemnation of Isaiah, replacing God’s commands with “human rules” (9). These people have nullified the word of God (6) for the sake of tradition. They have become externally oriented in their relationship with God. Caught up in how people perform their religion, they have crafted human rules to keep themselves on track and then have become critical of those who refuse to follow their rules.
Godliness, Jesus is telling us, is not essentially about how we conduct rites, maintain traditions or keep rules. That routine leaves us with rules to follow but with no understanding of why. It is not about the form of worship—what we sing, how we dress, where or when we meet, using certain formulae, expecting degrees of sobriety or levels of ecstasy. It is not about people conforming to our structures or our theological statements. These can be tainted by legalism and harshness towards others. When they hinder us from loving our neighbor as we love ourselves, they become counter-productive.
True godliness is internal. It is about the heart, the true person as he really is, not just as he appears outwardly. That’s why Jesus de-emphasizes the external (what you eat) and prioritizes the internal (16–20). Care must be taken to nurture our inner life, keeping hypocrisy and self-satisfaction in check.
What is God looking for from you? Do you follow man-made rules that make you feel superior? Or guilty? Face them and ask God for a clean heart.
Lord, help us to see things as You see them; help us to emphasize the internals and de-emphasize all the externals.