Teaching Human Commands as Truth

Mark 7:1-23 (CSB) “The Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him. They observed that some of his disciples were eating bread with unclean—that is, unwashed—hands. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, keeping the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they have washed. And there are many other customs they have received and keep, like the washing of cups, pitchers, kettles, and dining couches.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders, instead of eating bread with ceremonially unclean hands?” He answered them, “Isaiah prophesied correctly about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. They worship me in vain, teaching as doctrines human commands. Abandoning the command of God, you hold on to human tradition.” He also said to them, “You have a fine way of invalidating God’s command in order to set up your tradition! For Moses said: Honor your father and your mother; and Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must be put to death. But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or mother: Whatever benefit you might have received from me is corban’ ” (that is, an offering devoted to God), “you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. You nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many other similar things.” Summoning the crowd again, he told them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: Nothing that goes into a person from outside can defile him but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” When he went into the house away from the crowd, his disciples asked him about the parable. He said to them, “Are you also as lacking in understanding? Don’t you realize that nothing going into a person from the outside can defile him? For it doesn’t go into his heart but into the stomach and is eliminated” (thus he declared all foods clean). And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of people’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, self-indulgence, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a person.”

Mark 7always gives me pause. This is the Scripture that has prompted me to say about my own generation: “We put Christian t-shirts on our idols.”

Jesus’ audience loved God’s word, but somewhere along the way in their application of Scripture, they began to drift from the word to something completely different. 

In the example Jesus gives, they had taken the command to honor father and mother with one’s resources and somehow twisted it into giving those resources to God through donating them to the temple, and thus found a way to not do what God said to do in honoring their parents. 

I’m not sure how that happened, but it sounds like it’s a good spiritual alternative, maybe? I mean, what I would have used to care for mom and dad, I’ll just donate to God. They are ok. What’s wrong with that?

The easiest and most expedient answer is that it’s just a blatant disregard for what God actually said to do. We could dive into why children are to honor parents and the actual practical steps to honoring them, what happens if parents are doing ok and don’t need our help, blah, blah, blah, but Jesus does not dive into those nuances here. Jesus just calls out his generation’s bypassing of obedience for their version of obedience. 

What is insane is that these cats thought they were doing good. I mean, God was the object of their giving, it seems, not themselves, so how can that be bad?

Not so fast my friend. When one disregards God’s instruction for their version of doing what God said, we then become the object of our actions. We have at that point set ourselves above God, and are beneficiaries of our own agendas either hidden, unawares, or blatantly in the open. 

It’s bad because that is not what God told them to do. 

I think about Saul, Samuel, and the sacrifice. Samuel told Saul to wait. Samuel was late. Saul’s situation was dire. Saul decides to perform the task set aside for Samuel. As he’s doing it, Samuel shows up. Saul loses the kingdom, and it would be many years of hardship, personal internal sickness, and external distress before his disobedience came home to roost on a hill at the hands of the Philistines and his kingdom passed to David. 

I often think that it seemed kind of harsh for God to take the kingdom from Saul for doing what Samuel was supposed to do because Samuel was late. How is that Saul’s fault? 

It’s Saul’s fault because God said for Saul to wait for Samuel through Samuel’s word, God’s prophet. Saul disobeyed God. Therefore, we must believe that obedience to God’s word is more important than my improvisation based on need, cultural climate, or tradition handed down without evaluation. 

No doubt we must be sure we understand God’s word clearly, but when we do understand it, obedience is vital. 

The problem is often we don’t know God’s word, and we assume his word while we receive another’s version of what God says without evaluating whether it is accurate or not. Sometimes we receive into our soul speculative theology produced by “spiritual” people that is simply untrue, and we begin to make life application from a base that is false. 

If I were to get too specific, it would require taking us into that realm to fully unpack that example. Here’s what may be helpful for you:

  1. Read God’s word daily. 
  2. Evaluate base beliefs about God/Man/Church/Culture-Society-City-Nations/Salvation/Christian Life/ and compare conclusions to God’s wor. 
  3. Observe what may be off just a little bit. 
  4. Ask the vital question: “why?”
  5. Write down your best answers. 
  6. Work this out with a trusted friend in the faith you are in covenant church membership with. 
  7. Make any needed corrections. 
  8. Teach someone what you did and how you did it. 
  9. Hear and obey!

As we study God’s word and make application to our lives and our world, we are sure to uncover many such challenges as Jesus did, so when we do, don’t run from them or pretend they are not there. Apply God’s word, work this 9 step process, and move forward on mission with Jesus.

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