Clean Hands (Matthew 15:17-20)

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Having given clear teaching on the nature of what makes a person ‘unclean’,
Photo by Fran Jacquier on Unsplash Jesus was asked to explain His parable. It is an uninformed question, because what Jesus said was not hard to understand. But a question is a starting point, and every teacher knows that you have to start where people are at, not where we wish they would be. So Jesus graciously answers it all the same, “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’ ”

The religious leadership of the day had accused Him of not following tradition by insisting that His followers wash their hands before they eat. In response, Jesus taught that uncleanness is not caused by what goes into someone’s mouth, but what comes out of it. It was not a difficult concept. The leadership was focused on the physical. To them, hand washing was important at least partially because others could see that you were ‘staying clean’. Jesus was trying to lift their eyes off the material plain to the spiritual. The far more important matter was not that their hands were washed (human tradition having to do with physical bodies), but that they were spiritually clean in God’s sight. For God’s gaze looks past what we look like on the outside and how we act for the benefit of others. He is looking at who we really are on the inside and how we act for His glory. As the Lord had said to the prophet Samuel, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Jesus knew that. The Word recorded how David had prayed even though all Israel thought very highly of him, “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. […] Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” David knew that while his body was clean and public perception of him was clean, his heart was desperately wicked. He needed to be clean in God’s eyes. The Pharisees should’ve known that. Especially because there was also Scriptural precedent for this exact issue. When King Hezekiah had called all Israel to celebrate the Passover there were many who were ‘unclean’ on the outside but yet forgiven by the Lord; “Although most of the many people who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God—the Lord, the God of his fathers—even if he is not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.” And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.”

The disciple of God Most High must know this; being ‘clean’ is much more a matter of the heart than a matter of the hands!

He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation.

King David (from Ps 24:4-5)

APPLICATION: Intentionality

We all know to regularly wash our hands. How often do we regularly wash our hearts?

Take Notes If Necessary (Matthew 15:14-16)

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Although Peter would eventually become the leader of the early church, in his younger   days he was a bit of a hothead. What follows Jesus’ teaching about uncleanness is a textbook example of Peter’s “engage-mouth-then-think” personality, “Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.””  Jesus’ response captures His reaction perfectly,  “Are you still so dull?”  

To the reader who picks up at that point, Christ’s reaction is a bit unnerving; He accuses His disciples of being ‘dull’. The Greek word He uses denotes the lacking of ability to understand meaning or importance. Effectively, Jesus is calling Peter immature (at best) or mentally challenged (at worst). It is a very unflattering comment. But Jesus’ frustration is understandable. His disciples – the few that have made it their mission in life to be Christ-followers – have not thought through the teaching He just did. One might not have such a high expectation of the crowd or the curious, but one does rightly have this expectation of the disciple. This isn’t just an option for them. It is their responsibility. They know that and Jesus knows that. Jesus is just letting it be known that He takes a pretty dim view of having to spoon-feed His disciples. 

It is the responsibility of the spiritual leader to teach truth. They are accountable to the Lord to do so. As Jesus has just made clear (“Leave them; they are blind guides.”), spiritual leadership will be judged for both what they do (the quality of their leading) and/or do not do (the fulfillment or abdication of duty). This is the leader’s lot. It is a place of high privilege, and with it, high responsibility. To that point James said, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” Jesus knew that the Pharisees who criticized Him knew that, because the scroll of Ezekiel made it clear: those who hear from God cannot avoid their calling or the responsibility that comes with it. They would’ve read it many times over the decades. 

But the disciple also has a responsibility. It is the responsibility to apply the truth they are taught to their lives. A disciple cannot legitimately be called a disciple and sit though the teaching they are given and ignore it. To do that is to consciously and deliberately choose to set the calling to discipleship aside and become a mere bystander. It is to no longer walk in truth. If the teacher is judged for abdication of duty, then the disciple is too. 

The best way to fulfill our responsibility as disciples is to think through what was taught (that is, to verify that that what was said is God’s truth), and then to think through the personal application. Obviously, that is best done while the thought is still fresh in one’s mind – immediately upon hearing the preacher/teacher, as the Bereans did in Paul’s day. We are wise to follow their example; “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

APPLICATION: Intentionality

To apply wisdom gained takes not only determination, but a good deal of spiritual and mental/emotional strength. Without margin in your life to gain such strength, you will not be able to apply what you learn. Therefore the first step in any concrete action plan to better yourself is to ensure you have the margin to follow through. 

Dare To Follow (Matthew 15:14)

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This is the truth: When we follow someone, we wind up in the same place  they do. If a  CEO leads their company down the wrong path, all the shareholders find themselves impoverished. If a religious leader goes astray and gets shipwrecked, those who follow also find themselves shipwrecked. The only way to avoid such disaster is not to follow those who are in error, and the best way to do that is to avoid those who do not hold to God’s truth.  

Jesus has taught the crowds the truth of God’s Word and the truth of His Kingdom. Some among the crowds believed Him, and some did not. The religious leadership of the day – the Pharisees and teachers of the law – championed the cause of those who did not believe. As the religious leadership of the day and lifelong students of the Scripture, they believed they were right and this upstart rabbi called Jesus was wrong. 

Jesus has some sound advice for those who might be reluctant to leave such error, “Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”

Jesus is not saying that religious leadership does not deserve to hear the Good News of the kingdom of God. He knows they have heard it – they even heard it straight from His own lips. But in rejecting the truth, they forfeit the privilege of leading those who do hear it. Jesus is making it very clear – a Christ-follower should not follow those who deny the truth of God. Such people will only lead others to disaster. 

In our day we constantly hear of ‘Christian’ leaders who are in disagreement with the revealed truth of the Bible. Some believe they have an enlightened approach. They call themselves ‘progressive Christians’ who no longer believe that the Biblical teaching on sexual purity is applicable in modern times. Some constantly preach that God’s favor is demonstrated by wealth. They teach that the Gospel is meant to enrich us with financial resources and that God’s favor is demonstrated by financial ‘success’. And, as in Christ’s day, some exalt human tradition to be equal with Scripture. Their theology and philosophy of ministry include extra-Biblical mandates based on tradition such as purgatory, praying to non-divinity and salvation by works. But none of that is truth, because none of that is revealed in God’s Word. Christ would have us know that such people are blind to the truth. They may not be physically blind, but they have chosen to be spiritually blind by the deliberate overlooking of God’s revealed truth. 

We must leave such people to themselves. They are headed to shipwreck, and they will destroy the fruitfulness of all who follow them. 

Spiritual sight is actually fairly easy to gain and keep. Read the Scripture, study the Scripture and apply the Scripture. If you read it you will be immune to those who preach what it does not say. If you study it you will be immune to those who take it out of context. If you apply it, you will know and be able to follow God’s leading in every matter of life. In this way you can keep your life free from spiritual error. 

It is only because he became like us that we can become like him.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer


To follow God, we must set our eyes and hearts on Him. To do so is to worship Him.

Management (Matthew 15:13)

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Too many people have found total devastation in making an unwise  financial investment.  One day you are comfortable and well off. The next, you are bankrupt and bereft. It is a deeply unsettlingly experience that has long-term implications. It is something we all seek to avoid, but to avoid it we must monitor our situation and make wise and careful choices. If we realize our investments are headed in the wrong direction, we must do all we can to exit them before they are completely worthless. This is common sense. 

It therefore ought also to be common sense that if we hold to an idea, doctrine or teaching that we later realize is not godly, that we abandon it too. All the more so, because ideas and doctrines and teachings are what we build our lives on. They have a far greater impact than money. A fortune can be regained. The years of your life cannot. 

When He was told the Pharisees were offended by His words, Jesus said, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots.” That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, until you consider that He earlier told the parable of the weeds. Jesus is making it clear that He considered the Pharisees and what they taught to be ‘weeds’ in His Kingdom. 

As Leon Morris puts it, “He [Jesus] proceeds to a horticultural metaphor to bring out his total rejection of their position, and speaks of the fate of plants that the heavenly Father did not plant. Whether the plant refers to the teacher or the teaching, Jesus is saying that the heavenly Father […] has revealed truths; his word may denote the truths themselves or the people to whom the truths have been revealed. Either way the point is that what God has made known is the significant thing. What God has not made known and what people like the Pharisees teach so confidently and authoritatively has no future. Because it is not divine truth it will not last. In due course it will be rooted up, another horticultural metaphor, this one speaking of plants torn up by the roots. This signifies final and complete destruction. In this way Jesus makes clear his contempt for the teachers who so confidently claimed to know the ways of God, but who had not been “planted” by the God to whom they so brazenly appealed. So far from being reliable expositors of the kingdom of God, the Pharisees were not even in the kingdom.

That which is not of God does not survive to His everlasting Kingdom. We see that all around us. Almost everything we set our eyes to is temporary – it all dies, falls and rots away. But that which is of God – the things He created – live on as the earth and sky persist- perpetually made new by the seasons, cycles and storms of life. 

As God’s Word persists, God’s truth also persists. A life that eternally matters must produce fruit that lasts, and fruit that lasts cannot be based on temporary ideas or false foundations. This is true wealth; That we build our lives on God’s truth, not human teaching or false doctrine.

Those who invest in God’s righteousness, invest in eternity. What wonderful encouragement for those of us who live surrounded by corruption!

Tokunboh Adeyemo

APPLICATION: Intentionality

How are you managing that which belongs to God? 

Offence (Matthew 15:12)

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Jesus has made another statement that clearly reveals the Pharisees as having   misinterpreted God’s Word. “Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” 

How could the Pharisees not be offended? They had studied God’s Word as their career. They had dedicated their whole lives to a cause they deeply believed in – that God’s ancient Word was better understood through the established tradition of hundreds of years of Jewish religious leadership. Then, along comes this upstart Rabbi, who is telling them to their faces that they have it wrong. In doing so, he is not just insulting them, but all those upon whom their careers stood. Jesus is effectively saying that Jewish leadership has been wrong for generations. As one commentator put it, “…what was so intolerable to these self-appointed leaders of the people was the fact that Jesus took this leadership from them and here taught the people the direct opposite of what they had taught.” 

Would we not similarly be offended? If a visiting minister were to come to our church and teach the congregation the exact opposite point to the last sermon series, it would be profoundly embarrassing for church leadership. More than embarrassing, it would be profoundly offensive. 

Ironically, the disciples are likely offending Jesus even in making that observation. Of course He is aware. Jesus is God the Son – He was not unaware of what He was doing. He deliberately said what He said, where He said it and purposefully said it to whom He knew was listening. 

Recall that the Pharisees in question were the ‘big guns’ from Jerusalem who had been called in by the locals to help deal with this young upstart, who seemed to have a solid rebuttal for every argument leadership brought to him. Knowing they think they are wise in their own eyes, Jesus has deliberately punched a huge hole in their worldview. Confronted by them about the importance of washing one’s hands prior to eating, Jesus deliberately uses the fifth commandment to demonstrate their hypocrisy. Then He brings to them a charge made by Isaiah – someone they no doubt studied at great length but never applied what he wrote to themselves. To top it off, in a single sentence He does the very thing the Pharisees prided themselves on being able to do, but were not doing at all; He teaches the crowd the profound truth of the spiritual nature of Mosaic law. 

Our sense of offence is a lot like our sense of pain. It is there to alert us to something that – should we not take immediate corrective action – will truly hurt us. Except where our sense of pain alerts us to outside threats, a sense of offence alerts us to an internal threat. Offence is a call to examine why we feel offended. 

As every painful impulse, it is a call to move from our present position. As every emotional impulse, it is a call to prayer. How much more then, when it is the Lord’s own Word that offends us? 

Be offended with God, and you will be offended with everyone who crosses your path.

Elizabeth Elliot

APPLICATION: Thankfulness

Someone once said that if God never does anything that upsets, frustrates and confuses you, then you are not looking at Him – you are looking at a mirror. 

Unclean (Matthew 15:10-11)

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Fifteen hundred years before Jesus, the Lord had said to Aaron, “You must  distinguish  between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, and you must teach the Israelites all the decrees the Lord has given them through Moses.” Then, after giving Moses a lengthy list of instructions on what was clean to eat and touch and what was not, the Lord said through Moses, “You must distinguish between the unclean and the clean, between living creatures that may be eaten and those that may not be eaten.”  In fact, Leviticus 10 and 11 (where the above quotes are found) use the Hebrew word for “unclean” almost three dozen times. Clearly, understanding what was ‘clean’ and what was ‘unclean’ is an important aspect of following God Most High.

It also sounds a lot like legalism, which Jesus denounces in His argument with the religious leadership. Helpfully however, Jesus tells the crowd how to rightly understand God’s original instructions to Moses: “Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’ ”” 

As He had done before with various aspects of the Jewish Law, Jesus takes what was formerly thought to be a strictly physical commandment and interprets it as a moral and spiritual commandment as well. Jesus is not saying that Moses was wrong, or that God was changing His mind as to what was physically fit for consumption and touch and what was not. Rather, Jesus is applying the terms ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ to the whole person – including mind and soul – and not just their physical body.  

As an ancient physical commandment given to a people who did not have refrigeration or a modern understanding of how disease and illness propagate, the commands to avoid ‘unclean’ aquatic and land creatures are helpful. Anyone who has suffered food poisoning knows that unclean meat has a high probability of making you sick. Very sick. Knowing how to avoid that is helpful. But the spiritual ideal of knowing the difference between holy and unholy is far more helpful. 

This is what the Father had said to Moses, “You must distinguish between the unclean and the clean.” Jesus knows that what the unclean meat does to you physically is but a shadow of what being unclean spiritually does to your mind and soul. It is one thing to be violently ill for a few days. If you are healthy, you can recover. It is quite another to be spiritually or mentally blinded, oppressed in spirit or in spiritual shackles on account of unclean thoughts, words and actions. No matter how physically well you otherwise are, you cannot recover from that until you are released and/or healed, and you cannot do that by yourself. Humankind has no remedy for sin-caused soul-sickness. Nothing we can do and no amount of time we can wait can wash that sin away from us. 

Only the blood of Jesus does that.

The man who thinks he can know the Word of God by mere intellectual study is greatly deceived. Spiritual truth is spiritually discerned.

Samuel Chadwick

APPLICATION: Intentionality

Is there anything ‘unclean’ in your life?

Legalism (Matthew 15:8-9)

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Jesus has charged the religious leadership with the spiritual crimes of  hypocrisy and  heartless worship. But there is one more charge He quotes from Isaiah 29:13, “Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.” This is the most devastating of indictments. Jesus charges the religious leadership with legalism. Legalism is the reduction of God’s glory, for it takes worshipful living and reduces it to following a large and odious collection of rules. It trades the freedom and abundant life of following God for a restrictive and narrow life of being right in the eyes of one’s peers. Rather than multiply God’s glory or even add to it, it reduces God’s glory. 

When our hearts are conflicted, we often try to live the Christ life under our own power. Refusing to acknowledge our brokenness and come to God in repentance, we tell ourselves we’ll just do it better. Effectively, we try to worship God half-heartedly. The end result is legalism. We are no longer following God out of our desperate love for Him. We are doing something because we desperately want Him to love us. But such behavior cannot bring about the Lord’s favor, and woe to us if we teach that it can. 

Christ came to establish God’s Kingdom, and to do that He was anointed to, “…preach good news to the poor, […] proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, [and] to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Legalism does the exact opposite. It is not good news to know there are many restrictive laws you have to follow. As a system set up to ultimately appease human leadership instead of God, legalism is anything but freedom. It blinds the people to the wonder and joy of simply hearing and obeying God, and because it is not of God, it lacks His power to release anyone from their bonds. In that respect, legalism leads into slavery instead of away from it. Instead of freedom on account of our experience of love for Him, we find bondage on account of our fear of other people. 

In some ways legalism is worse than no relationship with God at all, for it inoculates against expecting God to be anything more than a demanding tyrant. The Bible does not reveal God as that. It reveals God as a loving Father and a gracious King. A Father does not place unreasonable demands on His children, and a gracious King does not burden His people unnecessarily. In fact, the whole of the Jewish history was one of God being gracious, kind and longsuffering to the patriarchs, and delivering Israel from the tyranny of Egyptian slavery. God is wonderful, and wonderful to all who follow Him. 

We do well to remember the most important thing; “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” If we struggle with half-heartedness, we must give our half-heart to God rather than fall into legalism. He can heal us. Proverbs says, “My son, give me your heart and let your eyes keep to my ways,” and the Psalmist prophetically wrote, “I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart.” So let it be. Amen.

Legalism never produces genuine holiness. It only creates fear and encourages hypocrisy.

Tokunboh Adeyemo


Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom – freedom to worship Him, and freedom to obey Him unreservedly.

Tradition for Tradition’s Sake (Matthew 15:8-9)

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When Jesus called the religious leadership “hypocrites”, He was rightly  pointing to the  fact that they accused Him of breaking with human tradition, while at the same time committing and teaching treason against God on account of tradition. “Whereas the priestly Sadducees taught that the written Torah was the only source of revelation, the Pharisees admitted the principle of evolution in the Law: men must use their reason in interpreting the Torah and applying it to contemporary problems.” To this end the Pharisees were closely tied to their traditional interpretation and application. Ironically, that tradition itself was a fairly recent development, because the Pharisees only emerged as a group some 160 years prior in Jewish history. Their “tradition” wasn’t that old. But the Jewish leadership had long been misapplying God’s law by means of cultural misinterpretation. In fact, Jesus’ accusations against them tie their behavior back to seven hundred years prior. Jesus quotes Isaiah 29:13, “The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.”” 

God’s charge through Isaiah hundreds of years earlier was that of sedition. Obviously sedition is far more serious than mere hypocrisy, but the two are closely linked. For to come into the King’s presence and say the right things but not believe your own words is  – at best – wickedly deceitful. Will God not truly know your heart? Then how could anyone approach him with words that claim to seek His face only to lie to His face? It is tantamount to treason, for all crimes begin in the heart long before they get acted upon, and treason begins when one no longer acts as one believes. From Christ’s viewpoint, such behaviour was a real tradition of Jewish religious leadership, and it couldn’t be interpreted as right any more than tradition can make sedition right. 

Without a heart set on glorifying God, our worship is in vain. 

You cannot worship what you do not love. You can love partially and worship partially, but you cannot worship wholeheartedly through acting out what you do not hold in your heart as true. The rest of the congregation might believe you are sincere, but you and God will know it is only a play. Like a spy pretending to be in the King’s service, your voice and actions say one thing, but your heart says another. 

Such a heart condition is not cause for worship. It is cause for humility. It is cause for repentance. It is cause for heartfelt prayer and much soul-seraching. But it is not cause for worship until the Holy Spirit finishes His work of rooting out the lies you have come to believe about who God is and who you are. 

Yet the disciple in such a position has hope, because they know there will be cause for worship once they’ve made a fresh commitment to honour God for who His Word says He is. 

I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.

Job (from Job 19:25-26)

APPLICATION: Thankfulness

As long as we breath, there is a path back to the true worship we were created for. PTL, He forgives, redeems and restores! 

Harsh Reality (Matthew 15:1-9)

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Matthew continues recording the interaction of Jesus with the Pharisees  and teachers of  the law from Jerusalem. They ask, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,’ he is not to ‘honor his father’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: “ ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’”” 

Jesus’ response is harsh. But one must think of God’s viewpoint: When God created humankind He was fulfilling His stated intention, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule…” The pluralism of that intention (the use of “us” and “our”) demonstrates not only that the members of the Godhead were all involved, but that God intended those He made in His image to also exist within relationship. As God exists in intimate relationship between Father, Son and Spirit, so part of our inherent nature is our identity within family. 

We see this again in the actual creation account; God’s first blessing on Adam is the blessing of marriage. His first instruction post-blessing is to increase in number. God’s plan for us meant that humankind must know – even from our earliest days – the priority, intimacy and boundaries of family. That starts with understanding and honouring the role of our physical creators. It was to this very point that He said, “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” Honouring God starts with honouring those He made like Him, and that starts with honouring our parents, who made us.

Moreover, God’s instruction to honour our parents wasn’t a suggestion, but a command. To this end He also laid out the drastic consequence of dishonouring our parents, “Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.” Dishonouring our parents is a serious crime, for it mirrors the treason of dishonouring God our Father. 

This background in mind, one can almost feel Jesus’ intense displeasure at the virtually insane hypocrisy the teachers of Israel had. For they accused the Son of breaking with human tradition, while at the same time committing and teaching treason against God on account of tradition

Worse, for them to tell people to disregard one of the commandments was effectively to rank themselves above God Most High, for they were deciding that their own tradition outranked God’s explicit command. The astonishing thing in reading Matthew’s account of this interaction is not Jesus’ particularly sharp rebuke, but His restraint!

Love of God is a work on which love of neighbor depends.

Andrew Karlstadt

APPLICATION: Intentionality

The Lord’s commands are to be taken most seriously. Does anything need to change in how you apply them to your life?

Tradition Versus Truth (Matthew 15:1-3)

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Almost every part of our culture is tradition, because the very definition of   tradition is the transmission from generation to generation of a widely accepted way of behaving or doing something that is specific to a particular society, place, or time. The same can be said of the church. Every church and every denomination also has traditions. Cultures overlap, meaning that you might have the culture and traditions of a Canadian, but you also have the culture and traditions of your particular denomination and church, your sports club and your family line. 

Like culture, traditions are rich with meaning, and different people within the culture attach different levels of importance to those meanings. For some, the fact that hymns are played on the organ is a deeply meaningful fact. For others, the fact that hymns are played is far more important than what they are played on. But for both, that hymns are played is an important tradition. 

But while tradition may be important to us as individuals and a key part of our shared culture, it must not supplant what God has commanded. Jesus once challenged the Jewish authorities on this very point, “Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?”

Jesus’ question conveys His deep displeasure. For Jesus, it is obvious that God’s commands are in a completely different category than man’s tradition. That is because tradition by its very nature is not mandatory. It cannot be mandatory to all people, because only some people created them. God’s commands are mandatory to us as people because He created all of us. So it is a grave misjudgment to put our tradition – whatever its form and whatever the subject – above God’s specific and written direction.

As a function of fact and rational thinking, that is much easier to agree to than to actually practice. The practice of putting God’s commands first obligates us to regulate the deeply personal meaning of our tradition; Our feelings must not have priority above spiritual truth. As rational beings, we get that. As emotional beings, we struggle with it. 

Just how much of a struggle that can be is revealed to us every time our church changes its music style!

The command of the Lord is, “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs,” and while definition of “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” leaves a lot of room for interpretation, the intent is clear. Our worship must lift up the Name of Christ and edify those who participate in it. If it truly does that objectively, it fulfills God’s command. If it does not, no matter how much we enjoy it or how long we’ve been enjoying it, it is at best mere tradition; meaningful to us, but not to all. Subsequently, as new people come into our church and older ones leave, it is inevitable that much of our shared tradition slowly decays into personal spiritual baggage – things that are unhelpful in leading the next generation into deeper relationship with God.

We …who confess this doctrine [of the inerrancy of Scripture] often deny it in life by failing to bring our thoughts and deeds, our traditions and habits, into true subjection to the divine Word.

R.C. Sproul

APPLICATION: Intentionality

To love tradition is not error. To love tradition above truth is error. What do you love?