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What Defiles a Man?
15:1-2 Then Pharisees and experts in the law came from Jerusalem to Jesus and said, "Why do your disciples disobey the tradition of the elders? For they don't wash their hands when they eat."
It was neither out of concern for their own spiritual condition, nor for that of the people, but in order to oppose Jesus that the Pharisees came all the way from Jerusalem to Galilee. Their question was designed to discredit Jesus and to stir the people against him, as they accused him of failing to instruct his disciples to obey the various religious regulations which they themselves had laid down.
15:3 He answered them, "And why do you disobey the commandment of God because of your tradition?
Firstly, Jesus confronts the question of man-made regulations, and only later deals with the matter of ceremonial washing. Any tradition which has at its heart obeying the commandments of God is good, but the Pharisees had substituted religious tradition for the commandments of God.
15:4 For God said, 'Honor your father and mother' and 'Whoever insults his father or mother must be put to death.'
Jesus reminded them of the commandment of God to honor and respect parents. The word honor, as Jesus teaching goes on to clarify, involves the idea of financial help and practical support.
15:5-6 But you say, 'If someone tells his father or mother, "Whatever help you would have received from me is given to God," he does not need to honor his father.' You have nullified the word of God on account of your tradition.
By their teaching, the Pharisees had led people to devote to God, by gifts and offerings, money which was supposed to be used to help elderly parents. The act of giving to God may have seemed very commendable, but not when it involved the breaking of his laws. God did not want any gifts of time or money to be given to him on this basis.
15:7-9 Hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied correctly about you when he said, 'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me, and they worship me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' "
This substitution of the doctrines of men for the word of God revealed just how far the Pharisees’ hearts had strayed from God. They praised God with their mouths, but they failed to obey his commandments. They were hypocrites, play actors, showing men that they were righteous, when in fact they were not willing to humble themselves before God.
15:10-11 Then he called the crowd to him and said, "Listen and understand. What defiles a person is not what goes into the mouth; it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles a person."
Jesus now returns to the question of ceremonial washing, and his answer in fact deals with every external religious practice. Later, he explained his comments more fully to his disciples. Nothing that enters the mouth of man can cause him to be unclean in the presence of God. What we eat does not bring us to God, what we do not eat does not bring us to God. Washing our hands before we eat may well be good for the prevention of disease, but it has no impact whatever on our relationship with God. It is what comes from within man, and is revealed through his mouth, that affects our relationship to God.
15:12-14 Then the disciples came to him and said, "Do you know that when the Pharisees heard this saying they were offended?" And he replied, "Every plant that my heavenly Father did not plant will be uprooted. Leave them! They are blind guides. If someone who is blind leads another who is blind, both will fall into a pit."
Jesus disciples saw that the Pharisees were offended by Jesus’ censure of their artificial religion. But Jesus is neither sorry nor apologetic. “Every plant which my heavenly father did not plant will be uprooted”; if the Pharisees would repent and turn to God in faith, then they would be born again, and become plants of his planting. But since they are not, they are like the weeds Jesus spoke of in his earlier parable, which are to be burned (Matt. 13:40-42).
In saying this Jesus completely rejects all forms of false religion as having no association with God. Those who are wilfully blind cannot be persuaded, which is why Jesus says "leave them". If Christ’s words offend them, what good can our words accomplish? They are blind guides, for although they teach others the way of God, they are ignorant of that way themselves, and so can only teach it in error. The result of not following Christ is to fall into the pit of everlasting destruction which awaits all unbelievers (John 3:36).
15:15-16 But Peter said to him, "Explain this parable to us." Jesus said, "Even after all this, are you still so foolish?
The fact that Peter requires an explanation of Christ's teaching is disappointing to Jesus. The word foolish can be translated dull, unable to perceive and take in spiritual truth, when he should have done so. Didn't they understand by now? Peter mistakenly thought that this straight forward teaching was a parable.
15:17 Don't you understand that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach and then passes out into the sewer?
Whatever food we eat is digested in the body, the nutrients used and the waste expelled. The food we eat has absolutely no impact on our spiritual lives.
15:18-19 But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these things defile a person. For out of the heart come evil ideas, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.
But what is revealed by a man’s words to be in his heart are those sinful things, deeds of the sinful nature, which defile the man, and make him unclean, a sinner in the sight of God.
These are the evil imagination of the heart, the hatred which leads to murder, the lust which leads to sexual immorality and adultery, the greed which leads to theft, the crookedness which leads to telling lies and the envy and spite which lead to slander.
15:20 These are the things that defile a person; it is not eating with unwashed hands that defiles a person."
These are the things which defile the life, not whether or not we have washed our hands, or taken part in any other religious observance, including those ordinances enjoined by the Lord himself. For if our hearts are not right with God, even the observance of the outward signs of baptism or receiving communion will be of no benefit to us.
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Copyright (2009-2013) Sharon Full Gospel Church, UK. Reg. Charity No. 1050642 www.sharonchurch.co.uk
This Bible study is taken from Faithbuilders: The Gospel of Matthew