Posted on January 29, 2014
#39: Living From the Heart
If I ask twelve Christians to give me a list of the ten most sinful things fellow Christians do, I will get a dozen different responses. Oh, there will be two or three common items. But one person’s idea of right-and-wrong will not be the same as another’s.
For instance, while one brother can with clear conscience have a glass of wine with dinner, another will find it completely unacceptable. One believer may consider Halloween taboo for Christians, while another happily creates costumes for her kids to trick-or-treat. One may have devoured every Harry Potter book while another thinks that’s dabbling in darkness. All are sure their position is the right one. We each have our own set of standards. We easily forget that only one set of standards really counts.
Welcome to Knowing Jesus, our Wednesdays In The Word study through the gospel of Mark. Today, we’re going to look at a group of people who promoted their way as the only right way and who held their followers in a spiritual strait-jacket for centuries. Then we’ll see Jesus’ opinion on the matter!
Read Mark 7:1-23. (A companion passage is found in Matthew 15:1-20; read it for a second vantage point.)
A group of Pharisees had traveled the 80+ miles from Jerusalem to observe—and criticize—Jesus and His disciples. They quickly picked up on a prime transgression: The disciples failed to properly wash before eating.
These leaders weren’t concerned about cleanliness; they were referring to a ceremonial process of washing off pagan contamination (especially if one had just been to the marketplace). Elaborate rules on washings and cleansings took up a large part of the collection of rabbinical teachings and traditions that Jewish teachers considered equal to the scripture’s Law of Moses—though devised by men, not God. Specific ordinances abounded, even about the cleansing of the containers that would hold the water (the source and treatment of which was carefully delineated) for washing! (vs. 4)
I can see them striding toward Jesus in arrogant confidence and laying out their “concerns.” Jesus’ first three words must have pleased them: “Isaiah was right…” He agrees, they might have thought. Then He continued, “…when he prophesied about you hypocrites.” Hypocrites? How dare He!
Jesus proceeded to expose their duplicity, giving specific examples of ways they’d found to use their “law” to set aside God’s law. Then He turned to the crowd, urging them to listen and understand the error of their leaders’ thinking. The essence of the problem? Their approach focused on external appearances—particularly in others—while Jesus focused on the internal state of one’s own heart.
The truth is, the critic in me is most comfortable with externals—”sins” I can see, judge, and condemn in others. I create a personal code of righteousness based on my own spiritual preferences (which may or may not take God’s preferences into consideration). Then I can feel pretty fine about myself, while shaking my head in disgust over anyone who acts against my code.
My internal state is a lot less comfortable to consider. There, in my heart of hearts, the only set of standards that matters is God’s. Everyone else’s failures fade from view. All I can see is how far short of His righteousness I fall, and how dependent I am on His grace. There, I must face how unworthy I am to cast judgment on anyone else.
Jesus brought His audience’s attention to the heart because when we truly live from the heart, all else falls into place. We focus on our own relationship with God and shut our mouths about everyone else’s. What a difference living from the heart could make in our relationships and in our churches!
When a fellow Christian acts in a way I believe is wrong, I must quickly acknowledge that he or she may see a similar lack in me. We humbly continue on the journey to Christlikeness together, helping each other and praying for each other—not criticizing and judging each other.
This week, make an effort to live from the heart. Focus on your own relationship with God, and resist the temptation to judge what others do. Instead, when others’ “shortcomings” come to mind, pray for them and trust God to lead them to maturity, just as He’s leading you.
© Diane McLoud 2014