Listen and understand! It is not what goes into your mouth that makes you ritually unclean; rather, what comes out of it makes you unclean. (Matthew 15:10-11)
Anything that goes into your mouth goes into your stomach and then on out of your body. But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these are the things that make you ritually unclean. For from your heart come the evil ideas which lead you to kill, commit adultery, and do other immoral things; to rob, lie, and slander others. These are the things that make you unclean. But to eat without washing your hands as they say you should—this doesn’t make you unclean. (Matthew 17b-20)
[Jesus continues to chastise the Pharisees for inquiring about why his disciples don’t wash their hands properly before they eat.]
Jesus has been talking to the Pharisees about what it means to be obedient to the Law of Moses. In this paragraph he addresses the 27 dietary laws that were given to the Hebrew people before they entered the Promised Land after wandering around in the desert for 40 years. Jesus apparently raised this issue because he felt that these dietary laws, like the hand-washing ritual, were a set of rules that were strictly observed and enforced while other, more important commands were neglected.
Jesus makes a distinction between being unclean physically and unclean spiritually. He says that nothing you eat can corrupt your heart. He says that an unclean heart is the source of sin. He is telling the Pharisees that they need to spend more time working on the state of their hearts and less time worrying about what they are eating and whether their hands are properly washed. He warns them about the deception of superficial religion. They are consumed by the more superficial laws that have to do with their bodies. They don’t want to deal with the ones that reveal the state of their hearts.
The Old Testament scriptures confirm that obedience to God comes from the heart:
- Today the Lord your God commands you to obey all his laws; so obey them faithfully with all your heart. (Deuteronomy 26:16)
- Make sure you obey the law that Moses commanded you: love the Lord your God, do his will, obey his commandments, be faithful to him, and serve him with all your heart and soul. (Joshua 22:5)
- Obey the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart. Remember the great things he has done for you. (1 Samuel 12:24)
- You know my heart. You have come to me at night; you have examined me completely and found no evil desire in me. I speak no evil, (Psalm 17:3)
- Happy are those who follow his commands, who obey him with all their heart. (Psalm 119:2)
- I keep your law in my heart, so that I will not sin against you. (Psalm 119:11)
- Your teachings are wonderful; I obey them with all my heart. (Psalm 119:11)
Obedience to God must begin in the heart. You have to believe in it. You have to accept that God’s will is not arbitrary – it reveals truth. Psalm 119:160 says, “The heart of your law is truth, and all your righteous judgments are eternal.” It is the path to life. He doesn’t tell us these things to make life difficult for us or set us up for failure. God has revealed these laws to us so that we might be wise and enjoy abundant life. It’s not for him, it’s for us!
So when I examine myself and assess my spiritual health, I need to be sure that I look past the superficial things that I am doing. On the outside there are some good things I am doing. I go to church, I pray a lot, I have given up my dependence on drugs and alcohol, I work in a homeless shelter, I wash my hands often and I try to eat healthy food. “So what,” Jesus would say, “How’s your heart?”
If I want to prevent an outbreak of sin in my life I need to look deep into the dark corners of my heart and flush out any ugly thing that might be lurking around in there. I always remember how Carol Arnott of the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship (now Catch the Fire) used to advise people to pray Hebrews 12:15, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled.” I need to periodically ask God to reveal those bitter roots. I often pray, “Show me if there are any bitter roots growing in my heart,” and also Psalm 51:10 – “Create a pure heart in me, O God, and put a new and loyal spirit in me.” Then, if something pops up, I apply the grace of God to it like it says in the Hebrews scripture. It’s God’s grace and love that destroy those evil roots.
As for washing your hands and eating “unclean foods” like shrimp, Jesus says these things are just not that important. The worst that can happen if you disobey these rules is physical illness, but disregarding these rules can never make you spiritually sick. So if you want to do the right thing, remember that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. When we are happy deep down inside we are able to share our love with others. We are free to be kind and giving. No fear, no anger, no bitter roots.
So if you really want to clean up your act, don’t worry about those bad habits that pop up on the outside. Worry about the roots. Ask God to reveal those roots to you, and then ask him to heal you. Like a good father God is always happy to do whatever it takes to help you grow and flourish and achieve your full spiritual potential.
What does this scripture say to you?
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