I’m reading through the New Testament with some (fabulous) girlfriends this summer. I’ve so enjoyed reading at a faster pace than normal and gleaning new things as we go. Something in Mark 7 recently caught my attention. The religious leaders of the day were questioning Jesus, asking Him why His disciples ate without washing their hands. “For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders.” Mark 7:3 So these leaders were accusing Jesus and his disciples of being unspiritual or less spiritual because of this hand washing issue (seems pretty funny but you know you’ve looked down on that stranger who leaves the restroom without washing). Anyway, here is Jesus’s response , “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'” (Mark 7:6-7)
These verses terrify me. I’m naturally a people pleaser and have to fight that idol every day. Reading these verses always made me worried that my people-pleasing lips will take me places that my heart does not go, thus being just like the Pharisees, with a flattering mouth and a faltering heart. How I want God to make my heart so close to His!
Jesus also describes the Pharisees as people who worship Him in vain, teaching the commandments of men as if they were doctrine. This is yet another terrifying thought to me! What things in my life do I equate with spirituality that are nothing more than vanity, a commandment of men not God? Pause and think about this for a minute. How often we perceive someone to be more spiritual because they are mannerly, healthy, kind with words, well-read, etc. You fill in the blank. What a terrible misconception! Common victims of this thinking are children. A quiet, compliant child is often regarded as more spiritual than the loud, more challenging one. This Scripture has me wondering, What “commandments of men” am I teaching to my kids as if they are spiritual principles? Would my kids think they were more loved by God or by me if they behaved perfectly in a restaurant, didn’t spill a thing, or refrained from using potty talk? Would they think another child is closer to God because he rarely gets in trouble at school? Would I as a parent think I’m more spiritual because my child acts mannerly, obeys quickly, etc? I shudder at the thought.
It is true that God’s Holy Spirit resides in believers and brings with Him very helpful gifts (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness,self-control). It is also true that non-believers can be very kind, generous, charitable, patient, and so on. The only spiritual journey we can have a pulse on is our own (and sometimes we can even be incredibly out of touch there too). So what’s a girl to do? Honestly, I’m still figuring this one out but here’s what I know so far. God desires relationship not rule-following. God cares about my heart and what occurs there more than what occurs with my outward appearance. Outward appearances can be very helpful indicators of the heart’s condition (“For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” Matthew 12:34). The very first evaluation I need to do is on myself. As I interact with those around me and those in my home, I seek “El Roi”, the God who sees (Genesis 16:13). He knows the heart condition of my kids, my friends, and every other human. He is the Source of wisdom and insight. And in child-rearing, He guides me to parent to the heart as best as my feeble self can.
Lord, thank you for your sincerity. Thank you for being a God who cares about our heart condition and is not fooled by mere rule-following. I love you. Amen
Follow-up note: After this post, I talked to our 2 boys. Here’s the conversation…
Me: “Boys, I have something important to ask you. Do you think that if you act perfectly, use nice words, and always obey God will love you more?”
Me: “Why do you say that?”
D: “Because God loves us the same all the time.”
Me: “What about you C?”
C: “Mom, I have somefing important to say to you. You hurt my feelwings when you told me to lay down at nap and I’m mad about it.”
HA! Oh well! I’ll keep on teaching!