Posts Tagged ‘judging others’

The literary structure of Mark 7:1-13

We’re launching into an important passage today, Mark 7:1-23. There are actually two significant issues that are talked about in these verses – human religious traditions and how to be pure before God.  The plan is to deal with the first one today, in vs. 1-13. And we’ll look at the second, purity, next week.

Our Scripture begins with Jesus involved in, surprise, surprise –

A conflict

1Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed.

So some Pharisees are present and also some experts of the Law from Jerusalem – the theologians of that day. They’re checking Jesus out. They want to see what he’s up to.

The last time we saw some scribes they accused Jesus of being possessed by Satan (3:22), so not a friendly audience. Well, they and the Pharisees take issue again when they see some of Jesus’ disciples not washing their hands before they eat.

Now, this isn’t about good hygiene. As v. 2 indicates, it has to do with ritual uncleanness or defilement; that is to say, eating this way makes you ceremonially unclean before God.

Mark goes on to explain –

3For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders, 4and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.

[“All the Jews” is a bit of a generalization. Certainly the Pharisees, who were influential, held to the need for washing hands, as did the Essences, another prominent group of Jews. 

One word in not translated. It comes at the end of the phrase in v. 3, “they wash their hands . . ..” It says literally “with a fist.” No one knows for sure what this means. It might mean “carefully” or it might refer to how the hands are ritually washed. 

The very last phrase of v. 4, literally “and beds” or “and dining couches” is not in all the manuscripts. So if your Bible doesn’t have it, that’s why.]

Mark here is helping his non-Jewish readers (us) understand the situation. 1) Washing things was a big deal for many Jews, especially the Pharisees. And 2) The command to wash hands comes from “the tradition of the elders” not from Scripture itself.

This body of tradition was followed by the Pharisees. It’s sometimes called the oral law. The idea was that Moses wrote down the Law in the Bible, but other instructions were passed on generation to generation by word of mouth. (This tradition was later written out in the Mishna, and other writings.) So, the Pharisees believed there are two sources of commandments, the written Law in Scripture and the oral law or tradition of the elders.

5And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”

This is really an attack on Jesus. The charge is that his disciples aren’t faithful to God, which means that, since he’s their teacher, he’s not faithful. (Jesus also didn’t follow this practice – Luke 11:38).

Their charge involves both the issue of 1) keeping the traditions, and 2) what purity means. But as I said, we’ll focus on the first for today.

Jesus on human traditions

Jesus’ first response comes in vs. 6-8, where he calls them out as hypocrites.

6And he said to them, “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; 7in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

A hypocrite looks one way – good, but is actually another – not so good.

Jesus quotes from the prophets, specifically Isaiah 29:3, a passage that deals with honoring God. And he sees this verse, on one level, as pointing to the Pharisees and the scribes – and their error here. (The quote is closer to the LXX, although the same basic point in made in the MT).

The word “worship” should be taken in its broad sense of  a life of service and obedience to God, not just how they participate in a worship service.

They look like they’re honoring God with their lives. But this is only external, with their lips. Their heart remains far away. Why is their heart far away? Why is their worship “vain” or useless? Because they are only about teaching and following human rules.

He’s saying Isaiah hit it right on the head about you guys –

8You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

Notice the contrast here between a life that is based on God and God’s commandments, and a life that is based on tradition and human commandments, which is useless.

Jesus’ second response comes in vs. 9-13, where he illustrates their hypocrisy. He begins with the same point he just made in v. 8 –

 9And he said to them, “Well have you set aside the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!’”

He’s saying again, you prefer your tradition to God’s commands. You leave or set aside what God says, to keep what you say.

Jesus then quotes from the Law on honoring parents –

10For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’”

 He’s quoting Exodus 20:12, the fifth of the ten commandments and Exodus 21:17. It was understood by all that honoring parents, for adult children, includes caring for them financially when the’re older. The second reference shows how serious this issue is. Those who don’t honor their parents, but revile or curse them, deserve the death penalty.

Then Jesus lays out their hypocrisy –

11But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban’ (that is, given to God)— 12then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother . . .”

Notice the strong contrast between what God has said through Moses, and what they say based on their tradition, which is not God’s word.

The word “corban” is a technical term for a vow to give your resources to God (that is, the Temple), but apparently the person here could still have access to them and use them until a later time. (This view was most likely held by many Pharisees and scribes at this time. It was rejected in later Judaism m. Ned. 9:1).

So based on their tradition the Pharisees and scribes said that you must keep your vow, and not the commandment to honor your parents. That is, you can withhold giving your resources to support your parents.

“. . . 13thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

They allow people to nullify what God commands, in order to keep a vow that is unrighteous in the first place. Indeed, they allow not only the breaking of the fifth commandment, but an action that is on a par with reviling one’s parents, which deserves the death penalty!

Summing up: Their charge was, ‘Jesus, you’re not faithful to God because you don’t keep the traditions of the elders.’ His response was, ‘Pharisees, you’re not faithful to God because you keep the traditions of the elders.’

They neither honor God (Isaiah 29) nor people, that is, their parents (Exodus 20 and 21). This is why they’re hypocrites. And he makes his point, not based on the traditions of the elders, mere human teaching, but based on the Law and the Prophets, that is, based on God’s word.

Well, it’s easy to criticize others, like the Pharisees, but –

What about us?

We all have human traditions. We all have opinions and convictions about how Christians should do things – that are not explicitly taught in Scripture.

  • What style of music should we sing in worship?
  • Should the sermon be about evangelism each week, with an altar call, or not?
  • What kind of clothes should we wear to church? Should we dress up or it doesn’t matter as long as they are modest?

Maybe you would see “the tradition of the elders” as equaling doing things the way we’ve always done things. But maybe our religious rule is that we have to be on the cutting edge and always do something new. It can work either way.

Now, for sure, we have to make choices on things to be able to function as a community. It isn’t wrong to have some traditions. But they can be taken too far.

What about us? Learn to differentiate between your traditions and God’s word. Eight times, in one way or another, our passage talks about human religious traditions. And throughout these are contrasted with “God’s word” or what is written in Scripture. These things are not the same. And so do not put them on the same level as the Pharisees did.

Yes, sometimes we have different views on things based on different interpretations of Scripture. But in the examples I have given you there is no explicit Scriptural teaching to settle the issue. They are matters of personal conviction, or a whole church’s conviction. And faithful Christians can differ.

What about us? Make sure your obedience to God is based on God’s word, and not mere human traditions. If your Christian life is just about making sure you practice your  traditions – I dressed right for church, I only sang the right kind of songs – then your obedience to God is useless, just like the Pharisees. Congratulations, you are a hypocrite! You look religious, but you haven’t built your life on following what God is actually interested in; what God teaches us.

Finally, what about us? Don’t judge others as unfaithful because of your traditions. This is what the Pharisees did to Jesus and his disciples. Jesus was faithful in every way, but was rejected as unfaithful because he didn’t conform to their merely human traditions.

And we do this too. Look, they aren’t faithful to God because they don’t dress right or sing the right kind of songs. When we do this we place our traditions over God’s commands. We do just what Jesus says about the Pharisees in v. 8 – we “leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

So let’s learn to identify and relegate our traditions to what they actually are – just our own convictions, not God’s commands. And let’s be generous and flexible with each other in the practice of our common Christian faith.

Read Full Post »

In my title today I am echoing the form of some of the Proverbs, especially in chapter 30. And I do want to share some Scriptural wisdom with you today. I want to give us all some encouragement this morning to work at any relational tensions and conflicts we might have in our lives and in our congregation. And I am sharing this precisely at a time when I am not aware of any such concerns among us, so you can be sure that I have no particular situation in mind.

Working at good relationships is really important for any congregation, because when we don’t attend to our relationships it makes it quite difficult to be focused on doing the work of the Lord together. But when we do attend to these things and live in loving and healthy relationships with each other we can focus on doing the Lord’s work, and we will be the kind of people that God can use to do his work.

So here are 5 things in the area of conflict and broken relationships that amaze and bring joy, certainly to God and also to me as your pastor.

The first is –

Someone who truly confesses their wrong to another

If you have done wrong to someone, it is very tempting to be defensive. Maybe you think they have done worse to you before, or they deserved it – or whatever. And our culture would encourage you to make excuses and to evade responsibility. There is an epidemic of this. No one wants to admit their wrongs or take responsibility for them.

Instead of this, when you wrong someone, the Christian way is to freely and fully confess your wrong to the other person. Jesus said, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you (that is, you have wronged her or him), leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” – Matthew 5:23-24

Jesus teaches us to go to the one we have wronged. Don’t wait for them to come to you, or for the situation to blow up. Go to the one you have wronged. And go with the goal of being reconciled; of making things right, as Jesus said in v 24.

And this can’t happen if you don’t confess your wrong. You have to take responsibility for your words and actions.

The example of the prodigal son is instructive. He had wronged his father terribly. And so he came and said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” – Luke 15:21. He took full responsibility for his actions. He humbled himself. And he was willing to accept the consequences of his behavior.

And as we see in this story, true and heartfelt confession has the power to heal people; and it has the power to heal relationships. The father forgave him and they were able once again to have a relationship. They were able to start off anew.

A second thing that amazes and bring joy is –

Someone who takes their concern to the person who wronged them

If in the first case you were the one who wronged another, in this case you have been wronged.

Jesus said in Matthew 18:15, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.” (NIV) Go to them in private, so that they can hear you and you can hear them and you can sort through the issue.

Now there is no doubt that this is hard to do. We most often prefer not to do this because we are conflict avoiders. We prefer to let the relationship wither rather than work hard to keep things right. And what a shocking indictment of our lack of love for one another this is!

But not only this, our conflict avoidance becomes an idol for us because it is more important to us than doing what Jesus teaches us. So in reality, we love neither God nor our neighbor.

When we don’t deal with things face to face we end up harboring resentment in our hearts which is poison within us. Or we might also be more active by spreading gossip. That is, instead of going to the person who wronged us, we go to everyone else and tell them about the wrong and how bad the person is. So not only is your relationship with the person damaged or destroyed, other people’s relationships with the person are damaged or destroyed.

It may seem risky, and it may be hard, but there is no other way if you want to maintain the relationship and be faithful to God. Take your concern to the person who wronged you.

A third thing that amazes and brings joy is –

Someone who can deliver a good admonition

Admonition means “counsel or warning against fault or oversight.” In Matthew 18:15 it is translated – “point out their fault.” (NIV)

But how do we do this rightly so that its good admonition? Here are some keys:

Restoration is the goal. We go to “win them over” – Matthew 18:15 (NIV). Paul calls it “restoring” them in Galatians 6:1. We need to speak in a way that it can be received and have a positive outcome.

Mercy is necessary. We don’t go to condemn the person, judge them and put them down. As Jesus taught us in Luke 6:37-42 it is fine to take the speck out of someone else’s eye, but we must make sure we don’t have a log in ours; that is, a lack of mercy.

Humility is required. We have to be humble because we know that we are only forgiven sinners. We are not better than the person we go to. Paul says, “Take care that you yourselves are not tempted” Galatians 6:1 (NRSV). We too could fall into sin again, if we are not careful.

Gentleness is key. Paul says, “If anyone is caught in any trespass, you who have the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness” – Galatians 6:1 (NRSV). There is no place for harshness.

When we do all this, we are giving what Proverbs 15:31 calls “life-giving reproof”; admonition that can truly bless and help someone.

A fourth thing that amazes and brings joy is –

Someone who can hear and receive admonition

If going to another person with an admonition is hard, I think it is equally or perhaps more hard to be admonished; to receive admonition. Its hard because we don’t like to admit that we have done wrong. And we don’t like it if someone else points this out.

That’s why the book of Proverbs makes the point that it is scoffers (those who mock, deride, show contempt to others) who do not receive reproof – Proverbs 9:8; 15:12. And we don’t want to be scoffers!

It tells us that “he who hates reproof is stupid” – Proverbs 12:1. And we don’t want to be stupid! And it says, “He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck (is stubborn or arrogant and won’t listen) will suddenly be broken beyond healing” – Proverbs 29:1. They will not receive the life-giving help that admonition can bring. And we don’t want to be in this position!

Proverbs also gives us positive encouragement to receive admonition, by pointing out that there are many benefits to it:

  • Proverbs 13:18 – “whoever heeds reproof is honored.”
  • Proverbs 15:5 – “whoever heeds reproof is prudent.”
  • Proverbs 10:17 – “whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life”
  • Proverbs 15:31 – “The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise”
  • Proverbs 15:32 – “he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.”

Receiving admonition is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of wisdom and maturity. That’s because the wise person wants to grow and be more faithful to God in every area of life, and so they are able to hear from another about their faults and any wrongs they may have done. And that’s why Proverbs 9:8 says, “Reprove a wise person and they will love you.” They will appreciate what you have done for them.

And so let’s be open to this, even if it is not done exactly correctly in your eyes (not tactfully or in a fully sensitive way). No, no. Listen for what God is saying to you through the person.

A fifth thing that amazes and brings joy is –

Someone who doesn’t judge by appearances

Jesus said to the Jewish leaders who wrongly judged him, “Do not judge by appearances, but with right judgment” – John 7:24. And we should not judge each other by appearances. That is, don’t come to conclusions about someone else when you don’t know all the facts, when you have just overheard something or seen something that could be interpreted in various ways, or heard a rumor from a third party.

Never come to conclusions about someone else based on these things. How many relationships have been damaged or destroyed in this way! If there is a rumor or a question – find out the truth. Go to the person.

Leaders are especially vulnerable to this. And sometimes when there are issues that must remain private we can’t even say fully why some decision are made. But don’t judge by appearances. Have some trust and then if you need to, ask leadership any questions you have.

So here are five things that amaze and bring joy. Someone who:

  1. truly confesses their wrong
  2. takes their concern to the offender
  3. delivers a good admonition
  4. receives admonition
  5. doesn’t judge by appearances

The reason these qualities are amazing and bring joy is that they don’t come naturally to us. These are not our natural inclinations. These are a sure sign of God’s love working in our heart. They come from the Spirit of God working in us so that we both love God and do what he tells us, and we love our brothers and sisters as well.

William Higgins

Read Full Post »