Traits of True Worship (Matthew 15:1-20)
I. Do You Have the Highest Regard for God’s Word? (verses 1-6)
The Pharisees accused the disciples of breaking the tradition of the elders because of their failure to go through the necessary ceremonial washing of hands before they eat. But Jesus used their accusation as an opportunity to make His own accusation against them, showing them their failure to honor God’s word. They knew the fifth commandment, which requires us to honor our father and our mother (Exodus 20:12). However, their tradition caused people to break this commandment in certain situations by ultimately forbidding them from making provision for their parents when they were in their old age. Rather than giving financial and material provision to their parents, children could simply make a vow to dedicate whatever money they would have given their parents to the temple instead. Once that vow was made, and once something was dedicated to the temple as a gift, then the child was no longer under obligation to provide for his parents, since whatever profit he would have gained that would have otherwise gone to them, is now irrevocably dedicated to the temple—“Sorry mom and dad, I can’t help you. I’ve dedicated my gift to the temple instead of you and I can’t go back on it now.”
Jesus’ point is to show them that they honor their tradition more than they do God’s word. When push comes to shove, they were more set on doing what seemed right in their own eyes than what God has commanded in His word. By doing this, they invalidate the Scripture, stripping it of the authority over their lives that it ought to have. True worship, on the other hand, reveres and fears God’s word, and is committed—though often amidst failure—to treasuring and obeying it above all of our own ideas or traditions that might seem right to us.
II. Do You Worship God From the Heart, or Only With Your Lips? (verses 7-9)
The Pharisees would have never denied that they loved God. With their lips they offered up wonderful prayers and said very godly things. But by the way they lived and their disregard for the word of God, they proved that their hearts were nowhere near Him. God detests worship that is merely external, while the heart of a person stands in opposition to Him (Isaiah 1:11-15). It isn’t hard to say and do the right religious things—waking up for church on Sunday, singing the right songs, saying the right prayers. That kind of “worship” can be offered without the power of God. But true worship, worship that flows from a heart of love to God and is accompanied by a life of obedience, is an impossibility apart from the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. We can’t fake or conjure up true worship on our own, but must seek God’s grace that He might enable us to worship Him with our hearts, and not merely our mouth.
III. Do You Understand the True Nature of Your Spiritual Condition? (verses 9-20)
The Pharisees misunderstood entirely the nature of our spiritual condition. They thought that mere outward ceremonial hand washing could cleanse us, because they failed to see that the real cleansing that we need is a cleansing of the heart—which could never be accomplished by outward ceremony. Defilement doesn’t come from food, but it comes from our hearts, from which proceed all kinds of evil. Our hearts are the very core of who we are, the origin of all that we think, do, and feel. And the only cleansing that is sufficient for that kind of defilement is the cleansing that comes through the cross of Christ. By His life, death, and resurrection, forgiveness for our sins was accomplished and a new heart by His Spirit is provided.
- Do you have a high regard for God’s word? In what areas are you giving God’s word preeminence as the governing factor in your life? In what areas are you failing to do so?
- Do you worship God from the heart, or only with your lips? Are there any areas of hypocrisy in your life, in which what you say with your lips does not match the reality of your heart? Why is true worship impossible apart from the help of the Holy Spirit?
- Do you understand the your true spiritual condition? Are you looking to Jesus Christ alone for the cleansing of heart’s defilement, the kind of cleansing that God requires?