Hearts, Not Gullets
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 15:10-11 (Holman) Summoning the crowd, He told them, “Listen and understand: It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.”
When Jesus says, “Listen and understand” it’s time to sit up and take notice. Hear ye! Hear ye! Eating food with unclean hands does not offend God.
Ceremonial traditions were outward visible signposts, pointing to inward spiritual lessons or obligations. Manmade rituals are helpful only as long as their symbolism remains connected to the more important spiritual vitality they picture.
Washing hands before a meal was a tradition originally instituted to remind people to examine their innermost self, to see if they were clean before God, fit to worship. Outward holiness was vital, but could be done without washing hands.
Outward acts are important. They show us how well we are doing inwardly, where success or failure is determined. Attending corporate worship is good if it prompts in us an inward response. Daily private time is good if it helps us focus on God. Reading the Bible annually is good if it lets us interact with the Author.
Jesus’ words in our text were not meant to nullify the importance of deeds. “It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a man” was not a way of saying we are at liberty to eat and drink all we want to. Jesus and Paul opposed drunkenness (LK 21:34; EP 5:18). Gluttony is also a sin. The Bible is blunt, “Don’t associate with those who drink too much wine, or with those who gorge themselves on meat. For the drunkard and the glutton will become poor” (PR 23:20-21a).
In our text, Jesus was speaking of the mouth from a physical perspective. Seen this way, the mouth is only an inlet for receiving food and drink, and could easily be called the gullet. From this view, the mouth can not be a cause of sin.
When the Bible discusses the mouth from a spiritual perspective, what the mouth says or receives can give evidence of inner sin, and can promote sin.
Seen spiritually, a foul or overindulgent mouth manifests the heart, reveals inner uncleanness. Profanity, drunkenness, and gluttony are evils shown by what a mouth lets out or in, but they come from a heart. Intemperance is birthed within.
Every sin can be traced to human hearts. All impulses, good and bad, that come from outside us, whether via eye, ear, hand, or mouth, do not predetermine our behavior. We like to appeal to outer things to justify our sins, but we cannot blame our conduct on circumstances. If we see ourselves as powerless before our circumstances, we become fatalists, and no longer work hard on inner holiness.
Our conduct is determined not by our outward receptive powers, but by our inward transformative powers (Thomas). We often have little control over stimuli we receive. We are created to receive outward impulses. They bombard us every second. Our senses are channels conveying outer circumstances to our inner filter.
In this innermost center of our being, we choose to let the incoming outward impulse become an outgoing evil act, or we let God counteract the evil impulse.
This is illustrated in the physical realm. Food, when it enters our mouth, cannot in and of itself help or hurt us. Digestive juices have to be brought to bear on the food. This inner process enables the body to appropriate food’s nutrients.
A similar inner process happens to us spiritually. Stimuli cannot in and of themselves help or hurt our mind and heart. We have an inner spiritual processing center that determines whether or not we appropriate outward impulses in the right way. Nothing from outside us can harm us unless it finds a welcome indoors.
Being surrounded by sin can encourage ungodliness, but not cause it. In Egypt, Joseph was the only believer in a godless culture. He stayed true. Elijah stood his tallest when Israel stooped its lowest. Noah alone was found faithful.
Being surrounded by the pure can promote godliness, but not cause or assure it. Adam fell in Eden. Judas fell at Jesus’ side. Lucifer fell in Heaven.
Is reading Scripture better than reading a gossip magazine? Yes. Is watching a wholesome movie better than watching one R-rated? Yes. Is going to church better than staying in bed? Yes. But remember. Even the best activities can only help, not cause, holiness. The origin of right and wrong is deep within.
Matt. 15:12 Then the disciples came up and told Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard this statement?”
The Pharisees were big dogs. Were the Twelve overawed by these religious leaders, and disappointed these power brokers would not be joining Jesus’ cause? Or did the disciples think the Pharisees might have had a legitimate grievance?
How could the Pharisees not be offended? Our Master boldly condemned their totally outward religion. Take note. Jesus did not try to please everybody.
Some think we should never offend anyone. They say we shouldn’t talk in a plain and pointed way, but we have to. We can never, for fear of offending, avoid speaking truth. Speak truth lovingly. For sure speak it; for sure speak it lovingly.
Truth by its very nature often discomforts. When it pricks a person’s conscience, should we expect them to be grateful and happy about it?
We will never be able to please people who don’t want to please God. We know this is true, but must never use it as an excuse to practice either the extreme of silence, or its opposite counterpart, verbally attacking people.
Be vocal and kind, honest and gentle, plain and cautious, remembering our goal is not to offend sinners, but to make them offended at themselves (Spurgeon), to woo them to embrace truth, and as a result acknowledge the error of their way.
Matt. 15:13 He replied, “Every plant that My heavenly Father didn’t plant will be uprooted.”
Since the doctrine of the Pharisees was wrong, it would be uprooted by God. He is displeased with any human thought masquerading as God’s dogma.
Few ploys of the devil are more pernicious than his efforts to convince people it doesn’t matter what they believe. Some value sincerity more than truth.
This is unwise. Being sincerely wrong is not a virtue. Every evil tyrant through all the ages has been sincere, singly devoted to their own sinister cause.
Sincerity is not the main issue. What ultimately matters is, do our beliefs please God? Would He want to uproot anything in our thought patterns, or is our belief system well planted, deeply rooted in the tenets of God’s written Word?
Church-planted religion won’t do. Many uncritically accept what the Pastor says, or whatever doctrines their church or denomination promotes. Paul praised his hearers at Berea. “They welcomed the message with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things (Paul’s teachings) were so” (AC 17:11b).
Family-planted religion won’t do. Some swallow their parents’ religion hook, line, and sinker, without any investigation on their own. As a young preacher, I had to decide for myself what and why I truly believed. Was what I had been taught God’s absolute truth or merely my parents’ ideas?
Fortunately, I had to unlearn little. I was raised by parents, and grew up in a church, true to Scripture. My beliefs changed little, but my confidence grew immensely. It was my religion, my belief system, based on my study of the Bible.
Opinion-planted religion won’t do. Jesus put little stock in what people thought. People’s opinion are just that–no more and no less than opinions. They matter to the individual holding them, but wield no authority over the consciences of others. Only the everlasting, bedrock truths of the Bible will never be uprooted.