A few days ago, I was at home and got a little bit thirsty. I opened the cupboard to discover that there were no cups in it. Opening the dishwasher, I grabbed the nearest cup and went to the water spigot to fill it. As I turned the cup to look inside of it, I nearly gagged. At some point past, someone had used this cup for cereal, and there were chunky remnants of that cereal cemented to the inside of the cup. On the outside it glistened with the promise of cleanness and of a good glass of water, but on the inside a completely different reality existed.
In Mark 7, Jesus addresses a similar problem with the Pharisees. These Pharisees had questioned Jesus regarding His disciples’ lack of hand-washing before eating. Now, culturally, what we need to understand is that the hand-washing that the Pharisees were talking about was not as much hygienic as it was ceremonial and religious. They weren’t trying to wash away germs; they were trying to bring on the blessing of God through following a religious tradition of hand-washing. And now, they were trying to indict and accuse the disciples of being irreverent and ungodly because they did not wash their hands before eating.
This was nonsense. The idea that someone is ungodly because they didn’t wash their hands is completely ludicrous. Jesus very quickly revealed the fatal flaw of the Pharisees thinking. In verse 7, He said, “[you] teach for doctrines the commandments of men.” In essence, “you take the precepts that have been conjured up by well-meaning, most-likely God-fearing men, and you make those standards your new law to achieve the favor of God.” This is completely unacceptable.
Christ went on further to reveal the real situation. While the Pharisees strove so hard to maintain a level of outward standard-following, inwardly they were consumed with lust, and pride, and foolishness. God desired that they be clean, but they only washed the outside of the cup.
The danger facing us today, is to walk away from this story and completely condemn those who have outward standards. Outward standards are not the reason that the Pharisees were unclean. The outward standards were ok. It was the lack of personal, soul-deep holiness that made the Pharisees unclean. Be certain to guard your heart, lest you think at some level people with standards are wrong for having extra-biblical standards. But also, guard your mind from believing the fallacy of the Pharisees that extra-biblical standards purchase you a standing with God that the blood of Jesus could not.
Food For Thought: Reread Mark 7:18-23. What does Jesus say will defile a man?