How do you apply Scripture? Do you wait for a preacher to give you an application? If so, do you consider the possibility that the preacher (local church, radio, TV, books) might sometimes misapply the Word of God? Here are three application questions:
Is it okay for women to be elders in the local church?
Is homosexuality an acceptable lifestyle in God’s eyes?
Is clearing your mind and thinking of just one word an acceptable form of meditation?
We will discuss those questions after we have considered Mark 7:1-16.
There are many traditions in Christianity today that are deeply ingrained. Christians have been influenced by our churches, Christian authors and preachers, church history, culture, schools, press, and movies.
How do we decide which traditions are good and which traditions are bad?
The Commandment of Men: Ceremonial Hand Washing (Mark 7:1-5)
The religious leaders of Israel had a tradition that it was sin to eat without washing your hands “in a special way.” They did not say that it was a good idea. They said it was God’s commandment.
But there is no such commandment anywhere in the OT or NT, for that matter.
This was something that the Jewish rabbis came up with over time. They studied the OT and came up with a list of hundreds of commandments that are not found in the OT. These were what they thought were reasonable applications of the OT.
But as this passage shows, we must take great care with applications. First, we must not elevate them to commandments. Second, we must take great care that our suggested applications do not actually contradict God’s commandments.
Isaiah’s Prophecy about the Commandments of Men (Mark 7:6-8)
Jesus does not directly address the actions of the disciples. He is clearly defending their actions. But His point is that it is the words and actions of the Pharisees and scribes that are wrong.
Isaiah rebuked the Jews of his generation for honoring God with their lips yet having hearts that were far from God. They did worship God. But their worship was “in vain.” Vain worship is empty worship. To take God’s name in vain is to use it in an empty way. To worship God with your words while your heart is a million miles away is vain worship.
Isaiah said that the reason their hearts were far from God and their worship was in vain was because of the traditions of men. The very issue that the Pharisees approached Jesus about, handwashing, was a contemporary example.
Jesus is saying that what Isaiah wrote 750 years before applies directly to the people confronting Him.
How did the Pharisees “lay aside the commandment of God” (v 8)? The Lord goes on to give an example.
Beware of Tradition Contradicting God’s Word (Mark 7:9-13)
The Jews had come up with a tradition that said if you dedicated money to give to God, then you must pay it even if your aging parents need that money.
Jesus said that such a policy about Corban involves “making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down” (v 13).
The word Corban is merely the Greek letters put into English. Mark explains what it means when he writes, “that is, a gift to God.” In Jewish tradition, if you vowed to give so much money for the temple, then that pledged gift superseded all other obligations, including taking care of your elderly parents in need.
Tradition can be bad. If a tradition contradicts the Word of God, then it is bad and should be rejected.
Jesus Explains Why Handwashing Is Not a Religious Requirement (Mark 7:14-16)
When Jesus speaks of defilement, he is talking not about physical disease, but of moral defilement. The Lord is not denying that we can get sick if we have a virus on our hands and we touch our nose or mouth or eyes. He is talking about moral defilement.
Jesus is saying that what we put into our mouths does not defile us morally, as the Pharisees believed.
Instead, He was saying that what comes out of a man, what he says and what he does, is what defiles him morally.
The Pharisees were defiled by their self-righteous words and actions.
The disciples did nothing wrong by eating bread without ceremonially washing their hands first.
Three Modern Traditions That Contradict God’s Word
Having women elders and pastors. Even some Bible churches have women elders. Many Evangelical churches have women preachers in the church service. But Scripture says that only older men are able to be elders (1 Tim 3:1-7). Women are not to exercise authority in the church, which means that they are not to be elders (1 Tim 2:12). In addition, women are to learn in silence during church (1 Tim 2:12), not to preach. This tradition of having women elders and preachers contradicts the commands of God.
Homosexuality understood as an acceptable lifestyle in God’s eyes. Many in what is called the emerging church and the emergent church teach that it is not clear in Scripture that homosexuality is sin. Many teach that people are born as homosexuals and that homosexuality is fine as long as it with just one partner for life. Many Evangelicals even support gay marriage.
In a Feb 20, 2015 article in HuffPost, Carol Kuruvilla wrote: “Rob Bell, the widely popular and controversial former megachurch pastor, is now convinced that a church [which] doesn’t support same-sex marriage will ‘continue to be even more irrelevant’” (see here). Rob Bell was the author of Love Wins, a book promoting universalism. He was also the pastor of Mars Hills Bible Church in Michigan, a church of over 3,500.
Modern teaching on homosexuality directly contradicts the commands of God in the OT and in the NT. While homosexuals can be born again just as they are, practicing homosexuals cannot please God with their lifestyles.
One word meditation. In Eastern mysticism, a person is to clear his mind and simply focus on his mantra. A mantra is the name of a pagan deity. Some Catholic mystics modified that type of meditation and replaced the name of a pagan deity with a special word called a sacred word. One is not to meditate on how the word is connected with other words, or how that word is used in Scripture. That would involve thinking. Instead, one is simply to allow that word to cause you not to think.
The Contemplative Society explains: “Use a ‘sacred word.’ This is a word or short phrase that helps you to let go of thoughts. It is a reminder of your intention to remain open to the silence. Generally sacred words fall into one of 2 categories: ‘God’ words/phrases such as ‘Abba,’ ‘Jesu,’ ‘Mary,’ ‘Reality,’ ‘Come Lord’ or ‘state’ words/phrases such as ‘love,’ ‘peace,’ ‘be still.’ Sacred words are not used as mantras, as in constantly repeating them, but as a reminder of your intention to remain open” (see here, emphasis added).
Such “meditation” is not meditation at all. Biblical meditation is mulling over the words of a passage of Scripture. It is like a cow chewing its cud. Using one word in your mind to let go of thoughts is contrary to the teachings of the Word of God.
Can we recognize when our tradition leads us to violate the Word of God?
If I and/or any other author or speaker gives an application that seems to be contrary to the Word of God, then reject it unless you become convinced that it is consistent. We will each be evaluated by the Lord Jesus at the Judgment Seat of Christ for the ways in which we have applied the Word of God (2 Cor 5:9-10). If we disobey Scripture due to faulty application, then that is on us.