Men’s Traditions vs. God’s Law :: By Sean Gooding

Matthew chapter 15:1-9 (continued)

“Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, ‘Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.’ He answered and said to them, ‘Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?’

For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’ and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God’— then he need not honor his father or mother. ’

Thus, you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.9 And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

Last time we were considering the need for us, as the Lord’s people, to simply invite people to Jesus. Invite them to come and see Him, meet Him and let Him reveal Himself to them through His Holy Spirit. The more people we invite the more people get the chance to meet Jesus and submit to Him in obedience.

Today we will begin a new chapter in this kingdom gospel and take a look at what defiles a man. In the midst of this study we will encounter some of the teaching of men that still plague the Lord’s churches today. Most churches I have been in, profess to be conservative New Testament churches; they “pride” themselves on the importance of the Bible and use it as their sole rule of order and faith.

But in the midst of all that doctrine is a vein of tradition that is often of more importance to people than doctrine. The nation of Israel and her religious leaders had a similar issue. They knew the law of God, I do not think this was the issue, but mixed in with the sound and good doctrine of God, were manmade rules, and these are the traditions that more often than not trumped the laws of God.

Tradition vs. God’s Law, Verses 1-9

The Pharisees and these other religious leaders were supposed to be involved in the spreading and teaching of the Laws of God for the good of the nation of Israel and the rest of the world around them. But they had so polluted the Laws of God with traditions that more often than not people did not get any Law at all.

Let us be clear, we understand the importance of washing one’s hands before you eat. Dr. Louis Pasture was the one to discover that the fastest way to stop the spreading of diseases from doctor to patient was to wash one’s hands and to boil one’s medical instruments. Washing one’s hands is a good thing and it is beneficial to your body and the lives of people around you. But is it not a SIN to not wash your hands.

The Scribes and Pharisees had elevated it to this level. According to Matthew Henry’s commentary a Rabbi names Joses made this statement, “That to eat with unwashen hands is as great a sin as adultery.”

This would give you some insight into the mindset of those that hold firmly to the traditions of men at the expense of the Laws of God; in doing so we, mere men, elevate our “doctrines” to the same level as the doctrines of God. How arrogant of us. The modern New Testament church is rife with the “traditions of men.” We (I) often judge a person’s relationship to Christ based on the way they dress, if they have or don’t have tattoos, the way they wear their hair, the way their children dress and on and on.

In the church I was raised the women ALL wore dresses or skirts to church. If one of the dear sisters came in pants there would be such uproar (more in the form of whispers and disapproving looks). If a man wore his hair too long or did not wear a tie or a suit there could be some pushback.

In the seminary I attended men were not permitted to wear beards, we had to be clean shaven and in the case of some churches ladies are expected to wear head covering into the worship assembly. The Bible simply says that we are to be modest.

“Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments” (1 Timothy 2:9).

It is amazing to me how often we read the first part of the verse about modesty but do not go on to read about the ‘braided hair, gold, pearls and costly garments’. It would appear that we have lot of people who go to church every Sunday dressed in costly apparel and with braided hair, gold and pearls. We call it dressing up for church BUT all we are required to do is to ‘dress modestly’. That simply means to dress so as not to draw attention to you.

In another tradition we have much ado about music in the Lord’s churches. Should we have drums, guitars, lights and the like? Again, the entire idea of worship music is to draw attention to Jesus and to tell of His greatness. Anything else is wrong. But the Bible allows for all types of musical instruments to be used in the worship of the Lord, from drums to loud cymbals and all in between.

The book of the Psalms is rife with these instruments that were used by the men and women of God to loudly and energetically worship God. King David even danced before the Lord not to draw attention to him, but for the Lord.

But men want to have something more than obedience to the laws of God we want to make some laws ourselves. We want to have some degree of control and to feel important. So we intertwine the traditions of men into the Laws of God and what actually happens is that the Laws of God take a backseat to the traditions of men. Jesus ventures into such an example in verses 4-7. He brings up the 5th Commandment from Exodus 20: 12:

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.”

Part of the honoring was the responsibility of the children to care for the parents as they aged and became dependent. But the scribes and Pharisee had made a tradition of “dedicating your wealth to the Temple and it cause.” Once this dedication had been transacted, then when a parent asked for help or needed help one could say that all my earthly wealth is dedicated to the Temple so I can no longer use it to help you.

These men, the scribes and Pharisees had an idolatrous relationship to the Temple to begin with and this was the pretense of this ‘dedication’, but the subplot of this was for one to keep his money and not be obligated to help anyone, even one’s parents. Thus the traditions of men became more powerful to them than the Laws of God. Jesus in His wonderful way simply called them “hypocrites.” But less we get too high minded and prideful, are we any different?

Let us ask ourselves what church traditions or even personal and family traditions do we use as excuses to disobey, annul or diminish the laws of God? Every church should take the time to go through their rules and by-laws and examine each one according to the Laws of God. We need to make a clear distinction as to what is manmade and what is God made.

Obedience Is the Only Real Form of Worship, Verses 7-9

We love pomp. We do. We love to watch parades. We love it when a dignitary comes to
town and we can go out and see him (her). We love it when our beloved sports teams win
a championship and we get to go to a parade. We love royal weddings and ceremonies.
We cheer them on for human accomplishments.

In religions we also love pomp. Some love the robes and bright colors that the Pope wears.
We see hundreds of thousands that will turn up to be blessed by him and to hear him speak.
We see entities like the Masonic Lodge that has its pomp and ceremonies or we observe
solemn times of reflection in situations of great loss. Folks these are not important to God.
All the pomp and flare in the world, no matter from which church or synagogue is of no importance to God.

How good your choir is, how good the preacher is and certainly not how nice your church building is—is not of any importance to God. Just yesterday, I read of an account where a man and his family came to a church where he was the pastor. He stayed there for five years and then left. Shortly after that, the church got a letter from the “pastor” apologizing for the fact that he was in fact an atheist.

I have seen many surveys that attest to the fact that many “pastors” do not believe in the basic fundamental doctrines of the Bible; things like God creating the heavens and the earth in SIX literal days, things like the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the grave; the perfection of the Bible and its accuracy in all things and on and on we can go.

Jesus said this in verse 9, that we teach in vain if we teach the traditions of men instead of the laws of God. He calls us hypocrites. It is very important for pastors to make sure that they are teaching the truths of the Scriptures and NOT the traditions of our church, or our association or of our heritage for that matter.

What does the Bible say? That is all that matters. We are to diligently research what God says about a matter and then faithfully teach it. We should be sure not to weave in a bit of Man’s traditions into the doctrine by doing so we elevate man to the status of God.

So is washing your hands bad? No. Is wearing a nice dress of suit to church a sin? No. Is wearing jeans to church a sin? No. Is a man with long hair sinful? No. Is a woman with short hair sinful? No. These things become sin when we put them of more importance than the laws of God and when we do them to draw attention to ourselves and not to God. This is what it is about, the Pharisees used the pretense of ‘worship’ to justify breaking the Laws of God but more importantly to draw attention to how ‘religious’ they were.

But God saw them as hypocrites. Does God see you and me as hypocrites? To some degree we all are. But are we taking the natural state of fallen man to that of deliberately defying God while at the same time pretending to love God and worship Him. Obedience to the Laws and principles of God is the ultimate act of worship. God desires obedience from us. When we obey then our worship is genuine and our honest desire is to elevate God and His ways for they are far above ours.

In response to Saul’s deliberate disobedience to God’s very clear instructions about killing everything including the livestock of the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15, God send these sobering words by the prophet Samuel in verse 22, we should heed them in our lives today:

“And Samuel said, ‘Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.’”

Samuel goes on to tell us that this kind of disobedience in the name of religion is the same as witchcraft. Witchcraft is punishable by death in the Scriptures:

“ Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” (Exodus 22:18).

We should take heed to this warning and check every tradition we hold against the expressed and clearly written Laws of God. When we find there to be a conflict we need to repent and obey.