God’s Word or Man’s Tradition (Mark 7:6-8)

Mark 7:6-8 – And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
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The teachers of the law had spoken out against Jesus for the way in which his disciples did not follow their traditions. Jesus’ disciples did not do the ceremonial washings in the way that the Jewish teachers wanted them to. They thought that this impugned the character of Jesus, but it was something that Jesus used to display the empty hearts of the teachers.

In his response to the teachers, Jesus pointed out that they eagerly set aside the commandments of God to follow the traditions of men. While they claimed to follow God, they would actually reject God’s word in order to follow religious-looking teaching that fit into their culture. In doing so, these men dishonored God greatly by rejecting his authority for that of their traditions.

Today, we think of ourselves as far removed from such a failure as we see in the Jewish leadership. We think that we are most certainly not the kinds of people who would reject God’s commandments for the sake of traditional ceremonial religion. But, if we examine our own lives and hearts, we will see that we need to hear this rebuke from Jesus as sharply as did the Jewish teachers. It is very tempting and very easy to blindly follow man-made tradition while ignoring the scriptures.

One example that I will give of men ignoring the word of God for our own traditions and beliefs comes in the field of my study, biblical counseling. It is very common to see, in the church, the people of God actually deny the power of God to change lives. Often Christians believe the lie that the word of God lacks the power to help someone who has a “real” problem. “Sure,” they say, “the Bible is helpful for those who need a little relationship advice, or who have a ‘religious’ problem. But let’s not think that we can send someone who is addicted to alcohol or who is actually depressed to only the Bible for help.” The statement of such people almost looks logical, but it denies the fact that God has given to us in his divine revelation (the word of God) and his Holy Spirit everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). The word of God tells us that it, the Bible, is useful—not useless—to make the person of God adequate and equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16). In contrast, the secular systems to which we are tempted to turn for help for those with “real” problems deny much of what the scripture teaches about the power of God, the sinfulness of man, and the way that people are made whole. Thus, to attempt to “fix” someone without turning to the word of God to see what a whole person should look like or to see how God commands that person to be made whole is to follow the tradition of men above the word of God.

Of course, not everybody is ready to think of counseling as a legitimate example of how we follow the traditions of men above the word of God, but there are other good examples too. Another example is in the way many people fail to take any sort of rest from labor as God commands. While I do not want to become legalistic about Sabbath regulations, I recognize that God commanded his people to live by a pattern of six days of work and one day of rest. This was included in the Ten Commandments, God’s covenant contract with Israel, along with nine other commands that we eagerly affirm as still applicable for good Christian living. How, then, do we live lives full of 7-day work weeks with no day set aside for rest and reflection on God? The way that we do this is that we have denied the word of God for our current cultural traditions. Such traditions and worldly thinking include a valuing of material possessions over obedience to God, a lack of trust in God to provide for our needs if we should rest once per week, and a selfish preoccupation with our own little worlds above a right focus on the glory of God above all things.

I asked my wife for a third example, and she brought to my attention the way that people reject God’s standards for family living for the cultural norms of the modern day. God’s word makes it clear what the roles of husbands and wives should look like in Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3. God has challenged men to exercise Christlike servant leadership in their homes. He has called women to follow their husbands as a picture to the world of the way the church follows the self-sacrificial leadership of Jesus Christ. Such roles, however, are not socially acceptable in our modern cultures, and so many Christians reject the word of God for the sake of new man-made traditions of how the family should be defined.

The fact is, we could find a thousand other examples of how we reject God’s word for the traditions of men. Every time we sin, but excuse our sin away with thoughts of what people do as opposed to what the word of God says, we deny God’s word for the traditions of men. Let’s be honest, it is easy and it is tempting. However, it is time that we put a stop to it. It is time that we live by the word of God alone as our guide for how to live rightly. The wisdom of the world, though it may look logical and progressive, is not the way that we are made right before a holy God. Instead, though it may seem right, it leads to death (Proverbs 14:12).

Dear Lord, I come to you this morning, and I ask that you will continue the work that you are already doing in my heart. Please help my life to be completely reoriented. May I learn to follow your word, and never to bow to the traditions of men who neither know you nor love you. I desire to glorify your name by obeying your word, even when that word is different than what is prescribed by cultural norms. Lord, I acknowledge that your word is everything that I need to know you. It is perfect, without error. Your word contains in it everything I need for righteous living. Please help me to live righteously by it for the sake of your name and your glory.

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