The book of Mark is probably my favorite gospel account out of the four Gospels. Even though it has the fewest chapters, it seems to contain a lot of details that the other three don’t share — which is awesome for a detail-oriented person like me!
As I was reading through Mark recently, there was a passage in chapter 7 that seemed to jump off the page and cut straight to my heart as I was reading it.
In Mark, Chapter 7:1-5, the Pharisees had observed Jesus’ disciples doing something unthinkable — they were eating their bread with unwashed hands!
The Pharisees were so offended by this act that they confronted Jesus and asked Him why His disciples didn’t feel the need to follow the rules and wash their hands like everyone else.
Other than the fact that it’s kind of gross to eat without washing your hands (even by today’s standards), it’s hard to understand why the Pharisees would make such big a deal out of something so simple. I mean, so what if the disciples wanted to eat with dirty hands? It builds your immunity. (Right?)
Well, apparently in the Jewish culture back then, eating something without first washing your hands (and washing every other item that is associated with eating) was frowned upon, and even considered sinful by the Pharisees’ standards.
This was a tradition that their elders had passed down to them and anyone who didn’t follow this tradition was at fault and considered to be defiled.
As we all know, the Pharisees had a habit of inspecting everything Jesus and His disciples did under the lens of a microscope, and any discrepancy was grounds for an immediate outcry. This situation was no exception.
After the Pharisees had confronted Jesus about this issue, His response in verses 6-9 really stood out to me and stirred up a sense of conviction in my own life. He says this:
“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. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrine the commandments of men.’
For laying aside the commandments of God, you hold the tradition of men — the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do. All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.”
In their eyes, the Pharisees were just doing what they thought was right. They were following in the footsteps of those who came before them and doing what they thought was required of them in order to please God. To the Pharisees, the disciples were the ones who were wrong for not doing what everyone else was doing.
The problem is, the Pharisees were getting their idea of what pleases God from the wrong source. They weren’t seeking God or His Word in order to find out what actually pleases Him. And even though they had the opportunity to walk with Jesus and to learn from the One whose sole life mission was to obey the will of the Father, they chose not to.
They had closed off their hearts to truth and were content with just following the traditions and guidelines that were set for them by the imperfect people who had come before them. They were doing as Jesus described in verses 6 and 7 — “honoring Him with their lips and worshiping Him in vain” — all because they chose to reject His commandments and follow what seemed to be right in their own eyes and in the eyes of their elders.
Essentially, they were offering God lip service without true godly actions to back it up.
They knew the right things to say and do in order to appear godly on the outside — but on the inside, they had no desire to seek and obey God’s true standards. If they did, they would’ve accepted Jesus, rather than rejecting Him.
I don’t know about you, but there have been many times in my own walk with Christ when I was living just like these Pharisees — following the “traditions” of men, rather than truly following Jesus; honoring God with my lips, while my heart was far from Him.
Like those times when I was more worried about my Sunday attire and making sure I looked great on the outside, but then showed up to church with unrepented sin and a bad attitude — neglecting to prepare my heart for worship.
Or those times when I knew I needed to get into God’s Word, but I decided to watch my favorite TV show in my free time instead — because after all, I would still be going to church on Sunday in order to “put in my time.”
Or how about those times when God clearly told me to do something, but I decided not to do it because it was just too uncomfortable and too costly? After all, our culture preaches that comfort is key.
I can’t even count the number of times where I did my quiet time just to check off an imaginary box on a religious to-do list, rather than viewing it as a sacred opportunity to fellowship with my Creator.
Or the number of times where I’ve spoken in an ungodly manner about my brothers and sisters in Christ because they weren’t meeting my own expectations — all in the name of exhortation, of course.
And I can’t forget about the times when I’ve willingly chosen to obey parts of the Bible while turning a blind eye to the verses that weren’t so easy to follow.
I talked a good game by claiming that I loved Jesus, but in all reality, my actions proved that my heart had no interest in truly pleasing Him.
I wasn’t truly seeking His standards. I wasn’t obeying the things He had commanded me to do because, frankly, I felt like what I was doing was enough to get by. I was content with just looking the part on the outside, following the crowd, and doing what “everyone else” was doing. But God showed me through His Word that what I was doing wasn’t even close to what He truly desired for me.
He didn’t want my lip service – He wanted my heart.
Friend, we can say and do all the right things in order to portray a strong sense of spirituality on the outside, but if we’re not constantly seeking God and asking Him to reveal the areas in our lives where we’re just offering Him lip service, we’re going to find ourselves far from where we need to be in our walk with Him.
It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been following Jesus or how good our intentions are, each and every one of us is susceptible to becoming numb to His presence in our lives. And if we’re not careful and intentional about our walk with Christ, each and every one of us can easily get to the point where we find ourselves going through the motions and checking off imaginary boxes that line the pages of a religious to-do list.
I know I have.
Too many times to count.
If we’re honest, we can all say that we’ve been there.
If you find yourself in that spot today, don’t lose heart. Let me encourage you to turn back to Jesus, my friend!
1 John 1:9 (ESV) tells us that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” — even those moments when our hearts are far from Him.
Examine your heart today and ask God to show you any areas in your life where you’ve been offering Him lip service — and then, commit yourself to get back on track.
Spend some real time with Him. Get in His Word. Open up your heart and let Him speak truth to you. Serve Him from your heart and not just from your lips.
We serve a gracious and forgiving God — One who loves us fiercely and never stops pursuing us. His greatest desire for us is that we would love Him and pursue Him back.
And the moment we start pursuing Him back? Man, that’s the moment we come alive!
That’s the moment when our hearts truly start pumping and we get a taste of the abundant life He’s promised to those who trust in Him!
God’s worth more than just our lip service, my friend – He’s worth all that we have and all that we are.
Are you willing to give Him your heart today?
Featured Image by Priscilla Du Preez