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January 25: Religion of the Heart (Matthew 15:1-20)

Matthew 15:1-20

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

“‘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.’”

And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” (ESV)


Sermon Summary

The key saying in this passage is the "parable" of verse 11: "It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person." In this saying, as with previous instruction recorded in Matthew, Jesus is teaching that God is more concerned with the orientation of our heart than the legality of our actions. Not that obedience is unimportant, but that motivation is more important. The first principle of the law is this, to love God wholeheartedly and to love your neighbor as yourself. In every circumstance of life, followers of Jesus must wisely discern not merely what is lawful, but rather what is loving. Thus Jesus turns the external religiosity of the Pharisees on its head, and calls for a whole new model of religion that begins with analysis of the heart.


Review and Apply

  1. Why does human nature gravitate toward legalism?
  2. Are you frequently critical of the others? What kinds of assumptions lie behind your criticisms? How does constant criticism endanger humility?
  3. What are some sins of the heart that you most habitually struggle with? Do you confess these to God and others?
  4. How do hidden sins promote self-righteousness? Consider Psalm 139:23-24 and ask that God would disclose to you those inward sins you have held onto.
  5. In your own words, describe a church that is more concerned with religion of the heart rather than external conformity.
  6. In what ways would a church that is concerned with religion of the heart serve as a witness of the gospel to non-Christians?