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Clean hands or clean hearts?

Rev. Charles Oppong-Poku | May 19, 2023 | Matthew 15:1-9


⁸These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. ⁹ They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules. Matthew 15:8-9 (NIV)


One characteristic of the world we live in is that it is a very image-conscious world. People everywhere spend a lot of time and expense creating an impressive outward appearance as if that is all that matters in life. Here we see Jesus being confronted by the Scribes and Pharisees, the religious leaders of Israel at that time. They made sure that everyone knew how religious they were. They were quite similar to today's image-conscious world of today – pursuing outward acts of devotion and appearances of piety intensely as if that is all that matters. The Pharisees and scribes came from Jerusalem to Capernaum, a journey of about 80 to 85 miles, to ask Jesus why His disciples didn't follow the tradition of washing their hands before eating. The passage reveals three important lessons for our consideration: 1. The danger of manmade traditions (Matt. 15:1-3), 2. The danger of nullifying God’s word for the sake of traditions (Matt. 15:4-6), and 3. The hypocrisy of false religion (Matt. 15:7-9).

In verses 1-3, the Pharisees and scribes were concerned with external acts of purification, such as washing hands before eating. Jesus warns us about the danger of externalism which focuses on outward appearances and traditions rather than on the inner transformation of the heart. Externalism leads to a false sense of righteousness and blind people to their spiritual needs. In verses 4-6, Jesus emphasizes the problem of making the Word of God void because of traditions. He cites the example of the Pharisees who neglected their duty to honour their parents, even though they appeared to follow the Law. Jesus teaches us that true righteousness flows from a pure heart that seeks to obey God’s commands. Finally, in verses 7-9, the passage warns about the hypocrisy of false religion. In this, Jesus exposes the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and scribes who outwardly appeared to be worshipping God, but their hearts were far away from God. False religion is characterized by hypocrisy, self-righteousness, and legalism, and it ultimately leads to spiritual blindness and moral decay.


Whose words are more important to you? As Christians, we must be careful not to fall into the trap of externalism and false religion. We must cultivate a heart that seeks to love and obey God from the inside out. Following manmade traditions can void God's word and lead to vain and hypocritical worship. Let us focus on the inner transformation of the heart and let our external acts of piety flow from that inner transformation. Worship is not mere external rituals or ceremonies. Worship is about pleasing God and pleasing God is about obedience. So, the heart of worship is a commitment to obedience to God's Word. Always remember that the heart of true Christian worship is a matter of the heart.


Dear God, I ask for your divine power to help me have a heart that is cleansed rather than outward physical cleansing. Give me the strength to obey your Word and follow your teachings rather than being swayed by manmade traditions that may render my worship void and hypocritical. Thank you for answering my prayer in Jesus’ name. Amen!



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