We can be pretty dumb as Christians. Like when we expect a sinner to conform to our behaviour before encountering Jesus. It's hard for us to see people talk and act in a way that dishonours God but their heart condition dishonours him more than their actions. It is something we need to adjust too but it is hard when we are so geared to how people act. Check it out: what concerns you more, the lack of respect from a bunch of young people on the bus or, the fact that they are without Jesus? We are geared to try to conform behaviour instead of being used as an agent of transformation.
This was the biggest problem Jesus had with the Pharisees. They were great at keeping all the rites and rituals, attending all the ceremonies and insisting that everyone else do the same. However, when it came to the heart they were far from God. I really do not think we want to be producing that in our churches, preferring to make disciples over clones. However, I am not even sure we are able to answer the question honestly: Are we more concerned about behaviour than we are over salvation? What about when it comes to our children? Are we more concerned that they are polite and respectful than we are that they know Jesus?
Jesus had some Pharisees travel all the way from Jerusalem to criticize him over hand washing of all things. Here he was healing people on the Sabbath, calling himself God, warning the people against the teaching of the Pharisees, but the thing that concerned them was that his disciples did not wash their hands before eating:
“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” (Matthew 15:2)
We are not talking about the practical washing up before eating but instead a useless ceremonial washing of the hands, a tradition of the elders. All of Israel was falling apart, filled with Greek-Gentiles, a lose of national identity, a lack of Jehovah worship, occupied by the Romans, the worship of false gods, even a lose of culture and language; but they came all the way from Jerusalem to question Jesus about a useless ceremony of hand washing. Can we understand why Jesus would get upset with them? These were the leaders who had the potential to do a lot of good for the spiritual development of the people. Jesus quoted Scripture to them just as he did with Satan:
“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’” (Matthew 15:8-9)
I think that deserves some reflection. What is our heart condition? Are we more concerned about traditions and behaviour than we are about the heart? Do we take personal offense and reject people because of their language and attitude? What fools we are. These are the people Jesus sent us to. Do we really think that when he hung out with the prostitutes, tax collectors, fishermen, farmers and other rejects from polite society that the language was pure, that their behaviour was holy, that they would have been welcome in our churches? Hardly, yet Jesus did not chastise them; he befriended them, taught them, and gave them hope that they too were welcome in the Kingdom. Concerning this matter of the hand washing, Jesus spoke to the crowd:
"What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” (Matthew 15:11)
Later, to his disciples he explained:
“Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.” (Matthew 15:17-20)
Our behaviour and language reveals the condition of our heart. It is the heart that matters and from its overflow people will either be cursed or blessed. We are called to a mission to go out into the world and the world is a sewage. It stinks, it is vile, it is a nasty place to be as a child of God. However, this is the place where the objects of our Father's affections are dying. He has told us to go into this vile, smelly place so that he is able to rescue as many of these people he loves as possible. We cannot criticize and condemn people for their smell when they live in a sewage. First let's show them how to escape from the sewage and then the Spirit will work his great transformation in them. We cannot be offended because the world acts like the world. We cannot run away just because a sinner lives in and enjoys his sin. We would be no better than the Pharisees.
It is not an easy mission we have been called to but our own hearts must be changed if we are to succeed in it. We must lose all forms of criticism, judgment and condemnation if we are to be effective workers in our Father's mission to rescue as many of those who are perishing as possible. We must be transformed by his genuine love, honestly possessing compassion for those who are suffering in their sin. We share the Word of life, we explain where the exit is, we show them love and compassion, we allow Jesus to be gloried through signs and wonders, but the choice will always come down to the individual. How much easier it is to make that choice when we speak to their heart and not to their behaviour. Let's have nothing to do with the yeast of the Pharisees so that we might be greatly used in our Father's work.