In Matthew 15, the Pharisees and the scribes confront Jesus on the issue of His disciples not washing their hands before they eat. Now, most of us were taught by our moms to wash our hands before eating, but for the “elders” ofIsrael, this had become a tradition that signified a spiritual preparation to receive the food God had provided. It had become a “tradition of man”, and the Pharisees had raised it to the level of commandment, so much so that they considered it a sin to not participate in this ritual.
Jesus’ response to their rebuke gives us a glimpse into the inner workings of our own hearts. He said,
“Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?”
Jesus says, you’ve missed the whole point. You’ve been so focused on morality and appearing holy, that you have missed the real commandments, and you are breaking them as we speak. He calls them “hypocrites” because their attempts at moral perfection have been more about their own exaltation than the exaltation of the Lord. He quotes from the prophet Isaiah:
“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”.
Why do you refrain from sinning? Why do you try to do the right thing? Is it for the purpose of honoring God and seeing Him exalted and glorified, or is it so that you will be seen as “holy” by man? This is convicting, because it gets to the motives of why we do what we do, even when we are “doing” the right thing. Jesus did not say that it was a bad thing for His disciples to wash their hands before they ate. In fact, that was probably a good thing; however, it wasn’t the main thing. The main thing was to worship the Lord with every heartbeat and every action of their lives. The Pharisees were too concerned with their outward appearance of righteousness to see that their “hearts were far from God”.
How many of us have likewise done good things for the wrong reason, and ended up missing the main thing…living a surrendered life so as to glorify the One who gave us this life?