“These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:8–9)
Today’s big question: when is worship wrong?
The Jewish scribes and Pharisees approached Jesus and asked Him, “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?” (Matthew 15:2). These Jewish leaders believed Christ’s followers were in the wrong, but as He often did, Jesus turned the question back on them: “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?” (Matthew 15:3).
Jesus pointed out a spiritual trap that the Jews fell into over and over again throughout the Old Testament. These people did not lack religious fervor or commitment; in fact, they performed the external elements of traditional worship perfectly. However, as we see in today’s passage, God is not impressed by outward displays of worship. He looks through the ceremony and sees the condition of every heart, and when our heart is far from God, all our offerings of “worship” are “in vain.”
This problem of hypocrisy in worship is certainly not limited to ancient Israel. Tragically, our modern Sunday morning “worship service” can often be filled with hypocritical idolatry just like that of the Jewish scribes and Pharisees. Remember God’s rebuke of Israel spoken by the prophet Amos:
I hate, I despise your feast days, and I do not savor your sacred assemblies. Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them, nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs, for I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. But let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream. (Amos 5:21–24, emphasis added)
If our heart is not right before Him, even our songs of praise are repulsive to God. He desires true righteousness of heart, and He hates hypocrisy. In fact, God takes this issue so seriously that He would rather have had someone shut the temple doors than allow the continuance of empty worship:
Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. (Malachi 1:10, ESV)
This is not a side issue to God. You may be able to fool everyone else into thinking you’ve “got it together” spiritually—you might even be able to convince yourself of the same thing—but God is not fooled. “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
Today’s big idea: worship God with your life—not just your lips.
What to pray: ask God to reveal the true condition of your heart.
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