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What Kind of Worship Honors God?
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.’” - Matthew 15:7-9, ESV
A religion based on human tradition is almost always concerned about far different things than actually matter in the eyes of God:
1. Did you pray five times per day, facing the right direction and saying just the right words?
2. Did you eat fish today and avoid other kinds of meat?
3. Did you say the right words before you got into bed at night?
4. Are you wearing the right kind of necklace? the right kind of clothes?
The Pharisees were the kings of meaningless human traditions, but Jesus knew the truth: A system of worship shaped by man-made tradition is spiritual or helpful and is not even neutral of harmless. When we follow "as doctrines the commandments of men," the commandments of God are always set aside.
So here are a few principles from today's teaching from Jesus:
1. The state of our hearts before God is so much more important than the precise words that we say. Prayer is never a matter of just saying the right words, but it is "an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies." (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question #98) If we're lifting up our heart's desire before the Lord and we're humbly submitting to His will, confessing our sin and grateful for His grace, this is God-honoring prayer. It's about our hearts - sincerity, humility, repentance and gratitude.
2. The power of the tongue is so much more important than the regulations of the diet. Earlier, in Matthew 12:34, Jesus had said, "How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks."
3. The filth in our hearts is so much more deadly than the filth on our hands. Ceremonial hand-washing was an important part of the traditions of the Jewish leaders. But Jesus made it clear that the real filth - "evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander" - come from our hearts and not on our hands.
All of these principles point to one over-arching truth: The personal, internal and spiritual matter more than the external, physical, circumstantial and ceremonial. Now this doesn't mean that nothing we do in the body ever matters, which is a false teaching. What it means is that issues of precise wording, diet, posture, ceremonies, etc. don't change the heart and don't honor God. Very often, they do cause us to be self-deceived and lead to a hypocritical self-righteousness. But God cares about our hearts and only His grace and the power of His Holy Spirit can change our hearts.
Prayer Based on Psalm 36:
Here's a great worship song by Third Day based on Psalm 36 to help us worship and pray: