Defilement Comes from Within (Matthew 15:10-20)

This is part 79 of our study of The Gospels
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In what must have been a difficult lesson for the Jews, Christ taught that it is not what enters a man that defiles him. It is what comes out of a man.

 

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Matthew 15:10-20

10  And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand:

11  Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.

12  Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying?

13  But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.

14  Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.

15  Then answered Peter and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable.

16  And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding?

17  Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught?

18  But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.

19  For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:

20  These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.

Last week, we read of yet another confrontation between Christ and the Pharisees. The Pharisees demanded to know why the Lord’s disciples were so carelessly violating the tradition of the elders.

In that case, the particular custom violated was the ceremonial washing of hands before a meal…

Matthew 15:1-2
1  Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying,
2  Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread.

To which Jesus responded…

Matthew 15:3
3  …Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?

Needless to say, violating the commandments of God carries far more weight than violating any tradition of man.

As Jesus told a Samaritan woman in John 4, there are two fundamental elements in worship…

John 4:23
23  But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.

To worship in spirit means to worship with a genuine and sincere heart. To worship in truth means to worship within the confines of sound doctrine of the Bible.

It is possible to have one without the other. Today, we could find those have great sincerity in their worship of God but little understanding of the truth. We could also find those who have great understanding of the truth but practice their faith and worship with cold, legalistic hearts.

God the Father demands both spirit and truth among those seeking to worship him. Christ was not hesitant to confront both potential errors during his ministry on this earth.

When Jesus spoke to that Samaritan woman, she asked him a question about the truth…

John 4:19-20
19  The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.
20  Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.

Jesus corrected the Samaritans’ error in the arena of truth…

John 4:22
22  Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.

But the Jews in the rest of Israel did not escape his rebukes and correction. While he corrected their mistakes in truth at times, he primarily emphasized their lack of spirit or heart as they practiced their religion.

As he told the Pharisees in this chapter…

Matthew 15:7-9
7  Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying,
8  This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.
9  But in vain they do worship me…

The absence of the heart in worship is a very matter. This is why Jesus was so quick to embrace wretched sinners, living in all kinds of unrighteousness, but rejected the so-called holy men of Israel.

For instance, we have an example of that in Luke 7 when Jesus was invited into the home of Simon the Pharisee. When a loose, fornicating woman rushed into the house and threw herself at the feet of Jesus, Christ defended her and corrected Simon who lacked all compassion.

The woman, in some respects, was living a life without truth. But Simon was apparently living a life without spirit. That is to say, he had no love, no compassion, and no humility.

Why is the heart so important? Because without it, what is there to motivate us to fall at the feet of Christ? What is there to connect us to Christ?

After addressing this matter with the Pharisees, Jesus began speaking to the multitude at large…

Matthew 15:10-11
10  And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand:
11  Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.

This is the core principle of this passage. But what exactly does it mean?

First, let’s consider the word, defile. It is a word which means pollution and it’s used more than 200 times in the Old Testament alone.

Some examples…

Psalm 119:1
1  Blessed are the undefiled…

James 1:27
27  Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this…

Hebrews 7:26
26  For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled…

Hebrews 12:15
15  Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;

It doesn’t take a theologian to understand that defilement, according to the Bible, is bad. We are to be undefiled. We are to be clean and pure.

Christ expressed to the multitude what exactly can defile us. He told them to “hear and understand.” That is to say, don’t just listen but process it. Think about it. Let this sink in.

Again, he said…

Matthew 15:11
11  Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.

It’s very simple. What goes in is not the problem. It’s what goes out.

But what does that have to do with what happened up to that point? The Pharisees claimed the food the disciples ate with unwashed hands was defiled food which would defile them. Jesus was saying, “Not so.”

Why? Because true defilement is not a physical thing. It’s a spiritual one. Christ was correcting a long-standing error on the part of Israel which was largely instilled in them by men like the Pharisees.

Those ceremonial practices had become a polarizing issue for them. Today, we often make one specific doctrine—one of many—and make that a polarizing issue (election, baptism, etc.). What’s worse is we sometimes do the same with our customs that are not of the Bible.

Some think the most judgmental people are found in the church and they’re not entirely wrong.

As for the Jews, following ceremonial customs was the entirety of what they believed to be proper worship. You must wear the right thing. You must say the right thing. You must do the right thing and do it in the right way.

But even the Old Testament scriptures stated that it goes deeper than those things…

1 Samuel 16:7
7  But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.

However, people are prone to be judgmental. We crave the ability to judge. As a result, we often reduce deeply spiritual things to superficial things so that we are able to judge easier.

For instance, it is our custom to dress up when we come together for worship on Sundays. If we got too carried away with that custom, we might begin to think that only those who are dressed up are truly spiritual. That would make it easier to judge one another, wouldn’t it?

The ceremonial traditions of the Jews made it easier for them to judge. After all, it is much more difficult to look into the heart of a person as God does. By the way, you’ll see this issue at the heart of many false doctrines and customs. (Tell of the woman who was not baptized.)

But according to Christ…

Matthew 15:11
11  Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.

Eating food with unwashed hands was not going to defile them.  It’s what comes out that defiles a man.

Mark said it this way…

Mark 7:15
15  There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man.

Mark’s gospel says it’s what comes out of a man that defiles. Matthew’s gospel says it’s what comes out of the mouth. Matthew was simply making the analogy a bit more tight given the context of eating food.

So, this is not entirely about what a person says, though that is a characteristic of vain religion…

James 1:26
26  If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.

In other words, the person who practices vain religion without heart will often have an undisciplined tongue. He can’t help but be judgmental as he hypocritically condemns others.

Now, there were many rules in the Old Testament concerning what a man eats and touches. There were many things that could defile a person. But those things made them ceremonially unfit. Not once are they described as sinful.

One example would be in childbirth…

Leviticus 12:2
2  …If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child: then she shall be unclean seven days…

A woman was not sinful for bearing a child. So why was she consider unclean and forced to go through this purification process?

It was like so many things of the Old Testament. It was a physical illustration of something spiritual. When they sacrificed animals, it did not atone for their sins. But it was an illustration of what Christ would do for us spiritually.

Just as Hebrews tells us…

Hebrews 8:4-5
4  …seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law:
5  Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things…

To undergo any kind of ceremonial cleansing was to represent the need for a spiritual cleansing. Unfortunately, Israel had long forgotten that those things were illustrations. Instead, they added their own ceremonial rituals to them and came to believe those ceremonial practices would save them.

Christ was presenting them with the reality of the situation. Those ceremonial things were done away with as Christ fulfilled them.

This was a hard lesson even for Peter…

Acts 10:9-15
9  On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour:
10  And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance,
11  And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth:
12  Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.
13  And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.
14  But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.
15  And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.

It took Peter being corrected three times before he got it. Even then, he would later side with the Jews on a similar issue.

Paul wrote about it to the Galatians…

Galatians 2:11-12
11  But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.
12  For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision.

This was a serious issue among those in the early church…

Romans 14:2-3
2  For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs.
3  Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.

In short, it doesn’t matter what you eat. But he also made the point that we shouldn’t do things that offend others just because we have liberty to do them.

Now, the disciples were a little worried after Christ said what he said…

Matthew 15:12
12  Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying?

Religious hypocrites and unbelievers are always offended by the truth. We can’t penetrate the hearts of those who have not had their hearts softened by God. We want to gently guide those who do believe, but we can’t help but to offend those who don’t believe.

So Jesus answered them…

Matthew 15:13-14
13  But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.
14  Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.

This was the lesson of the parable of the tares in Matthew 13. There are tares among the wheat but it’s not our job to root them up. God will handle that on his own. Some Christians act like their on a quest to rid the world of evil. Jesus said, “Let them alone.”

It’s not difficult to understand. But it is difficult to put into practice.

He was telling them to walk away from that type of person altogether. Don’t hang around them to where you follow them into the ditch (which is a pit) or even to judge them.

If you try, you’ll end up ripping up the wheat with them and you’ll inevitably fall with them into the pit.

But Peter wanted some further confirmation that what he thought was hearing was right…

Matthew 15:15-16
15  Then answered Peter and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable.
16  And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding?

So Jesus made it very simple…

Matthew 15:17
17  Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught?

Even the younger ones here get this concept. If you eat something, it eventually ends up in the toilet. It never touches the heart which is what is so important in worship. Those physical customs have no impact on the spiritual condition.

Christ continued…

Matthew 15:18-20
18  But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.
19  For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:
20  These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.

It’s our custom to dress up on Sundays, but am I made less righteous if I wear jeans next week? Of course not. But if I was commit real sin and immorality, that’s another story.

Guess where those sins come from…

Luke 6:45
45  A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil…

Remember what Christ in the sermon on the mount…

Matthew 5:8
8  Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

Our worship cannot be pleasing to God with our hearts fixed on Christ and full of love, peace, and humility—especially toward others.

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