God’s Guide to a Well-Lived Life: Traditions of Men versus the Word of God (Mark 7)

God’s Guide to a Well-Lived Life:
The Traditions of Men versus the Word of God -
Mark 7:1-8

Is “gluttony” a sin? Is it a sin to be “gluttonous”? Well, to answer this question, we have to go back to my sermon last week: we have to study the Bible. Let me show you want I have found in the God’s word…

The word “gluttonous” is found four times in the OT: Deut. 21:20; Prov. 23:20-21; 28:7. The Hebrew word translated “glutton” is found a total of eight times. Jeremiah uses the word in his book and in Lamentations: Jeremiah 2:36; 15:19; Lamentations 1:8, 11. None of those other passages relate to what we understand as “gluttony.”

The passage in Deuteronomy 21:20 is the description of a rebellious son, by his parents, of being “gluttonous.” In that text, there is no biblical definition of “gluttony.” In the passage from Proverbs 23:20-21, the wise man warns God’s people to avoid “heavy drinkers of wine” and “gluttonous eaters of meat.” Why? Because they will come to poverty. So, what is the definition of a “gluttonous eater of meat”? How much is too much? Health professionals today advise we eat one gram of protein for every 1 kilogram of weight. That means I should eat 70 grams of protein each day. If I eat 71 grams of protein, am I being gluttonous? If I eat 80 grams of protein each day, am I being gluttonous? What if the medical professionals change their opinion about what is healthy? What if they drop the number down to 60 grams per kilogram? If I still eat 70 grams, am I being gluttonous? If the medical professionals up the limit to 80 grams, am I no longer gluttonous if I eat 80 grams? What’s the standard? How do I know if I am sinning against God by being gluttonous? What’s the definition?

In the last passage from the OT that uses the word “gluttonous” or “glutton”, Proverbs 28:7, the wiseman warns God’s people not to be a companion of those who are “gluttonous” because you will humiliate your father. But in that context, the first part of the verse shows that “gluttonous” refers to someone who does not keep the law of God.

So, the OT does not help us at all in determining whether it is a sin to be gluttonous and how to define that sin. Of course, we know that we are not accountable to God under the Law of Moses, so let’s turn our attention to the NT:

The word “glutton” or “gluttonous” or “gluttony” is used in the NT three times: Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34; Titus 1:12. In the Matthew 11 passage and Luke 7 passage (they are parallels), Jesus is quoting Jews who were criticizing Jesus for being a “gluttonous man” and a “drunkard.” But, we don’t know what they meant by that. What is “gluttony”? In the Titus 1:12 passage, “lazy gluttons” comes from a quotation Paul uses of a Greek writer who is criticizing the people from the island of Crete. So again, I’m not helped in understanding about “gluttony” and how to avoid it, how to know if I have committed the sin.

Is it sinful to have a “body mass index” (BMI) that is too high? Is it a sin to be “obese” according to your BMI? Who defines what is sinful? Last year at this time, my BMI put me into the “overweight” category. Was I guilty of the sin of “gluttony” because I was “overweight” by man’s standards? This year, my BMI dropped just below the “overweight” category. Does that mean I’m not guilty of gluttony anymore?

I have dealt extensively with this point for this reason: man comes along and tries to define what sin is and he confuses others; or he comes along and ignores what God has defined as sin, and he, again, confuses others. Only God can define what is sin and what is not sin. The word “gluttony” or “gluttonous” is not found in any list of sins in the NT. If you look at the list of sins in Romans 1, Colossians 3, Ephesians 4, Galatians 5 and the works of the flesh - there is no mention of gluttony and no synonym for gluttony.

The first Sunday of each month, we are looking at “God’s Guide to a Well-Lived Life” from the gospel of Mark. Today, if we want to live a well-lived life, we need to take seriously the commandments of Christ and follow them, and recognize that only Christ as the power and authority to define something as a sin. We will not stand before any single human being on the day of judgment. We will only be accountable to Jesus Christ. That concept is liberating.

Several years ago, while I was preaching in KY, a woman came to visit worship. I think it was around Thanksgiving time; it was during the holiday season. She had one question to ask: “Do you all celebrate Christmas?” I responded, “Well, if you mean having plays or pageants or that type of thing during worship, no, we do not have that type of thing. We do not make a big to-do over Christmas as the birth of Christ.” She said, “OK. I want to worship somewhere that celebrates Christmas.” And I never saw or heard from her again.

We all recognize that celebrating Christmas as the birth of Christ is a manmade tradition. Protestants have created quite a few rituals surrounding Christmas and the celebration fo the birth of Christ. But here is an example of a woman who decided that she was going to “judge us” as a church unfaithful to Christ simply because we would not practice human, man-made rituals.

Let’s study together Mark 7 and see how Jesus responds to the question: “Traditions of men or the Word of God?”

At this point in His ministry, Pharisees and scribes come up from Jerusalem, the heart of the Jewish religion. They have seen or heard about Jesus not following the traditions of the elders (cf. Luke 11:38). Rather than criticize Jesus directly, they attack His disciples: “Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?” “Traditions” refers to something passed from one generation to the next. It can refer to teachings handed down from Jesus to His apostles to the next generation of Christians (1 Cor. 11:2; 2 Thess. 2:15; 3:6).

However, the elders of Israel, who largely were Pharisees, had taught for many years that Moses revealed “oral” traditions to the elders of Israel just as much as he had revealed the written law. Obviously, they believed they were the guardians of that oral tradition. Eventually, the oral traditions would be written down, some 200 years after Jesus returned to heaven. That written copy of the oral tradition is called the Mishnah. But those traditions were considered on equal authority with the written law. That will be the source of the criticism Jesus offers in this event. These traditions seem to have originated as a result of the Babylonian exile, which occurred because the Jews did not take God’s word seriously. Apparently, the elders started creating traditions around the Law so that the Jews would not break the Law again. The problem became serious because those traditions were enforced as if they were the actual laws of God. That is what Jesus is dealing with here.

The OT had required priests to wash before they entered the tabernacle (Exo. 30:17-21). The Jews’ tradition broadened that application and said all Israelites should wash their hands before they ate. They did not want to make themselves unclean. The elaborate rituals the elders had developed and required (Mark 7:3-4) shows that their concern was more about appearance than cleanliness.

Jesus turns the question around, as rabbis often did, and asked why the Pharisees were transgressing the commands of God through their traditions. The verb “to transgress” means to “go beyond.” God’s commands authorize what they authorize. Man is obligated to obey God’s commands and live within the limits of God’s commands and man has no authority to go beyond those commands. That is the definition of “transgress” and is synonymous with sin.
Then, for the only time in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus calls them “hypocrites.” He quotes Isaiah 29:13 and states that Isaiah was prophesying (in broad terms) about Jesus’ contemporaries. Their “commitment” to God was only superficial; it was only verbal; it was only for show. They honored God with their lips. But the spirituality only went that far; it did not touch the heart. Their hearts were far from God. In a parallel sense, in verse 7, Jesus says that they worship God in vain because they were teaching doctrines or teachings that were the “commandments of men.” No man has a right to elevate his own thoughts and / or traditions to the same level as the teachings and commandments of God through Christ.

To prove His point even further, Jesus quotes the fifth commandment from Exodus 20:12 as well as the commandment from Exodus 21:17. The law, God, had said: “Honor father and mother” and “the one speaking evil against father or mother should be completely put to death” (the phrase reflects the Hebrew language’s emphatic construction). But, the Pharisees (the “you” is emphatic in verse 11) twisted the words of God, as they tended to do. The Pharisees had developed a tradition that if someone had sworn an oath to give to God (the definition of the word “corban”), then they were not obligated to give to their parents. In that way, Jesus says, they were making the word of God void, pointless, worthless, through their tradition.

Due to this confrontation, Jesus took the opportunity to direct His attention to the crowds of people seeing and hearing this interaction. He calls on them to listen and to understand. It is not what enters into the mouth and stomach that makes a man unclean in the eyes of God (ver. 14-16). It is what comes out of man that makes him unclean. Jesus will elaborate on His meaning when the disciples asks Him about it (verse 17).

The disciples do not understand what Jesus had said about foods. The Law of Moses was well-known for declaring some foods clean and some unclean (Lev. 11). Faithful Jews observed those laws scrupulously (cf. Acts 10:9-16).

Jesus chastises His disciples for their lack of understanding. He wants them to understand that foods going into the mouth and stomach do not make a person unclean in the eyes of God. The reason is because foods do not touch the heart or the mind. They pass through the stomach and are expelled into the latrine, or toilet. Clarifying His teaching, in verse 20, Jesus says the things that come out of a man are what make him unclean in the eyes of God. The reason is because sin originates in man’s heart. In verses 21-22, Jesus gives a list of sins, among many in the NT, which all originate in the heart.

Sin makes a man unclean in the eyes of God, but eating without washing one’s hands has no relationship with sin. Sin starts in the heart. Again, you will notice that neither “gluttony” or any synonym is mentioned in this list.

Please understand that this sermon is not about “gluttony.” It is about the idea that man easily develops rituals in church and religion and the longer those rituals are practiced, the more in-grained they become and the more we start thinking that our opinions have the authority of Jesus Christ. That, family, is sinful.
This event should emphasize that man does not have the right to teach doctrines that are not taught by Jesus Christ. No man has the right to add laws (traditions) to the laws that Jesus has left in His word. In effect, that would be teaching “another gospel” (see Gal. 1:6-9; Rev. 22:18-19). To reemphasize Jesus’ point, no man nor group of men, nor church council, has any authority to create rules or laws for Christians. That is transgressing God’s commands.

Take home message: We have no right to bind our opinions on others. We must respect the laws of Christ and the limitations placed on us to define what is sin.


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