Monday, March 15

Human tradition vs. God’s commands

Scripture: Numbers 29-30, Matthew 15

Matthew 15:2–3 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” 

3 Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?

Matthew 15:9 “‘They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’”


The Pharisees observed Jesus’ disciples breaking tradition by eating with unwashed hands and complained, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?”

Jesus responds, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?”

Notice the difference: breaking a human tradition vs. breaking a command of God.  This is what religion does.  It adds human tradition to God’s commands, and sometimes the tradition trumps the command!  It makes complex what God made simple.  It turns into burdens what God meant to bring freedom.  Eventually, religion becomes “merely human rules”.  



Where have I allowed human rules and traditions to trump God’s clear commands?  The best place to look for this is where I’m critical of others (like the Pharisees were critical of Jesus).  Sometimes I am critical because someone is breaking God’s command.  But sometimes I’m critical because someone is violating my rules, my tradition, my preferences.  Then I’m a Pharisee! 

When I was in college, I traveled with a Christian band called “The Joyful Noise.”  One Friday afternoon, we were setting up our gear in a church for an evening concert.  We had gotten hot and laid our coats on the communion table.  A elder member of that church saw this and went ballistic.  Red-faced, he yelled at us to remove our coats and stop desecrating the sacred table.  We did—and we apologized.  But he had “broken the command of God for the sake of his tradition.”  There is nothing in the Bible about communion tables—that’s human tradition.  But God’s command to love your neighbor is clear, and he broke that.  

Can you think of an example of someone breaking the command of God for the sake of human tradition?

Next time I’m critical, stop and ask myself if they are breaking tradition or God’s command.  It will help me avoid becoming religious and hypocritical—two very real dangers for Christians.  

Prayer: Lord, I want to keep the main thing the main thing.  I want to love You with a pure and simple devotion uncluttered by human religious traditions—and that’s hard to do.  Help me!