“These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me” (Matthew 15:8).
I suspect some of us are marginal Christians, just around the edges.
The Lord Jesus knew His Bible. He was quoting Isaiah.
In the 8th century B.C., the prophet said: “Therefore the Lord said, ‘Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men, therefore I will again do a marvelous work among this people….'” (Isaiah 29:13-14).
Look out at the typical congregation most any Sunday morning. It isn’t hard at all–nor, in my opinion is it judgmental–to see on display this very thing: people honoring God with their lips while their hearts roam across some foreign country somewhere.
It’s not a new thing. While Isaiah preached in the 8th century B.C. and our Lord eight centuries later, you and I witness the same two thousand years afterwards. It seems to be a human affliction.
But the condition is older than that. Listen to the Psalmist….
“Nevertheless they flattered (God) with their mouth, and they lied to Him with their tongue; for their heart was not steadfast with Him, nor were they faithful in His covenant” (Psalm 78:36).
The underlying reality
What’s going on here? Why would God’s people play the hypocrite, the play-actor, and just go through the motions in their worship? Why would they robot-like write their checks, plant themselves in a pew, mouth the hymns, and walk out of church without ever encountering the living God and yet assure themselves they had done their duty to God?
I have a theory.
The Lord is not asking for feelings or wishing for greater emotions.
I cannot find any place in Scripture that places a premium on emotional exuberance. Tears flow, shouts are voiced, hands raised, some dance. It’s all good. But it’s not a sign of anything permanent. It’s the evidence of good feelings. And don’t we all appreciate good feelings? Sure we do. But that doesn’t seem to be what the Lord is wanting.
The Lord is asking what you know and in whom you believe with all your heart.
It’s the whole life, not the emotional outskirts.
A man goes to work in the morning and labors hard all day long. He is doing it for his family whom he loves with all his heart. But that love is not evidenced by a lot of emotion or syrupy songs and words. It’s far more solid than that. The wife and children occupy a central place in his life, in his mind, in his heart, and he thinks of them often, prays for them constantly, and cannot wait to see them after work.
Steve and Danielle had a mixed marriage. He was Baptist, a member of my church, and she a Roman Catholic. We all lived in metro New Orleans where Catholicism may as well be the state religion. It was a Saturday night and we were attending a wedding in our church. During the reception Danielle said to me, “So, pastor, does this wedding count as church for this week?”
That was a question no one had ever asked me. It left me speechless for a moment, which may explain why I responded the way I did. In retrospect, it seems harsh. But this is what I said.
“Danielle, we don’t play that game. We come to church to worship God, not to check it off as our religious duty.”
It reminded me of a line I heard once. Asked about his religion, this fellow said, “I’m Catholic–around the edges.”
I know plenty of people who are Baptist around the edges. Or Christians around the edges.
Around the edges won’t get it. In depth is the only way to go.
As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. (Colossians 3:6-7)
What do you know…deep down inside? That’s what is on display in your worship.
–By this we know that we know Him if we keep His commandments. I John 2:3
–By this we know that we are in Him (whoever keeps His word). I John 2:5
–We know that we have passed from death to life because we love the brethren. I John 3:14.
–By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of the Spirit. I John 4:13
–By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. I John 5:2
I’m not suggesting we sit in judgement over the people in our congregations. “Let every man examine himself,” said the Apostle (I Corinthians 11:28).
When I go to worship, I am the one who determines whether or not real worship will take place in my heart. No one else is in charge of that, whether or not we call him or her “the worship leader.” I decide whether I will worship.
And I choose to worship. I bring an offering. I humble myself. I pray with my whole self. And I listen for a word from God.