“Choices and Hypocrites”
September 02, 2018*
By Pastor John Partridge
Song of Solomon 2:8-13 Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 James 1:17-27
Have you ever loved someone?
This question is particularly addressed to those of you who are married or who might soon be married.
Do you remember what it was like to love your significant other before you became “old married people?”
Do you remember how intense your feelings were? How powerful your passion for one another was?
It is exactly this passion and intensity that we find in the Song of Solomon. This poem is all about
Solomon’s love for his bride and her for him. It’s all about the passion and intensity of love and marriage between a man and a woman, but for thousands of years, in both Jewish and Christian theology, it has also been an allegory about the relationship between God and his people Israel, and between Jesus and his church.
Let’s begin in Song of Solomon 2:8-13, where we hear these words:
8 Listen! My beloved!
Look! Here he comes,
leaping across the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
9 My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag.
Look! There he stands behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
peering through the lattice.
10 My beloved spoke and said to me,
“Arise, my darling,
my beautiful one, come with me.
11 See! The winter is past;
the rains are over and gone.
12 Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
is heard in our land.
13 The fig tree forms its early fruit;
the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;
my beautiful one, come with me.”
When used and understood as an allegory, we can see how intensely and passionately God loves his people and his church. Unlike the repeated theme in The Game of Thrones, winter is not coming. In Solomon’s story, and in God’s story, winter is over. Spring has come. The flowers appear. Spring is a representation of new life, of reproduction, and a reminder that a healthy love produces fruit. When we understand our relationship with Jesus Christ in that way, a love that is full of passion and intensity, then we begin to understand that our relationship can, and should, be more that what most of us are experiencing. Just as the Song of Solomon reminds us that our relationship with our spouse could be stronger if it were renewed and refreshed by remembering the feelings of passion, intensity, and love that we once had, it also reminds us that our relationship with God could likely stand some refreshing as well.
In the seventh chapter of the Gospel of Mark (Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23), Jesus confronts a group of church leaders who had forgotten their love for God and who had allowed that relationship to become all about routine, tradition, and rules.
7:1 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus 2 and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)
5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”
6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
7 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’
8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”
21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
The Pharisees and the teachers of the law criticized Jesus because his followers didn’t wash their hands before they ate as tradition demanded. Jesus replies with scripture and quotes the prophet Isaiah while at the same time calling these church leaders a bunch of hypocrites. Isaiah called out the same kind of people in his generation for talking all about their love for God but having hearts that were nothing like the kind of hearts that God wanted. Instead, Isaiah says, they are totally focused on human rules and Jesus says that the church leaders of his generation had done the same thing. They had forgotten the important things that God wanted and focused instead on rules that men wanted.
Nothing has changed.
How often do we see churches that are fixated on rules that you can’t find anywhere in the Bible? Or rules that are twisted to be more important than they ever were when the Bible was written? There are churches that say you can’t be a Christian if you are a Republican and others that say you can’t belong if you are a Democrat, some that prohibit their members from wearing certain kinds of clothing, or drinking alcohol, or smoking, or attending other churches, or listening to other pastors, and on and on it goes. If you listen carefully to many televangelists, you’ll find much the same things and this is exactly what you will find with many of the groups that we refer to as cults. But this sort of thing also creeps into our local churches, and into our personal lives. And Jesus cautions us to be careful that we keep our focus on our hearts. We need to have hearts like God and hearts that love the things that God loves.
We are hypocrites if we talk all about God and have hearts that are full of sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and foolish projects.
James spells this out clearly. (James 1:17-27)
17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
James reminds us all that God does not change. God sent Jesus, the word of truth, so that we could be born to eternal life. As the followers of Jesus, we should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry because anger does not draw us toward the things of God but pushes us away from the things of God instead. Moreover, James has an important word of caution for us as we follow Jesus and try not to become hypocrites like the Pharisees.
James says that we cannot simply come to church and listen to the scriptures being preached, proclaimed, and taught. Coming to church isn’t enough. Listening to, or even reading scripture, isn’t enough. The pharisees heard scripture every day. They studied it. They taught it. They proclaimed it. The even enforced it. But that wasn’t enough because the word of God never made it to their hearts. They insisted that people follow tradition. They called out people who didn’t follow the rules. But they didn’t do the things that God wanted. James says that while listening to the word of God is important, we must also do the things that God has called us to do.
Calling ourselves Christians, and going to church, and reading and listening to scripture doesn’t do us any good at all if we don’t do the things that scripture teaches and act the way that Christians are called to act. James says that those who fail to do what God commands are like someone who looks in a mirror and immediately forgets what he looks like. We would describe such a person as a fool, or worse. But to be blessed, a person must look into God’s word and not forget and do the things that it says. James says that hypocrites who don’t do what they have been taught, have a religion that is worthless.
So, what does all this mean?
It’s simple. And it’s difficult at the same time. The Song of Solomon is a clue, and it reminds us that all of scripture is a love letter from God to his church, and that God’s great desire is for us to love him with the same passion and desire that he has for us. The closest and best understanding of what that love looks like is the love that a bride and her bridegroom have for one another.
But too often, the people, the church, and even its leaders forget the love that they once had for God and they begin to love their own desires and their own rules more than they love God. Both Isaiah and Jesus describe such people as those who honor God with their lips but whose hearts are far from him. They worship God in vain. They have made poor choices. Their religion is worthless. They are… hypocrites.
The only defense that we have is to stay in love. To remember the passion that we once had, and work to return to the lover that loves us back with passion and intensity. Because if our love is real, then that love will be lived out through our actions.
We are God’s chosen.
We are God’s people.
We are God’s beloved.
We must do the things that that God has taught us to do.
Not because of fear.
Not because of rules.
Not because of traditions.
Not because of obligation.
Not because of duty.
But because of love.
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