Have you ever met someone who seemed to be perfect?
Well, my brother, Steve seemed to be. He was clean, neat, organized and he followed all the rules, as long as my parents were watching. I, however, knew the real Steve. This is the Steve that would behead my Barbies and line them up on my bed, perfectly of course. Then there was the Steve that tied my stuffed animals to ceiling fan blades with perfect square knots. How about the Steve that would bark like a dog (in perfect pitch of course) while I was on the phone talking to my best friend Anjie. He was all about appearing to be perfect and he knew how to play the part. Then one summer day he met his match in a row house in Baltimore.
West Virginia Perfection
This particular row house was occupied by no one other than my grandmother, Lois. Lois was born and raised in West Virginia which in her mind uniquely qualified her in the art of determining perfection. So she put Steve to the test.
My grandmother had specific criteria for grandchildren and right off my brother failed her perfection test. The first test he failed was being born. You see had a birth defect; he was male. The second test was the sweat test. I think that pore and sweat gland growth were part of the curriculum in the West Virginia school system during the thirties because Lois was an expert on it. According to Grandma, the original architects of row houses designed the middle room with no windows specifically for male children under the age of eighteen because they don’t sweat. So when Steve sweated, he failed this test too. The last test was the commode flushing test. The toilet could be flushed all night long and not disturb Lois, but somehow she knew when my brother flushed. She would wait until he stumbled back into his bed and then yell at him to go flush it again but this time the right way. So Steve failed the flushing test.
Although Steve failed the West Virginia perfection test his true motivation was a desire to appear perfect to my parents. Most of us do the same thing. We spend a lot of time appearing to be perfect Christians. We focus on rules, regulations and even traditions instead of what God’s Word says. Did you know that religious leaders in Jesus day knew how to play the part of outward perfection too? They were all about following the rules, following the law and following traditions.
In Matthew 15:1-20 and Mark 7:1-13, the Scribes and Pharisees were an official religious delegation sent out from Jerusalem to Galilee to investigate, assess and observe Jesus. Even though they were not from West Virginia, they still considered themselves qualified in determining religious perfection.
The disciples, well they fail the first test. They are not following the ceremonial hand washing tradition. So, these religious leaders call Jesus out on this and accuse the disciples of sinning. At first glance, these guys might appear to be germaphobes like Leo DiCaprio in The Aviator, but that’s not the case. These leaders aren’t concerned about hygiene here, they are talking about a religious tradition. It was to be followed perfectly as an outward display of piety.
Jesus was not happy with these leaders and boy does He let them know it. He points it right back at them by calling them, hypocrites! Now a hypocrite in Jesus’ day did not mean that you “say one thing and do another”. The definition of a hypocrite back then was basically an actor, a pretender, a poser. He tells them that they honor God with their lips and not their hearts. It was all about playing the part of outward perfection.
He tells them that they are elevating their traditions to be equal to God’s Word. In addition, they are also using their traditions to NOT obey God’s Word.
Jesus gives them an example. He points out that God says to honor your parents but some of you jokers aren’t doing that! Your parents are older and in financial need. Instead of helping them out, you claim your money and riches as Corban. Corban means that something is specially devoted to God. Here’s the kicker; just because you claim something is devoted to God, doesn’t mean you really had to give it to God. So, through a technicality, they escaped helping their parents out. They were able to keep their riches but still look like a perfect follower of God. They are perfect on one thing; being hypocritical!
Here is a list of what the Scribes and Pharisees got wrong:
- You don’t elevate traditions or rules above God’s Word or even consider it to be equal to God’s Word. This is called legalism.
- These traditions made these guys sanctimonious. They were religious snobs who looked down on those who did not practice their traditions and were quite quick to point that out.
- Their traditions and attitudes pushed people and kept people away from God. If their rules, not God’s rules, were not followed perfectly, then you were a sinner.
- There are consequences to their actions. Jesus says that they are blind guides and that they worship in vain and He knows it. All that the Father has not planted will be rooted up.
- They were concerned about their perfect religious image instead of their relationship with God.
Being Honest With Ourselves
To be perfectly (yes perfectly) honest here. I have seen with my own eyes when Christians honor God with their lips and then totally dishonor Him with their actions. This is not about letting a cuss word fly out every now and again. These are things that really matter. Like not helping someone out financially because we believe they have made some bad choices in life. It is about pointing the finger at someone and saying, “I told you so”. It is about laughing at someone who says two Corinthians instead of second Corinthians.
Let’s all look in the mirror. Are we honoring God with our lips and not our hearts? Are we religious snobs who look down on others for not following our rules, traditions, or convictions? Do we go to church and pretend to be perfect Christians but in private we act totally different? Do we spend more time looking like a perfect Christian instead of loving God perfectly?
There has only been one who could pass any perfection test, West Virginian or otherwise. That is the perfect One, Jesus. Let’s work on loving Him more perfectly.