Perhaps the reason that Christ chose
Peter as the leader of the apostles was simply that he was a bold man. He
apparently had the virtue that teachers often seek: he wasn't afraid to ask a
question, even a stupid one.
Matthew 15:10-20 NASB After Jesus called
the crowd to Him, He said to them, "Hear and understand. (11) "It
is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out
of the mouth, this defiles the man." (12) Then the disciples *came and
*said to Him, "Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they
heard this statement?" (13) But He answered and said, "Every plant
which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted. (14) "Let them
alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind
man, both will fall into a pit." (15) Peter said to Him, "Explain
the parable to us." (16) Jesus said, "Are you still lacking in
understanding also? (17) "Do you not understand that everything that goes
into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? (18) "But the
things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the
man. (19) "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries,
fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. (20) "These are the
things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the
If there is a distinguishing characteristic to the church in
which your author attends, is this: our great tradition is that we have no
traditions. We see traditions as evil, and we always seek the bold, the hip,
the new, the cool and the "with it." So why is it that other
societies have traditions?
First, traditions start as the solution to a problem. Somebody
had a difficulty; a solution was produced and then implemented.
Traditions also are used to prevent the problem from coming back.
Good manners have the same effect.
In the way, tradition is the vote of the people who don't happen
to be walking around on top of the planet. The brains of our ancestors are
often preserved in our traditions.
So perhaps tradition is quite as bad as we have painted it.
But understand this passage we will need to look at the traditions in Peter's
The problem starts with the Mosaic law. Despite the impression
which is given by reading through Leviticus, the Mosaic law is not entirely
specific about every possible contingency. So the various rabbis, when
confronted with a particular test case, were required to give an opinion.
Those opinions — since they were rendered by the experts on the
law — became, over time, de facto a part of that law.
Let me give you a modern example. Just after World War II,
and Orthodox Jewish man sought out and found his fiancée from before the war.
Both had been taken captive by the Germans. He was appalled to find that she
had been tattooed with a legend which translates to, "whore for Hitler's
troops." The You of Moses says that rape can occur in the city only if the
woman does not cry out for help. The man then asked the rabbis whether or not
it was lawful for him to marry her, under the circumstances. The rabbis ruled
that her cry for help would've had no effect, and therefore she was innocent of
being a prostitute. They were permitted to marry.
You can see the problem. The law is holy; it is perfect —
but doesn't quite seem to cover this case. The rabbis reasoned that this was a
situation like a woman being raped out in the countryside, in which the law
does not require her to call out, as there would be no one to hear her. This
process has been going on a long time; even in Peter's time there was quite a
mass of rabbinical decisions.
Perhaps you think that we are immune to this. Let me give
you a simple example: does your church use grape juice instead of wine for
communion? If so, you are following a tradition that dates back to the 19th
century. Check into the history and you will see that the first church to use
grape juice was the Salvation Army. The idea was popularized by a grower by the
name of Welch — as in, Welch's grape juice. In our own church we no longer have
a worship service; we have a "weekend experience." The idea is simply
that what used to be a worship service is now an appeal to your emotions
(because God one heart.) This is been going on long enough, and is so firmly
implanted, but I suspect it might soon be challenged on the basis of it being
traditional (and therefore suspect.) Tradition arises organically: no one
actually sets out to create a tradition.
The word itself has an interesting history. It comes from
the French, and it means "to get out of line." (See the word file in
the middle?) It's based on the concept that there is such a thing as
righteousness independent of our own existence. It also assumes that we all know
that fact. When we violate that righteousness we might feel defile. And at one
time or another, all of us do violate that righteousness.
The question for modern man is whether or not the fact of
defilement produces the feelings associated with it. Put shortly, do you feel
"dirty?" Before the sexual revolution, most people felt this way if
they had sex outside of marriage. That feeling has largely gone away, with the
exception of rape. So we can have the fact of defilement without the feeling.
We can also get the feeling without the fact. For example,
is your house clean enough? Are there dirty dishes lying in the sink while you
are here at church? Some of us (your author is one) don't really care about
this. There are others for whom this is a major failing, and they feel very
guilty about it. It very much depends upon who sets the rules that drive your
guilt. It also depends on whether or not you examine those rules to see if they
are really the truth.
There are other ways to get a fact of defilement without the
The most common way is the searing of the conscience. We do
something so often that we simply no longer pay any attention to feelings of
If that doesn't work, self-justification is always available.
And in certain circumstances, we can honestly plead ignorance.
A Matter of the Heart
Dealing with defilement as a Christian is a matter of the
heart (the will, that is, not the emotions.) At the root of the matter our
faith is one which is grounded in love, not in fear. It is not the terror of
the judgment that drives people to become Christians, the love of Christ shown
at the cross. Perfect love casts out fear. We may therefore examine some of the
fears we have and ask if this is or isn't something which defiles.
For many of us, we have the fear of being different. If we don't
look, act and think like the people in the pew next to us, we must somehow be
inferior Christians with something to hide. The pressure to conform in church
is very great. But defilement is a matter of fact, not a matter of style.
A more potent indicator of defilement is the shame associated
with it. In short, we're afraid somebody might find out. If we are hiding
something we have a good chance that it is something that defiles. It is
certainly something that should be examined; but remember, defilement is a fact
not a feeling.
Sometimes it's the reverse: we're afraid of not being noticed. We
feel that somehow or other people should praise us for our attitude, good
works, shiny new Bible or whatever. Again, examine the facts.
It's a matter of the heart, and therefore only you know the
facts. But because it's a matter of the heart the inner life of the Christian
matters greatly. If you want the facts to say that you are not defiled, you
should practice the inner life of the Christian:
It's a life of prayer. Remember that sin is forgiven when you ask
— and you should ask in prayer. There is a good reason why the Lord's prayer
has the phrase, "lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from
The inner life includes the study of the Scriptures — reading
them, and then meditating on them.
Of course, the test of whether or not you are defiled can be
seen in the outer world. You can look at the results in your own life and you
should know. But there are some cautions here:
This is self judgment, not the judgment of others. Just because
you feel defiled over something doesn't mean that somebody else must also be.
You don't know what's in their heart.
One of the best places for this self judgment — call it self
examination — is at communion. We are commanded to examine ourselves before
communion; there is a reason.
If you don't like what you see in that self-examination, do
something about it.
You have to have some sympathy for Peter here. He's been
raised in a "rules and regulations" society. What he's trying to do
here is to get it right. Like most of us he's trying to reconcile the old way
of doing things and the new way of doing things, and it's tough. It's all the
more difficult because the new method is actually quite a bit more difficult
than the old one. But then again, the new one carries with it the aid of the
Holy Spirit; the old one did not.
Matthew 18:21-35 NASB Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how
often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven
times?" (22) Jesus *said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven
times, but up to seventy times seven. (23) "For this reason the kingdom
of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his
slaves. (24) "When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten
thousand talents was brought to him. (25) "But since he did not have the
means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and
children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. (26) "So the
slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, 'Have
patience with me and I will repay you everything.' (27) "And the lord of
that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. (28)
"But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a
hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, 'Pay back
what you owe.' (29) "So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to
plead with him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you.' (30)
"But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay
back what was owed. (31) "So when his fellow slaves saw what had
happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that
had happened. (32) "Then summoning him, his lord *said to him, 'You
wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. (33)
'Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I
had mercy on you?' (34) "And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over
to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. (35) "My
heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive
his brother from your heart."
Peter is still stuck amidst the rules and regulations here.
But he has learned that somehow or other they are not quite sufficient, so he
has logically decided that the smart thing to do is to exceed their
requirements. It is the wrong paradigm — think of it as trying to be
"holier than thou" — and it's not going to work. But Christ does not
condemn him for an inadequate response; instead, he enlightens them. That's
typical of our Lord. We give him our best and he will show us a way to do
Failure to Forgive
The story is a classic one of God's mercy. One of the great
mistakes that people make is to assume that our version of mercy is like God's
version of mercy. It is not. God's mercy is infinite; ours is limited by our
humanity. His mercy is our perfect example; we are imperfect people. God's
mercy is the greatest because it is based upon the cross. We cannot duplicate
that, but we can imitate that. Indeed the imitation of Christ is the working
model of Christian life.
It's important to see here that if we accept God's mercy,
failure to forgive is in fact hypocrisy. Think about that for a second; perhaps
you thought you were just being stubborn about it, or somehow it has become a
matter of principle not to forgive. But the fact is that if you are a
Christian, you have accepted God's mercy. You have proclaimed to the world that
you are a sinner in need of a Savior. You have accepted Jesus Christ as both
Lord and Savior, and pledged yourself to imitate him. He commands you to
forgive; he gives you the example of ultimate forgiveness. To refuse to forgive
Of course, the world might not notice that particular type
of hypocrisy. But if you happen to proclaim the mercy of God than such
hypocrisy is instantly visible.
The world's reaction to this is somewhat unfortunate:
Most people are astonished when you forgive. They expect you to
do things the world's way — at least try to get even. Forgiveness is
They will usually condemn you for complete lack of sense, as
Of course, that makes forgiveness a wonderful teaching
The Other Slaves 'Reaction
In this circumstance we see the other slaves’ reaction to a
failure to forgive. We might take this is a model for Christians; what is it
you're supposed to do when one of your fellow Christians fails to forgive —
particularly in such a spectacular manner.
They were "deeply grieved." Does the failure to forgive
grieve you? Do you feel a sense of disappointment when those around you in the
church refused to forgive? It is a training of the heart to know that a lack of
forgiveness is deeply wrong. It's easy to understand not forgiving. That
doesn't make it right.
They reported this fact their master. A parallel to the modern
Christian would be to take it to God in prayer. But be sure that you do this
with the correct motives. You are seeking the correction and repentance of
another Christian, not a lightning bolt from the sky.
There is one question unanswered here: what was their reaction to
the result? They went to their master seeking what seemed to them to be simple
justice. As we shall see it was delivered in quite a severe form.
The Master's Options
We might make a comparison here with what God is going to
do. The master in this circumstance has four options:
He may show compassion, as he did when he was first asked to do
This compassion is also shown by his intentions before being
asked for mercy. He was simply going to sell slave, his wife and family, all
their possessions and pocket the money as partial payment what the man owed
him. As we shall see, this is relatively merciful compared to the other
A more severe option of the time (which existed throughout most
of history until the 19th century) was to throw the man in jail until he paid
up. As a practical matter of fact this is a life sentence. Being sold meant
that you kept your family together; this option split it apart.
The most severe option is to hand the man over to the torturers,
and had him tortured until he paid up. This is a life sentence too, but much
worse. Of course, the spiritual parallel is eternity in hell.
We may take this as a heavenly example. On earth, in this
life, God offers us compassion. But if we will not repent we get the worst
possible sentence. If we will not learn to show forgiveness, no forgiveness is
Luke 12:41-48 NASB Peter said, "Lord, are You addressing this
parable to us, or to everyone else as well?" (42) And the Lord said,
"Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put
in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? (43)
"Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes.
(44) "Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his
possessions. (45) "But if that slave says in his heart, 'My master will
be a long time in coming,' and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women,
and to eat and drink and get drunk; (46) the master of that slave will come
on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will
cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers. (47)
"And that slave who knew his master's will and did not get ready or act in
accord with his will, will receive many lashes, (48) but the one who did not
know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From
everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they
entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.
(The parable just before this concerns being ready for the
return of our Lord.)
Christ is in the habit of answering the question you should
have asked. Some might suspect Peter here is asking that he has stumbled upon
some bit of secret knowledge that only the inner circle possibly know. That's a
powerful lure; but one of the aspects of Christianity is that there is no such
thing as the secret knowledge. God reveals his plan to all who will listen.
More likely, he was asking whether or not the severity of the judgment at the
return of Christ applied to everyone, or just the leaders of the church. That's
the wrong question; the right question seems to be, just how will the leaders
of the church be treated, based on their actions?
Duties of Those in Charge
Notice that Christ presumes that the faithful and sensible
steward, in charge of his servants, is just that: in charge. Those who rule
over the church are to do just that: rule. Of course, we have the example of
Christ washing the feet of his disciples to show us what servant leadership is.
This does not preclude a sense of decisiveness, nor does it prevent a sense of
justice. But within that framework we have the following duties:
To "give them their rations." In short, to serve up the
meat of the word is our duty. We need to remember that what we are serving up
is not our own thought, but his. It's a temptation to the very intelligent to
decide that their own thought is so brilliant that it needs to be added to or
substituted for the mind of Christ. It's also necessary to remember the recipe:
cook it to the tastes of those receiving. Some need the milk of the word; some
need the meat.
To do so "at the proper time." With appropriate
apologies to Rick Warren, it is not really possible to eliminate biblical
illiteracy in six weeks. It is necessary for the teachers and preachers to
select that which is important at the time, without neglecting the whole. This
is not a trivial concern. It is possible to preach on the subject which pleases
everyone and enlightens no one. It's like sonar: if you don't hear an echo,
you've lost them.
Might we add that we are to be faithful and wise in doing this?
It is good to ask what role music should play in a worship service — something
which is certainly changed over the millennia. In our time, the use of modern
technology is a concern. The wisdom of the serpent is called for. But we must
also do this in faithfulness. Remember that what some call faithful us others
call stubbornness (and others say it is stink on a paper mill — always there.)
Price of Failure
Christ defines here three types of failure:
There is willful abuse. This is definitely abuse, the use of the
church's money to eat, drink and be merry. It's the person who uses the church
for his own personal gain. Please note that this does not imply that everyone
who is paid a salary in the church is somehow abusing it. But if you are using
it, it's a ticket to hell.
There is neglect. This means that you know what you should be
doing, and you don't do it. Christ promises you a severe beating for this, but
there is some question as to whether or not this involves going to hell. It's
enough to make a man believe in purgatory.
Finally, there is ignorance. This is not as rare as you might
think; there are many church denominations out there from the study of the
Scriptures is a lost art. Even in those groups which prize the study of the
Bible, there is always the tendency to say "people smarter than me think
this…" It's a fine line to walk between avoiding ignorance and then
committing hairsplitting. Still, there is some punishment for ignorance — which
is a good reason to study the Scriptures.
Reward of Success
It's always good to note perils of failure, but we should
also look at their warts of success. It is not possible for us to describe what
life will be like the new heaven and new Earth. The matter is probably beyond
our fathoming. But we should know these two things:
Somehow, we are to be placed in charge of all of God's
possessions. I have no idea what that means, but it is obviously intended to
mean something very good.
As always, those of us who have been given much (like, for
instance, Americans) will have much expected of them.
The way to make sure the boss doesn't get you goofing off —
is to never goof off.