I have watched David Letterman for years. Some of you were Carson fans while others are Leno or Conan viewers. Though not as much as I used to, I watch Letterman. As he continues to jump the shark to keep viewers as he ages and races toward irrelevance, one of his latest items on the comedic agenda is “Does It Float?” During this time an item or two will be brought out and voted as to whether it will float in the tank of water or not. Paul gets it right some of the time. Letterman brings out zany items for us all to see whether it will float or not.
2 “Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they don’t wash their hands when they eat!”
3 He answered them, “And why do you break God‘s commandment because of your tradition?
4 For God said:
Honor your father and your mother; and,
The one who speaks evil of father or mother
must be put to death.
5 But you say, ‘Whoever tells his father or mother, “Whatever benefit you might have received from me is a gift [committed to the temple]”- 6 he does not have to honor his father.’ In this way, you have revoked God’s word because of your tradition.
7 Hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied correctly about you when he said:
8 These people honor Me with their lips,
but their heart is far from Me.
9 They worship Me in vain,
teaching as doctrines the commands of men.”
In this context, Jesus is referring to the Pharisees who were taking religious order to new heights with the rules and regulations. Over 650 for the Sabbath Day alone not to mention the other 9 commands! He makes a bold statement to them in these verses, specifically in verse 9. He states that they are teaching people to adhere to the rules and ideas of Man as if they were of God. How often do we do this in our lives and churches?
I remember one night at church, the pastor was teaching the lesson and opened up for questions. I admit, I was slightly rebellious and the pastor was my Dad. However, I did begin with legitimacy when I asked “Why?” I don’t remember what he was even teaching on at this point, but I wanted to know why we should believe or behave in the ways being taught. A vague answer was given and I responded with another desire for further explanation. In short, I did not receive a satisfactory answer other than “It’s right because I say it is.” I am not disrespecting my Dad here but raising a point of concern I believe is rampant in the church today as much as it was in the temple of the 1st Century. We command people to do certain things because “We say so!”
A child approached her mother one evening and asked why she was cutting the ends of the ham before putting it in the pot. To the girl this seemed silly because the pot was certainly large enough to hold the entire thing. Her Mom replied, “I don’t know, go ask your grandmother. I do because she did.” The girl gets off the stool and finds grandma in another room. She quietly sits down next to her and begins to ask about the ham and cutting off the ends. Her grandmother thought for a minute and replied, “That’s just the way my Mother taught me to do it.” After further discussion and investigation it was determined that the reason 4 generations of people were cutting off the ends of the ham was because 100 years ago the pot was too small! The little girl was confused. Why cut off the ham when the pot was large enough today? Her Mom was treating as doctrine a tradition of Man, if you will.
How often we do this in church life today!
Take a look at the things you do and consider why you do them. Some things don’t matter, like the ham. However, other things do matter.
Why does a quiet time have to be in the morning?
Why do people have to walk the aisle before getting baptized?
Why are deacon elections popularity contests?
Are elders really of the devil? That word in Timothy is tricky, right?
Why is music worship but preaching is not?
Why are programs and methods raised to doctrinal levels?
I have witnessed people making such strong claims to these, and other, issues one would think the bodily resurrection of Jesus was being debated. Much of the things we argue about are preference more than doctrine. Let us be careful not to treat as doctrine the simple preferences and stylistic choices of man.
How nice it might be if we could just throw so many of these things in a spiritual pool and what does not float is understood to just be preference, secondary, or tertiary to the real heart of the Gospel and the Church. Let us hold firm to the primary and loosen our grip on the rest. In this way, I believe our collective blood pressure will drop into a healthy range lengthening our productivity and widening our effectiveness. Before you drop your spiritual bomb on someone’s day take a minute and consider if it would float.