Mark 7:1-23 – Rules and Regulations

In this passage, Jesus clashes with the Pharisees. That’s not a surprise. However, the subject of the clash probably is: hand washing. The disciples had not washed their hands before eating. Now, to us (especially in COVID days), that perhaps sounds a bit gross. We perhaps imagine that the reason that there was an issue was because the disciple’s hands were obviously dirty, especially as the word “defiled” is used. This is probably not the case. Let’s be honest, how many of us give our hands anything more than a cursory rinse before eating if they look clean?

The disciples hands, if they hadn’t washed them, were probably mostly clean. So, the Pharisees were not questioning the disciple’s hygiene. The Pharisees were questioning the disciples adherence to ritual practices. Before Jews ate, they performed a ceremonial washing of the hands. The worry was that the disciples had come into contact with something that was ritually impure (for example, they could have come into contact with someone that had contact with blood, like a butcher). So, their hands may have been ritually defiled, not literally defiled. This is what they were meant to wash off, the “impurity” of day-to-day life.

Jesus condemned the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. It is not what they have come into contact with that makes them unclean. It is what is in their heart and the outpouring from that which makes them unclean. It is not the purity rituals but their morality that decides what type of person they are. This is why only God can truly judge us; only he can weigh the contents of a person’s heart.

Of course, the church has been so much better at this in recent times, hasn’t it? (We’ve only got to think of the appalling treatment of those on the outside of society by some of the church to realise this is not the case. A particularly harrowing example is the treatment of those born out of wedlock in Ireland, for example.) And although we perhaps don’t have such strong concepts of ritual purity, we’ve perhaps replaced this with social niceties today. These, too, are about the outward but superficial signs of goodness. You can still be malicious but say your please and thank yous.

Here’s a short and interesting video about how the UK church is too middle class. A lot of what we do, without realising, alienates those who don’t know our rules and regulations, our rituals and ways of doing things.

I wonder how then, we go about caring about what Jesus cared about. How do we see people as he saw them and focus on issues of the heart rather than outward and superficial signs of goodness. Truly, I don’t think we can. At least, not without the help of the Holy Spirit in us.

1 Peter 2

The second chapter of 1 Peter begins with a continuation of the theme of holiness and living an obedient life to which we were called. It tells us to remove anything that hinders this holiness. It’s interesting that in Peter’s list in 1 Peter 2:1, the priority is the relationships we have with one another. Malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, slander are all about how we view or interact with others. Therefore, our holiness is not an individual thing that we obtain through distancing ourselves from others, but it is actually obtained in communion with others.

This idea is further expanded upon in verses 4-10. Each believer is a spiritual stone, that is being formed to create a temple. The foundation stone of that temple is Jesus. What is also interesting is how a temple is where God’s presence that dwells on earth. We have often been told about how God dwells within us. But often we consider it an individual idea, but there seems to be quite a few verses that explore the idea of a community believers being his dwelling place. I imagine that it is a bit of both: we are individually chosen as stones for a wider body which creates a dwelling place for the manifest presence of God in the world. Verses 9 and 10 use a variety of images that have a group and community aspect to it.

Peter then tells us to live under the authority and rule of unkind masters. First, he discusses the emperor, who would have been Nero. Nero oppressed and killed Christians, so it was not something that was easy. Then, again the topic of slavery comes up. This is because slavery was widespread during the writing of the New Testament, in the context of the Roman Empire. Here, Peter acknowledges the injustice of it, but also asks the slaves to patiently endure. We are to take our model from Jesus, who suffered the greatest injustice of history without retaliation. The key is to trust God as the one who his just. Therefore, it is through remembering Christ’s sufferings that we too are able to endure sufferings.

1 Peter 1

Peter is writing to believers throughout Asia Minor and the Middle East. In the first few verses, he recognises those as God’s elect, God’s chosen, those sanctified by the Holy Spirit and those who are obedient to Christ.

Peter praises God for what he has given us: hope in difficulties, an imperishable inheritance, mercy, new birth. Although the believers may have sufferings, they are filled with an abundance of joy and faith, rejoicing in God. I wonder if the first thing that people say when they think about Christians is, “they have an abundance of joy”? I don’t think it is. But it’s such a crucial part to our faith. We are called to be joyful people, always thinking of the many mercies we have received from God and of our salvation through Christ. How do we do that? Well, Philippians 4:8 gives us a clue.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8

I wonder how often we are distracted or frustrated needlessly. I know I am. Even minor issues or difficulties can cause me to lose sight of God’s goodness and the hope I have in him.

Peter then goes on to tell us what we are to do in response to God’s grace and mercy: be alert, hopeful, obedient and holy. We are to shun the desires that we had previously and seek holiness. This holiness should pervade all we do, and it a holiness that reflects God’s holiness.

Titus 2

Here, Paul tells Titus how he is to instruct pretty much every aspect of society. He’s already discussed leaders and those who preach an incorrect message in the previous section. Now he discusses old men, old women, young women, young men and slaves.

What’s interesting about this chapter is that it discusses common stereotypes (older, gossiping drunk women; lazy, argumentative slaves), and tells them to counter these stereotypes in how they live. A lot of the ideals mentioned were in fact Greek ideals (being busy at home, for instance), so it’s perhaps a lesson of how we need to be seen as upright not only in a Christian context, but also the context in which we live. Titus was in Crete, a Greek island which had a reputation of being somewhat immoral. Therefore, it was important that the Christians there were an example.

The importance of this is in verse 10 and 11. We are to make the teachings about God attractive so that more may be saved. The grace of God is for everyone, therefore, we should let no one despise us. We were redeemed from wickedness, we are purified and should be eager to do good.

Colossians 3

Like in his other letters Paul lets us know what living as a follower of Christ should look like and what it doesn’t look like.

First, he tells us to focus both our hearts and minds on heavenly things. Our desires and our perspectives should be based on higher things than the earth.

Then he tells us what the markers of Christian life are:

  • Compassion
  • Kindness
  • Humility
  • Gentleness
  • Patience
  • Forgiving others
  • Love
  • Unity
  • Peace of Christ ruling our hearts
  • Thankfulness
  • The message of Christ dwelling among us
  • Wisdom
  • Psalms, verses, songs to God in our conversation and in our hearts
  • Wives submitting to their husbands
  • Husbands loving their wives
  • Children obeying parents
  • Servants obeying their masters
  • Working as if for God not man

Christian living does not involve these things:

  • Sexual impurity
  • Lust
  • Evil desires
  • Greed (which is idolatry)
  • Anger
  • Rage
  • Malice
  • Slander
  • Filthy language
  • Lying
  • Fathers embittering their children

Again, these are quite a list.

But if we do it with our focus upon Jesus in his throne, then we will desire to love and serve him.

Bible in a Year: Day 8

(I’m writing these a bit out of order. I’ve been on holiday in Mondulkiri, so I’ve missed a few days on writing them up. However, I’m still ahead of myself by two days now. I’m glad I gave myself a bit of a lead. I want to try and gain it a bit further to give myself some grace. I’m shockingly bad at persevering at these things, so I’m trying to make it as easy as possible on myself.)

I love the idea in proverbs of parents handing down instruction to their children. There is something beautiful about having a Biblical and Godly heritage. I’m glad for mine.

I found the Matthew passage a bit depressing whilst reading it. It tells you not to worry, to seek the Kingdom of God first, and that the road ahead is narrow and only a few find it. I’m now worrying about not worrying and whether I’ve found the right path or not. Often people who get desperately lost do so because they think they’ve been going the right way for a good while, only to realise that they were on the wrong path all along.

Have a borne good fruit? Am I one of the people Jesus will recognise on the day or judgement or not?

I am full aware that I’m not a perfect Christian. I’ve already failed at reading the Bible everyday this year and we’re not even a week in. How am I capable of walking the right path?

However, I’m reminded of the following verses:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose.

Philippians 2:12-13

Therefore, I think there is a healthy measure of despair when it comes to this. It helps you learn to lean on God. For it is Jesus who is the author and perfecter of our faith, not us. Sometimes, I give myself a tick-list of how to “get my act together” as a Christian, but I need to realise that I have to give that responsibility to Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

I just need to take each day as it comes and rely on the God who works in me to will and to act.

Dear God,

Help me to rely on you. Work in me to will and to act in order to fulfil Your good purpose.

In Jesus’ holy name,

Amen