“You leave the commandment of God and hold the tradition of men.” v. 8
Religion is a game of technicalities. God’s commands are simple and clear, yet we humans, in our sinful pride are masters of muddying the waters for our own advantage. The scribes and Pharisees, for example, had an intricate system of religious technicalities that allowed them to live any way they wanted and still give the appearance of obedience to God. This self deceiving game worked on everyone except Jesus. He has a way of cutting through the games and revealing a rebellious heart. He saw through the money making scam the Pharisees had set up, (vss. 9-13) that allowed a young man to dishonor his parents and avoid supporting them. All he had to do was “Give his money to God”. He sees through all the games we play in order to have our spiritual cake, so to speak, and eat it too. We honor God with our lips but our hearts are far from him. He’s looking for more from his people than this. God is looking for people who truly love him from the heart. We need to ask the Lord to search our hearts and help us put away the games. Here’s a short list of common games we’ve all played. These are games that we use to avoid obeying his commands and doing his will.
- The tough love game. In this game whenever you want to treat someone badly, you just tell yourself it’s tough love. This enables you to treat people any way you want and still feel like you’re doing them a favor. Sometimes love truly has to be tough, but let’s keep an eye on our motives.
- Technical virginity game. This is played by people who are way too physical in romantic relationships. But they stop short of going all the way and tell themselves they’re still pure. Perhaps a second reading of Jesus teaching on lust would be in order. See (Matthew 5:27-30) for starters.
- The mature grace game. This is a popular one. In this game you tell yourself that since you are saved by grace and not by law you have license to sin. This game also includes looking down on people who still watch their speech, avoid all appearances of evil, and observe the Sabbath. You see your foul language as a sign of spiritual maturity. You’re even more mature than the apostles, since they never did such things.
- The “I’m real” game. Very close to the former game. In this one the player simply claims that his/her sin makes him/her more real than the rest of us. They go beyond hanging out with the lost, and start acting like them. They love to show they can curse, abuse substances, and even engage in promiscuous behavior. If you dare confront them they will call you a hypocrite. But the fact is you know a tree by its fruit, not it’s bark. Last I heard the fruit of the Spirit is still love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.
- The “Don’t judge me” game. This is a favorite. In this game you simply live as you please and dare anyone to say anything about it. Your favorite Bible story is the one where Jesus says, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” What you forget is that at the end of the story Jesus told the accused woman, “Go and sin no more.” not “Go and sin some more.” Telling people not to judge you only highlights the fact that you are living in sin.
- The “God wants me happy ” game. This is popular with people who have no stomach for sacrifice. Despite the Lord’s call to take up your cross and follow, the player insists that God wants us all happy. Your favorite Bible verse is John 10:10, “I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.” So you assume that means He wants you to have everything you want and do as you please. But he also said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but him who does the will of my father.” God wants you happy, but more importantly, he wants you holy.
- The “God knows my heart” game. Any time I don’t want to obey God I just tell myself that God knows my heart. In this way I make myself think God is okay with my actions, or inactions, because somewhere underneath all my disobedience there is a good heart. Really? So even though I never do God’s work, and never listen to his voice or his word, I have a pure heart. Funny, Jesus taught us here that our words and actions reveal our hearts. The truth is, God does know your heart. He knows it better than most of us want him to.
You may wonder how I can be so familiar with these games. I know them, because I have played them. I have found that these games will never fool anyone but me. I know how to work things to make myself look and sound good when I’m really just trying to get by and have my own way. But I find that when I put the games away and truly seek to love the Lord fully and obey him sincerely, that God fills my life with more than I could ever gain on my own.
In our home, game night is a great time. We pull out the board games and fill the evening with laughter, and fun. We get to spend an hour or two, sometimes more, living in an imaginary world of strategy and adventure. But eventually the games have to end. We put the board and cards away, and return to life. I guess that’s what Jesus is calling us to do today. He’s calling us to put the games away and return to life. The life of faith and love found in surrender to Him.