The Tradition Keepers 

My parents had a set of rules by which we, as a family, lived. They were based loosely on the Ten Commandments. Sort of rules that help us to apply the rules. Some were well known and referenced often. Other were somewhat unspoken but recognized and upheld nonetheless.
My parents were not the first to establish a secondary rule to keep someone from breaking a primary rule. Thousands of years ago certain religious leaders were making careers out of it. By the time Jesus arrived on the scene, more than five hundred rules had been added to the laws handed down to Moses by God Himself. This ever-growing body of regulations was called “the Tradition of the Elders.” Its sole purpose was to prevent the Jewish population from accidentally breaking one of the original commandments. For example, the Law of Moses forbade commerce on the Sabbath; so they added a clause that forbade the handling of money on the Sabbath, thereby ensuring that no one would violate the original Sabbath law. Over time, the religious leaders had assigned to these traditions a status equal to the Law of Moses.

To the continued chagrin of the Pharisees and Sadducees – the self-appointed guardians of “the Traditions” – Jesus paid very little attention to their traditions. While He and His disciples observed the Mosaic Code, Jesus seemed to go out of His way to violate the man-made laws of the Jewish hierarchy. The religious authorities would often point to these infractions as evidence of His blatant disregard for the Law, thereby refuting His claim to be a spokesman for God.
Matthew records once such incident. Interestingly, the rule that got Jesus into hot water on this occasion was a rule we had around our house when I was growing up. He forgot — well, I guess Jesus never forgot anything. He decided not to wash His hands before He ate. And His disciples followed suit. This was troublesome to the Pharisees, just like it was to my mom.
According to the Tradition of the Elders, everybody was suppose to wash from the tips of their fingers all the way down to the elbows before partaking (there’s a neat church word) of food. Persnickety as it may seem, the Tradition of the Elders went to great lengths to explain how one should wash his hands before eating. Beyond basic hygiene, this rule was designated to keep people from accidentally becoming ceremonially unclean — that is, to keep a person from unintentionally putting the wrong thing, or something that had touched a wrong thing, into his or her body.
But washing your hands before a meal wasn’t required by the Law of Moses. Sure, it’s a good idea, but the rabbis had made it a standard for righteousness. Over time this rule had taken on the same significance in the Jewish community as the original laws handed down at Mount Sinai.
But Jesus ignored this rule and didn’t insist that His followers apply it either. Here’s how the whole thing went down as recorded in Matthew 15:1-20 (you can read the whole story ahead if you so which before moving on…)
“Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat (verses 1-2).
Clearly these guys needed something to do. Here they are, standing in the presence of a man who heals the sick and calms the seas with His words, and they’re in a tizzy over the fact that He doesn’t wash His hands before meals.
Jesus answers their question with a question (which He often did).
“And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” (verse 3)
He turns it right back around on them. The Pharisees accuse Him of ignoring the rules they’d tacked onto the Law. Jesus in turn accuses them of breaking God’s law in order to keep one of their tacked-on rules. Then before they can respond, He launches into a scathing mini-sermon. He doesn’t hold back. Calls ‘em hypocrites. He accuses them of nullifying the Word of God for the sake of their homemade traditions. It is brutal.
As soon as He finishes with the Pharisees, Jesus turns His attention to the disciples (who were probably busy high-fiving each other over the spectacle of seeing the religious referees beaten at their own game). He picks up on the cleanliness theme the Pharisees have introduced:
“Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? (verse 17)
Now there’s an insight. What enters a person’s mouth will ultimately pass through the body and exit … I doubt anyone wrote that down, except Matthew. But now that He has their undivided attention, Jesus drives home His point.
“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person” (verse 18).
His point? God isn’t nearly as concerned about what goes in our mouths as He is about what comes out of our mouth. God isn’t nearly as concerned about what goes into our bodies as what comes out of our bodies. This is new territory for the Jews; they were extremely cautious about what they put in their mouths. Now Jesus was saying that God was more offended by what came out than what went in.
But it was this comment that must have gotten their attention: “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person”
The heart? Everything that comes out of the mouth comes from the heart. Everything? Did He really mean that? At first glance, I’m inclined to disagree. Surely, not everything that comes out of my mouth originates in the heart?
If you’re like me, there have been plenty of times when you said stuff you didn’t really mean. Again, we’ve covered our mouths and muttered, “I don’t know where that came from!” But apparently, Jesus would respond, “I do. It came from within. It came from your heart.”
But it gets worse.
Jesus goes on to say that the heart is responsible not only for our words but for our deeds as well.
“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone” (verses 19-20).
Evil thoughts? I thought these originated in my …mind. If Jesus is right — and I’m betting He is — my mind isn’t the source of all my thoughts. It goes deeper than that. My evil thoughts originate in my heart. Take a look at the other items on His list. They are all actions, deeds, and behaviours. And they all come from the heart as well.
The implications of Jesus’ words are huge and life-changing. You see, our tendency is to monitor our behaviour while pretty much ignoring our hearts. After all, how do you monitor your heart? Keeping an eye on your behaviour is easy. Besides, I have lots of help with that. I can’t get too far off base in my behaviour without somebody drawing it to my attention. But my heart? That seems a bit more complicated.
But if the items on Jesus’ list emanate from the heart (Matthew 15:19-20), then clearly we need a new monitoring strategy. After all, if we knew how to monitor our hearts, if we knew how to deal with trouble at its source, then perhaps we would see a marked improvement in our behaviour. Makes you wonder why no one ever taught us to do this.
Jesus wasn’t the first to point out the importance of the heart. Nearly a thousand years earlier, Solomon echoed Jesus’ concern when he wrote, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23 NASB). Here we are actually commanded to “watch over” or guard our hearts. The heart is the source.
Somehow, what’s in our hearts, good or bad, is eventually translated into words and deeds. That’s a bit crazy, I know. Especially since it’s so hard to know what’s going on in there. For example, when we hear or see something and suddenly we’re overwhelmed with emotion, we think, That really touched my heart. But we’re always surprised when it happens, aren’t we? Why? Perhaps because we’re so out of touch with our hearts. On the flip side, we’ve all seen and heard things that should have affected us emotionally , and … nothing. No response. And we wonder, What’s wrong with me? Why was everyone else impacted and I just stood there unmoved? Perhaps we have even been accused of being ‘hardhearted’ or having ‘a heart of stone.’ If you’re a guy, you may have even taken pride in the fact that your heart’s not easily moved. But is that a good thing? And is that even true?
The heart is such a mystery. In fact, one prophet asked of the heart, “Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Good question. The implication is, nobody. With which I really concur. And even if we do understand it, we certainly can’t control it — which is all the more reason we need to learn to monitor it. Like the seismic activity of a dormant volcano, what you don’t know can hurt you. If you’ve suffered the consequences from anything on Jesus’ from-the-heart list, you know that to be a fact.
Suddenly someone files for divorce.
Suddenly a kid’s grades drop and his attitude changes.
Suddenly a harmless pastime becomes a destructive habit.
Out of nowhere devastating words pierce the soul of an unsuspecting loved one.
We’ve all seen it, felt it, even caused it. Just as Jesus predicted, what originates in the secret place won’t always remain a secret. Eventually it finds its way into our homes, offices, and neighbourhoods.
Okay, so we’re all volcanoes waiting to erupt. Now what? How do we combat something we can’t even see? How do we guard — or maybe it would be more appropriate to say, guard against — our hearts? How do we monitor what’s going on in that secret place that has the potential to go public at any moment?
I’m glad you asked!
We are called to “guard our hearts” and no set of official commandments from the Lord or man-made rules from religious authorities will enable us to do that. The commands and the rules help us to have right behaviour and provide a standard to live by or, at least, live up to. But, all of that is on the outside and the heart is an inside issue. But, please note once again, that the inside “heart issues” are really the source of the outside behaviours. An understanding that seems to be have been lost in the Church and in the lives of believers today.
Jesus’ words inspired by the Holy Spirit stated … “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone” (Matthew 15:18-20).
There are four primary enemies of the heart — four life-blocking agents that become lodged in the heart, poisoning our relationships, our faith, and our character. We could spend days discussing these. But let’s just list them so that you are aware of what they are. These four damage the heart and result in the  ungodly behaviours contained in Jesus astonishing comments. These four enemies of the heart are what we need to be guarding against. They are: Guilt, Anger, Greed, and Jealousy. As I said – the topic of a book in itself.
So how do we “guard” or protect the heart? Again, the topic for a whole book. But, I would suggest the root of “guarding your heart” is to first give your whole heart to the Lord. When we are truly born again we encounter Jesus as more than Saviour from our sins. He is more than our friend. He is more than our new “crisis management expert.” He is Lord. And, we need to make Him Lord. This means selling out totally to Him. Recognizing that He purchased us back from the devil by His death on the Cross of Calvary. He owns us. And we are no longer our own. As Paul writes, “it is no longer I that lives, but Christ who lives His life through me.” This selling out and truly understanding that Jesus is Lord —and personally accepting Jesus as YOUR Lord — is the starting point of being transformed, receiving a new heart, and beginning a new life “in Christ” as a ‘new creature.’
Then, He helps us to guard our new heart. His Spirit living in us helps us to deal with the issues that have wounded our heart before we met Jesus and brings healing and freedom. As He does that, we work at truly knowing how to love the Lord God with “all your heart.” The more junk and baggage that we allow the Spirit to deal with the more of our heart is free to worship, serve, and love God.
As this process continues (and it is a process or journey) we would do well to read through the New Testament (take a fresh copy and a different version so that you are free to see it with new eyes) and note the references to heart and, in particular, the need to guard it. For example, Luke 12:15 states (Jesus speaking): “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” As you read with fresh eyes and ears — heart eyes and ears — you will note an abundance of verses such as this one. Don’t just jot them down. Pray about them. Meditate on them. Think about them. Think about how they apply to you right now, right where you are. Deal with what the Lord reveals to you. This will free the heart up and heal the woundedness thus allowing you to truly love Him with your whole heart.
So, it is not a matter of rules and more rules. It isn’t even a matter of spiritual disciplines such as prayer, Bible reading, and fasting (which can be just more rules and more tradition). These are all things that are on the outside and they do not defile you. Often we fall back into the “religious rut” and do our praying for an hour, reading three chapters of the Bible every day, and so on. Don’t be a tradition keeper. These things are just tools to help us in our journey and often we have turned them into rules. It is what is in your heart that is the real issue right now. Not all the external structure and routines that we fall back onto most times. Don’t become one of The Tradition Keepers.
As you move forward in this you will note that you are experiencing more and more freedom and feeling more spiritually alive and alert than ever before. That is great. So great. But, don’t let your guard down as there is so much more to experience. So, “guard your heart” and aim for the goal of loving the Lord your God with ALL your (healed and set free) heart.