Monday, August 06, 2007

What Defiles

I read Mark 7:14-23 for my devotions today, and translated the passage for myself tonight. Keep in mind that the Pharisees had just complained to Jesus that his disciples were violating the Levitical law by eating with unwashed hands. Jesus replies scathingly by quoting Isaiah ("The lips of this people honor me, but their heart is far from me. . ."). He then seeks to correct the understanding of the gathered crowd and his disciples:
And when the crowd was called to him again he said to them, “Everyone listen to me and understand. It is not what is outside of a man, then goes into him, which is able to defile him, but that which comes out of a man is what defiles the man.” And when he went from the crowd into a house his followers asked him about the saying. And he said to them, “Are you also thus without understanding? Do you not understand that anything that is outside, then goes into a man, is not able to defile him because it does not go into his heart but into his stomach, and goes out into the latrine? (He pronounced all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a man--that defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of a man, evil designs come forth; sexual immorality, thefts, murder, adultery, greediness, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, covetousness, slander, haughtiness, folly--every one of these evils comes out from within and defiles a man.
I saw a couple of things in the Greek (think of it as HD-TV) that I had never noticed before in the English. First, it's interesting that when the author notes that Jesus pronounced all foods clean, he means that Jesus pronounced it in the way that a priest would declare a healed leper clean. Jesus pronounced all foods Levitically clean. As one cleansed of disease no longer needed to be shunned by the community but could be touched and embraced, foods which had been unclean according to the Law no longer needed to be shunned but could be touched and ingested. Second, it seems pretty evident to me grammatically that the first item in Jesus' laundry-list of sins which come forth from within men is meant to be a general descriptor of the rest of them, like a title over a bulleted list:

Evil Designs
  • Sexual Immorality
  • Thefts
  • Murder
  • Adultery
  • Greediness
  • Wickedness
  • Deceit
  • Sensuality
  • Covetousness
  • Slander
  • Haughtiness
  • Folly
"Evil designs" could be rendered as "evil thoughts" or "evil plans" or "evil purposes." If one really wanted to Anglicize the whole clause it could be rendered, "For from within, out of the heart of a man, evil schemes are hatched." It gets at the idea really well but I think plays too fast and loose with the text. Anyway, I was really sobered by this second one because Jesus is making the point that the Pharisees could do their ritual hand washings all they wanted but it would do nothing to remove their (deeper) defilement in the sight of God, which can't be rinsed off so easily. I was reminded of the fact that sin is not mainly something bad I do because I was provoked by someone/thing outside of me, but a rottenness residing within me that is revealed by my actions. The fact is, the bad things I do don't make me evil, they prove that I'm evil. It's the chicken-and-egg question: What came first, the sinner or the sin? Jesus says the sinner came first. This means that if I curse when I spill my coffee I can't say, "I cursed because I spilled." The spill only revealed that I am profane. If someone is rude to me, I can't say, "The rudeness made me angry." No, the rudeness just revealed that I am angry. If an indecently clothed woman passes me on the street and I have an impure thought I can't say, "I had an impure thought because she wasn't decent." According to Jesus the indecency merely revealed my impurity. This means I can't blame my sin on what someone else does. Provocations don't make me evil, they prove that I'm evil. Sin is in me. Thankfully so is God the Holy Spirit, who continues to work in me to make me "pure and blameless . . . filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ" ( Col. 1:10 & 11).

9 comments:

MadMup said...

Man, what a thought-provoking post! A lot of good stuff here, especially about circumstances revealing our inward character rather than causing it.

And the "Greek-as-HDTV" analogy is perfect :)

Great post, Josh.

jd meade said...

Josh,

Great blog you are running here. Great post.

As I think about the application of this passage to our highly "excusative" culture (i.e. "Blame it on the brain" or Blame it on the way you were raised), this text cuts through our excuses like a knife. Furthermore, as Christians, this text forces us to reckon with the fact that we are sinners, and our proper response should be confession of sin for He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Thanks for the post.

Scott said...

Deep stuff, man. So simply, yet so well, put! Thanks for making me think today!

grammy reese said...

JOSH, I LOVE READING YOUR COMMENTS ON GOD'S WORD. MY FAMILY IS GRATEFUL THAT YOU AND GRETCHEN ARE IN OUR LIVES, HOWEVER FAR AWAY YOU TWO ARE NOW; BUT WE ARE HAPPY WHENEVER YOU COME HOME FOR A VISIT. THE TWINS LOVE YOU BOTH, BUT I'M SURE YOU KNOW THAT. WE WILL PRAY FOR YOUR SCHOOLING AND GRETCHEN'S WORK AND FOR YOU TWO AS YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE ACCORDING TO JESUS AND FOR HIS GLORY. FRAN R.

Emily said...

I'm glad you liked the biscuits, Josh...I miss you...
-emma

M. Kate said...

Hi Josh,

Mark told me I needed to come read this, glad he did. God's certainly given you wisdom. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Josh,

That is interesting, very similar to what Pastor Scott was preaching about like 2 weeks ago. Were you THERE?
I have thought about that a ton of times since that message, mostly when I have been angry with people. This passage points out the sin of anger that is there, rather than the excuses come to mind so easily. Like why I should get to be angry at them. I have been so convicted several times just this week. Anna

Josh said...

Anna,
Anger is one I struggle with too. Scary to think it's lying dormant in there, just waiting for an excuse to manifest itself. Your comment raises a good question: How do we respond to conviction? My tendency is to despair, but I don't think this is the response the Spirit means for us to have. Conviction is not the same as condemnation. Conviction says "there's hope," condemnation says "there's no hope." Conviction is a hopeful thing because it's the good news that God is keeping his promise to continue the good work he began in us. Our sanctification is going forward. So we are convicted of sin, and we confess it, and we rejoice that God gladly and rightly forgives us because Christ was already punished for that sin, but we do not despair because the mere fact that conviction happened is an encouraging sign that the Spirit's work is progressing.

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