TITLE: How Would We Know That You Are a Christian?
SCRIPTURE: Matthew 15:10-28
How would we know you are a scout? Well, you would wear a uniform. You would go to scout meetings. You would earn merit badges. Those are things that scouts do. That's how we would know that you are a scout.
How would we know that you are a quilter? Well, you would have drawers full of fabric. Probably boxes full of fabric too. You couldn't drive by a fabric store without stopping. You might even stitch a quilt or two. Those are things that quilters do. That's how we know they are quilters.
How would we know that you are a Jew -- if you were a Jew? Well, you would keep the Jewish law -- the Torah.
Of course, not all Jews keep the Jewish law. There are observant Jews and non-observant Jews -- but, for our purposes today, let's just talk about observant Jews -- religious Jews. The chief characteristic of an observant Jew is that he or she observes the Jewish law -- the Torah. It's that simple.
Except that the Jewish law isn't simple. The Jewish law includes 613 commandments -- 365 "Thou shalt nots" -- and 248 "Thou shalts." They get pretty complicated.
Food laws are one of the things that distinguish the Jewish people. We call it "keeping kosher." You might have Jewish friends who "keep kosher." Even if you don't know much about keeping kosher, you probably know that observant Jews don't eat bacon or ham.
Leviticus also says that Jews may not eat camels. It would be easy for me to keep that law, because I have never been tempted to eat a camel.
Leviticus also says that Jews may not eat rock badgers. It would be easy for me to keep that law too, because I have no interest in eating a rock badger.
Leviticus also says that Jews may not eat hares or rabbits. I would rather eat a rabbit than a camel, but I am happy enough to leave both to someone else.
But here's the rub. Leviticus says that Jews may not eat pigs. That rules out ham and bacon and pork -- all of which I enjoy. So that would be not so easy.
But then it gets really complicated. Both Exodus (23:19) and Deuteronomy (14:21) say, "You shall not boil a kid in its mother's milk." Frankly, that just seems like common decency. Who would want to boil a lamb in its mother's milk? The whole idea is disgusting. Boil it in water -- or roast it over a fire -- or bake it in the oven -- anything but boiling it in its mother's milk. But the Jewish law says, "You shall not boil a kid in its mother's milk." Simple enough!
But the rabbis got together and made things complicated. By the time they were through, Jews would have to have one set of dishes for meat and another set of dishes for dairy.
Now multiply that by infinity, and you will have some idea how complicated it can be to keep the Jewish law.
But the Jews were just trying to do what God told them to do. I can't fault them for that-- can you?
Keeping those food laws was and is part of Jewish identity. How would we know that you are a Jew? One of the ways that we would know is that we would see that you "keep kosher" -- that you observe the Jewish food laws as laid down in the Torah.
Jesus lived in a place where everyone observed the Jewish food laws -- EVERYONE! No exceptions! And he said this. He said:
"Listen and understand:
it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person,
but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles" (Matthew 15:11).
That might not seem earthshaking to you, but it sounded earthshaking to the Pharisees. Pharisees spent half their lives worrying about what went into their mouths -- because their scriptures said that was important.
But Jesus said, "It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person." What! That went against everything that the Pharisees believed. And they had good reason to believe what they did, because they were just trying to do what their scriptures commanded.
The problem, of course, was that the Pharisees had gotten so entangled in their interpretations of the law that they neglected more important things -- things of the heart. That's what Jesus was trying to correct. So he said:
"Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth
enters the stomach,
and goes out into the sewer?
But what comes out of the mouth
proceeds from the heart,
and this is what defiles.
For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder,
theft, false witness, slander.
These are what defile a person" (Matthew 15:17-20a).
Pianist Artur Rubenstein, who spoke eight languages, suddenly found himself suffering from hoarseness. It got so bad that he could barely speak, and it continued day after day after day. Rubenstein was a smoker, so he began to wonder if he might have cancer. After many worrisome days, he finally decided to consult a physician.
The doctor conducted a thorough examination, but gave Rubenstein no clue about a diagnosis. The doctor told him to return the next day. Rubinstein went home, where he hardly slept. He was terrified at the prospect of learning that he had cancer.
The next day, Rubenstein returned to the doctor, who examined him at length once again. Once again, the doctor said nothing about a diagnosis.
Finally, Rubenstein could take it no longer. He said, "Tell me! I can stand the truth. I've lived a full, rich life. What's wrong with me?"
The doctor said, "You talk too much."
So how would anyone know that you are a Christian? It wouldn't be by observing what you eat. Jesus said that the Jewish food laws weren't all that important. The Apostle Paul made it clear that Christians don't have to observe them.
But if the food laws aren't important, what is? Jesus said that the important thing isn't what goes into our mouths, but what comes out of them. The words of our mouths are important, because our words have their beginnings in our hearts.
If our hearts are dark, hateful words will come out of our mouths -- hurtful words -- words that wound people -- words that put people down.
If our hearts are dark, we might say things like, "You were never any good!" -- or "You're stupid!" -- or "Can't you ever do anything right!"
If our hearts are dark, we might call people names -- names like nigger or wop -- names intended to hurt -- to put people down -- to wound them.
If our hearts are dark, we might make fun of other races or ethnic groups. We might make fun of people with handicaps.
If our hearts are dark, we might use words to dominate other people -- to control them -- to bend them to our selfish purposes.
If our hearts are dark, we might scream at people. We might scream at our children. Children, after all, can really push us to our limits.
Some of us had parents who screamed at us. If you were one of those children, can you remember how frightened you were -- how small and terrible you felt? The screaming hurt, didn't it. It didn't make you strong and brave. It made you want to hide -- to disappear -- to die.
Don't do that to your children -- don't scream at them. There are better ways to correct children -- much better ways. If you don't know how, talk to a professional counselor or attend a parenting class. Or buy a book on parenting and do what it says.
When you talk to your children, step back now and then and listen to your words. Listen to the tone of your voice. Ask yourself whether those words came out of the dark side of your heart or the light side -- out of the Jesus side or the other side.
Make an effort to tap into the Jesus side of your heart. You can do it. You will be surprised how much better you will feel. You will be surprised how much better your children will behave. You will be blessed by a new and positive tone in your home.
In his letter to the little Galatian church, the Apostle Paul contrasted the "works of the flesh" with the "fruit of the Spirit." He said that the works of the flesh include such things as jealousy and anger and drunkenness and carousing. But the fruit of the Spirit include these nine things. Listen carefully:
"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy,
and self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23).
I began by asking how anyone would know that we are Christians. Jesus said that they can tell by the words that come out of our mouths. He said that our words come out of our hearts. Our words tell people whether we have put Jesus in charge of our hearts.
Listen to the words that come out of your mouth. Are they loving words -- joyful words? Do they bless your family and friends with peace? Are they patient words -- kind words -- generous words? Are they faithful words -- if you promise something, do you deliver on your promises? Are they gentle words? Do they show that you have yourself under control?
If so, you can be sure that Jesus is winning the battle between good and evil in your heart.
If not, ask Jesus for help. You will still have to work at it, but Jesus will make it possible for you to win the battle between good and evil in your heart. When you do, lots of things will change in your life.
One of the biggest changes will be in the words that come out of your mouth -- loving words -- joyful words -- peaceful words -- kind and generous words -- gentle words.
When people hear those words, they will know that something significant has changed in your life. They will sense that there is a new king on the throne of your heart. They will see Jesus reflected, not only in your words, but also in your life.
And your witness will cause people to give glory to your Father, who is in heaven. In other words, the words of your mouth will help people to understand that you are a Christian -- and they will also help people to give glory to God.
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