Author: Ron Graham
The text for this lesson is Isaiah 29:13. "...these people draw near to me with their mouths, and honour me with their lips, yet have removed their hearts far from me. Moreover, their worship toward me is the doctrines of men."
Even by the time the Messiah had come, many religious leaders were false in their worship. God was honoured in words, but insulted in practice. A stark example of this is the second occasion on which Jesus cleansed the temple by driving out those who were desecrating it. He said, "It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer' but you have made it a den of robbers" (Matthew 21:12-13, Isaiah 56:7).
Note —TEMPLE CLEANSED: There were two occasions on which Jesus drove people from the temple. The first is recorded in John 2:13-22, the second in Matthew 21:12-13.
Jesus showed great concern for the digression of his people from true worship and service to God into the hypocrisy and vanity of the religion they practised. When he quotes Isaiah 29:13 in Matthew 15:7-9 he uses the translation, "In vain do they worship me..." When we look at Isaiah 29:13 we can identify three elements of the worship that made it vain.
1 They honour me with lipservice
It is possible to repeat words in worship to God without participating in their meaning.
Perhaps you have occasionally found yourself in church singing a hymn, singing every word clearly, even enjoying the song, only to realise that you were not taking note of the words but thinking of something else. This makes you feel rather foolish before God, because you have been singing in worship to him by wrote, without thinking about what you are singing. Imagine if you worshipped like that all the time! How vain that worship would be.
Note —LIPSERVICE: Lipservice means saying “YES” with your mouth but saying “NO” in your heart and by your actions. It is honouring God with your lips when your heart is far from him.
Meaning and believing what we say
Words uttered by the mouth, however true, do not impress God if the speaker is not taking account of their meaning. Some religions have forms of words that are considered to have power in themselves. But true religion is taking account of what the word of God means, and believing it.
Imagine, for example, reciting the Apostles’ Creed or similar when you do not believe half of what it says, or reciting the Lord’s Prayer, "Our Father in Heaven..." when you do not believe there is a real Father in Heaven. Even so-called bishops have been known to do this.
2 They remove their hearts far from me
The secret of true worship is that we "worship in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). Not only must the things we say and feel be true, but they must be the love of our spirits, our heart's deep desire. Unfortunately many people worship from ulterior motives, and the desires of their hearts are far from God. For example...
- Self glory. Some seek their own glory and praise (Matthew 6:2-7, 16-18)
- Money. Some seek wealth and earthly prosperity. They seem to be serving God, but they do so because they think God will make them rich on earth. This is not true Christianity (Matthew 6:19-24)
- Own Inventions. Some love and follow their own tradition rather than the word of God. As we noticed earlier, this was the particular problem that Jesus was referring to when he quoted Isaiah, "In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:7-9). So we will take this example in a moment as the last major point of this lesson.
When our hearts are centered on things like those listed above, then our hearts are far from God and we worship him in vain.
3 They reverence human traditions
As we said before, there are those who love and follow their own tradition rather than the word of God. When they do this, their worship and service is vain. It is vain in both senses of the word...
- Vain because it is presumptuous. People who think they should replace the word of God with their own inventions and traditions are suffering from vanity and pride.
- Vain because it is empty. Men are not able to invent a religion of any substance. Religion must come from God, not from the devisings of humanity (1Corinthians 1:18-31).