Vain Worship

Pastor Tony Butler

Prattville Alliance Church


Matt. 15:1 - Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked,  "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don't wash their hands before they eat!" Jesus replied, "And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? …you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”


During her reign, Queen Victoria was once at a diplomatic reception in London. The guest of honor was an African chieftain. All went well during the meal until, at the end, finger bowls were served. The guest of honor had never seen a British finger bowl, and no one had thought to brief him beforehand about its purpose. So he took the finger bowl in his two hands, lifted it to his mouth, and drank its contents--down to the very last drop!

For an instant there was breathless silence among the British upper crust and then they began to whisper to one another. All that stopped in the next instant as the Queen, Victoria, silently took her finger bowl in her two hands, lifted it, and drank its contents!  A moment later 500 surprised British ladies and gentlemen simultaneously drank the contents of their own finger bowls.

It was "against the rules" to drink from a fingerbowl, but on that particular evening Victoria changed the rules---because she was, after all, the Queen. It is "against the rules" to wash your hands before you eat, and on that the Pharisees call the hand of the disciples who follow Jesus. But Jesus recognizes their hypocrisy and he quotes from Isaiah, "These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me."

When we as Christians are more caught up in our little man made rules and traditions that override the greater laws of love, grace and mercy, then the Word of God is made void and God is worshipped in vain. We become ineffective and irrelevant to the needy around us who are starving for spiritual reality. Our worship and relationship to God becomes mere lip service.

Where is our passion for people? Why are rules often more important to us than people? Why must people perish because of traditions within our churches that disallow them lest they conform to the rules?  Man made rules are important at times to secure order and decency but they were never intended by God to undermine effectiveness in reaching people.

I have seen people get far more upset over the breaking of man-made rules than the fact that those same people are lost and going to hell. How many people have come to me in tears over the sad spiritual condition of a loved one? Few. How many have come complaining about broken rules? More than I can say. Jesus died on the cross for people. They are His passion. Nothing is more valuable to Him than a human soul. He gave His very own life for us. If people are not our passion, and if we have allowed legalisms to take precedent over God’s grace, then we can be assured our hearts are far from His heart. Thus, the only service rendered is from the lip.

May we give Him heart service that rejoices in His love and grace in order to reach a lost world that desperately needs Him. Blessings on you all, have a Jesus filled day!