The Heart of the Matter
Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” [ ]Mark 7:14-23
After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)
He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
Jesus has gathered a crowd around him to again repudiate some of the burdensome Jewish ceremonial laws that obscured the quest for purity that pleases God. He explained that it is not food, nor eating it with unclean hands, that make a person unclean, but the multitude of evil inclinations that reside deep in the heart. Popular author and conference speaker Jerry Bridges declares: ‘Thus we have an implacable enemy of righteousness right in our own hearts. What diligence and watchfulness is required of us when this enemy in our souls is ready to oppose every effort to do good.’
Bridges teaches that the heart is deceitful. Only God can know with certainty what lies within us (see Jer 17:9-10). We have hidden motives, many of which are rooted in sinful desires. The heart excuses, rationalizes, and justifies our actions. It blinds us to entire areas of sin in our lives. It causes us to deal with sin using only halfway measures, or to think that mental assent to the Word of God is the same as obedience (Ja 1:22).
A second thing we should realize is that indwelling sin works through our desires. Ever since his fall in the Garden of Eden, man has listened to his desires more than his reason! We are speaking here, however, about the evil desires that lead us into sin! If we are to win this battle for holiness, we must recognize that the basic problem lies within us.’
What does this all mean for stewardship? It means that we must acknowledge that the sinful desires and inclinations that come from deep within us keep us from doing what we are called to do. We cannot always discern what they are, where they lurk and how they have disguised themselves. But the Scriptures suggest a few: fear (see Ge 3:10), envy (see Pr 14:30), hatred (see Gal 5:20), selfish ambition (see Ja 3:14), the cravings of sin, the lust of the eyes and pride in possessions (see 1Jn 2:16). And the list goes on.
To discern these negatives, a steward must allow God to search his or her heart and mind, ‘for the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart’ (Heb 4:12). It is also a matter of study and discernment in recognizing the subtle and not-so-subtle influences of the world and its attitude towards service, spirituality, sex, freedom, family, money, possessions, time environment, and all types of relationships.
We can steward our hearts by being mindful of what we absorb through our senses, not only keeping out the bad influences, but taking in the good (see Php 4:8).