“He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matthew 11:15, NKJV)
Jesus repeatedly used this exhortation (Matt. 13:9; Lk. 14:35; Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). Having “ears to hear” is about having a heart that is ready to accept the teachings of Christ. Jesus used a similar exhortation when He said, “He who is able to accept it, let him accept it” (Matt. 19:12). Ears are closed to hearing the gospel of the kingdom when hearts refuse to receive it. So then, our heart condition reveals whether or not we have “ears to hear” God’s word. This is the essential message of the parable of the sower and the seed (Matthew 13:3-9). The hard, closed heart does not receive the word of the kingdom (Matt. 13:19). The shallow, emotional heart listens – until the cost of discipleship is too great (Matt. 13:20-21). The crowded heart is overtaken by other concerns that choke the word and prevent hearing and fruitfulness (Matt. 13:22). The good heart is the soil that listens to God’s word, understands it and bears fruit (Matt. 13:23). The good heart hears (receives) the parable of the sower (Matt. 13:18). We must guard against having ears that “are hard of hearing” God’s word (Matt. 13:13-15). If you have “ears to hear” it means your heart receives the word of God, holds it fast, and bears fruit with endurance (Lk. 8:8, 15). The good news is we can change our hearts and start having ears to hear by repenting, receiving the truth, and obeying it. Do you have ears to hear God’s word?
18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him.” (Mark 7:18–20, ESV)
The Law of Moses contained dietary restrictions for Israel which distinguished between clean and unclean animals (Lev. 11). Jesus removed those limitations, explaining that food does not defile a person (Col. 2:14-17). Evil that comes from within our heart defiles us (Mk. 7:21-23). Demanding abstinence from certain foods as a way of holiness is apostasy (1 Tim. 4:1-3). Yet, some faiths that forbid certain foods in the name of Jesus. One example is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose Word of Wisdom (Doctrine and Covenants 89) forbids “hot drinks,” which Church leaders have explained means abstaining from coffee and tea (“Vaping, Coffee, Tea, and Marijuana,” New Era, August 2019). Seventh-day Adventists typically follow a vegetarian or vegan diet due to supposed revelations of Ellen G. White (“What Do Seventh-day Adventists Eat?,” seventhdayadventistdiet.com). By contrast, the Bible says that “food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse” (1 Cor. 8:8). When it comes to righteousness, we must be more concerned about what comes out of our hearts than what goes into our stomachs. “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).
14 When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear Me, everyone, and understand: 15 There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man. 16 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Mark 7:14–16, NKJV)
We can understand the teachings of Jesus by listening to them. It concerns us when Christians take exception with that simple statement of trust in the inspired word of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Eph. 5:17). When we reduce the teachings of Christ and His apostles (who taught His commands, 1 Cor. 14:37) to personal and relative “interpretation,” we have elevated ourselves above the Lord and surrendered our allegiance to His authority (Matt. 28:18-20; Col. 3:17). In today’s passage, Jesus taught that spiritual corruption does not occur because of what one eats, but is due to what comes out of the heart (Mk. 7:17-23). Understanding that evil proceeds from the heart and is identifiable is not a personal, relative, or so-called traditional interpretation of the Scriptures – it is what Jesus said (read Mark 7:20-23). We ought to ask ourselves, “Do I have ‘ears to hear’ Jesus?” If so, you will understand Him. Do not be deceived by attempts to persuade you that understanding God’s word amounts to accepting a tradition about the Scriptures. Truth is not open to different interpretations or opinions. Therefore, neither is understanding it. We open our hearts to the devil when we close our ears to the word of God by reducing an understanding of it to “our tradition.”
5 “Get wisdom! Get understanding! Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth. 6 Do not forsake her, and she will preserve you; Love her, and she will keep you. 7 Wisdom is the principal thing; Therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding.” (Proverbs 4:5–7, NKJV)
People everywhere are trying to get fortune, fame, and fun. But, when was the last time you heard someone say, “I want to get some wisdom!”? Unfortunately, wisdom is not like driving up to the gas station and topping off the tank. Wisdom is the careful understanding and application of truth. Solomon prayed for “an understanding heart” to judge Israel and to “discern between good and evil” (1 Kings 3:9). He asked God for a “hearing” heart, and God blessed him with “a wise and understanding heart” (1 Kings 3:12). So, how do we “get wisdom?” James said to “ask of God” for wisdom (James 1:5). Today’s passage adds that we must listen to and not turn away from the words of our heavenly Father by loving and keeping the wisdom that comes from God. God’s wisdom is revealed in the gospel of Christ (1 Cor. 1:23-25). Wisdom is developed by having a hearing heart that receives God’s words, loves them, and keeps them. Many people are striving to get many things – wealth, fame, power, a name for themselves, etc. – but, the principal thing to get is wisdom from above. That wisdom, when remembered and kept, will bring you blessings now and forever more (James 3:13-18).
28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. (Matthew 5:28–29, NKJV)
Jesus said the place sin begins is the heart. The heart is the mind, the seat of our intellect, will, emotions, conscience, and volition. “Lust” means to “set the heart upon,” to “long for” (Strong’s Concise Dictionary of Greek NT Words, I:31). In the heart, lusts (and plans to fulfill them) are contemplated, formulated, and postulated before they are practiced (Jas. 1:14-15). The mind is also the place where lusts can be regulated, resisted and refused (Jas. 1:16; 1 Cor. 10:13). Jesus used exaggerated language in vss. 29-30 to describe the extent of the repentance required to remove the source of sin and escape the suffering of hell. Repentance changes the heart so that the lust to sin no longer has a place to reside within us. To repent of our sins we will have to surrender things very dear to us in order not to perish in sin. (The removal of an eye or a hand illustrates the severe nature of repentance.) We will not see the profit of severing our connection to the sin in our hearts as long as our lusts are more precious to us than eternal life. Giving up sin is a small price to pay to escape the everlasting punishment of hell.
27 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27–28, NKJV)
Sin, including the sin of adultery, begins in the heart. The actual sin of adultery puts lust into action. That is, adultery is the physical action of a lustful heart (Heb. 13:4). The sin of lust occurs in the heart, and it leads to the sin of adultery, which is committed with the body and against the purpose of the body (1 Cor. 6:18). Lust and adultery are two distinct sins, with one leading to the other. (This is similar to hate in the heart and murder – two sins, with one leading to the other, 1 Jno. 3:14-15.) Some say today’s passage justifies putting away a spouse who has committed a lustful action (such as viewing pornography). Viewing pornography is certainly a sin of fleshly lust, but it is not the sin of adultery (Gal. 5:19; Col. 3:5-7). (One can lust without committing adultery, but one cannot commit adultery without lust being in the heart.) We cannot redefine adultery to include pornography, and then legitimize putting away a spouse for the cause of pornography. Viewing porn and committing adultery are distinct sins. Viewing porn is lewdness, uncleanness, evil desire, and sinful passion. But, it is not the sin of adultery. Let us help people repent and repair the damage done to their marriages by pornography. But, let us not sanction divorce and remarriage for the cause of lust (pornography), and call it “for the cause of fornication” (Matt. 19:9).
20 And He said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile a man.” (Mark 7:20–23, NKJV)
I received an interesting question about sin recently: “Could you explain the difference between the noun sin and the verb sins?” The grammatical answer is a noun identifies the sin (its nature, content, etc.), while the verb describes the active practice of that sin. Covetousness, for instance, is a noun identified as greedy desire to have more. It resides in and springs from the heart, presenting itself in greedy, covetous conduct. For example, when Achan saw the spoils of Jericho he said, “I coveted them and took them” (Joshua 7:20-21). Sin exists in the heart, and it presents itself in our actions. We cannot only think of sin as something practiced. It is also something held in the heart. Jesus confirmed this when He said to look at a woman to lust after her is to commit adultery in the heart (Matthew 5:27-28). Lust in the heart is sin, and lust that presents itself in the act of adultery is sin. Whether sin is identified as a noun, or its action is discussed as a verb, its wages is death (Romans 6:23). Salvation from sin, whether “noun” or “verb,” is through the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:16-17; Acts 2:37-41).