Somethings discussed in Scripture are truly heaven and hell issues in that if you go wrong in that command or teaching it will cost you your eternity with God and instead give you an eternity in hell. Focus on such an issue in comparison with one that clearly wasn’t such. In Matthew 15:1-20 some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem to ask, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat?” It wasn’t that the apostles were eating with filthy hands but that they weren’t going through the prescribed ritual washing before they ate. It is extremely important to see how Jesus answered these religious leaders. “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ And ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is devoted to God, they are not to honor their father or mother with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites!” (Verses 1-7a)
The whole matter brought up by the religious leaders was over something that wasn’t a heaven or hell issue at all. It had to do with a tradition they had from the elders. It wasn’t really a bad tradition. Many of the things we do as traditions from the past are really good things as long as we don’t confuse those things that are traditions of men with commands from God. Most churches have traditions about how many songs before a prayer and about whether or not they sing during the taking of the Lord’s Supper. I’ve worshiped God in both ways and haven’t been bothered by either one. But suppose I went to one of the churches where they sing during the Lord’s Supper or as one place I went to for a meeting, they had a man standing and reading God’s Word very effectively while we took the communion, but suppose I don’t like doing either in worship. It violates my traditions, so I make a fuss to try to get the church to change their practice or tradition to go along with my tradition. Neither way is wrong. Either one is right. Because God didn’t say anything about what would be done during our taking of the bread and fruit of the vine. What would be wrong would be my causing problems in the church over something that isn’t commanded in the Bible but is a human tradition.
But Jesus answered their question by raising a much bigger one for them to consider. While they were worried about the disciples violating tradition they were both practicing and encouraging others to practice something that violated a command of God. Jesus referred to two commands on showing honor and respect for parents. “Honor your Father and Mother.” “He who curses father or mother will be put to death.” Both commands demonstrate the respect every child is to have for parents all of their lives. These commands carried with them the idea that children were to take care of their parents when they got old and were not able to care for themselves any longer. You can see how they might have used several routes to get around the implications of the command. They could have said this is for children but when you become an adult with children of your own this no longer applies to you. What they had done was develop a plan that would both set aside the law and bring more money into the temple. If you commit your money, your wealth or property to the temple, then it is no longer yours and you aren’t then capable of taking care of your aged parents so they are on their own. Likely there was an implied notion that you could commit less than the whole and fulfill your obligation to the temple while escaping any obligation to your parents.
Jesus saw it for what it was, an escape route to get around a clear command of God. When we try to come up with some technicality by which we can get around doing what God said do we nullify the word of God and become hypocrites before him. Then Isaiah’s words fit us exactly, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.” Jesus moved from that point to go back now and deal with the whole thing about washing hands before eating. He noted that it isn’t what goes into a person’s mouth that defiles them but what comes out. What goes into the mouth, enters the stomach and is eliminated. What comes out of the mouth shows what is in the heart and they defile them. “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.” (Verses 10-20)
When God teaches us that something is vital to being his follower and we set it aside for whatever “Good” reason we come up with, we are taking a heaven and hell issue and trying to make it one that is just opinion or temporary, or cultural and are putting our eternal destiny in jeopardy.