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In this series we’re looking at Five Epic Worship Fails from scripture,  what we can learn from them, and how we can apply their lessons in our lives and ministry. Make sure you read the Introduction first!

Epic Fail Number Four: Lip Service: Jesus Confronts The Pharisees (Mark 7:1-13, Matthew 15:8-9)

Background of the story.
For some time now Jesus has been going around doing his earthly ministry of proclaiming the kingdom of God, teaching and healing. He is starting to get into some debate and controversy with the religious establishment, the Sadducees and Pharisees. This exchange cuts right to the heart of the “religious spirit”.  

Mark 7:1-13 (NIV)

“The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus 2 and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed.

3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)

5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”

6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
7 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’

8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”

9 And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’

11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother.

13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

For a slightly different phraseology, consider Matthew’s account of Jesus quoting Isaiah in Matthew 15.

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me. 
Their worship is a farce,
for they teach man-made ideas
as commands from God.'” Matthew 15:8-9.

And let’s read the original source in Isaiah 29:13

The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.” Isaiah 29:13


How much of our worship practices are based on man made rules based on the ideas of men at the expense of the clear teaching of the word of God? Is that true in your context? It doesn’t matter what style of worship you have whether it’s “traditional” or “modern” . We do a lot of things that are actually just man’s ways, and not the ways of God.

Jesus confronts that they were emphasizing external appearances and relying on rituals. By this I don’t mean just the “lights camera action” of a big production. Rather, their intention to make sure everything looks good and sounds good upfront while there’s a discrepancy going on behind-the-scenes. Their internal motivations were incongruent with the heart of God.

Secondly, they just going through the motions. Do you ever feel you’re just going through the motions? Inauthentic worship is worship by rote, without the heart engaged. It is worship on autopilot – “phoning it in”.

Clearly Jesus means “Lip service just won’t cut it.” That’s not what God intended nor is it good enough.

Third, they were twisting the scriptures to use for personal gain. Their logic produced outcomes that were completely opposite to meaning and purpose of God’s instructions in scripture, “thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition”.

Challenge / Applications

  1. What does this passage mean to you for your life, your situation?
  2. How could you apply it ?
  3. Do you see anything similar to this in your context?
  4. Do you ever feel like you’re just going through the motions?
  5. What would need to change in your situation?
  6. How would you need to change?


As a response to this passage, here is a simple prayer. Let’s ask and receive.

“Lord I don’t want to just go through the motions. Help me reconcile any wrong feelings or attitudes. Correct everything that needs correction. Fill me, fill us with zeal for your house and your presence. Help me and help us to worship you sincerely, passionately and authentically. For your glory. In Jesus name, Amen. “

[Note: This is a 6 part blog series based on a webinar workshop I taught for WorshipTeamCoach.com entitled “Five Epic Worship Fails and we can learn from them.” It is intended to be used as a biblical training resource for your worship team. These are offered as a series of short videos (5 to 10 minutes each) with a study guide and questions you can use to facilitate conversations for growth. You can find a replay of the original webinar and a link the resource here: Five Epic Worship Fails Replay. ]