“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel!” – Jesus, Matthew 23:23-24 (NLT)
I was reading a book tonight and it led me to a chapter in Matthew that I thought would hold deep significance to me. I thought that chapter was 23. I don’t know what chapter I was looking for, but chapter 23 definitely hit me like a ton of bricks tonight.
There have been many discussions regarding The Law as of late, and I’m struck particularly by the words of Jesus above, indicating that the Law is not all equal. There are parts that are more important than others. He clarifies by stating that it doesn’t mean that you can pick and choose, or ignore the less important parts, but there are definitely more important parts.
It seems to me that we often make too much out of the less important parts. Jesus’ example here is about tithing. I think every pastor I know would think that teaching people to give (whether we agree on the tithe or not) is essential. But what about “justice, mercy, and faith”?
When was the last time I preached a sermon about justice or mercy? I have preached many sermons about faith, but the last one I preached (just this last week) was about faith requiring action. Faith is not just what I believe, it’s also what I do. James says that “faith without good works is dead.” Jesus in this chapter says basically the same thing.
The Pharisees and religious teachers are not living the way that they are supposed to be living. They are legalistically requiring people to obey the law that is easy to monitor and enforce, but they themselves are not being obedient to what really matters.
Listen further to what Jesus says:
“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.” – Jesus, Matthew 23:27-28
What is my heart filled with? I don’t believe I am a hypocrite – but neither did the Pharisees. I tithe on my income, yes, but what am I doing about justice and mercy? Am I obeying the little parts of the law and feeling good about myself without focusing on the bigger, more important parts?
I can think of answers to these questions, but for now, I think I’m going to let them marinate. I believe that I opened my Bible to the “wrong” place for a reason tonight, and I need to allow the Spirit to speak to me.
What words is God speaking to you when you read Matthew 23? Don’t allow yourself to quickly dismiss the idea that you simply can’t be a hypocrite or Pharisee because you do x, y, and z. What are you doing with the parts of the Law that matter more?