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Keeping Our Eye on Our Commission

 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. “You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:23-24)

Jesus opens this fifth woe to the scribes and Pharisees with pointing their attention to the strict interpretation of the law of tithing. The tithe was a tenth, the first portion of their produce and flocks which were to be given to the Lord. Actually it was given to the Levites as they had no land or inheritance and were supported by the tithe. This provision from the tithe was also to support the poor who were in need of help. (Numbers 18:20-24) In their legalistic way and because of their attention to wealth the scribes and Pharisees paid their tithe economically opposed to what the law meant. In doing so they took the least valuable of produce, the herbs from their gardens and tithed that. As this is why Jesus mentions the herbs which was used to give their food flavor and therefore was not essential. Neither was it the first fruit of their time, talent and treasure. As we have seen in the previous woes their actions were mostly for appearances and external that they could be seen by the people.

The Scribes and Pharisees boasted that they were devoted to prayer and paid their tithe. “I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.” (Luke 18:12) As always the problem with the scribes and Pharisees was when they fasted or gave their tithes they made a public show of it for their own glory and not to the glory of the Lord.

Jesus was not so much rebuking them for the tithe but for the fact they paid little attention to the weightier matters in the eternal things that dealt with the spiritual manifestations of men’s relationships. The matters that were important to the relationships of men between men and man between God. They neglected the need to lead the people in righteous behaviors.

Jesus spoke of the more important things that the scribes and Pharisees should be doing, teaching the people by word and deed. Again Jesus is attacking their hypocrisy. The scribes and Pharisees were very exact in the little things of the law and did so that they could be noticed by men that they were true followers of the Divine Law. But they omitted the things that God sees which is in the heart of man.

We must remember that the gift that God wants from us is our life commitment to Him. If the blood of Christ has redeemed us then we are purchased and belong t God. God wants our heart. Because of this the weightier matters are the matters which concern the heart of a man. The scribes and Pharisees were not as concerned about the more important provisions of the law, “justice and mercy and faithfulness.” They were more concerned with the little details that they could make a show of.

The scribes and Pharisees dismissed these things as needing no attention at all and gave no concern for the spiritual gifts of the Spirit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,” (Galatians 5:22)

The scribes and Pharisees did not practice good judgment towards their fellow men. Good judgment means a sound principle of justice. We are to give the reward or punishment to others based upon the personal merits of their hearts in manifested actions of their lives. This is how God judges men by their heart. He knows their true motives and intentions. It was not this way with the scribes and Pharisees. They judged based upon the details of clothing, financial status and social position rather than on the eternal value of their soul. If the soul of a man is aright with Go, then these others matters will come into order. Are we concerned about forming our judgment of opinion on the current gossip about someone, or what religious group they belong to, how they walk or talk, and the color of their skin? I wonder what color the spirit of a person is? The Pastor has mentioned that he has prayed that God would allow him to see people as God sees them. It would be better for us to form our opinions of others by the same standard that God uses. I struggle with the fact that I find myself more concerned with the order of worship and not concerned enough about the lost souls who may be disorderly.

In Matthew we read, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7) Mercy is to have a charitable character. We are to be merciful towards one another. The world is full of people who have physical needs and we must be willing to give a helping hand to those in need. We see often that Jesus attended to the physical needs of people, their hunger and sickness. But Jesus was more concerned with the spiritual needs of man. For us to give a handout to the down trodden is commendable, but to assist that same person in obtaining a saving knowledge of the Word of God is even more important.

We must always display our faith as the writer of Hebrews wrote, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6) It is our faith in His Word that we act with a sincere honesty when dealing with others. By our faith we are in opposition to fraud, and cheating, and circumventions. By our faithfulness we realize the importance of attending worship services and not acting in an ungodly manner. What about our actions that are hidden form the public? How do we treat our spouse, our children and our parents? What about our thoughts, our true desires? Are we as spiritual inwardly as we appear to be?

The root of our behavior is love. The love that comes from God. As the Apostle John tells us, “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:8) From this root all things should flow and is the bases of all our duty towards God. This is the same root, love, that all of our good works towards men comes from.

The scribes did well to avoid eating gnats. Gnats like any other creature needed water or drink in order to survive. Often they would fall into the wine or water. The scribes and Pharisees would strain their wine or drinking water through a fine cloth to get the gnats out. The gnats were unclean, as well as camels, so they could not be eaten by a devout Jew. Eating an unclean insect would be in violation of the law. Yet they would engage in religious activity that was grossly unlawful, immoral and ungodly. To this hypocrisy Jesus made the remark they strained out the gnat but swallowed the camel. Does this not remind us of what Jesus said in Matthew? “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3)

We must test ourselves daily that we too are not guilty of a legalistic attitude as the scribes and Pharisees. Is it possible for us in our enlightened spiritual life that we could be putting the more important matters of the Lord’s work behind the less important details? We, as followers of Jesus, should not neglect the details of obedience to His Word but we should also be in attention to the higher matters of His work, bringing souls to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. If we fail to see that as our purpose then we also will be in condemnation as one who strains out the gnats and swallows the camel.

Thomas N Kirkpatrick

First Baptist Church of Durant, August 31, 2014

Durant Bible College

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