“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! -Jesus
I think few come close to realizing what a fearless warrior Jesus was for God’s kingdom! Do you know how much it cost him to obey his Father and speak truth so forcefully? It cost him just about everything that most believers hold dear. Stop and think about it; by saying what he did in the way he did, he lost: the opportunity for a large ministry platform, legitimacy in the world’s eyes, an opportunity for a prosperous or “quiet and peaceful life,” the loyalty of many of his closest followers, and his very physical health and safety. He lost just about everything men hold dear in this life by confronting the perpetrators of religion so harshly. We should honor him for that, because He did this in honor and obedience of his Father, the same Father we have, and his words remain as a foundation for us today.
Jesus says something memorable in Matthew 23 that I believe is a key part of the Pharisaical heart: “you strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” This is a simple but profound idea he is getting at. He was essentially saying they emphasized and were meticulous in the minor details, i.e. the “gnats,” such as giving a tenth of their spices and produce, but they neglected or cast off the weightier, more important issues such as justice(meaning judgment and examination), mercy, and faith.
I heard a popular Christian teacher say on the radio recently that the Greek word translated “religion” means “observer of outward righteousness.” It’s root is pride and self-focused fear. With the Pharisees then and the religious today, external observances are emphasized to the neglect of the inward constitution of the heart, because external things are easily regulated and don’t require one to deny self. Self can be very religious. Internal qualities such as mercy and faith, which accompany love, require spiritual substance and denial of self. These are actually harder to attain and more costly than restraining your flesh or giving of your income or possessions.
I have more respect and honor for someone who is seeking God but still dealing with issues of their flesh than I do for one who is outwardly righteous but prideful or cold towards God’s heart. I think God feels the same. Make the inward, “weightier” things such as love, mercy, compassion, and self-denial your focus. Seek God’s heart, seek to know Him and to do His will out of honor. His grace will change your heart as you diligently seek and encounter His presence and hear His voice, speaking present Truth. Amen.