Are We Hypocrites? Part 2 of 4
After that introduction to Matthew 23, let’s look a bit closer at verses 23-28.
Verses 23-24 - 23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
So that we can understand what the Pharisees were doing we need to understand what the Old Testament Law actually commanded. We see it in Leviticus 27:30, ‘Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the Lord’s; it is holy to the Lord.’ The idea of this law is that the people of Israel, when harvesting their crops, would give a tenth of the produce to God for the Levites to support them in their work in the tabernacle and eventually the temple.
But the Pharisees had taken this law to the next level. They not only tithed their crops but they even tithed the herbs they grew in their gardens: mint, dill, and cumin. Now, this was not a bad thing but it was probably further than what the Law intended.
And here we see the hypocrisy of the Pharisees because they went above and beyond the call of duty in their tithing but they neglected that which was more important: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. They were hypocrites because they said that they were following God’s Law by their strict tithing but really they were neglecting the most important parts of God’s Law!
Do we do this? Do we focus on minor things from the Bible and neglect the major points? Are we more concerned with theological debates about God’s sovereignty and human free will or about justice in the world? Are we more concerned with whether a Christian should have a glass of wine with their dinner or about the spread of the Gospel to the millions who’ve never heard? Are we more concerned our view of the end times than we are with millions of our own brothers and sisters suffering in poverty around the world?
Let us be more concerned with what is more important and have grace with each other on the things that are less important.
However, this is not an excuse for disobedience. Jesus says, ‘These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.’ Jesus’ point is not that the Pharisees should focus on the more important points and totally ignore the other points. Jesus is not giving them a license to disobey the tithing laws, He is saying where their focus ought to be.
So often our pendulum swings from one extreme to the other. On one side we say, ‘everything is important. If you don’t believe in a future literal 1000-year reign of Christ then you are not saved!’ On the other side we say, ‘Nothing is important! I never even read Revelation because its not important!’ But Jesus is saying neither of these things. He’s saying we should focus on the more important things and put the secondary things in their place. Not that they are completely unimportant or ignored but that they stay in their proper place.
And I think, for example, if the Pharisees had focused on justice, mercy and faithfulness they would’ve realized that they weren’t really required to tithe their garden herbs. Not that they would disobey the tithing laws but that they would put them in their proper place.
The problem with focusing on the important issues is that they are difficult. It was easier for the Pharisees to tithe their garden herbs than it was to fight injustice. And it’s easier for us to debate about our view of the millennium than it is to help the poor around the world. It’s easier for us to abstain from alcohol than it is to consider how we can be involved in the spread of the Gospel.
But let us not be satisfied with what is easy. Think about Jesus and what He has done for us. He is God and yet He put on human flesh for us. He was born in a manger, lived as a human and died the death of a criminal. He was not content to focus only on easy things. He gave everything for God’s justice to be satisfied and His mercy to be extended to us and He was faithful to the very end.
So, let us focus on what is most important and put what is minor into its place.
Let it not be said of us that we tithed the mint and dill and cumin but neglected justice, mercy and faithfulness.