By Prem Lee
Matthew 23:23 reads as follows:-
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.
Jesus’ rebuke shows an imbalance in the life of the Pharisees, where they were doing one half of the requirement of God and not the other half. We tend to look down on the Pharisees because of such verses, but how different are we? If I had to write the same for today’s church I would paraphrase it as follows:-
Woe to you who come to church, read your Bible and donate well, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith
Note that Jesus calls the neglected matter of justice, mercy as weightier and a display of faith in God. In other words, my spirituality is not seen in what the pastor says about me but what my maid says about me; what those who are weaker than me and dependent on me think of me.
The Pareto principle teaches us to focus on the important, but that should not lead to neglect of the unimportant, like the Pharisees. As all managers know, the minors can destroy you. You major on the majors and delegate the minors. In this passage Jesus is saying that the major is how you treat the weaker people. But that does not mean you can neglect the tithe and other requirements of God.
Shiny Abraham ran a brilliant 800 m race in the 1986 Asian games winning by a huge margin only to be disqualified for making one step out of her lane and lost the medal. Let us run our race without missing an essential element in our walk with Jesus.
What are some of the extremes we need to keep an eye on?
Bible study and Bible obedience
James 1:22 says that obedience to the word must follow the study of the Bible. Many major on studying the Bible but how many actually live the Bible and its values? What are some Biblical verses ignored more than observed?
One is the repeated emphasis in the Bible on servant attitude in leadership as given in Matt 20:25-28, I Peter 5:3 and Eph 5:25.
But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. – Matt 20:25-28
nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; 1 Peter 5:3
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, Eph 5:25
Yet, how many think these cannot be obeyed and blatantly follow a dominant leadership style in the church, family and work place?
Another value Jesus taught was forgiving each other repeatedly and not carrying any offence. In fact Jesus taught that if we do not forgive we do not have salvation – Matt 6:15, 18:21-35.
But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matt 6:15
And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother [c]his trespasses. Matt 18:34f
In spite of these verses, there are so many Christian leaders who have not forgiven each other and carry grudges. I trust that you are not carrying any grudges against anyone.
Another teaching in the Bible is the need to obey the state laws which are not against God’s laws. Yet, how many believers disobey traffic regulations on some excuse or the other.
While we are not saved by works, these may show that like the Pharisees we are not having the relationship with Jesus that leads to salvation.
Love for God balanced by love for man
I have always taught that love for man follows love for God. But in Matt 23:23 Jesus says, though that be true, love for man shows your love for God more effectively than all your acts of devotion to God, and so is weightier.
Most of us study the Bible to see how we need to worship God, but do we study to understand how we must show love for man? Do we study the Deuteronomic code on human relationships? Do we study the data on human suffering so that we can understand how we can show love to them? Do we read novels like “The Shoes of the Dead” which tell of you the sufferings in rural India? Do we visit the oppressed in prisons, hospitals and in interior rural India?
If love for man is important to God, I need to invest in learning about the situation of man.
Love for Missions and love for family
Matt 10:27 asks us to put commitment to God above any commitment to our family.
He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.
So, this verse has been used to justify committing our lives to God’s work and declaring that we cannot help our parents or anyone else. In fact we become people looking for support from them.
But Jesus said in Matt 15:4f that we cannot say that my wealth is committed to God and so I cannot look after my parents. Paul says the same thing in 1 Tim 5:8.
For God commanded, saying, ‘Honour your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”— Matt 15:4f
But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. 1 Tim 5:8
How do we understand this?
When we may make a commitment to missions or any other work of God, that does not take away the responsibility of looking after one’s parents and kin with the resources God provides to us. We have to do our ministry without neglecting our parents and children. The latter is the weightier matter, but should not stop our ministry. Yet, many do ministry at the neglect of their home and family.
What do we conclude?
Finding the right balance will always be a struggle and we may not always get it right. But God has promised us the Holy Spirit who guides us in taking the right decisions. So let us thank the Holy Spirit for the guidance He gives us in these thorny issues.
We will always be unbalanced from a worldly perspective and that is how it should be. When worldly people see our life as balanced it spells danger. But we need a spiritual balance in our lives – and we need to ask God for wisdom to know when we are becoming unbalanced.