Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Choking on Camels

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, 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! (Mt 23:23, 24)

The Pharisees, including their scribes or writers, were a sect of Jews that thrived during the time of Jesus Christ on earth. They held that it was not enough to obey the written Law of God, but that the oral tradition of laws laid down by Jews over the centuries must also be obeyed. Those laws, many of them being of their own making, were meticulously recorded by their scribes, so that they could be followed to the letter. 

One such law was that the possibility of accidentally swallowing unclean animals, even tiny bugs like gnats, must be avoided. This was done by pouring drinks into drinking vessels through a cloth or a sieve, in order to strain or filter out bugs before drinking.  There was nothing wrong with this practice of straining out gnats, which were probably the smallest unclean animals known to the Jews. But in the process they swallowed camels, most likely the largest of the unclean animals known to them, and that was wrong. 

Of course, the Pharisees did not literally swallow actual camels. Christ is using a humorous word picture, and perhaps sarcasm, to point out how they scrupulously steered clear of smaller sins while boldly embracing much bigger behaviors of disobedience to God. 

Jesus rightly called the Pharisees hypocrites. They conscientiously kept to laws that carried less weight, such as giving ten percent to God (tithing), right down to the smallest garden herbs. But the laws that carried more weight, the laws that were the basis of the other laws and gave them meaning, they neglected. The Pharisaic crowd put aside vital matters like the justice, mercy and faithfulness of God, extended toward their fellow human beings.

However, being careful to avoid even the appearance of sin in relatively minor matters, while abandoning all caution when it comes to clearly committing sin in more major matters, is not exclusive to the ancient sect of the Pharisees. Tragically, those of us today who profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, who claim to be born again of and indwelt by The Holy Spirit, and guided by the word of God, may also strain out gnats and swallow camels, and show ourselves to be at least as hypocritical as the Pharisees. 

The purpose of this blog is try to help us all to, with The Holy Spirit as our Guide and the Bible as our map, put things in their proper place. 

The Church, the people of God, must believe in and live out those things that are really vital, while not making less significant things out to be more essential than they are in the Kingdom of God. This is of eternal importance to the glory of God, and to the present and eternal well-being and blessedness of ourselves and our fellow human beings. 

We can only be the people God created us to be in His image, we can only worship God in spirit and in truth, and we can only show others the way to Jesus Christ and salvation in Him, if we put first things first and all things in their proper places.

It is understood that what seems to be of greater or lesser importance will vary from Christian to Christian and church to church. It is also understood that Christians understand and apply the word of God in different ways. That’s why there will be plenty of posting about the authority of Scripture as well as Biblical interpretation and application. 

On this blog, we will discuss matters that many will agree upon as being very important, and others that many will see as not so important. Just because something is not a top priority doesn’t mean it has no significance for the Christian faith and life, and it does not mean we shouldn’t discuss it either. We can discuss the weightier matters without neglecting the others.

The idea is to try to give more attention to more those beliefs and practices that are more vital according to the Scriptures, to set them up as the foundation upon which all other beliefs and practices should be built. Then we can apply the word of God and live out the Christian life accordingly. 

Choking on a camel can kill you, or you can cough it up, spit it out, and learn & grow from the experience.

Let’s spit out some camels!