Friday, May 25, 2012

Weightier Matters

This past week, I was considering the topic of "practicing what I preach". I am challenging myself to live a life that is consistent with what I profess and believe. The opposite of this consistency is hypocrisy. So, I asked myself, where is the most severe rebuke of hypocrisy? That led me to Matthew 23. Seven times in this chapter Jesus calls the Pharisees hypocrites. Wow!

So, I began asking myself, what made them hypocrites? I would guess that if you asked the Pharisees, "Is hypocrisy righteous?" or "Are you hypocrites?" they would tell you "No! No!" So, how did they become hypocrites and remain blind to their hypocrisy? What is at the heart of their hypocrisy?

Jesus gives us some keen insight into this question. Notice verse 5 where Jesus says, "...all their works they do to be seen by men..." There are several examples in this chapter of their desire to be honored by people leading directly to their hypocrisy. They liked honorable seats and titles. They liked long pretentious prayers. They liked to convert others to their way of thinking. They liked to find loopholes in the law so they could be innocent of sin on a technicality. They wanted to appear righteous more than they wanted to be righteous.

The verse that has always stood out to me is verse 23, "... hypocrites! You tithe mint, dill, and cumin, but have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith..." I have to pause and ask myself, in light of passages like Proverbs 30:5, in what sense is a matter weightier? Isn't all of God's law pure? Yes! So, what's different about justice, mercy, and faith? May I suggest the following.

  1. Tithing is measurable and observable. Justice, mercy, and faith are not measurable, and in the truest sense of the words, not observable. How merciful are you? Can you show me? (Sure, justice, mercy, and faith will produce good works, so you can observe injustice, mercilessness, and unfaithfulness when observing bad  or no works. However, we do not know whether good works are done because of virtue or because one wants to appear virtuous.) I find it much easier to do things that are observable and measurable. And, remember the root of their hypocrisy? They wanted to be seen by men! Observable!
  2. Tithing is concrete. Justice, mercy, and faith are abstract concepts. They are difficult to define. What is justice? Well, it's discerning between true good and true evil and being for good and against evil. It's kinda like that, but that's a weak definition. What is mercy? It's compassion. It's tolerance of a person. It's tenderness. It's pity. Kinda.  What is faith? Belief, but more. Substance and evidence (Heb. 11:1). Kinda. Do you see how it's much easier to define tithing? Tithing means to give 10%. Easy. I don't have to think much about it, or even like doing it. I can just do it. It's a lot like sitting in a pew. At this time and for this long, I'll sit. That's pretty easy.
  3. Tithing is an outward action. Justice, mercy, and faith are principles of the heart. This seems to me to be the most important difference. In what sense, then, are they weightier? If I understand this word "weightier", it may be related to our word "basis". These principles are at the root of our obedience to God. These are virtues that we cultivate in our heart and that demonstrate themselves in our behavior. These are virtues that God shares with us that are the basis of our obedience to Him.
If I understand this passage correctly, the point Jesus is making very emphatically, the way to avoid becoming a hypocrite, is simple. Never place more emphasis on visible good works than on the virtues in the heart that provoke the visible good works.

There is tremendous freedom in not seeking the approval of men, but the approval of God.

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