I’m going to need your grace on this one, ladies. Some things are difficult to admit, but there is freedom found in peeling away facades. God’s been working on my heart on this issue for years. I wasn’t even aware early in the process, but the gift of hindsight has allowed me to see the work of my faithful God all along. Before I get personal, let’s get some background.
Rewind a couple thousand years. Now zoom in on the intense action found in Matthew 23. Jesus is nearing the end of His earthly ministry, and He has touched the lives of many. Yet, blessing the world did not come without conflict as prophesied about 700 years prior (Isaiah 53:3). One group of individuals Jesus had regular confrontation with were the Pharisees — a group of Jewish religious leaders. These men were typically great teachers and would generally present very accurate information. In fact, Jesus even endorsed much of their teaching (Matt. 23:3). Today, in the Church age, their role might be likened to a Sunday School teacher who faithfully presents truth from God’s Word week after week placing a very high value on defending the authority of Scripture. Sounds great, right? But wait, that’s not all to be said for these guys. The Pharisees were exemplary for talking the talk, yet they would call people to a higher standard than God’s standard but they did not live it out themselves. Also, their motivations were rightly called into question by Jesus because when the crowds were gone and their posturing could cease, they did not walk the walk that they taught the people.
Jesus appealed to the Pharisees on several issues He had with them, and one such occasion is found in Matthew 23:24 as He pronounced, “You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” Through the centuries, the imagery in this statement has become lost in translation, but the Pharisees would have caught on to Jesus’ accusation quickly. According to the Old Testament book of Leviticus, which gave the ceremonial law, both gnats and camels were considered unclean animals for the Jewish people. Thus, these creatures were not to be eaten. So, it would not have been uncommon in Jesus’ day to see an Israelite filtering his wine to insure he would not consume a tiny, yet still unclean, gnat.
Therefore, when Jesus accused the Pharisees of straining gnats and swallowing camels, He basically was saying that in the process of being so overly concerned about tending to all of the minutia to keep up appearances, they blundered on issues related to “the big stuff.” For instance, the Pharisees painstakingly kept track of the smaller things (gnats), which would have been very externally impressive to people, yet in the process, they became guilty of the greater things (camels) by not being as concerned with the internally focused areas of the Law. Some “gnats” of their time would have been issues related to tithing, morality, and keeping traditions surrounding the Law (like, honoring the Sabbath in certain ways). These things were important, but they were not of the greatest importance before the Lord. Neglecting the greater things, or swallowing “camels” would have been issues relating to their neglect of justice, mercy, and faithfulness (vs. 23). To sacrifice the greater provisions of the Law in pursuit of fastidiously maintaining the lesser things seems as obvious as straining a gnat while swallowing a camel. Right? Well, maybe not.
Fast forward two thousand years. Pharisaism has a new face. Mine. I don’t even want to admit how long it has taken me to realize that much of what I have focused my pursuits on in the past has been closer to the straining of “gnats” related to morality, service and good works, defending Bible doctrines, and upholding traditions pertaining to God-created institutions (like, honoring marriage in certain ways). You see, it made me feel good to focus on morality and keeping up external appearances. It felt good to perceive that people may have viewed me as “such a humble servant” when I signed up to help with everything I could within my church or other organizations. It felt good to have a high view of doctrines and biblical institutions, to the point that I at least once expected more from people than God does when it comes to “honoring” the institution of marriage, as an example. It’s easy to become overly focused on these things (because in most cases they truly are good things and the resulting external praise and affirmation feeds the ravenous ego). Unfortunately, in pursuit of bolstering my image created by self-promotion through focusing on the conspicuously good, many times I have forfeited the inconspicuously excellent things of God’s Law:
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8 (NASB)
This verse was the prophet Micah’s way of summarizing the Law. Still today, a wise woman will know what each of these three requirements are, what they mean, how they are fulfilled, and how to personally apply them in a balanced manner. Let’s devote some future efforts to understanding these three categories (seeking justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly), lest we become or continue to be camel swallowers.
- Straining Knats and Swallowing Camels (kaarre.wordpress.com)