“Straining Gnats & Swallowing 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.” (Matthew 23:23)

That last little phrase “without neglecting the others” is an important one. Without it, one might look at this verse and say, “Tithing isn’t important; just show mercy, and do justice instead.” But when Jesus added “without neglecting the others” He made sure we knew that it IS important to still obey the word of God in this area; it is just that we need to make sure we are not legalistic about the smallest trivia in the word of God (such as tithing every little herb!) while neglecting commands that are much more central, like being merciful and faithful.

The next verse Jesus spoke (:24) is an illustration of what He was talking about. Jesus added: “You blind guides, who strain out a gnat, and swallow a camel.” This is a humorous picture, but it makes a great point.  It should NOT be taken as implying that straining out gnats is bad. Who wants a gnat in their food or drink? It is actually a GOOD thing; go ahead and strain out gnats!  But by far the more egregious thing is “swallowing a camel.”  That would be a HUGE oversight!

So Jesus is NOT saying “don’t strain out gnats.” He is NOT saying “don’t tithe mint and dill and cummin” or “just ignore minute commands in the word of God.” You SHOULD obey scripture in every possible way. Jesus had said earlier in Matthew 5 that “Not a letter or a stroke will pass away from the Law …”. Every word of it is important and should be obeyed. But keep your sense of priority: make sure you aren’t focusing all your attention on some obscure details of the word of God while you are blatantly disobeying the most important parts of it:

— Don’t worry about details of “Bible prophecy” when you are living in an immoral relationship.

— Don’t spend all your time worrying about whether you tithed every leaf of the mint plant you grew, while your neighbor goes hungry or unvisited.

Prophecy can be enlightening, and tithing is important, but make sure you are also doing the most important things. Don’t “strain out a gnat, and swallow a camel”!

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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