‘Without neglecting the others’

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” (Matthew: 23:23-24 ESV).

The campus of Khulna Bible College contains a number of fruit and nut trees, including mango, coconut, litchi, jackfruit, papaya, and jambora (a type of grapefruit) trees. The nine coconut trees are especially productive and the nuts are prized for their water (or milk), meat, and fibrous hull. Periodically coconuts will be collected and counted out for sharing among the various staff families and the needs of the college kitchen.

The actual value of such sharing is minimal. A single green coconut, sold at market for the un-ripened juice (a.k.a. coconut water) within, commands approximately ten U.S. cents. The per-family share of maybe 15 coconuts every few months is thus worth about US$1.50. But the feeling of community and common purpose which sharing the crops of all these trees engenders is of far more worth. They become “our trees” and a shared responsibility for them results.

It is common for modern Bible readers to interpret Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees’ tithes of common herbs to suggest that outward rituals are of no value. They suggest that he is saying, “You emphasize little things while you should be focusing on the important matters of the heart.” The implication is that it is only the matters of the heart that are important. Such interpretations overlook his added comment, “without neglecting the other.”

Jesus was not freeing Jews from tithes, nor was he condemning the detailed tithing of the scribes and Pharisees. It is not that they were doing wrong. It is simply that they were not doing enough. They concentrated on rituals and outward displays of religion, but neglected their inner, spiritual natures. Jesus commanded them to do both.

Christianity is not a matter of spirit rather than flesh. It is rather the subjection of flesh to spirit and the balance of both in relation to God’s laws. When Jesus commanded, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), he was emphasizing the complete nature of acceptable religion. The Greek word translated “perfect” in this verse means “having attained the end or purpose, complete, perfect” (Teleios: A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Walter Bauer, 2nd. ed., Translated by F.W. Gingrich and Frederick Danker).

Pharisaical religion was unacceptable to Jesus because it was incomplete, not because its rituals were incorrect or unnecessary. When people today disregard the nature of worship, the organization of the church, or the steps necessary to come into fellowship with Jesus, they mistakenly assume that outward things (which they often call “doctrine”) are unimportant.

On one trip to a remote area I was confronted by a local who argued that all religions are equally valid. He said, “They all teach that you should believe in god(s) and treat other people well. Isn’t that enough?” The short answer is a simple and emphatic “NO!”

Let us put proper emphasis on our hearts and minds – that is, our thoughts and attitudes. But let us also remember “the other things” like giving, praying, baptism, repentance and “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Let us be complete in our service to him.

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