Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Matthew 23:23-33.
Matthew 23:23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law: judgement, mercy, faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. 24 Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.
In Matthew 23, Christ acts as the Great Prophet declaring a series of woes against the scribes and Pharisees for the sin of religious and spiritual hypocrisy.
In v. 23, he condemns them for their scrupulosity in tithing even the herbs in their gardens (mint, dill, and cummin), while neglecting “the weightier matters of the law, judgement, mercy, and faith.” They were good at meticulously counting the seeds of their herbs, but not so good at keeping the “Golden Rule” (Matthew 7:12) or the Great Commandment to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40).
In v. 24 Christ offers a negative application of this principle. In their effort to avoid minor infractions of the law, they had committed major infractions.
Notice, he addresses them again as “blind guides” (v. 24a; cf. vv. 17, 19).
He then offers one of the most memorable statements in the Bible, as he says these men, “strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel” (v. 24b).
One Study Bible explains: “Some Pharisees would strain their beverages through fine cloth to make sure they did not inadvertently swallow a gnat—the smallest of unclean animals (Lev 11:23). The camel was the largest of all the unclean animals” (MacArthur Study Bible).
The point: Spiritual hypocrites obsess over minor details and neglect major commandments, major areas of obedience.
Charles Spurgeon observed, “There are gnat strainers among us still, who apparently have little difficulty in swallowing a camel, ‘hump and all’” (Matthew Commentary, 357).
We are being called upon by this text not to pass judgement on first century scribes and Pharisees or even on any contemporary phonies and hypocrites. We are being called upon to look soberly into the mirror of God’s Word at ourselves.
We are meant to ask: What is Christ saying about me? What warning is he giving to me?
Have I had a tendency overscrupulously to obsess upon lesser things, while omitting the weightier matters of the law? How have I failed to love God and how have I failed to love my neighbor as myself? And have I been guilty of using a veil of religiosity to justify my disobedience?
Have I in my zeal to strain at a gnat, swallowed a camel?
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle