Of Gnats and Camels

In the Gospel of Matthew, in chapter 23, Jesus is laying into the scribes and Pharisees with His harshest rebukes and criticism.

“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!” Verses 23-24.

This is just a snippet of a 35 verse castigation of the religious fundamentalists of His day. It wasn’t what they believed that was so wrong, but the fact that they did not obey the law they were so proud of knowing. They were so careful about their church busy work, but they did not bring relief to the burdens of others. Actually, they increased them. This is a cautionary tale for  all who claim to be one of God’s people. On the night Jesus was betrayed, He predicted it during the last supper, and each of His disciples asked, “Is it I, Lord?” This is the sort of introspection we should all take part in.

This is not a matter of cherry-picking a few verses here and there to find something with which to scold. As I read through the Scriptures over and over, it is hard to miss the fact that it is replete with warnings, not for the unbelievers so much, but for the very people of God. Over and over and over prophets are sent to rebuke kings, priests, and the people themselves. They are reminded that they have their Promised Land because it was taken from those who defiled it with their many sins; and now they are committing the same sins. It was for this reason God sent other nations to remove them from the land. It is the guilt of God’s people that is the big deal, the camel, if you will, that we all swallow.

Once in  awhile I see some angry believer on a street corner, rebuking the wicked. I am reminded in those moments that Paul said, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?” 1 Corinthians 5:12. Can you remember the last time YOU were warned in church? Warnings for God’s people are hard to come by. There are so many gnats to strain that we miss the fact that we are in a state of wholesale disobedience of the Great Commission. We did not go forth to save the world, just to criticize it. We spend all our time pointing out their sins and never telling them, “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their (your) trespasses against them (you), and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” 2 Corinthians 5:19.

We have a great opportunity to reach the next generation with the message of salvation. We are able to share Christ and teach his commands after school in clubs that meet on school property. It is a mistake to think that these children are the gnats that we must strain out of our lives. Jesus said, “So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” Matthew 18:14.