Life of Christ 112
Note: This is the third of an eight part mini-series detailing the errors of the Pharisees.
The second error with which Christ reproached the Pharisees was that of majoring on the minors. 'But woe unto you, Pharisees! For ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone' (Luke 11.42).
My small city garden is going gangbusters this year. It includes two kinds of peppers, green beans, zucchini, tomatoes, and, yes, mint. In fact, I just had a tremendous helping of green beans, and a slice of zucchini bread for lunch today courtesy of this little garden. Now that I'm thinking about it I just may make myself some mint iced tea after a while. But what I probably won't do is count all my mint leaves and make sure one out of every ten ends up in the offering plate next Sunday.
The Pharisees, however, were keen on exactly this kind of persnickety adherence to the letter of the Torah's admonitions regarding tithing. Interestingly enough, Jesus doesn't condemn them for it saying, 'these ought ye to have done'. But He does fervently condemn them because while they counted and tithed their garden produce they completely failed to emphasize the love of God. And in the big scheme of things the love of God is a much bigger part of the Scriptures than is tithing your garden produce. The Pharisees had made the classic mistake of majoring on something relatively unimportant while at the same time basically ignoring that which should have been highlighted.
Years ago, in our little country church in rural Pennsylvania, a young couple visited, and then came back several more times. They were immediately noticeable because the wife wore a head covering. My wife and I invited them over to our home, and spent some time with them in an effort to welcome them into our church. At first, things went swimmingly until I discovered that even though both of them had been saved since they were children neither one had yet been baptized. Knowing full well that this is the very first step of obedience for the new Christian, and is repeatedly mentioned in the New Testament I began to try to convince them to accept baptism. Curiously enough, although they acknowledged the validity of baptism they refused to submit to it, contenting themselves with a Christianity that consisted of visiting a round of local churches, and enjoying the singing and occasional fellowship they found. And, of course, wearing a head covering.
I freely admit that Paul instructs women in I Corinthians to pray with their head covered (I Corinthians 11.5). I happen to believe that this head covering consists of a women's long hair (I Corinthians 11.15), but if a woman of my acquaintance believes differently and wears a head covering I'm not going to quarrel with her about it. What I do find to be utterly contemptible is a woman who insists on obeying this relatively minor instruction, mentioned only one time in Scripture, at all costs, while at the same time rebelliously refusing to obey the very first command God gives Christians, and one emphasized dozens of times in the New Testament.
Years ago I heard Clarence Sexton, the pastor of the Temple Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, say that we ought to place the emphasis in our ministry where God places the emphasis. That statement rang true with me, and I set about seeking to discover what God emphasizes the most, and then replicating it in my life and in my church. It has been a wonderful study and application, and while I'm not at all sure I have succeeded in it, I am sure that I am trying.
Rabbit trails and hobby horses make for entertaining preaching, but they also make for shallow movements and weak Christians. I meet them all the time. They carry the biggest King James Bible you've ever seen, and wave it around to all and sundry, but their families are a colossal disaster, spiritually, and there is no love and grace and wisdom exhibited in their lives. They can and do vigorously debate the finer points of dispensationalism, but they haven't witnessed to a lost person in years. They eschew vanity in their outward apparel with exactitude, but they are not a member of any local church, preferring the occasional visit once every couple of months. They well up with tears at the Southern Gospel concert as the group sings about Heaven, but they haven't cried over their own, or anybody else's sins, at an altar in decades.
Such an unbalanced faith never moves on to spiritual maturity. Beloved, let us beware of this tremendous pharisaic mistake. We cannot afford to turn spiritual molehills into mountains nor mountains into molehills. Let us place the emphasis where God places the emphasis. Let us not ignore any aspect of Scripture, but let us endeavor to lay it before our people and live it out in our lives with the same sense of proportion with which God gave it to us. It is the only way we can truly be biblical Christians.