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Anatomy lesson 8: religious hypocrisy is legalistic and unspiritual

Rev. Enoch Thompson | August 11, 2023 | Matthew 23:23-24


"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices — mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness. Matthew 23:23 (NIV)


A lesson in grammar and the reality of human existence makes true the childhood rhyme: “Good, better best, May I never rest. Until my good is better, and my better best.” In the matters of spirituality and morality, a matter in which the Pharisees claimed to play a leading role, there are always issues of higher and lower importance.

The Pharisees belonged to a group of Jews who during the Babylonian captivity realized that it was the non-compliance of their forefathers in the keeping of the Law of Moses that led to their exile. They, therefore, decided that never again will such non-keeping of the Law occur in Israel. Therefore, they stressed the obedience of the Law in its minutest detail.

With this thinking, they truly did what the Lord said about them: “You give a tenth of your spices — mint, dill and cummin.” They were very strict to give the tenth (tithe) of the simple everyday spices used, whenever it was their duty so to do. It is at this point that their hypocrisy came up because they set the wrong scales. Their meticulous legalism which made them give the tithe did not make them realize that the Law was intended not for rigid formalism but for fervent spirituality that made its keepers reflect God and His gracious rule among humans. God is interested in the matters of “the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness.” The Pharisees had neglected these latter and weightier matters of the Law (King James Version) and were stern about mechanical rules and regulations. They had become legalistic and missed out on the essence and intention of God’s Law. They understood tithing, and we should tithe (according to verse 24), but we should more importantly be just and fair, and godly in our dealings with our fellow humans. The Lord said to do the one without neglecting the other.


What is your scale in matters of religion? Are we legalistic by keeping the letter of the Word of God, and missing out on the intentions of God? How do we treat people around us? Do we show mercy, tenderness, love, and care? Can people trust us and find in us a shoulder to cry on? Or do we think we are okay, just because we have given our silver and gold for the Church? Pay attention to the weightier matters of the Christian faith!


Dear Lord Jesus, forgive me when have dwelt on the minor things to neglect the major issues, and in the process have become legalistic and unapproved by Heaven. Guide me by your Spirit to value the weightier matters and win your approval. Please heal a callous Church that has lost sensitivity to the plight of lost humanity and plays church by following rules and regulations. For your dear Name’s sake, Amen.


SHOWERS! BLESSINGS! ______________________________


The phrase "more important matters" in Matthew 23:23 is translated from the Greek word "βαρύτερον" (baruteron). This is a comparative adjective derived from the Greek word "βαρύς" (barus), which means "heavy" or "weighty." The suffix "-τερον" (-teron) is used to indicate a comparison, similar to the English "-er" or "more." Thus, "βαρύτερον" (baruteron) signifies "heavier," "more weighty," or "more significant."

In the context of Matthew 23:23, Jesus is addressing the Pharisees' meticulous tithing of even the smallest herbs like mint, dill, and cumin. He rebukes them for focusing so intently on these minor observances while neglecting the profound and vital aspects of God's law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness. By using the term "βαρύτερον" (baruteron), Jesus emphasizes that these weightier matters should take precedence over the relatively trivial actions of tithing spices. The use of "βαρύτερον" (baruteron) underscores the central message of Jesus' rebuke. It invites us to reflect on the balance between external religious practices and the deeper, more significant aspects of living out our faith. Just as the Pharisees were admonished to prioritize justice, mercy, and faithfulness over the act of tithing spices, we are called to examine our own lives. Are we investing more energy in external rituals than in cultivating a heart that aligns with God's heart? Are we allowing the "heavier" matters of love, compassion, and integrity to guide our actions and relationships?


How can you ensure that your spiritual practices and religious observances are balanced with a genuine commitment to justice, mercy, and faithfulness in your relationships and interactions with others? In what ways can you prioritize the weightier matters of the heart, even as you engage in external acts of devotion?

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