- Today we are going to talk a little about “straining gnats…” Because we are all being prepared, called and chosen to be sent out as the hands and feet and even fingers of Jesus. What we say and even type is to at all times reflect Jesus’s heart and His intentions, evidenced by being holy in all manner of conversation.
There is a saying I simply love floating around facebook right now – which really struck my heart and is a guideline I try to live by continually. It says…
Before your words pass out of your mouth, let it pass through these three gates – Is it true? Is it kind? And is it necessary?
With the spirit of offense rapidly increasing in the lives of everyone of us on Earth right now… We all need the wisdom and direction of the Lord when interacting with others. Offense is a big umbrella and is so many actions which stream out through us from it. Offense is basically inward pain complimented by lack of peace, love and mercy. Anytime the source of what we say is based in one or all of these attributes – what we say will not be grounded in truth, is rarely kind and never necessary to say.
We do not like to be on the receiving end of this approach ever, do we? Well, sometimes the Lord allows us to receive what we have sown into others as a life lesson so that we realize words do damage too and He will not tolerate a critical spirit to represent Him, because He is not critical and never strains gnats. Which is a good thing or else we all would be doomed already.
Let’s read it quick, then we can discuss more, its in Mathew 23 and I want to remind us, this is Jesus Himself speaking:
Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, 2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 Therefore whatever they tell you [a]to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. 4 For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. 5 But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. 6 They love the [b]best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, 7 greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’ 8 But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your [c]Teacher, [d]the Christ, and you are all brethren. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. 11 But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 And whoever exalts himself will be [e]humbled, and he who humbles himself will be [f]exalted.
13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. 14 [g]Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.
15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of [h]hell as yourselves.
16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.’ 17 Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that [i]sanctifies the gold? 18 And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.’ 19 Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift? 20 Therefore he who [j]swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it. 21 He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who [k]dwells in it. 22 And he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it.
23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. 24 Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!
25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and [l]self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.
27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and [m]adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’
31 “Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. 33 Serpents, brood[n] of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? 34 Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, 35 that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.
Jesus Laments over Jerusalem
37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! 38 See! Your house is left to you desolate; 39 for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ”
Okay, well thank You Lord for opening our hearts and ears to Your truth – the perfect and only way You have set before us in which all of our mouths are shut to resist. We thank You for Your corrective love, which keeps us continually on the straight and narrow path and are so very grateful You have set Yourself as the perfect example we are to follow. Amen.
MATHEW 23 overview –
This passage is entirely the words of Christ and reveals how he silenced the religious people during His anointed time here on Earth while ministering to people. How Jesus handles such difficult situations is truly astonishing to me and something we should review quite often as we seek to follow in His footsteps and ways. We are given a command to imitate Jesus continually and if we are not familiar with His interactions we too will fail to be an imitator of Him. In this chapter of the Bible, Jesus begins to describe various ways in which the scribes and Pharisees have failed in their God-given roles in leading the people. They loved to be lords over people, but rejected the notions of Shepherding and all that comes with it. People often say if you don’t smell like a sheep, you aren’t serving the Lord as His hands and feet. I totally get that and I often am covered in vomit.
Jesus begins in Mathew 23 by acknowledging that the scribes and Pharisees carry a certain level of legitimate authority. They sit, metaphorically speaking, on “the seat of Moses.” They loved to be spiritual rulers over others based on knowledge, especially about God and His commands. Jesus does not tell the people to rebel against these leaders. Rather, He warns us not to imitate their hypocrisy, He reveals their heart motives and spiritual blindness throughout this chapter.
Many people were impressed by the Pharisees’ religious deeds, which only fed their ego all the more. Jesus condemns how the scribes and Pharisees behave, however, because they do everything for the wrong reasons – void of love and to make themselves look holy. Their motive is not sincere and they are lacking humility, so everything they do in service to the Lord is to be seen and approved of by other people. Above all, Jesus says, these religious leaders live to be noticed, respected, and praised. They show off by making their wearable articles of worship ostentatious, in other words everything they do is to make sure others view them as holy. They compete for the most prestigious seats at feasts and in the temple, which represents places of gathering. They love to be called by their official titles in the marketplace – which certifies and feeds their egos. Jesus bluntly condemns these attitudes and tells His followers not to make the same mistakes they do and He is saying that to all of us today.
In this Chapter Jesus pronounces God’s judgment on those who do this type of thing. This comes through a series of seven “woe” statements about their hypocrisy. The term “woe” is more or less stating you will suffer in one way or another if you operate like these who strain gnats, while swallowing a camel. They are the ones who have a plank in their own eyes, but set themselves up as gods to see specks in others. Jesus didn’t do this sort of thing, being the One who was qualified to cast a stone, He most certainly didn’t. I can almost imagine Him shaking His head while saying “ooh…this is bad,” as He peered into the coldness of their religious hearts. We already know this is within all of us, it has been for generations – even while building the Towel of Babel, the Father confused the languages partly for this reason.
When we feel we are the solution to everyone’s problem we become too invested in their salvation so we lord that salvation over them, often going in the opposite direction of Jesus, who offers and invitation, not a demand. When we cross lines and blur qualifications in walking with Jesus a woe is promised to us and remember woe is unnecessary suffering because we willfully refused to imitate Jesus and His ways. So let’s take a look at these woes Jesus spoke about.
This is the first of many times in the chapter where Jesus calls the scribes and Pharisees “hypocrites.” This is derived from the Greek term which literally refers to stage actors. These are people who behave in pretending, artificial ways, entirely different from their real thoughts. In this case, these are leaders who tell people to do something, while they themselves do the opposite or deny they also are not perfected yet, blinded by self-righteousness they can only see other’s sins. Their faulty leadership slams the door of eternity in people’s faces, by demeaning them as not holy enough to enter into the Kingdom. Their own choices will not lead them to heaven, and those who follow their example will be lost, as well.
Israel’s religious leaders put considerable effort into convincing others of their views and we witness this a lot in our day too. All this accomplishes, ultimately, is that the converts are also damned. Jesus says such people are “twice the children of hell,” since they’re following false teachers and following a false faith – like the blind leading the blind in which both fall into the ditch. I cannot remember a time in my life where people are refusing to resist the temptation to “pressure or force” others to agree with their opinions on things, religion or not… It is increasing at a rapid pace, voiding the Father’s granting every human freewill and when you do not fully agree with their opinions – the attack and label you their enemy.
Jesus now calls the Pharisees and scribes “blind guides.” This is a criticism He has used before. Blindness is often used in Scripture to symbolize those who reject God’s message, making it impossible for them to perceive what is spiritually true. In this case, Christ points to their irrational approach to vows and tangible holy things. Logically, swearing by any of the sacred objects would amount to swearing by God in heaven. Instead, the scribes and Pharisees imply that some oaths can easily be broken, a practice Jesus has also condemned. Attempting to create loopholes in one’s integrity is not only dishonest, but also foolish. Those who do this may be brilliant of the mind, which is a quality of lucifer, yet lack any sort of resemblance to Jesus void of mercy, forgiveness, compassion and love. What are they blinded by? Self/ego… just like the one who has blinded them, they carry his characteristics – lucifer.
These religious leaders carefully give ten percent of their crops, even the tiniest herbs. This was not wrong, as it means applying the law of Moses to the tiniest details of their lives. However, the other details of the scribes and Pharisees’ teachings left enormous aspects of God’s law unresolved. Their emphasis was on legalism, technicalities, and religious knowledge versus a heart change. Scripture says they should have put equal emphasis on justice, mercy, and faithfulness. This error is as absurd as using a screen to clear insects out of drinking water, while swallowing a massive animal. This is what I like to call “knit picking”… An example would be like someone attacking a person for coloring their hair, while they don’t shower or use deodorant or you fault finding a drunk person, while you lust over and flirt with another person’s spouse. When we are focused on the faults of others – we miss a great opportunity in our lives to be convicted our of own sin by the Holy Spirit, to confess and repent and go and sin no more in that area. Not to mention, if we judge others wrongfully, we are on very dangerous ground for the same to be done unto us.
The scribes and Pharisees are committed to their public image; they go to great lengths to “look good” to other people and to be recognized as someone holy. However, their spiritual state is one of hypocrisy and death. This is like wiping the outside of cups and dishes while leaving the insides filthy. Echoing His other teachings on the subject, Jesus tells them to clean inside first and the outside will follow. The same is true for healings… everyone is fixated on flesh wellbeing, while ignoring the sickness of the soul. They will even judge/attack when someone is suffering an illness, denying their own souls are perishing inwardly.
Using a second, even more graphic analogy, Jesus contrasts the Pharisees’ and scribes’ outer appearance with their inner spirits. Grave sites in that era were often covered in lime, and some had decorative objects. These were appealing to the eye but did not change the decay and death under the surface. In the same way, hypocrites will use pious outward actions to cover inner hypocrisy and lawlessness. Which is why everything is being revealed right now of what was hidden within people. Those with only knowledge of the constrainer, verses the abiding of Jesus within the heart through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, are finding it more and more difficult to restrain themselves or rather hide who they really are by the heart. People right now for the most part are walking volcanoes, ready to erupt on you at any given time. Therefore, do as Jesus says and maintain the stance of being wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove – mainly because it is so easy to inadvertently provoke others these days.