The Heart of a Pharisee: Majoring on the Minors

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” Matthew 23: 23-24

Towards the end of the book of Matthew, Jesus confronts the Pharisees, or religious leaders of His day. From the very beginning of the book, the Pharisees have been frustrated, offended, and threatened by Jesus’s teaching and way of life. From eating with sinners to healing on the Sabbath, Jesus’s behavior flabbergasted the leaders, and they hated him for it, looking for ways to convict Him and condemn Him to death (which they would eventually do). And right before His crucifixion, in the last documented interaction Jesus has with these leaders, He speaks clearly and directly about what about their ministry He finds so wrong.

Throughout Matthew 23, Jesus pronounces seven “woes” or rebukes. A woe is a declaration of sorrow and distress, a strong rebuke, which highlights God’s righteous judgment and shows His heart. In this passage, Jesus tells the Pharisees how angry He is at the way they have taken their religion and used it to hurt others.

In verses 23 and 24, Jesus condemns the teachers of the law that they tithe meticulously, but they “neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy, and faithfulness.” He says they “should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”

For the Pharisees, they spent all of their time appearing to be righteous, religiously tithing everything they had, all the way down to their herb garden. And while God does ask that His people give a tenth of what they have back to Him (Numbers 18:26, 2 Chronicles 31:4-5), God is more concerned with justice (treating everyone with respect, regardless of who they are), mercy (forgiving or withholding punishment), and faithfulness (trusting God and following His commands).

The Pharisees were so busy looking right that they were missing out on actually doing the right thing. And if we’re not careful, we can do this too.

It’s easy to get caught up in the “rules” we think accompany our faith. Your quiet time should look like this. If you were a “real” Christian, you would go to church Sunday AND Wednesday. “Good” Christians do x, y, and z. If we’re not careful, we will miss a real relationship with God because of all the things we are trying to do for Him.

It seems foolishly simple to follow Jesus’s instruction, but it’s really that simple. Are you treating the people in your life with respect? Are you seeking to forgive others who have wronged you? Are you fostering your relationship with God day by day? By doing these three you will be following God’s command in Micah 6:8, and you will see the fruit of your love for God and others in your heart and in your life.

Want to get devotions in your inbox? Click here!