Render to Caesar the Things that are Caesar’s

(Mark 12:13-17)

The Pharisees and Herodians were sent to Jesus to try and entrap him. The chief priests were looking for a reason to arrest Jesus and hoped that he could be trapped by teaching something opposing the laws of the land.

render-to-caesarFirst they tried to get under Jesus’ guard with flattery saying they knew he would speak truth and truly taught the ways of God. Then they asked him whether it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not. (Verse 14) Here is a classic trick of the devil and his people. First get close through smooth talk than hit them right between the eyes!

But Jesus was having none of that. He was well aware of their malice and evil intent. So rather than fall into their trap he said, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a coin and let me look at it.” (Verse 15) And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesars.” So he replied, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” (Verses 16-17)

What an insightful answer! What could they say in reply? He had their measure completely and the wisdom of God is greater for there is a message in these words that rings true even more today.

Today we see that some churches preach and practice tithing. But they do not follow the details of tithing as it was laid down in scripture. Nor do they recognise that tithing is not even part of the Christian covenant. Tithing was a requirement of the law given by Moses to the people of Israel for the purpose of keeping the temple and the priests of the tribe of Levi as they had no inheritance in the division of the land.

But today these churches are taking money, which was not what the tithe was all about. The tithe originally was of various kinds of produce, not money. The produce was in essence the gift of God, so the people were tithing what God had given them.

But money as we can see by Jesus statement was not the gift of God but the invention of man. Who created the money in Jesus discussion with the Pharisees and Herodians? Caesar. Jesus thus said in relation to paying taxes that money was the invention of man and that it should be paid to the creator of that money…the government, represented here by Caesar. Nowhere in the Bible are we told to render to God the things that are Caesars, or vice versa.

There is a lot that comes from this scripture which needs to be said in relation to tithing. If you would like to learn more about the deeper issues of tithing and the ramifications for the Christian church, follow this link to a PDF document on my website which discusses this in depth.

(Picture sourced from stock.xchng http://www.sxc.hu/)

Parable of the Tenants

(Mark 12:1-12)

This parable was told by Jesus in relation to the chief priests in relation to how they had failed. They were given a responsibility by the Lord and they failed in their responsibility. What is worse they abused their position to try and gain power and position instead of offering service that was required of them in their positions as priests in God’s temple. For this they were rejected.

vineyardJesus showed that their situation was like a man who built a vineyard and let it out to tenants. God was the builder, the world, or more specifically the Israel nation was the vineyard and the priests were the tenants. The priests were charged with the responsibility of their office to rule the people according to God’s law. They were to teach the people God’s law and ensure his ways were followed.

Instead they abused their position for power and personal gain. And this was not just in Jesus’ generation, but had been going on for many generations prior to this.

In the parable the man who owned the vineyard sent servants to receive the profits of the business and they beat or killed the servants so that they could keep it all to themselves. This was an abuse of their power. In the same way God sent his servants, prophets and righteous men to teach the people and to try to bring the people back to his ways. But the religious leaders of the days and the evil kings had them beaten and killed so that they would not lose their positions of power.

Then we see the vineyard owner send his son, but the tenants conspired and killed the son thinking that this would be the end and they would have realised their wicked aims. Likewise Jesus, the Son of God, came to the earth to bring the people back to worshipping and honouring the Lord and the chief priests conspired together and had him killed.

Naturally they chief priests were annoyed at Jesus for telling this parable for it showed them up for their evil doing. But it also showed that instead of ridding themselves of this problem man by the name of Jesus, they actually fulfilled the will of God. For it is in the death of Jesus that we receive life. It was in the death and resurrection of Jesus that the Lord God drew mankind back to him. And it was through the death and resurrection of Jesus that he dispossessed the priests and threw down their power so that access to God became available to all of mankind.

They lost the inheritance and it was given to others, just as the evil tenants lost the inheritance they tried to take by force. The inheritance went to Jesus Christ as the Son of God and we have access to the inheritance of the Son through coming to Christ.

(Picture sourced from stock.xchng http://www.sxc.hu/ taken by Gavin Kerigan)

Beware the Leaven of the Pharisees

(Mark 8:14-21)

When Jesus gives us a warning we should listen. When he warned the disciples to beware the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod, they misunderstood. Thinking Jesus was talking about bread, they began discussing the fact that they had brought none with them. Jesus then pulled them up to get their thinking right.

beware-of-yeast-Pharisees-and-SadduceesIf we look at what the Lord said, it becomes obvious that he was not talking about bread. He was talking about the nature of bread, and more specifically, the nature of leaven or yeast used to make bread.

Leaven or yeast is used to make bread rise. It ferments and generates gas that adds body and air to the bread so that it become light and soft. It works slowly and anyone who has made bread knows that you must add your yeast and mix it in, then wait for some time to allow the yeast to work through the mix and rise.

Now it is this action that Jesus was comparing the Pharisees and Herodians to. The Herodians were essentially a political party and followers of Herod. They looked to him for hope and protection from the Roman conquerors and we see that they considered Herod a god as was shown in Acts 12:21-23. God however struck him down for his arrogance and pride for he did not give glory to God.

But the Herodians and the Pharisees were leading and teaching the people at this time. Like yeast, they were hidden amongst the people and working slowly to influence them against Christianity. They were spreading their poisonous teachings among the people using their power and privilege to turn the people away from the Lord, and were seeking by deception and stealth how to get rid of Jesus.

Jesus knew this only too well. That is why he warned the disciples to beware of them. The Pharisees and Herodians with their false teachings were dangerous. They were insidious and under-handed and designed to undermine the power and authority of the Christ. They did this to prop up their own positions and power, which they did not want to lose.

Jesus and his disciples represented a point of opposition for both the Pharisees and the Herodians. The Pharisees saw him as taking away their religious power for he was the Messiah and they wanted to deflect the people from him. And the Herodians opposed him politically for the Messiah was to be king, which meant that the kingship of Herod was exposed and would fall. In their self-interests they banded together against the common enemy of Jesus and his disciples for they did not want the status quo to change as they would lose their places of privilege.

False teaching today will do the same to us. Christians today have a need to understand the truth just as the disciples needed to understand Jesus was not talking about bread in this situation. The leaven of the Pharisees, which is about power and privilege over the people is not a lot different to the way some church leaders exalt themselves over those people in their flock. Rather than leading the people to a greater understanding of Christ and how to walk in his ways, they are concerned with the things of this world. Money, tithes, building big churches as a monument to their own glory rather than the glory of God.

God does not want your money. God does not want a fancy church hall. God is not looking for you to be rich in the things of this world. God wants you. As you are, regardless of your flaws, faults or weaknesses. He is prepared to overlook all of those things for the sake of your salvation. You cannot buy it or get it any other way than by coming to him through Jesus Christ.

So don’t let the fancy churches amaze or dazzle you. Don’t let the promise of riches in this world lead you into their clutches. Look at Jesus. After all, he came as a carpenter and his first disciples were fishermen. He came to serve, not be served and that is the attitude we all need to develop today.

Traditions of the Elders

(Mark 7:1-13)

The Pharisees had established a great many traditions which they taught the people to observe. It had the effect of making them appear somehow more pious or righteous than the common man. But we see that Jesus upbraided them over their traditions for they revered their traditions more than the word of God. What is more, they allowed their traditions to get in the way of, and in some cases replace the word and teachings of God.

washing-handsIn this section the Pharisees were horrified that the disciples of Jesus did not wash their hands before eating, according to the traditions of the elders. But Jesus responded asking why the Pharisees chose to reject the commandments of God for the sake of their traditions. He pointed out that one of the Ten Commandments was to honour your father and mother. But the tradition of the Pharisees said that if anything a person was to give to his parents would be given to God instead, then they permitted a person to break the law of God for the sake of their tradition. They cause a person not to do anything for their parents by instead offering all to God.

Who benefited from this tradition? Did God ask for people to ignore their duty to family, and parents in particular, so that he could be gratified? Did God ask for people to give their sustenance, wealth and excess to him rather than support their families? Absolutely not! There was certainly a law in the Old Covenant about giving a tithe of a person’s increase, but what the Pharisees were seeking was over and above the tithe required under the law.

It is the tradition of men that leads people not to, but away from God. It is following man’s tradition that causes them not to find God. Today is no different. The traditions in the church are so deeply ingrained that it must be a nightmare for anyone coming into a church to sift the truth from the traditions. The feasts of Easter and Christmas have no biblical basis. The traditions of giving Easter eggs, and hot cross buns have no basis in scripture. The tradition of not eating red meat on Good Friday has no scriptural basis. In fact there is a law in the Bible that says people should eat only those things from the rivers or the sea that have both fins and scales. (Leviticus 11:9-12) And yet we see people eating shellfish like prawns, shrimp and so on on Good Friday where they are in effect breaking one of the laws of God for the sake of a tradition.

Tithing is another tradition that has been brought into the modern church that some churches push as truth when it is not. Space does not permit me to cover all the aspects of tithing here, but I have done an extensive study on this which you can read in my eBook on Tithing Today.

There are many traditions in the modern church that do not stand up under scrutiny and comparison to the truth of the Gospel. I encourage every person to look at what is being taught in their own church and check it against the word to see if is indeed truth or a tradition that is a lie. It is incumbent upon us all to seek the full truth for it is only through a knowledge of the truth that we can stand and conquer Satan in this age, and be transformed to be able to stand before God in the next age.

(Picture sourced from Stock.xchng http://www.sxc.hu/ taken by Marcos Santos)

Healing on the Sabbath

(Mark 3:1-6)

Jesus continued to show the inflexibility of the Pharisees, especially over matters of their poor interpretation of the law. The Pharisees took an extreme legalistic approach to the law which left no room for compassion. They said that no work was to be done on the Sabbath as the law stated, but took that to extremes as well as excluding healing on the Sabbath which they defined as work.

In this scripture we see a man with a withered hand come to Jesus for healing. The approach that the Pharisees took in another version of this event, was to say that there are six other days of the week and he should come back on one of those days. Such strictness in the adoption of the law has the appearance of great piety, but in fact showed disrespect and disregard for the man who was suffering.  However Jesus showed that even the Pharisees would work on the Sabbath if it was necessary. He said that a child is circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, but this too is work and thus they break one law to keep another. (John 7:23) He also showed that if any of them had a beast that had fallen in a pit they would get it out on the Sabbath so that it would not suffer. Thus in like manner this man with the withered hand who was suffering should be permitted to be healed on the Sabbath to ease his suffering. The approach of the Pharisees was all about outward appearances, not about compassion.

Besides, who was it doing this work? Was it the Pharisees? No, this healing was the work of God. Jesus also had said in relation to the Sabbath that, “My Father is working still, and I am working.” (John 5:17) As a result of this the Pharisees sought to have him killed because they believed he not only broke the Sabbath, but in this statement made himself equal to God. Despite the miracle that he performed and the many others both before and after, they would not recognise him as the Son of God.

One of the challenges for Christianity today is around the keeping of the law. In most churches today it is still taught that Christians are bound to keep the law of God, or at least the ten commandments. But Jesus came so that we could be set free from the law and receive life. He set us free from sin and the law in his death, not so that we could sin, but so that we may receive righteousness by faith. It is clear in these sections where he teaches about the Sabbath that there was something greater than the Sabbath and indeed greater than the law at work.

The truth is that if a person is seeking righteousness by faith and finds it, they do not need the law. The law was not laid down for the righteous but for the sinners. (1 Timothy 1:9) It is those who sin who need the instruction and discipline of the law, not those who do right. If a person is doing the right thing, who will condemn them? God does not condemn us for doing what is right and the law does not condemn those who are doing what is right. But what does it mean to be doing what is right? It means to be obedient to God, and his requirement of us was not about law, but about faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus showed us that the works of God were not about the law but about faith. He said, “Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:28-29) This is the work of God, to have faith and believe in Jesus Christ whom he sent to be the expiation for our sins and to release us from the bondages of sin and the law.

Jesus showed in the healing on the Sabbath that it is always right to do the right thing. Which is more right, to keep the letter of the law of the Sabbath when someone is suffering or to relieve the person who is suffering? Surely it is the latter, because it is based upon love for a fellow man, and this is exactly what Jesus showed. The very essence of the call of God is for us to come into a relationship with him and with each other in a way that is based upon God’s love. The letter of the law though, as the Pharisees interpreted it, was not about relationships built on love but about punishment for failure.

This was not the teaching of Jesus and he showed the difference in the approach sought by God as compared to that taught by man. He said elsewhere, “Sacrifices and offerings thou hast not desired, but a body hast thou prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings thou hast taken no pleasure.” (Hebrews 10:5-6) It was not the letter of the law that God was interested in but in the change in the heart of a man, as instructed under the law, so that they would choose to do right. The will of God was that through the law man would learn the difference between right and wrong and use the law to build up rather than condemn. But the Pharisees used it as a means of power holding the people in subjugation through the threat of condemnation and being cast out of the synagogues. Jesus came to put this right and offer us salvation based on faith and not through works of law, for the law cannot make anyone righteous.

Lord of the Sabbath

(Mark 2:23-28)

One of the laws under the Old Covenant was the keeping of the Sabbath. On the Sabbath no person in Israel was permitted to work including the preparation of food. It was meant to be a day of rest and a time for the worship of God. In addition no beast of the field was to be employed in labour of any kind so that they too had rest. Here we see as Jesus’ disciples pluck and rub grain to prepare as food while they walked through some grain fields on the Sabbath day. The Pharisees who were walking with them took the opportunity to condemn the disciples to Jesus. They said, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” (Verse 24)

This is typical of many people today also. Non-Christians will look at Christians and make assumptions and judgements of them based on what they see them doing. In some cases they are quite wrong for they do not understand the basis and truth of Christianity, but only have a vague notion of what a Christian is supposed to be. The general perception of what a Christian is or is not is often based upon fallacy, lies, half-truths and ignorance.

Now when the Pharisees chose to condemn the disciples before Jesus they got a response based upon a truth that they should have known, but failed to recognise. Jesus told them of several cases where people broke the Sabbath but were not condemned. Then he made the statement that the Sabbath was made for man and not the other way around. God established the Sabbath under the Ten Commandments so that men (and beasts) would have a day of rest each week.

It was not God’s intention that man should work continuously. We know ourselves today that when people overwork they get tired both physically and mentally and become run-down. When this happens their efficiency and effectiveness fall and can lead to poor productivity and lower quality and quantity of outputs. God in his wisdom recognised this fact, after all he created man and knew what his capabilities are, and so he made allowance for man in His law by giving man one day off each week. He also made allowance for man to give him annual leave by establishing the various feasts and special holidays that were encapsulated in the law. All of these things were done not for God’s benefit, but for the benefit of man. The Sabbath day rest was provided so that man could recharge and spend the time in worship and learning the ways of God so that he could improve his life both physically and spiritually.

The Pharisees failed to understand this point. They took a legalistic approach to the Sabbath and the law in general. They became inflexible and failed to understand that the law was given to provide man with insight and wisdom. The law was not meant to be a big stick to hit man over the head with when they did something wrong. They did not recognise the need for compassion, justice, mercy and faith, which are encapsulated in God’s law, but instead chose to use the law as a means of gaining power and control over the people.

For these reasons Jesus condemned the approach of the Pharisees calling them hypocrites in many places. They failed to rightly use the word of God to teach and train the people. When Jesus showed them the errors of their thinking it became quite clear that he was the Lord of the Sabbath.

Killing the Prophets

(Matthew 23:29-39)

The greatest hypocrisy Jesus condemned the Pharisees and scribes over concerned killing the prophets. They said that had they lived in the days of their fathers they would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets. However Jesus condemns them out of their own mouths.

He shows that they witness against themselves. In their statements they have shown their guilt for they witness that they are the sons of murderous fathers. Their fathers killed the prophets and righteous men sent by God to aid his people. And they would do the same and worse. Already they had consented to the death of John the Baptist. They were about to condemn Jesus and have him put to death. And they would also stone Stephen and put to death James the brother of John when the apostles commenced their ministry.

Indeed they were not only just like their fathers, but they were worse. As Jesus said, all the righteous blood shed would come upon his generation. It was their generation that would put the Christ to the stake and to this day they have been condemned.

They opposed the Lord and the prophets of God down through the generations because they wanted the power to themselves. They sought to rule and control the people for their own gain and benefit. They misused the power they had, which was given to teach the people the ways of God. Instead they used and abused the people and it would be required of them. This was the message he showed to them in various parables. It was stated in the parable of the vineyard let out to tenants (Matthew 21:33-41). It was also the essence of the parable of the marriage feast in Matthew 22:1-10. And yet still the Pharisees could not or would see the evil in their hearts and turn for repentance.

This persecution of God’s people by those who claim to be his but are not is still occurring. Many have been thrown out of churches, excommunicated and shut out because they chose to follow God rather than the false doctrines of religious teachers. Many have suffered when they need not have because they failed to recognise these falsehoods for what they were.

A church or religious leader has tremendous power. They have power over people’s lives and people listen to them for guidance, advice and teaching. If this power goes to their heads it is a dangerous situation, both for the teacher and the flock of God. That is why the Lord says through James, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness. For we all make many mistakes, and if any one makes no mistakes in what he says he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also.” (James 3:1-2) Above all else they must find the truth themselves and then communicate it to those in their care. They cannot afford for error in the ministry and so must take the greater pains to validate what they are teaching. Their teachings must align with the truth of the words of God. It must be scripture based and it must lead to life and freedom in Jesus Christ.

And yet many preachers continue to teach bondage as did the scribes and Pharisees. Bondage to the law, bondage under sin, condemnation and a ministry based upon works. These are not the teachings of Christ or the New Covenant. They are teachings developed by men for their own devices and to achieve their own ends. The aim of ministry should be growth. Not necessarily the growth of the church in terms of great numbers, but rather the growth of the individual to maturity in Jesus Christ. Ministry should bring us all to that place described in Ephesians 4:11-14.

11 And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,
12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ;
14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles.

If the ministry of any minister is not leading to this end, they are not teaching the truth of the New Covenant. Thus it is essential that we all learn the scripture, learn the truth and seek the Lord to guide us into all truth so that we may be able to stand. As a simple test of ministry and teachings, Jesus came to give us freedom, not to bring us into bondage. If the ministry being fed to you is bringing you into bondage in any way, you must question it and resist it. We are not captives in Christ but free men. Let no one put you back into slavery under false teaching.

You Are like Whitewashed Tombs

(Matthew 23:27-28)

Jesus continues his analogies of the hypocrisy of the religious people of his day by comparing the Pharisees and scribes to whitewashed tombs. There are some today who also fit this description and we have seen the fall of some of the supposed leaders of the church where they too were like whitewashed tombs.

It would be a horrible thing for the Lord to say to you, “You are like whitewashed tombs.” He then defines what he means by this description. A whitewashed tomb looks good on the outside but within is full of dead men’s bones. If we look at some of the famous tombs and burial grounds we get a picture of this. The pyramids for all their wonder and glory were tombs. The many cemeteries that have beautiful gardens and monuments are just resting places for dead men’s bones. Arlington cemetery in Washington, which is a remarkably ordered, tidy and beautiful place, is still also just a place full of dead man’s bones. Man frequently builds these shrines to their dead, especially their heroes and great people, but to all intents and purposes they are still just places full of dead men’s bones. Inside these places they are musty, potential sources of sickness from evil bacteria and full of rotting flesh and bone. They are not really nice places to be and belie the outward appearances of these places.

Jesus compares the scribes and Pharisees to such places saying, “You are like whitewashed tombs.” He says they look good on the outside but inside are full of iniquity and hypocrisy. They dress in the robes of the clergy and have the appearance of righteous men, but they do not act and behave like people of God. A good example of what he was showing here can be seen in Mark 12:38-40. “Beware of the scribes, who like to go about in long robes, and to have salutations in the market places and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

These supposed men of God looked like holy men, but they used their position to take advantage of those least able to defend themselves. Instead of assisting and helping the weak, they were using them for their own gain. They would, “…devour widows houses and for a pretense make long prayers.” They took but did not give in return.

In the church today we see some who are doing this exact same thing. They go to the homes of their flock seeking gain and advantage. They take excessive sums of money and goods from the flock for their own gain and purposes. They wear expensive clothes and jewellery, drive expensive cars and live in luxurious houses while their flock often struggle from day to day. They preach messages of prosperity, contrary to the gospel, for the riches in Christ are not about the things of this world, but the things of the Kingdom of God. The true riches that come from righteousness, faith, love, joy in the Holy Spirit and fellowship with Christ and his people. It is not about money and the wealth of this world. Those things are temporary and will pass away, but God’s love is eternal.

As Jesus described the Pharisees in this section saying they are like whitewashed tombs, so too there are whitewashed tombs among the clergy and the churches today. Not all ministers are in this mould of hypocrisy, but many are tempted down that path by the lure of the love of money. The prosperity movement in the church can be deadly for as Paul wrote to Timothy, “For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs. But as for you, man of God, shun all this; aim at righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.” (1 Timothy 6:10-11) It is the love of money and the craving for the riches of this world that have led some in the church to fall away from the purity of the gospel of Christ. As Paul said to Timothy, shun all of this. Get your own priorities right and aim at the things of God, not the things of this world.

And finally, beware of those who are like whitewashed tombs. Jesus said “You will know them by their fruits,” (Matthew 7:15-20) so watch carefully. If the ministers in your church are preaching a message of prosperity in the things of this world, beware. The true riches are permanent and come from God. As for the things of this world, the Lord does and will provide all of our needs in abundance. Our focus and aim is not wealth here and now, but entry into the kingdom of heaven.

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Cleanse the Inside of the Cup First

(Matthew 23:25-26)

The Pharisees were very concerned about position. They wanted to look good to men. They wanted the praise of men rather than the praise of God. But Jesus taught that it is not what is on the outside that matters but what is on the inside. That is the essence of this teaching to cleanse the inside of the cup first so that the outside would be clean too.

When you think about a cup, if it has been used you will always wash it out before re-using it. And when you wash it your focus will be more on the inside of the cup than outside, for it is the inside that will hold your drink. You do not want your drink contaminated by grime so you will always focus a greater attention on cleaning the inside first. Even if the outside were unable to be properly cleaned, you could always use a spoon or a straw to eat or drink the contents, but the most important thing is that the inside is clean first.

In this analogy Jesus uses the cup as a representation of men, specifically the Pharisees. His beef with them is that they will go to great lengths to clean up the outside but spend little or no effort on the inside. Back in Matthew 23:5 he said, “They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long.” They focussed on wearing the cloaks and clothes of their office as priests so that they would look “righteous.” They wanted people to look at them and say, “Look at him in those clothes. He must be a righteous man of God.” But contrary to a common saying, clothes do NOT maketh the man. Jesus did not go about in robes that made him stand out from the crowd. He did not were the clothes, cloaks and garments of the clergy. He just wore the same kind of clothes that the rest of the people wore.

In Jesus it does not matter what you wear or what you look like on the outside. The focus of the New Covenant is not about making us look good, it’s about training us how to be good. The New Covenant and the teachings of Jesus are aimed at transforming us into his image. They are meant to bring us to maturity in Christ in our spirit, not in the flesh. Jesus said, “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (John 6:63) If we are to have our spirit changed and if we are to receive life, then it is our inside that must be transformed. It is our spirit that must be cleansed.

The Pharisees were focussed on making a good show in the flesh. They were trying to look good on the outside. Paul also upbraided those who did such things saying, “It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that would compel you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who receive circumcision do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may glory in your flesh.” (Galatians 6:12-13) There were some in the early church insisting on converts being circumcised according to the law. But Paul opposed them and repelled such actions for circumcision is not necessary under the New Covenant. As he said, they were doing this so they could glory in the flesh.

This is exactly what Jesus was saying too. They were trying to cleanse the outside without first cleansing the inside. It does not matter if a person is wearing the cloth of the clergy or is circumcised. These things do not make you any holier. It is only by focussing on the inside and being set free from sin that you can come to the Lord. It is only by accepting Jesus as Saviour and learning his teachings that we may be cleansed from sin and set free from law. Then our spirits will be changed and this will work from the inside out. We will be cleansed within which will cleanse the outside as well.

Straining Out a Gnat and Swallowing a Camel

(Matthew 23:23-24)

Jesus calls the Pharisees to account for their hypocrisy using the analogy of straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel. What is interesting in this teaching is what he is referring to, for he is speaking of the comparison between tithing in the minutest amounts, in relation to justice, mercy and faith.

The Jews would have been aware of the significance of gnats and camels. Under the Law of Moses there were clean and unclean foods. Virtually all insects were considered unclean and should not be eaten with only a few exceptions, such as locusts. As for meats, only animals that had hooves that were parted and chewed the cud could be eaten. A camel chews the cud but it does not have hooves and so it was not a clean meat.

If a gnat fell into someone’s drink they would normally flick it out and continue drinking. If a larger insect, say a fly or bee fell in; they would usually throw out the drink and make another. If a camel fell in it would crush the cup and the person drinking it as they weigh up to 700kg or 1,500 lbs, and stand about two metres tall (six to seven feet). The Jews would have considered it disgusting to even think about the idea of swallowing a camel because of their food laws.

Now when Jesus used this analogy he was making a comparison. He was saying that the Pharisees were tithing the smallest amounts of produce, herbs such as mint, dill and cumin, but were neglecting the things that were really important under the law, justice, mercy and faith. The tithing was a show of works of law. The comparison was that tithing was so miniscule, so unimportant in comparison to the other matters that it was like a gnat compared to a camel. God is not looking for us to do works of law such as they were doing. He is not interested in such high degrees of legalism that a person should tithe the herbs they might grow on their window shelf. God wants man to be just and merciful and faithful to him. He wants man to treat others with respect and dignity; to do unto others as they would do unto themselves.

But the Pharisees wanted to be seen by men. They wanted the glory of man and so they carried out works of the law to the most ridiculous lengths. They were under the law and so it was right that they should tithe. Tithing was required under the Jewish law. But not at the expense of what the law really represented, which was the nature of God. The law was meant to teach man right from wrong so they would learn to be just, merciful and faithful. By failing to follow these truths of the law, they may as well have swallowed a camel for they have missed the point of the law.

However under the New Covenant we have been freed from the Old Covenant laws through Jesus Christ. Tithing is not part of the New Covenant, and in fact it is quite damaging to the New Covenant. Space does not permit me to go into this in depth here, but if you are interested in an in-depth study of tithing and the problems it causes to the New Covenant Christian, I recommend my free eBook on this matter, which you can find here.

In the Old Covenant Jesus was showing that in the total scheme of things, although tithing was important, it was not nearly as important as those things he called the weightier matter of the law. The Pharisees though had this twisted and were putting the greater emphasis on tithing. They were wrong.

Today we see a great many churches with a heavy emphasis on tithing. They are wrong too. Tithing is not part of the New Covenant and in fact it prevents a church from finding the truth. Tithing is a bondage, but the truth of the New Covenant is about freedom, not bondage. By accepting just one law, the law of the tithe, a person has bound themselves to all of the laws. Paul wrote in Galatians 5:3 that, “I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law” James also wrote that, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” (James 2:10) So accepting any one of the Old Covenant laws such as the law of the tithe causes a person to be bound to the whole law. And if they are under the law they caught up again in the bondage that Jesus has set them free from when he died.

We must learn the wisdom of the law but not be bound under it. We must learn about truth, justice, mercy and faith but without being caught under the law. We can achieve this only when we accept the gift Jesus gave us when he died on Calvary. His gift was to set us free from sin and to release us from the bondage of the law.