I went to pick up a young teenager to take him to church as I usually did one Sunday and his visiting half-brother wanted to go with us, so I drove both of the boys to church that day which happened to be Halloween, but one of them was wearing a fedora that was part of his Halloween costume. The boys got into a group of other church kids around their age and the whole group started to pass the hat around the circle.
Right when the hat made its way around the circle back to one of my kids, the worship leader, who did not know this kid personally, parts the group like Moses in the Red Sea and stuck her finger right in his chest and yells, "Take that hat off in church! It is disrespectful!" Wow. What an example of straining the gnat and swallowing a camel! Jesus warned the Pharisees about this type of behavior in Matthew 23:23-24:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!
In this Woe, Jesus is saying that the Pharisees were so concerned about tithing that they even tithed on things that were not even prescribed to tithe! In Deuteronomy 14:22-23, Moses describes about the tithe:
You shall surely tithe all the produce from what you sow, which comes out of the field every year. You shall eat in the presence of the Lord your God, at the place where He chooses to establish His name, the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and your flock, so that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always.
The tithe was the grain, the wine, the oil, and the herds. While it would be easy to see tithing of absolutely everything, Jesus here is commenting that the herbs were essentially added to their tithing requirements, but the heart behind the Law was absent in these men. Even the law in the Old Testament was not representative of an angry God, but one that did call us to love. Justice was the heart behind the commandment of not giving false testimony about your neighbor, mercy was commanded in such laws as not harvesting the corners of the fields so that the widows and foreigners would have food to eat. Faithfulness was living our life with God always on our mind. Jesus was not saying that the scribes and Pharisees should not tithe, but that they had forgotten the heart behind the law. They were so concerned about the gnat, the smallest unclean creature, but they ignored the fact that they were eating the camel, the largest of the unclean creatures.
The Modern Church
This Pharisaical attitude was exactly at the heart of the issue with this kid and this worship director. This lady was so concerned about a man-made rule about hats in church that she forgot to love a kid, who in this case came from a broken home and was a visitor. Many churches and church members are so concerned about appearances that they forget our purpose is to love those around us, to take up the causes that help alleviate pain in the life of other people. Our ultimate command can be best summed up by the greatest commandment:
And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:37-40).”
First, we need to be so focused on God at all times that we love Him with all of what we have. This is particularly hard to do in the modern American life where we are pulled between hectic jobs, excessive debt, poor health, and constant distraction. I have learned that the greatest help in this area is quiet time. By this is that I have started to walk without headphones, drive without music, and spend a fair part of my day without sounds. Get on a plan to pay off some debt and get your life less busy. Make sure to eat right and get some good exercise. Take care of yourself and do this in silence so that you can hear the subtle voice of God. Second, we need to focus some of our time on helping those around us. Take account of your gifts and help your fellow people. Whether it is a prayer or encouragement ministry or working with kids, or one-on-one mentoring, or cooking for a soup kitchen. Spend some time getting out into the community to look for opportunities to serve. It is of value here to learn how to love people that may be otherwise hard to love, with practice, we can love your neighbor as yourself. Let us keep to the expectations that God would have for us. I think that many of them are best summed up by what Paul writes to the Ephesians:
Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:25-32).
Focus on God first, and everything else will fall into place. Let us not strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.