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Author: Ron Graham


Neglecting the Weightier Matters
—Matthew 23:23

This lesson is centered around something that Jesus said to the religious leaders of his community:

"You tithe mint, dill and cummin, and every kind of garden herb, yet you have neglected the weightier matters such as justice, mercy, faith, and the love of God. These things you should have done without neglecting the others." (Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42).

In this statement we can find an important principle to live by. First we will look at the matters Jesus mentioned, then notice the principle behind what he said, then apply it to our Christian lives.

1 The Matters That Jesus Mentioned

Jesus referred firstly to a command in the law of Moses to tithe land, and secondly to a command to practice justice. Jesus regarded both as important, but not equally so. He regarded things like justice as being "weightier" than things like tithing garden herbs.

The matter of tithing

The law of Moses required a tithe. This was a tenth part of all produce, and was to be given to the lord as an offering. "And all the tithe of the land whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree... it is the Lord’s." (Leviticus 27:30).

The Pharisees applied this law scrupulously, not only out in the wheat fields and vineyards, but even down to the little herbs at the kitchen door.

The weightier matters

The law of Moses also required that each person be fair, loving, and trustworthy toward his neighbour, treating him as an equal. "You shall do no injustice... but in righteousness you shall judge... you shall love your neighbour as yourself" (Leviticus 19:15,18).

Jesus pointed out to the Pharisees that they were neglecting these "weightier matters". Yet those things they neglected were the very essence of God's message to their father Abraham (Genesis 18:18-19)

On these laws of love hung all the rest of the law and the prophets (Matt 22:35-40). The Pharisees were practising injustice. For example. they were, guilty of "devouring widows’ houses" (Matthew 23:14).

2 Jesus’s Principle

Jesus was not criticising their attention to tithing of kitchen garden herbs. In fact, he said they were right to have done this. The problem was that they were giving far too much weight to its importance, and were, on the other hand, disregarding things to which they should have given much more weight. They were not putting first things first.

Jesus was criticising their lack of justice and lovingkindness. This meant that they were being hypocrytes, making a great show of scrupulous attention to their offerings to God, yet violating the higher ethics in their dealings with their fellow man.

The principle here is obvious: one should give to each matter the proper weight of importance due to it. One should consider how weighty, in God's mind, something is, and then give it that weight in one's life. In this way, one will find that well adjusted "balance" that we all seek, but which seems so hard to achieve.

3 Applying the Principle to Life

We ought to be able to apply this principle to life, because we already use it in our everyday affairs.

For example, suppose you are going downtown and your list of things to do includes paying an overdue electricity bill, collecting a prescription for a sick child, returning a library book, and buying chocolate icecream for your teenage son because you've run out and he won't eat the strawberry you've got in the fridge.

Each item is important, but some items are weightier matters. Having bought the icecream and returned the library book, you wouldn't think that you've done the main things and that's good enough. You wouldn't just go home and neglect the medicine and the overdue bill.

There are a few people who don't have the capacity to weigh up and prioritise matters. But most people do it as a matter of course.

Application to life at large

Well we just have to do the same thing in the bigger picture of life, and run our whole lives before God in much the same way we would run our errands downtown. The only difference is that we measure the weight of each matter as God weighs it, not as we see it ourselves.

This will determine how we spend our time and money, where we go, what activities we engage in, who we associate with, how we treat people, and many other aspects of our lives.

It will make us diligent about our jobs (1Thessalonians 4:11-12, Colossians 3:23) yet not neglectful of family care (Ephesians 6:4 Titus 2:4-5).

Nor, as a general rule, will we let these things, as important as they are, outweigh our attendance at the assemblies for worship and our personal devotion to God's word (Hebrews 10:23-27, Acts 2:42,46).

Weighing up, not weighed down

We are not talking about cramming lots of stuff into our days and loading ourselves up with more and more burdens. We are talking about giving the right weight in our hearts to various matters according to God's word. This will balance our lives, not over burden them.

We are not talking here about time management or money management, but about heart management. Weighing life's priorities by God's word ensures that you, in your unique circumstances, will give the right priority and direction to every matter that you have to deal with in your life.

Let the Bible teach you where each matter fits into the scheme of things, and what is its due order. Align your own heart to this order, instead of listening to the voices of the world. You will find that your life gradually changes into the kind of life you are supposed to live. You will no longer have a "weight problem".

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