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Weightier Matters of the Law

So what happens when biblical laws seem to conflict with one another? Which one is to take priority? This has become a very controversial issue when it came to the presidential election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Many Christian leaders took the position that both candidates were evil and that the only thing a Christian could do was to vote for a third-party candidate or abstain from voting. They claimed Christians are not to choose between two evil candidates or the Christian would be condoning evil. But is that really the case? When presented with an ethical dilemma where biblical principles would seem to conflict is there a way to determine what one should do? 

Jesus gave us a good principle to deal with these dilemmas when he stated the summation of God's law can be stated in the principle in which he stated that we are to love God with all our heart, soul and mind and our neighbor as ourselves. The following article deals with how this principle can be applied when it comes to deciding between two hard choices.


Weightier Matters of the Law


April 9, 1945 Dietrich Bonheoffer, the 39 year-old influential German pastor and theologian, was hung at a Nazi death camp for his part in a conspiracy to kill Hitler. Bonheoffer saw the threat of National Socialism many years before most Germans.


Hitler's pagan fantasy of a race of Arian supermen was seen in his disdain for the weak and the handicapped. Bonheoffer saw just how utterly vicious Hitler would eventually become. This fear was confirmed by Hitler's murderous hatred for the Jews who were being blamed for everything wrong in Germany.


What's a Christian to do when presented with such vicious, murderous evil?


The German church split three ways. Hitler was able to intimidate many of the faithful into silence by arresting and murdering some prominent, outspoken ministers. A significant number of professing "Christians" capitulated and joined Hitler's false "Reich Church." Pastor Bonheoffer and others patriots realized it was their biblical duty to join the resistance and work towards killing Hitler.


Even though they loved their country, these patriotic Christians realized their government had become a hellish threat to the whole world. To be part of the resistance meant Pastor Bonheoffer had to live a double life. He pretended to be loyal to Hitler even as he plotted with others to kill him. When the assassination attempts failed, Hitler had all those who had conspired against him executed for treason and sedition. Bonheoffer was killed just days before Germany was defeated.


To do what Bonheoffer did required misleading others and refusing to submit to Germany's governing authorities. Some Christians say that he was wrong because you must never lie. Others condemn Bonheoffer because they believe that according to Romans 13 you must obey the Government no matter what.


Was Bonheoffer right?


What does it mean to live for Christ in the real world full of evil and moral dilemmas? The Word of God gives us the answer. There are some moral truths that are more important than others. Jesus refers to this when he condemns the religious leaders of His day for neglecting "the weightier matters of the law..."


"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!" (Matthew 23:23-24)


Next to the Sermon on the Mount this is the second longest sermon of Christ recorded in scripture. It has as its theme the ominous refrain, "Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites." Why? Vs.3: They preach, but do not practice. Vs.5: They do all their deeds to be seen by others. Vs.6: They love the place and titles of honor. Vs.13: They shut up the kingdom of heaven and make proselytes of hell. Vs.16: They are blind guides, Vs. 17: Blind fools, and Vs. 19: Blind men.


The scribes and Pharisees are confronted by Jesus for their neglect of their duties. They are extremely fastidious in their attendance on tithing right down to tithing on the herbs of their garden; mint, dill and cumin. Jesus does not condemn them for that. It is something they "ought to have done." This is not an either or proposition as if faithfulness to God in one thing is opposed to faithfulness to God in others. Remember, there is a little "scribe and Pharisee" in all of us. We all have inconsistent hypocritical impulses. This text applies to everyone.


They are hypocrites because they had forsaken "justice, mercy and faithfulness."


Justice or equity reflects the nature & character of God. "He loves righteousness and justice" (Psalm 33:5) and requires it. "Thus says the LORD of hosts, Render true judgments" (Zechariah 7:9). Jesus was confronting indifference to the plight of the powerless.


Justice is personified in the statue of Lady Justice. She holds the sword of civil authority and vengeance in her right hand (Romans 13) and the balanced scales of justice in her left. To insure equity she is blindfolded. The religious leaders of the day were consumed with details of their religious life, but were indifferent to the matters of justice in the larger world. There should be no partiality in the administration of justice; rich or poor, male or female, Jew or gentile.


Where do we see civil injustice today?


Guilty people get off for their crimes because they're rich, famous or powerful. Innocent people are being sentenced to jail or even to death and the people who make false accusations are not punished. Abortionists have killed sixty million innocent pre-born babies. We ought to be righteously indignant when we see injustice in this life and vote and act accordingly.


God does not trifle with us when it comes to justice. God's justice was on perfect display at Calvary. There the only Innocent, Holy, Pure and Undefiled Christ was hung between heaven and earth. Isaiah the prophet saw Him; He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Stricken... smitten by God, and afflicted. (Isaiah 53)


God's perfect, Holy justice required His only Son go to the cross because of sin! Christ bore the infinite wrath of God in His body on the cross for all who believe! "[We] are justified through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God put forward as a propitiation (satisfaction) by his blood... to show God's righteousness... so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" Romans 3. All whosoever will flee to Christ can be spared the fierce justice of Almighty God. All who refuse will face a Holy God on the day in which He will judge the world in righteousness.


Justice is the heart cry of every believer! One day we know Christ will make all things right! C.S. Lewis in the Chronicles of Narnia speaking of the coming of Aslan, The lion/Christ figure writes, "Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight, At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more, When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death, And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again." Heaven will forever worship and adore Christ because justice is the foundation of His throne.


The cross shows us God takes justice seriously and so should we! We must stand up against injustice in Christ's name in both word and deed. We must warn sinners of God's righteous judgment and to flee the wrath to come!


Mercy also reflects the gracious nature and character of God. "Thus says the LORD of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another" (Zechariah 7:9).


Our duty to show mercy finds its most famous expression in the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. A scribe tried to put Jesus on the spot and asks him, "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus tells the familiar story.


A Jewish man goes on a journey and, through no fault of his own, is attacked, robbed and left for dead lying on the side of the road. Two Jewish religious leaders come by, a priest and a Levite. They are apparently so fixated on their religious duties and ritual purity they did not want to become ceremonially unclean by touching what they thought was a dead body. That would have disqualified them from performing their religious duties. So they walk by on the other side.


The unlikely hero is an unwashed, "soulless" Samaritan. He attends to the needs of the Jewish victim and even pays for his care. Jesus now asks the scribe, "Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" The lawyer said, "The one who showed him mercy." And Jesus said to him, "You go, and do likewise."


Where should we find mercy? There are those who have situations that require our compassion / charity. "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction" (James 1:27). In Acts 6 the church was busy providing material support for true widows. God repeatedly warns against exploiting widows and orphans.


We are also to show mercy to the poor. Those who are poor are to be allowed to glean the corners of our fields. In the Book of Ruth, Boaz beautifully illustrates true mercy. He allowed the poor to reap the gleanings of his fields. He also fulfills his familial duty of levirate marriage and marries Ruth, his relative's widow.


To care for the poor God ordained a poor tithe every three years that was to be administered by the Levites. God promises to bless those who are merciful to the poor. "Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed" Proverbs 19:17.


It is NOT the government's job to shake down some people in order to redistribute it to other people. Lady Justice has her hands full administering justice. Our government declared its unbiblical war on poverty and poverty won. Now we are $20 trillion in debt and have 46 million people on food stamps, an increase of 19 million since just 2008. Mercy is primarily the duty of family and the church.


God's lavish mercy was also on perfect display at Calvary. In the most poignant expression of mercy the universe will ever see, Jesus prays, "Father, Forgive them, for they know not what they do." Even as he gasps His last breath, Jesus pities us in our sin! He prays to the Father for us even though it was our sin that nailed him there. "He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy" (Titus 3:5).


We long for the full and final expression of God's mercy. "[K]eep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life" (Jude 21). We need to be champions of biblical, Christian charity as the means of assisting the truly needy. We need to invite the spiritually poor and helpless to find God's mercy in Christ. He will be their greater Boaz, their kinsman redeemer who will give them an eternal inheritance!


Lastly, Jesus calls us to faith. This means we trust in God with a true faith that results in faithfulness. According to Jesus, loving God and our neighbor sums up our moral duties. Of course, we have to let God's Word be the standard of what that love looks like. If my preoccupation with the details of my duty towards God causes me to lose sight of heavier, more weighty matters, I am not really walking in faith. "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8)


Matthew Henry put it this way. "All the things of God's law are weighty, but those are most weighty, which are most expressive of inward holiness in the heart; the instances of self-denial, contempt of the world, and resignation to God, in which lies the life of faith."


Unfortunately, the Scribes and Pharisees were obsessed with outward religious minutia and lost sight of big picture. Love of God and neighbor demands we DO justice and especially protect the life and liberty of the innocent. Who is more innocent than unborn babies?


Love of God means I do my duty to extend mercy to my family and to His Church and to the poor. True widows and orphans who, through no fault of their own, have no recourse are to be helped by us.


We can truly only do justice and mercy to the glory of God as the Holy Spirit gives us the faith and courage to do what is right. The impulse to abandon this world and hide behind the walls of the church where we can escape the hard choices of this world is totally understandable. But, Jesus told his disciples that we are to "occupy (pragmateo) till he comes" (Luke 19:13). We are to get down to the business of God's Kingdom on earth.


Bonheoffer could have done what many Christians did and sell out or cower in fear before the Nazis, but he did justice and loved mercy and remained faithful to the end. Of course, we'd like to think we'd do the same. The world says to Christians you can have the heavenly and the spiritual, but the real world belongs to them. This is not what the Bible teaches. You are called to leaven, penetrate and have dominion over this fallen world in Jesus' name for His glory.


Bonheoffer was absolutely right to attend to the weightier matters of the law and resist Hitler unto death. He lied and mislead and was misunderstood so that he could save the lives of the Jews and others suffering under Hitler's wicked rule. In scripture we read the Hebrew midwives lied when ordered by Pharaoh to kill the Hebrew baby boys. It would have been a sin to do otherwise. Moses' parents disobeyed Pharaoh and hid him. It would have been a sin to do otherwise. In the same way Christians across Europe risked their own lives and lied to hide Jews from the Nazi's.


Protecting innocent human life is the most weighty matter of the law as it relates to the way we show our love of neighbor. If my neighbor is killed before he takes his first breath then there is no way he can do his religious duty to God or neighbor. Protecting innocent life trumps other moral considerations. Vote and act accordingly.


By Gary Cass