“Without Neglecting the Others”

Categories: Bulletin Articles, M. W. Bassford

There are a number of things that the Internet holds to be self-evident truths.  Among these is that “Pharisee” and “legalist” are synonyms.  To be a legalist is to be a Pharisee, and furthermore, to be concerned with obedience to the commandments of God is to be a legalist. 

This is very convenient for opponents of the return to first-century Christianity.  We say, “There is no authority in the Bible for the use of instrumental music in our assemblies.”  They reply, “Pharisee!”  We care about commandment-keeping, so we are legalists.  We are legalists, so we are Pharisees.  Jesus opposed the Pharisees, so we are enemies of the gospel and should be dismissed.  QED, right?

However, before we abandon the Restoration because it is Pharisaical, it would be well for us to consider what, precisely, Jesus condemned about the Pharisees.  To my knowledge, Matthew 23:23 appears to be the best Scriptural basis for the above argument.  There, Jesus says, “You pay a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, and yet you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness.  These things should have been done without neglecting the others.”

Notice that nowhere in this does Jesus condemn paying attentions to the minute details of the Law.  Instead, He objects to the hypocrisy of tithing garden herbs while failing to practice justice, mercy, and faithfulness.  The problem wasn’t the commandments the Pharisees were keeping.  It was the commandments they were breaking.

Similarly, we need to pay attention to Jesus’ two-part solution.  The Pharisees need to start practicing justice, mercy, and faithfulness.  However, they need to do so “without neglecting the others.”  Yes, they need to pay attention to the more important matters of the Law.  However, they also should continue to tithe garden herbs.  Jesus is telling us that all of God’s commandments are important and should be followed, not just the big ones.

For us, the application is plain.  I don’t know anybody who would class the Scriptural witness about mode of worship, use of church funds, etc. as “the more important matters of the Law.”  We talk about those things a lot for the same reason that Paul talked about circumcision a lot—because God’s will in those areas frequently is ignored.  However, no one sets them on the same level as “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  If we aren’t practicing “Love your neighbor as yourself,” we are in a heap of trouble!

Nonetheless, even if we have an obedience problem there, the solution to the problem isn’t to focus on loving our neighbor while ignoring what God has to say about worship and the church treasury.  Instead, it is to continue to honor what God has to say about worship and the church treasury while striving to love our neighbor better.

In short, obedience to God’s commandments never is a spiritual problem.  It always is part of the solution.  Obedience doesn’t make us Pharisaical.  It makes us faithful.  We don’t become more like the Pharisees by caring about all the commandments.  Instead, paradoxically, we imitate them by refusing to attend to the commandments we don’t like.