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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.

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Weightier Matters of the Law

 

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

Hitler'spagan fantasy of a race of Arian supermen was seen in his disdain for the weakand the handicapped. Bonheoffer saw just how utterly vicious Hitler wouldeventually become. This fear was confirmed by Hitler's murderous hatred for theJews who were being blamed for everything wrong in Germany.

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

TheGerman church split three ways. Hitler was able to intimidate many of thefaithful into silence by arresting and murdering some prominent, outspokenministers. A significant number of professing "Christians"capitulated and joined Hitler's false "Reich Church." PastorBonheoffer and others patriots realized it was their biblical duty to join theresistance and work towards killing Hitler.

Eventhough they loved their country, these patriotic Christians realized theirgovernment had become a hellish threat to the whole world. To be part of theresistance meant Pastor Bonheoffer had to live a double life. He pretended tobe loyal to Hitler even as he plotted with others to kill him. When theassassination attempts failed, Hitler had all those who had conspired againsthim executed for treason and sedition. Bonheoffer was killed just days beforeGermany was defeated.

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

WasBonheoffer right?

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

"Woeto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill andcumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercyand 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)

Nextto the Sermon on the Mount this is the second longest sermon of Christ recordedin scripture. Ithas 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 doall their deeds to be seen by others. Vs.6: They love the place and titlesof honor. Vs.13: They shut up the kingdom of heaven and make proselytes ofhell. Vs.16: They are blind guides, Vs. 17: Blind fools, and Vs. 19: Blind men.

 Thescribes and Pharisees are confronted by Jesus for their neglect of their duties. They are extremelyfastidious in their attendance on tithing right down to tithing on the herbs oftheir garden; mint, dill and cumin. Jesus does not condemn them for that. It issomething they "ought to have done." This is not an either or propositionas if faithfulness to God in one thing is opposed to faithfulness to God inothers. Remember, there is a little "scribe and Pharisee" in allof us. We all have inconsistent hypocritical impulses. This text applies toeveryone.

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

 Justiceor equity reflects the nature & character of God. "He lovesrighteousness and justice" (Psalm 33:5) and requires it. "Thus saysthe LORD of hosts, Render true judgments" (Zechariah 7:9). Jesus wasconfronting indifference to the plight of the powerless.

 Justiceis personified in the statue of Lady Justice. She holds the sword of civilauthority and vengeance in her right hand (Romans 13) and the balanced scalesof justice in her left. To insure equity she is blindfolded. The religiousleaders of the day were consumed with details of their religious life, but wereindifferent to the matters of justice in the larger world. There should beno partiality in the administration of justice; rich or poor, male or female,Jew or gentile.

 Wheredo we see civil injustice today?

 Guiltypeople 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 whomake false accusations are not punished. Abortionists have killed sixty millioninnocent pre-born babies. We ought to be righteously indignant when we seeinjustice in this life and vote and act accordingly.

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

 God'sperfect, 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 whobelieve! "[We] are justified through the redemption that is in ChristJesus whom God put forward as a propitiation (satisfaction) by his blood... toshow God's righteousness... so that he might be just and the justifier of theone who has faith in Jesus" Romans 3. All whosoever will flee to Christcan be spared the fierce justice of Almighty God. All who refuse will face aHoly God on the day in which He will judge the world in righteousness.

 Justiceis the heart cry of every believer! One day we know Christ will make all thingsright! 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 insight, At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more, When he bares histeeth, winter meets its death, And when he shakes his mane, we shall havespring again." Heaven will forever worship and adore Christ becausejustice is the foundation of His throne.

 Thecross shows us God takes justice seriously and so should we! We must stand upagainst injustice in Christ's name in both word and deed. We must warn sinnersof God's righteous judgment and to flee the wrath to come!

 Mercyalso reflects the gracious nature and character of God. "Thus says theLORD of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to oneanother" (Zechariah 7:9).

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

 AJewish 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 religiousleaders come by, a priest and a Levite. They are apparently so fixated on theirreligious duties and ritual purity they did not want to become ceremoniallyunclean by touching what they thought was a dead body. That would havedisqualified them from performing their religious duties. So they walk by onthe other side.

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

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

 Weare also to show mercy to the poor. Those who are poor are to be allowed to gleanthe corners of our fields. In the Book of Ruth, Boaz beautifully illustratestrue mercy. He allowed the poor to reap the gleanings of his fields. He alsofulfills his familial duty of levirate marriage and marries Ruth, hisrelative's widow.

 Tocare for the poor God ordained a poor tithe every three years that was to beadministered by the Levites. God promises to bless those who are merciful tothe poor. "Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and hewill repay him for his deed" Proverbs 19:17.

 It isNOT the government's job to shake down some people in order to redistribute itto other people.Lady Justice has her hands full administering justice. Our government declaredits unbiblical war on poverty and poverty won. Now we are $20 trillion in debtand have 46 million people on food stamps, an increase of 19 million since just2008. Mercy is primarily the duty of family and the church.

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

 Welong for the full and final expression of God's mercy. "[K]eep yourselvesin the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leadsto eternal life" (Jude 21). We need to be champions of biblical, Christiancharity as the means of assisting the truly needy. We need to invite thespiritually poor and helpless to find God's mercy in Christ. He will be theirgreater 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 resultsin faithfulness. According to Jesus, loving God and our neighbor sums up ourmoral duties. Of course, we have to let God's Word be the standard of what thatlove looks like. If my preoccupation with the details of my duty towards Godcauses me to lose sight of heavier, more weighty matters, I am not reallywalking in faith. "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does theLord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humblywith your God?" (Micah 6:8)

 MatthewHenry put it this way. "All the things of God's law are weighty, but thoseare 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, inwhich lies the life of faith."

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

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

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

 Bonheoffercould have done what many Christians did and sell out or cower in fear beforethe 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 Christiansyou can have the heavenly and the spiritual, but the real world belongs tothem. This is not what the Bible teaches. You are called to leaven, penetrateand have dominion over this fallen world in Jesus' name for His glory.

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

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

 

By Gary Cass