Surviving Self – Part 3

Selfishness has the ability to change masks quickly and without warning. But the one thing that remains common to all masks is the self-indulgent desires motivating the activity. When self-preservation and self-vindication are high priorities, we know there’s trouble brewing.

Surviving Self - Part 3Woe 3 – Mat 23:16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, if anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.” The scribes and Pharisees were a creative bunch, using words to twist truth and confuse people into believing their lies. They justified lying in their own minds to remove accountability to others. They achieved this through a complex system of oaths and promises to one another which meant nothing.

It worked something like this. A person could lie as much as they wanted, just as long as they swore “by the temple” that they were telling the truth. A person was only held responsible to honour their oath if they swore “by the gold of the temple.” Listen to Jesus’ fierce response in Matthew 23:17, “you blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred?” Even by earthly standards, the temple is far greater in significance than the gold within it. This double standard method of speaking meant that you could not trust anything spoken by the scribes and Pharisees.

Similarly, they were masters at turning God’s priorities upside down to suit their own ends. They would change God’s values to become back to front, exalting the minor things while devaluing the important things.

Woe 4 – Mat 23:23 “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.”
Mint, dill, and cumin were common garden herbs used as kitchen spices and were not considered to be farm produce. That’s important, because under the Old Testament law all farm produce was to have a tithe (10 percent) paid to the treasury of Israel (Leviticus 27:30). But the scribes and Pharisees stretched the tithe tax on farm produce to include the household garden herbs such as mint, dill, and cumin. So, when picking herbs from the garden, people were expected to count out the leaves and seeds. One in every ten had to be put aside for God. This was painfully slow and required a great deal of precision and patience, particularly when counting seeds.

These corrupt leaders placed great emphasis on the details of insignificant tasks, while they “neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23). People soon got the idea that according to their leaders, God was not interested in the big things such as moral issues and personal righteousness.  But He was interested in the tiny things which were of no real value.

Such devious forms of self-righteousness can become powerfully manipulative, particularly in our relationships, where self may seek to justify all kinds of distorted Christian behaviour. As with Lucifer, and as was true of the scribes and Pharisees, self requires monitoring for infection of heart desires. Paul presents a really good thermometer for our relationships, “let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Romans 14:19). Christ is active when mutual upbuilding is purposed into relationships and activities. This, instead of self, is what makes for peace in our relationships.

To be continued…

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