Gnat-straining, Camel-gorging

“You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!”

Gnats and camels were the smallest and largest ceremonially unclean animals. Jesus picks the smallest creature to the eye; a gnat. These tiny bugs would fly into a wine container. So, people would strain them out by pouring the wine through a permeable cloth. It speaks of meticulous activity to remove the smallest little bugs that you could barely see.

 

Jesus is the word-picture Jedi. No one commanded communication so colorfully. But he didn’t do it to merely entertain. There is substance; an eternally-mattering goal. Often that goal was piercing.

The seven woes, recorded in Matthew 23, are no exception. “White-washed tombs.” “Serpents, brood of vipers.” “Twice as much a son of hell.” “Blind guides.” But one of the more tragically comedic is verse 24: “You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!”

The context is Jesus’ final rebuke of Israel’s first century religious leaders. The Pharisees felt good about themselves for meticulously tithing from these inconsequential herbs. “Here you go, God. We spent half the day measuring this out; a pinch of dill; a fraction of a mint leaf; and a mili-teaspoon of cumin.” They spooned out spices from under a microscope, while willfully neglecting central things in the word of God. To be sure, Jesus did not rebuke observance of the word of God, but majoring on minors to the neglect of majors. Gnat-straining and camel-gorging.

Gnats and camels were the smallest and largest ceremonially unclean animals. Jesus picks the smallest creature to the eye; a gnat. These tiny bugs would fly into a wine container. So, people would strain them out by pouring the wine through a permeable cloth. It speaks of meticulous activity to remove the smallest little bugs that you could barely see.

It’s a jarring word picture with sharp humor; a guy giving much effort to filtering out semi-microscopic bugs. But then there is a ogrely, mangy camel standing next to him. Israeli camels weigh in over 1000 lbs. And while scrupulously picking out gnats, he then grabs that desert beast and stuffs it into his mouth.

Jesus’ message is clear: there is a certain type of sin that is selective about obedience; majoring on minors and minoring about majors. Hypocrisy is proud of itself for doing certain moral things, but neglecting big things. “Yeah, I’ll do this thing for God, but not that.” It’s an avoiding of lesser sins, but committing larger ones.

If you have struggled like I have at times, perhaps you have found yourself selectively obeying in a way that majors on minors and minors on majors. Are you a gnat-straining, camel-gorger? Here are a few examples for consideration.

1. Tolerating glaring personal ungodliness.

Generally speaking, this was the sin of the Pharisees which solicits Jesus’ word picture. They assumed to live for God as God’s people, yet tolerated blatant personal sin. Biblical godliness is not multiple-choice. It’s not “pick a few commands you like, do those, and don’t worry about the stuff you don’t like.” Doing the Christian life while tolerating glaring areas of ungodliness in our lives is the idea. This is gnat-straining and camel-eating, par excellence.

2. Nitpicking the way in which someone confronts us.

It sometimes happens like this: we need a little nudge to get out of a spiritual rut in our lives. A brother or sister loves us enough to come alongside of us to give the needed nudge. But, the way that they go about it might be a few points short of perfection. Perhaps they picked a time when we were tired or had a long day. Perhaps there wasn’t much time to talk. The circumstances were not ideal for us. So, instead of humbly embracing the substance of the loving correction, we seek for an escape hatch. We bark about the method of confrontation. We blameshift; pull out the red herring. We accuse them of not coming at the perfect time or perfect way instead of having humble gratitude and receptivity. It’s gnat-straining and camel-gorging.

3. Living like an angel in public, but a devil in private.

This is the guy who puts forth much sweat to get himself or his family to church stuff and is able to cannive a general opinion of friendliness from others who know him at a distance. But, a peak into his private home life and it’s another thing. He is unrepentantly proud. He can’t be corrected. It’s his way or the highway. He is an angel at church, but a devil at home. He can’t handle if his wife or children or roommates confront his sin. It’s a humility-less atmosphere by his doing. Gnat-straining and camel-gorging.

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