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Pattern for Balanced Obedience

          In Jesus’ sharp accusation of the scribes and Pharisees regarding tithing herbs, He showed that their spiritual lives were out of balance. Here’s what He said:

          “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith [“faithfulness” (NIV)]. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others” (Matt. 23:23).

          In these few words Jesus presented an ideal portrait of His followers’ personal and social behavior. Here we see the same balance in serving our Maker and our neighbor that we see presented in His two great commandments–love for God and love for man.

          Let’s look in on a scribe who has received herbs as part of his income. In the comfort of his home we see him weighing the plants and counting the seeds. He is shut out from the world, where transactions occur that make the rich richer and the poor poorer. He is only vaguely aware that in his very own community there may be a widow crying for mercy. As he sits comfortably at his “tithe table,” the needs of others are far from his mind.

          Jesus’ condemnation went like this: You give a great deal of attention to solitary obedience but neglect social obedience. You neglect your weightier obligations of service to others. Your law-keeping is out of balance.

What Did Jesus Mean?

          As we look at our own spiritual habits, we ask, What did Jesus mean by “justice,” “mercy,” and “faithfulness”? To provide justice is to set things right. Justice occurs when we lift the oppressor’s heavy hand from a helpless victim of his oppression.

          And “mercy”? In secular society mercy is exercised when a judge modifies a wrong-doer’s sentence because of the man’s family needs. In the Christian community mercy flows from our hearts of compassion to aid a person who carries a crushing load, even when the load is of his own making. Both justice and mercy are God-inspired attitudes as well as actions.

          Micah wrote that we are to “do justly and love mercy.” (chap. 6:8). Loving mercy goes deeper than simply exhibiting mercy. It means earnestly desiring relief for another person and working to achieve it. This indeed is one of God’s “be like Me” commands.

          Then what did Jesus mean by “faithfulness”? Let your obedience, your service to God, be consistent He said. Let it be marked by integrity. 

          Our Christian society is intended to function as a pass-along fellowship. As the bounties of heaven–grace, mercy, love, brotherly kindness, justice, faithfulness–come to us in limitless supply, we are to pass them along to others, especially those who have little or no connection with the Giver.

          Unlike our bank holdings, these spiritual benefits can be distributed freely. In the sharing they strengthen and enrich the believer no less because he exhibits them to those who have seldom been loved with no strings attached. These virtues pass undiminished from the favored to the deprived, from the spiritually wealthy to the spiritually poor, from the healthy to the feeble, and from the free to the captives of Satan.

          These pass-along actions are called “gracing others.”

          In the plan of God the favored are not to grace others who are like themselves to the neglect of those who crave the riches of Christ. They are to seek and guide those who cannot find the treasure-house door, cannot lift themselves from circumstances that thwart their growth in Christ.

          All followers of Jesus, using their abundance, are called to share lovingly, guided by justice, mercy, and faithfulness. To this kind of balanced obedience we are called.