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Unfinished Business

gavel-hi res.jpg “…these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” Matthew 23:23

When a hotly debated topic seems to be making little headway in a business meeting, Robert’s Rules of Order holds that a person may move to “table the motion”, or postpone the decision. Tabled motions may only be reconsidered by a later motion to revive the discussion. Members often abuse the rule in order to intentionally kill a thorny issue. Thus, unfinished business dies unfinished.

Jesus saw unfinished business dead in its tracks as he surveyed the practiced religion among certain, highly visible religious leaders of his day. While ignoring the very essence of righteousness, they quibbled over the tiniest measures by which they paid their tithes. Not only did they take great pride in their fastidiousness, they undoubtedly peered over their neighbor’s shoulders to make sure they were doing it right as well. These were definitely the things that ought to have been done, and they were doing them emphatically. But, they were obsessed with details that were hopelessly insignificant in the real world. Jesus never denied that they were correct to pay tithes. He did accuse them of failing to see the big picture.

Although Jesus carefully recognized these leaders’ faithfulness to the requirements of the law, he knew that they were actually subverting the purpose of the law by omitting “…the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith.” By using the comparative word weightier, Jesus implied that priorities must be imposed upon everything we do, even upon carrying out God’s work in this world. Yes, the scribes and Pharisees were right to tithe on one hand, but they were wrong to oppress the poor on the other. They were right to demand obedience, but wrong to deny justice at the same time. They were right to attend to details of religious observance, but wrong to wink at their own bigotry and hatred.

Today, the Apostolic church knows what ought to be done. From the Bible, we know that God is one, the Bible is true, and Jesus is coming again. We know that repentance is necessary. We know that baptism must be in water, by immersion in the name of Jesus Christ. We know that people must receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and that when they do, they will speak with other tongues. We know how to pray, worship, tithe, go to church, read the Bible, witness and serve God. We know how to teach Sunday School, sing in the choir and erect church buildings. We know how to talk, walk, dress and live our faith. We can find clear, definitive fundamentals of doctrine in the scriptures, and we are right to believe them fully and practice them faithfully.

Yet, God will judge us not only for things we do, but also for the things we should have done. We cannot excuse our omissions by diverting attention to the things we do well and do right. Even worse, wrongdoing must never be justified by trumpeting our devotion to good. Such gnat straining and camel-swallowing strikes God as repulsive. Even the world may know little of our doctrine, but they know a lot about our character.

It is blatantly wrong to use the obedience of doctrinal commands as a thin covering for violating major principles of Christianity. A true Christian works hard, pays his honest debts, practices righteous judgment and shows no favoritism. He abhors bigotry, hates prejudice, loathes strife and loves peace. He tells the truth, refuses to gossip, avoids personal insults, speaks kind words and harbors no grudges. He gives generously, yet stays humble. He believes in strength, yet supports the weak. He loves God supremely, but he also loves his neighbor as himself. He crucifies his flesh, reins in his ego, curbs his appetite, maintains his modesty in all things, and imposes strict discipline upon himself.

Jesus did not speak against tithing. He did teach, however, that neither tithing alone, nor any other single element of doctrinal propriety represents the whole of Christianity. There are other things to do, even as we do the things we should. Our insistence on obedience must extend beyond externals. It must penetrate to the core of our character. Our focus on doctrine must not throw everything else out of focus. If we toil over tiny grams of anise, mint and cummin, we had better not forget judgment, mercy and faith.

Jesus did not suggest an “either-or” choice. He taught us to do both. Let us not leave a behind a legacy of unfinished business.

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