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Gnats Versus Camels (What Bugs You?)

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"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the Law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others." (Matthew 23:23)

When my boys were young, I volunteered to coach their soccer games on Saturday mornings. However, if we lost, I would be discouraged. Why couldn't we do better? I’d go home thinking. Many times, on Saturday afternoon, I even felt a tad depressed over the loss.

One afternoon, because I pastored a church, I received a phone call to visit someone in the hospital—a person who was dying and didn't know Christ. Because of my discouragement from the disappointing game, I didn't want to go to the hospital. At that moment, the Lord gently spoke, "You are more upset that you lost the soccer game than you are over a lost soul." Wow! Ouch! How shameful of me. I saw in myself that I got upset over little things (like a lost game), but I did not get upset over the big things that mattered to God (like lost souls). I had to ask myself, Why was I acting this way?

In our opening passage from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus teaches that God has priorities. God views some things as weighty and some things as less weighty. Would you say that you seek to live by the things God considers weighty, or do you obsess on the little things that, in the end, don't matter? And if you do obsess on the little things, as I did when I coached boys’ soccer, do you sometimes do it in order to avoid the big things?

One day I wondered, after our Love and Respect conference, why do some people obsess on minor matters and ignore the central teaching of loving one's wife or respecting one's husband? It seemed that many folks were more "bugged" by the little things.

An answer came when I observed something in the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:23-24). 

If we do not want to apply Love and Respect in our marriage, getting "bugged" over tiny matters allows us to avoid the big thing of Love and Respect in Ephesians 5:33. Jesus would say that we can fixate on a marginal thing, like a tiny gnat in our soup, in order to ignore the central thing, like the huge camel standing in our soup.

We hear Him warn in Matthew 23:23-24, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!"

The small matter consisted of tithing mint, dill, and cumin, but they obsessed on these gnats in order to neglect the big message from God that dealt with justice, mercy, and faithfulness. 

In a similar way, someone might obsess on a small, secondary point to Love and Respect (strain out a gnat) but neglect the big, primary point of Love and Respect, letting this mammoth matter pass like it is no big deal (swallow a camel). Sadly, this person takes their spouse and others down a side path that leads nowhere. They become the blind guides that Jesus warned against.

Over the years I have heard the following comments that "bug" people and which they use to justify neglecting the camel-sized message of Love and Respect.

"Respecting men leads to abuse of women. No one should listen to this dangerous message of respecting husbands!"

"Sarah urged women to paint the barn if the barn needed painting and to have sex with their husbands. I can't believe she stressed outward appearances and told women to have sex! Forget all of this Love and Respect teaching!"

"Bonobos apes have sex face to face. Emerson cannot be trusted on anything when saying only homo sapiens enter sexual intimacy face to face. Don't listen to him."

"Emerson imitated someone with cerebral palsy. He lost all credibility to me, and should lose credibility to you."

"Emerson said too many children receive medication for the wrong reasons. My child receives medication. His comments offended me. I am telling people not to attend the Love and Respect conference."

These points can have merit, as tithing has merit, but hiding behind smaller matters in a self-righteous and judgmental manner smokescreens the real issue of obeying Scripture’s command to love and respect. Additionally, one misleads others like a blind guide misleads others. 

You ask, "How can I know if I am running from God's weightier truth?" Watch yourself become "bugged" by lesser matters than the main core of loving your wife or respecting your husband. Watch yourself obsess on a lesser concern and act holier-than-thou on this lesser concern. From God's vantage point, you are flicking flies off the rim of the soup-bowl while letting an elephant wade around in the broth. 

Would you pray this prayer with me?

Lord, I must not think I can neglect Your camel-sized truth of Love and Respect, any more than I can swallow a camel. One day I must give an account to You about my obedience to love and respect. I cannot pass unnoticed at Your judgment any more than a camel can pass through my throat unnoticed. Yet, when it comes to Your priority of love and respect, I have acted as though I can neglect these two weighty truths without consequence. Forgive me for thinking I could dodge, hedge, and fudge on Ephesians 5:33. Forgive me for getting more upset about secondary things and not getting upset over my disobedience to love and respect. Jesus, You do not accept as genuine my appearance of "holy" anger since You see me getting mad at nothing more than gnats. And, You see me skirting and scorning the camel with its hump of love and hump of respect. To You, I am pretending holiness. But today, I feel convicted by Your Word to the scribes and Pharisees: "Woe to you . . . hypocrites!" Forgive me for my hypocrisy, and help me stop this hypocrisy! Help me stop my holier-than-thou reaction, which to You does not show me as holier than anybody. Help me see the unholiness of screaming at gnats landing on my soup bowl but yawning at the camel wading around in the broth! How silly to swat gnats but sip a camel. I know You want me to laugh at my silliness, but more so, You want me to change when my giggling quiets down.

Emerson Eggerichs, Ph.D.
Author, Speaker, Pastor

Questions to Consider

  1. What smaller matter in your marriage consumes you, and is causing you to neglect the more important application of loving your wife or respecting your husband? Have you used this smaller matter to justify neglecting the weightier issue of Love and Respect?
  2. Emerson said, “If we do not want to apply Love and Respect in our marriage, getting ‘bugged’ over tiny matters allows us to avoid the big thing of Love and Respect in Ephesians 5:33.” When was a time you did not want to apply Love and Respect, even though you knew you should have? Why did you not want to apply it?
  3. Have you ever caught yourself running from God’s weightier truth? How did you realize what you were doing? What course corrections did you make?
  4. Do you believe that one day you will give an account to the Lord on how well you loved and respected your spouse according to His command?