"Judgment, mercy, and faith" can be paraphrased to make them easier to understand. Judgment means "being fair and even-handed in judgment." Mercy means "being compassionate and kind in action," and faith means "being loyal to God in keeping His law." Justice is a more accurate, modern translation of "judgment," and "faith" might be better rendered faithfulness or trust. Thus, Jesus is speaking about justice, compassion, and faithfulness (or loyalty).
Jesus applied these concepts in confronting the Pharisees because they had reached a tragically wrong conclusion regarding the intent of God's laws.
Weightier means "more important," "central," or "more decisive" as compared to what is peripheral or secondary. Thus, the intent of God's law is to produce justice, compassion and kindness, and loyalty to God. Of course, the major thing that will be produced is a right relationship with God and men, and character will be built.
The Pharisees were guilty of a massive distortion of God's will, or what could even be called God's pleasure, and in their zeal to be absolutely correct, they corrupted those they were leading. Their problem was their attitude toward law, one opposite from most people's. Most people tend to become looser and more liberal in their application of law, but for some strange reason, the Pharisees corrupted the law in the complete other direction. God felt it necessary to correct this corruption so that we would understand that it is equally perverse.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Sabbathkeeping (Part 4)
Each of the Ten Commandments can be considered a "weighty" part of the law. The statutes, precepts, and judgments, rendered by God and Moses and added to the scriptural record, are not as weighty as the law itself, but are still important, since they show how we should interpret and apply the law.
Christ singled out judgment, mercy, and faith as the weightier matters of the law. Why? Since we are discussing judgment here, why is it so weighty? Though the law itself is very important, we can perhaps consider judgment or justice to be even weightier, for it is the aim and purpose of the law. The law's very purpose is to make sure justice is done!
Since God is the very embodiment of love and justice to all without partiality, He did not need the law codified for Himself. We need it, along with all the precepts, statutes, and judgments based on it because we do not yet have His mind. So He gave us the Bible, which contains enough of God's mind for us to strive toward perfection with it as our daily guide, helping us learn to judge righteous judgment. Within its pages God has written enough laws, principles, and circumstances for us to determine the proper course of action in any situation: Which Scripture applies here and now? Do we answer this fool according to his folly or not (Proverbs 26:4-5)? Can we judge him a fool at all (Matthew 5:22)?
The problem is that we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Hold any of our lives up before the pages of the Bible, and we fall far short. If justice were truly done, we would all die eternally, for the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). That is harsh reality. But God is merciful and gives us time and help to correct our course.
The Pharisees tried to live perfectly sinless lives and came to judge anyone falling short of their expectations as far beneath them. Not only had they perverted justice through hypocrisy and partiality, but they had also completely lost the next weighty matter Christ urged them to consider: mercy.
The Weightier Matters (Part 2): Judgment
What is Christ saying here? These people should have tithed; there was nothing wrong with that. The Expositor's Bible Commentary, concerning this verse, says, "Jesus does not condemn scrupulous observance in these things." Jesus instituted the tithing law and knew what it was intended to do for the ministry. He knew the purpose for it, even as we do now, but the Pharisees did not understand the spiritual intent. They knew to tithe, but did not understand the rest.
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Interestingly, of the three "weightier matters" Christ says to focus on—judgment, mercy, and faith—only one is even mentioned in the Ten Commandments. Mercy is not listed as one of the Ten or emphasized as a major tenet but as a blessing from God to the thousands who keep His law (Exodus 20:6).
How then, do these three virtues carry such weight with the law? The Pharisees were in horrendous spiritual condition. Notice that Christ did not simply say, "You are breaking the law—keep it!" They had the law, and they allegedly kept it, ever so minutely. The problem was that they had completely lost the meaning and purpose of the law! Rather than it being a joy and benefit to them, it had become a burden grievous to be borne and unhealthy to their spiritual state.
God intends the law to be "the law of liberty" (James 1:25; 2:12). If a person looks into it and obeys, he is liberated from guilt, shame, feelings of worthlessness, self-pity, abandonment, and loneliness. In short, we can only obtain joy and happiness when we keep the law with God's intended spirit and attitude. Any other use of the law or the breaking of it leads to negative effects that preclude joy and happiness.
They had taken what Jesus and His Father had instituted as a blessing and turned it into a curse. Paul, "a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee" (Acts 23:6) recognized how the law could become an enemy: "And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death" (Romans 7:10). When the law is applied wrongly, the consequences are always destructive.
The scribes and Pharisees used the law on others like a club and perverted it for their own selfish gain. "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble" (James 1:27). How could anyone, by any stretch of the imagination, reason a way to turn this around to the point he could turn widows and orphans out of their homes, then stand in the streets as if righteous, making long prayers to God?
Is it any wonder Christ denounces them so harshly? Considering the content and repetition in His vilification, Jesus Christ is as incensed at them as perhaps anyone He ever addresses in the Bible, Old or New Testament. After calling them snakes in Matthew 23:33, He questions if there is any way they can escape eternal damnation!
Yet in His righteous anger, He still gives them insight on how to correct their course, to put them back on track regarding the spirit and attitude necessary to keep the law properly. Christ intends His instruction to cause us to think through three basic elements of the purpose of that law and how it should work to man's good.
To the Pharisees, He did not explain the relationship of judgment, mercy, and faith to the law. Why cast His pearls before swine? But if they would make the effort, He gave them a clue about how to straighten out their thinking. In so doing, they would re-establish the law's purpose and meaning and gain correct perspective in how to keep it. History shows they did not take the hint.
The Weightier Matters (Part 1): Introduction
The Pharisees made their first major error in this area of judgment. They had abandoned the proper yardstick for their basis of judgment. As Matthew 15:1-9 shows, they had developed their own traditions that transgressed the law of God (verse 3). Their worship had become vain - worthless - as they substituted the doctrines of men for the doctrines of God (verse 9).
The Pharisees had lost touch with God's instructions, His mind. They leaned on carnal reasoning, which always decided in their favor. Situation ethics ruled, rather than the precepts of God. They became very harsh in their dealings with the "little people," taking advantage of them simply because they could (Micah 2:1-2).
"A just weight and balance are the Lord's; all the weights in the bag are His work. It is an abomination for kings to commit wickedness, for a throne is established by righteousness" (Proverbs 16:11-12). Though the Pharisee's "additions" to the law seemed innocent enough at their inception, over time they became increasingly partial to those who made the additions. This destroyed godly standards, and wickedness reigned. Since the leaders' righteousness had been destroyed, their leadership was void of justice. Significantly, the Bible's final warning is not to add to or subtract from God's Word (Revelation 22:18-19), for our own judgments do not have the purity and objectivity of God's.
This problem never seems to go away. Christ excoriated the Pharisees for it. James addressed the church about it because some were showing partiality to the wealthy in the congregations (James 2:1-12). Decision-making, judging, discerning, and evaluating fruits often become subjective. We base them on how they may affect our own well-being rather than render them impartially and objectively in the light of God's Word purified seven times (Psalm 12:6). Is it any wonder God gives us an average of 70 years to learn to make right judgments?
The Weightier Matters (Part 2): Judgment
In one chapter, Matthew 23, Jesus Christ rips the scribes and Pharisees to shreds. Eight times He pronounces on them woe—defined by Webster's Dictionary as "deep suffering, grief, affliction, ruinous trouble." He dubs them "hypocrites" seven times, "blind guides" twice, "fools and blind" twice, "blind" once, "whitewashed tombs" once, and finishes His name-calling tirade by designating them "brood of vipers"!
He then accuses them of being the children of those who had killed the prophets—a heavy-duty insult considering how proud they were of their ancestry. He predicts they would do the same themselves and declares that He would have nothing to do with them until they accept and bless the ones He sends.
Jesus was really worked up over this! Why? These people were extremely careful in keeping every minor article of the law. They even added many precise rules themselves to ensure they did not overlook the law's details.
Their lives, and the lives of those under their jurisdiction, consisted of endless, mindless details. Endless, for they continued to break branches of the law down to twigs down to leaves. Mindless, because this focus hampered their ability to think and properly weigh what was most important. They became so involved in making sure everyone else obeyed their demands that they no longer remembered the fundamental purpose of the law or kept it properly themselves. Even worse, they used the law against others and took advantage even to the point of "devouring widows' houses" (verse 14). Hence Christ's remonstrance: Hypocrites!
Yet they LOOKED good, publicly counting their mint, cummin and anise. It is not wrong or unlawful to count each seed; tithing should be done, as Christ pointed out (verse 23). But there are far more important issues of the law to consider than counting individual seeds—namely, JUDGMENT, MERCY AND FAITH.
Notice Christ's scathing indictment of the Pharisees' religion and it's effects:
♦ They set a horrid example by not following their own teaching (verse 3).
♦ They abused their office by burdening others with strict requirements while not requiring the same of themselves (verse 4).
♦ What they did do was only for vanity and show (verse 5).
♦ They were social climbers (verse 6).
♦ Their teaching had negative results, driving people farther from the Kingdom rather than closer to it (verse 13).
♦ Their twisted reasoning led them to steal even from the weak (verse 14).
♦ Their misguided zeal made their proselytes twice as bad as they were before they were even "converted" to Pharisaism (verse 16).
♦ Gold, money, and greed became their main focus and god (verses 16-18).
♦ Their perspective was so perverted that they would pay more attention to keep from swallowing a gnat than they would a camel (verses 23-24).
♦ How others saw them was far more important than moral values (verses 27-28).
♦ While they extolled the virtues of past men of God, they were so deeply hateful and murderous that they would kill Christ and any of His followers that they could (verses 29-37).
♦ Their religious house was utterly worthless and desolate, bereft of any contact with or influence of God, though they thought they were perfectly righteous. In a word, they were self-righteous.
We could easily break these attitudes down into many more categories of sin, but the point is obvious: The total of all their religious efforts was zero. Actually, Pharisaism had negative value, for the scribes and Pharisees took what people already had and made them even worse off than before!
The Weightier Matters (Part 1): Introduction
Justice, mercy, and faith—or fidelity, faithfulness. The word faith may be somewhat misleading because most tend to think of it in terms of "confidence" or "trust." Jesus uses it in the sense of being faithful, trustworthy, or loyal.
Most people never think of these things in terms of law. Why are they weightier matters of law? The weightiest matter of law is love, and of course, there we cannot forget about sin. Yet justice, mercy, and faithfulness are also matters of law because a person must have a basis—a guide, a standard—from which to judge, to make an evaluation, so he knows whether to be faithful, merciful, or just in his dealing with other people. Why? Because the law is the basis of right and wrong, whether to do or not to do.
People suppose that mercy is not a matter of law. Oh, yes, it is! If the law is done away, there is no basis for mercy—or for kindness or generosity, for that matter. When we must make a judgment, we cannot know whether to be merciful or not unless the law provides us with the foundation.
When we begin to think deeply about these seemingly vague terms, we find that they are directly attached to the law of God. God's law—His instruction, which defines right and wrong—is not contained exclusively in the Ten Commandments. It is not contained just in the five books of the Pentateuch. It is contained in all 66 books; it is everywhere in the Bible.
All of our lives we have been taught, to a greater or lesser extent, to put biblical things into nice, neat, little boxes. We say, "This was for the Jews; that was for the Gentiles. This is for the Christians; that was for Judaism. This is for the Old Testament; that is for the New Testament. This is Old Covenant; that is New Covenant." But Scripture it is not like that!
The Bible was not written like other books. The Old Testament was written primarily with the Christian church and the New Covenant in mind, but it was done within the historical context of ancient Israel. We sometimes have trouble relating to archaic situations, but if we meditate on what troubles us, asking God for guidance, we will see modern applications of the principles contained in the context.
The New Covenant laws, principles, illustrations, and examples are everywhere, intertwined with what we ordinarily think of as "Old Covenant territory." It must be this way because the New Covenant involves the spirit, or intent, of God's law. Sin, righteousness, and love are stated, defined, illustrated, and exemplified throughout the Bible.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 17)
The real problem with the scribes and Pharisees is that they were totally selfish. They weighted their judgment toward themselves, and so they had no room for mercy for others. Nothing about them resembled Christ—no fidelity. They did not see a need for faith in the forgiveness in Christ, for they felt they needed none.
Christ gave them the answer to their problem. If they would render proper judgment, without partiality, emphasis on self would diminish. Their mercy would allow people to make mistakes and have space to repent rather than fear being destroyed financially or otherwise. Finally, with true fidelity, they would treat everyone as Christ did. Their faith would increase, as would the faith of those under their influence.
Had they properly applied these three qualities—judgment, mercy, and faith—their attitudes would have turned from selfish carnal goals to outgoing concern for others. They would have begun displaying the real love of God. If we apply them, we will have the confidence and boldness of which Paul spoke—the kind of faith required for salvation. The scribes and Pharisees lacked it. Being alive, we still have the chance to obtain it.
The Weightier Matters (Part 4) : Faith and Fidelity
People are being taught today that tithing is "done away." Does God show anywhere in Scripture - beginning in Genesis - that He has used any other system than tithing to finance His Work? Jesus, the very Head of the church, had a golden opportunity to state emphatically that the tithing law had been changed, but He did no such thing. Instead, He said of carefully determining the amount of tithe, "This you ought not to have left undone."
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is God a False Minister?
In this denunciation of the Pharisees, Jesus does not condemn tithing - or even punctilious observance of it. Instead, He denounces their lack of justice, mercy, and faith! To the contrary, He supports tithing: "These you ought to have done [justice, mercy, and faith], without leaving the others [tithing] undone."
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Greek word for "faith" can also be translated "fidelity," as it is in Titus 2:10. To understand what the scribes and Pharisees lacked, we need to examine fidelity along with the traditional definition of faith.
Fidelity, as defined by Webster, is "the quality of being faithful, accuracy in details, exactness." The dictionary adds an interesting modern analogy to explain fidelity: "the degree to which an electronic device (as a record player, radio or television) accurately reproduces its effect (as sound or picture)."
We know we are to bring "every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (II Corinthians 10:5) and to "let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:5). John tells us "to walk just as He walked" (I John 2:6). Peter advises, "Christ . . . [left] us an example, that you should follow His steps" (I Peter 2:21).
Spiritually, fidelity is to reproduce faithfully and exactly the thoughts, attitudes, steps, and paths of Jesus Christ. The "sounds" our lives make on earth reach heaven either as the scratchy, tinny, garbled clanging of carnality, or as harmonic, melodious, pleasant reproductions of Christ in us, the hope of glory.
This is where the Pharisees missed the whole point of the law. They were not like God at all! They were so busy with their little "additions to make it better," they forgot how to treat each other. This is a great danger facing the church today. We can focus so intently on a specific point of doctrine—the calendar, divorce and remarriage, or church government—that we forget that God bases our judgment on how we treat others (Matthew 25:34-46). Christ went about doing good (Acts 10:38). He showed compassion, healed, helped, and set a righteous example in all His activities. He never once gossiped, slandered, or verbally abused anyone. While correct teaching is of extreme importance (II John 10), living it is of even greater importance because doers will be justified, not hearers only (Romans 2:13; James 1:22-25).
The "sounds" the scribes and Pharisees produced were low fidelity, unrecognizable to God in the intent of His law. When God hears our voices, does it sound to Him just like Christ did? Because we are still alive, we are better off than the Pharisees. We still have opportunity to learn to think and act like Christ, to work on reacting to wrongs and persecution—deserved or undeserved—just as He would. We have time to grow in saying just the right thing at the right time to help, encourage, inspire, or guide others.
James 3:9 says we bless God and curse men made in His likeness; we respect God but not His creation. James shows this is a contradiction and wrong. Disrespecting God's creation is disrespecting Him. He expects high fidelity from us in what we say—"pure, . . . peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy" (verse 17). He will not listen to what is "earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing will be there" (verses 15-16).
Fidelity is the kind of faith mentioned in James 2:14-26. Just "believing" or blindly trusting that we are qualified to enter God's Kingdom is not sufficient. Christ must see Himself in us. Faith without works is dead, so we show real faith by our actions (verses 17-18). Even the demons "believe" God exists—and they tremble in fear (verse 19), but they are unwilling to think like Him, talk like Him, live like Him. Theirs is a dead faith. We are to show our faith by our works, by walking exactly as He walked, by our "fidelity."
The Weightier Matters (Part 4) : Faith and Fidelity
Why is mercy so weighty? Those who teach "grace only" apart from the law do not even see a need for mercy, since, to them, grace cancels any need for mercy. By their definition, mercy is automatic once they are "saved"! In theory, they can breeze through a "happy, happy, joy, joy" life with no fear of eternal consequences.
If that were true, why did Christ not make "grace" one of the weighty matters and leave out mercy? The Pharisees believed in keeping the law perfectly and being saved as a result. Modern Christianity teaches the law is done away, and all they need is saving grace, given when they "accept the Lord." Neither of these opposing approaches will work!
The Weightier Matters (Part 3): Mercy
We tend to think of judgment as the eternal judgment and the sorting of sheep to the right and goats to the left at the return of Jesus Christ. While this ultimately comes into play, we first need to examine some elements of judgment in the "here and now" rather than the "there and then." For the converted Christian, judgment is now on the house of God (I Peter 4:17).
As used in Matthew 23:23 as a weighty matter, "judgment" is from the Greek word krisis, meaning "decision for or against" and suggesting a tribunal or formal judgment. It implies "justice." Justice has several meanings, the first of which is "impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or assignment of deserved punishment or reward." More simply, when a conflict arises among people, justice is administering what is just - "factual, reasonable, faithful, morally upright, good, fair, righteous, impartial, and legally correct."
The Pharisees took one element of that definition - the "legally correct" part - and based their relationships with others on it, conveniently deleting fairness, impartiality, reasonableness, etc. from their thinking. Christ wanted them to be legally correct, for it is part of proper decision-making, but there is more to it than that!
The Weightier Matters (Part 1): Introduction
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Matthew 23:23:
1 Corinthians 7:35
1 Corinthians 9:14
2 Corinthians 7:1