Tag Archives: guilt

Straining at Gnats, Swallowing Camels

As Jesus spoke to His disciples and the multitude gathered in His last public discourse held in the Temple of Jerusalem before His crucifixion, He spoke of those who strain at gnats and swallow camels. He spoke of those who minor on the major, and major on the minor. He spoke of those who clean the outside of the cup while neglecting the filthiness inside the cup. He spoke of the scribes and Pharisees of the day, pronouncing woe upon them for their hypocrisy and iniquity.

In Matthew 23 Jesus’ words of guilt and punishment are recorded upon those in His presence who had laid heavy burdens upon the people but would not lift one finger to help them. He declared, “All their works they do for to be seen of men,” (vs4-5). In denouncing them, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” (v13), Jesus proceeded to make clear the very nature of their sin.

Jesus rebuked them for promoting false doctrine contrary to the Scriptures (v13); devouring widows’ property and possessions by fraud (v14); making a pretence of long prayers (v14); compassing land and sea to make one false convert to their traditions (v15); giving more credence to an oath sworn on the gold of the Temple or a gift on the altar than by the God of Heaven Whose presence dwelt in the Temple (vs16-22); paying tithes with herbs of little value while omitting “the weightier matters of the Law, judgment, mercy, and faith” (v23).

As Jesus refers to the scribes and Pharisees as “blind guides” throughout the chapter for leading His people astray, He gives word pictures to their actions. He describes how they wipe clean the outside of the plate and cup, observing all the washings and cleansings of their tradition, while neglecting what matters most on the inside (vs25-26). He then turns their attention to the cemetery and the “whited sepulchres” found there, which appear beautiful on the outside but inside are full of dead men’s bones. He tells them of how they build and decorate the tombs of the prophets and righteous who were slain by their forefathers, all the while proclaiming “If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.” Knowing that it would be by their very hands they would call for His crucifixion, He tells them, “Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers,” (vs27-32).

For such actions by the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus called them “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers,” for their pretending to be pious and devoted to God, but all the while being wicked on the inside with evil intentions. Jesus then asked them, “How can ye escape the damnation of hell?” (v33). If the scribes and Pharisees continued on their wicked path, their future punishment in eternity would be inescapable.

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Loss of Conscience-ness

No one likes to have a guilty conscience. A guilty conscience condemns us, giving us feelings of anguish, regret, shame, anxiety, disgrace and fear. The Greek word for “conscience” is used 30 times in the New Testament, most notably by the Apostle Paul. It is man’s conscience that helps to distinguish between right and wrong as Paul wrote in Romans 2:14-15, “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these having not the law, are a law unto themselves: which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another.”

In the Old Testament the Hebrew word for “conscience” is translated “heart.” Pharaoh is remembered as one who hardened his heart (conscience) against the will of God to “Let My people go,” (Exodus 5:1-2; 8:32). King Josiah’s conscience was sensitive towards the things of God when he was commended by God “because thine heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before God, when thou heardest His Words against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, and humbledst thyself before Me, and didst rend thy clothes, and weep before Me; I have even heard thee also, saith the LORD,” (2 Chronicles 34:27). The Psalmist David wrote of man needing to be “upright in heart,” having a pure conscience in Psalm 7. In David’s plea for forgiveness concerning his sin with Bathsheba, he wrote of imploring God to blot out all his sins and “create in me a clean heart, O God,” cleansing both his life and his conscience (Psalm 51).

The Apostle Paul wrote of having a clear conscience (1 Timothy 3:9), warning against having a defiled conscience (1 Corinthians 8:7; Titus 1:15), a weak conscience (1 Corinthians 8:10), a wounded conscience (1 Corinthians 8:12) and a conscience seared with a hot iron (1 Timothy 4:2). In Paul’s defense before Felix before his appeal to Caesar, Paul said, “Herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men, (Acts 24:16).

Just as pain can be a good thing alerting us something physically is wrong, a guilty conscience alerts us to sin in our lives. To keep from having a “loss of conscience-ness” found throughout the world today in so many areas of life, one must not conform to the so-called guiltless society but be ”transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” by filling one’s mind with the Word of God, which David wrote of, “How sweet are Thy Words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Romans 12:2; Psalm 119:103). A pure conscience results from the convictions of the mind, encouraged and sharpened by the Word of God.