Pic ‘n’ Mix Holiness

For the most part, Jesus’ character while on earth was admirably peaceful and calm, but there were occasions when “gentle Jesus meek and mild” became formidable and furious. One of those examples is found in Matthew 23, the chapter where Jesus pours out His disgust upon the Pharisees, pronouncing no less than seven “woes” and calling them “Blind fools!” “Hypocrites!” and “Snakes!” Not an especially pleasant prophetic word to receive from the Lord, not even in the afternoon where the NIV Visual Bible sets this sunny scene.

One of the many charges levelled against the Pharisees in this chapter can be found in verse 23. Jesus says, “You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cummin – but you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former.”

Now, this is a very interesting thought. The Pharisees had shown absolute devotion and commitment to one part of the Law – in this example, it was tithing, God bless them – but they had completely failed to keep another part of it. To Jesus, this mindset was unacceptable. While He refers to “the more important matters of the Law,” He insists that both the latter and the former should be done. It is clear that believers should not come to the Ten Commandments, to borrow a J John joke, like a student approaching a GCSE paper: “Of these ten questions, attempt any four!” Yesterday and today, obeying the Holy Spirit is never a multiple choice exercise. As slaves of righteousness, we have no choice.

What the Pharisees were doing, we might call pic ‘n’ mix holiness. I know all about pic ‘n’ mix, having worked in a pic ‘n’ mix booth for a while. With my baseball cap firmly on, I spent many long hours watching sweet toothed children decide whether they wanted a greater proportion of toffees over dolly mixtures. The nature of this kind of treat is that you don’t buy the product wholesale but you are free to select what you want. The down side of this level of choice is that ultimately it is going to cost you more, especially if (like in the booth I ran) the bag is the heaviest item!

In common with many modern Christians, the Pharisees were subconsciously selecting which parts of the moral requirements of God they were going to keep and be fascinated with, while disregarding some of those commandments that just seem to spoil life’s fun. It is no wonder the Lord was angry with these, who were supposed to be Israel’s teachers.

But let’s not point the finger too keenly at them, as this kind of scenario can be found regularly in our local church. Let’s face it, it is much more attractive to “rejoice in the Lord” than it is to “pick up your cross.” Inevitably, the “Receive the Double Portion Glory Anointing” conference will always be full to the brim, leaving the free to enter “Dying for Jesus” seminar day a little sparse on numbers. For some, to pay a tithe is easier than to pray through a trial. So much simpler to fast, than to forgive. Perhaps the most dangerous element of this trait is that it so often goes on at the subconscious level. We sometimes don’t even know that we’re doing it.

An excellent illustration of this strange yet very common religious behaviour can be found in Dave Russon’s new book “Hands that Hold the Future.” One of the chapters tells the story of a Christian couple who visited a McDonalds drive-through in America. Back at home, they were astonished to find that the restaurant’s takings had been accidentally placed in their food bag! Gripped by his conscience, the man insisted that the money should be returned immediately and the couple drove back with the cash. The relieved manager was so impressed by their righteous act that he called for a local newspaper reporter and photographer to come. He wanted all the world to know of it. Horrified, the man fled the scene. He desired no publicity and certainly no photograph. The woman he was with was not his wife, but a mistress, and he was a local pastor.

We might have hoped that the same God driven conscience that insisted he returned the cash to the store might also have returned the man to his wife. But, like the Pharisees, he was devoted to some of the commandments while conveniently neglecting some others. And we can all do that.

So here is my question for your soul today: do you pick and choose which parts of the Bible apply to you? Have you become a customer of God’s grace, perusing the menu of the Ten Commandments and selecting that which best suits your pallet? Sorry. No can do. Christianity is a wholesale purchase. Time to eat the scroll. All of it! I hear the dinner gong.

Originally published in JOY Magazine, February 2009

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