Most Important Commands?

Are some commands of God more important than others? Some would say a resounding, "No!" Others would say, "Of course. Jesus said there were 'weightier matters' in Matthew 23:23." One of the problems with the question and the answers is that no one can properly answer a question if the question is not clearly defined. To clarify that, suppose we asked the question, "Which is the most important leg of a stool with three legs?" One may reply pontifically, "Any one can see that they are of equal importance." A more thoughtful response might be, "Important in terms of what?" If one were thinking in terms of how the stool might look, the important one might be the one closer to the looker. If one were thinking of how one might need one of the legs to defend himself against a vicious dog, the one that was loose might be more important. If one were thinking in terms of balancing on the stool, the one that was missing might be the most important.

So, with the question of the commands of God, if one thought of importance in terms of being more basic or fundamental, he would have one answer. If he thought of it in terms of some practical immediate purpose, he might have another. For example, which is most important, a parent feeding his child, or the parent's ability to swim? If the child is about to drown, the parent's ability to swim may be more important. If the child were about to starve, surely one would admit that it is more important that the parent feed the child.

Which is more important in a house, the doors or windows? Which is most important, the foundation or the roof? Surely one should be able to see that if one is thinking in terms of protection from the present downpour of rain, one answer might be correct, but in terms of a flood of water coming from an overflowing river, another might be correct.

Now let us examine the statement of Jesus in Matthew 23:23. He said, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone." If we are thinking of things that are more fundamental, then we may admit that faith was more important than paying tithes. However, there are two important truths we should know.

First, no matter if we conclude it is more important, Jesus taught that they should not have left the other undone. Generally, those who use this statement to prove the insignificance of obeying God seem to conveniently overlook the fact that Jesus did not so teach or imply.

Second, although we may by logical reasoning assume that some matter God wants done is more important for some particular end than some other matter, this verse does not teach that judgment, mercy and faith are more important than paying the tithe God commanded. The word "barus" which is here translated "weightier" is used six times in the New Testament, and in no case does it clearly mean "more important." If you care to check the references (Mt. 23:4; 23:23; Acts 20:29; 25:7; 2 Cor 10:10; 1 Jn. 5:3) you can easily see that in every case it refers to something that is hard to do, burdensome or grievous.

It should be easy to understand that it is harder or could be a greater task to give the proper judgment, show the proper mercy or demonstrate the proper faith than it would be to tithe. The primary thing to remember is that regardless of what standard you may use to determine what command may be more important than another in regard to some particular desired end, anytime anyone teaches, suggests or implies that some command of God can be safely or properly disregarded he is a dangerous and unsound teacher.

T. Pierce Brown

Published in The Old Paths Archive