In Jesus’ rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees as recorded by Matthew, it reads not all aspects of service to the Lord are equal.
“Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone” (Matthew 23:23).
All parts of God’s covenant are to be respected and followed, but this does not mean they all have the same weight when it comes to salvation and fighting against the indulgence of the flesh.
I’ve probably spent too much of my time focusing on minor matters of being a child of God. Perhaps many of us are guilty of this, to various degrees. Standing up against false teaching, laying out the biblical case for baptism as an essential part of salvation, setting forth arguments against attempts to adulterate the simplicity of the worship services, and the list goes on. But in all of this, I run a real risk of missing the point entirely regarding what Jesus has ultimately asked of me in this life.
“And he who does not take his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38).
To borrow from Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13, if I can perfectly understand all knowledge and silence false teachers, but have left my cross behind, I am not worthy of my Lord. If I give away all my goods to the poor, fast regularly, read daily, and pray often, but have not burdened myself with my cross, I am not worthy of the price Jesus paid at his cross. My life has become unprofitable.
The point is emphasized and clarified a few chapters later when Jesus, after revealing his future sufferings and death to his disciples, said, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). I cannot carry my cross in one hand and life’s trophies in the other. I cannot shoulder my cross while still “bearing the weight of sin which so easily besets [me]” (Hebrews 12:1). Before I can follow, I must pick up my cross. Before I can pick up my cross, I must deny myself.
To do so means a complete and total commitment to Christ. Peter and Andrew left their nets and their livelihoods to commit themselves to Jesus. Will I do this? James and John left their father’s side when the Lord called. Can I walk away from family ties, if necessary? Paul counted all of his past life’s accomplishments as rubbish so he might gain Jesus? Will I do something less because temporal accomplishments are more important than pleasing my king? While in chains, Paul reflected, “one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead” (Philippians 3:13).
My life must be a clear and complete commitment to Christ. This means following the example of Jesus when he took off his divinity to put on his humanity. As translated in the ESV, Jesus “emptied himself” and “took on the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7). Jesus gave up his throne to take on a life in the flesh and then sacrificed this life so we might be free and have hope. What will I do in light of his self-denial? If I still seek to satisfy the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life, I have not given up my life nor picked up my cross nor followed my Lord. I am unworthy.
For immigrants to this country who wish to become citizens, the oath at naturalization reads, “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen…” Newly naturalized citizens can no longer pledge allegiance to their past King, Queen, Chancellor, or President. Through this oath they renounce all past ties – they publicly deny all former allegiances – and embrace allegiance to a new country and new President. For me to follow Jesus, to be worthy of him, I must do the same to my former service to the flesh and its passions.
Failing in this critical point, this weighty matter of Christ’s covenant, is to miss out on everything. “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” and “whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27, 33).
If I falter, the fix is not to go to church more. The fix is not to simply convince myself that there is a God and his Son is Jesus Christ. The fix is to admit I’ve been too caught up in trying to make something on my own of my life and in doing so my cross has been tossed aside and my feet have wandered away from my Lord. I have become unworthy.
I can’t neglect the minor matters – those things which amount to tithing mint and anise and cumin – but the weightier matters, specifically the weight of the cross, must also be part of my walk with Christ. My life for him, my trophies cast aside, my cross resting on my shoulders, and my mind set on things above where Christ is pressing forward to my upward call from God, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”