“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give to God one tenth even of the seasoning herbs, such as mint, dill, and cumin, but you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain a gnat out of your drink, but swallow a camel."
What does God really care about? What does He want us to care about? Jesus gives us a clue. Although preachers world-wide seem to think it has to do with tithing and not robbing God -as important as that may be -money is not what God is passionate about. And many believe that God's foremost priority for us is obedience -as important as that may be -but even obedience is not what Jesus indicates here.
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees were completely obedient to the letter of the law. This is what Jesus is talking about when he mentions the mint and dill and cumin. Since the law commands that a tithe be given, they tithed. They tithed willingly, and they didn't just tithe on household income; if they had an herb garden, they even brought a tenth of the produce to the temple as a tithe. They were fanatical about obedience to the law. But something was amiss.
Although they were fanatical about obeying the law, Jesus identifies three things as being more important than tithing and even more important than strict obedience to the letter of the law. Jesus specifically mentions justice, mercy and faithfulness. These are not laws exactly, these are character qualities. To be more specific yet, these are character qualities of God. Jesus is saying that developing these character qualities is more important than legalistically keeping the law. Next, Jesus says something that we might want to note: obedience to the law without having these qualities (justice, mercy and faithfulness) is like straining a gnat from our drink and then swallowing a camel. This is a picture of absurdity. We might think even with a lack of godly character and wrong motives, someone obeying God's law is still way ahead of those who don't keep the law. But Jesus says differently; keeping the law without developing godly character is worthless and ridiculous. Why? Because more than anything else, God loves us and wants us to love Him. And if we learn to love God, two things start to happen. One, we begin keeping the law, not out of compulsion and sometimes not even aware that we are keeping the law, yet we end up keeping the law because -Two, we begin to be transformed into the likeness and character of God.
Legalistically keeping the law is putting the cart before the horse. The first and more important things are to accept God's love, learn to love Him, and begin to love others. Jesus said that all of the laws and teachings of the prophets can be kept by learning to love.
Let's not strain out the gnats only to swallow camels.