God’s Word for You
Luke 11:42-43 mint and stinkweed
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, July 26, 2018
42 But woe to you Pharisees, because you give an exact tithe of your mint and rue and every plant in your gardens, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have done these things without neglecting the others.
Luke began this quotation by noting that it was the Lord who was speaking (Luke 11:39). The Lord was proclaiming his judgment on the actions of the Pharisees in order to spare his people from their hypocrisy. Jesus uses two extremes of the garden: mint and rue. We all know about mint today. It’s in our toothpaste and in our breath-fresheners, and it’s become ingrained into our culture in a pleasant way. Rue, on the other hand, has “a disagreeable odor and an extremely bitter taste” (Wenzel p. 466). So the Pharisees made sure that their best and worst herbs got measured out for an exact tithe to the synagogue or the temple.
The word “tithe” means to give one tenth. Here, Jesus uses the verb apodekatóō (ἀποδεκατόω) “measure out exactly ten percent.” To give a tithe from one’s harvest or herd was required under the Law of Moses (Leviticus 27:30), but there were provisions for converting the tenth to its equivalent value in silver (Deuteronomy 14:23-26). The Pharisees brought a tithe of whatever grew in their gardens—even the useless and unpleasant things like rue. We can only wonder about people who insisted on bringing a tenth of their stinkweed or poison ivy to the Lord. Exactly how were those things to be used by God’s church? There are people even today who prefer to give whatever is handy or extra rather than bringing the Lord their best.
Jesus goes beyond the problem of tithing stinkweed right to the problem in the Pharisaic heart: You neglect justice and you don’t love God. If you want to quibble about just how much of your dandelion harvest makes ten percent, fine. God will accept it. But don’t do this with an unloving heart. In fact, begin to actually love God your Creator and Redeemer and then see whether you will be tempted to bring and rue to the priests and Levites.
43 Woe to you Pharisees, because you love to get the seats of honor in the synagogues and the greetings in the marketplaces.
It’s nice to be honored, but it is hollow and painful when it isn’t deserved. It isn’t wrong or sinful to receive honor from people, but Jesus is talking about the desire to have it. A Christian will strive for humility, not glory. God said to the prophet: “This is the one I esteem: He who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2). And again: “Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility” (Zephaniah 2:3).
What Jesus describes and condemns here is one of the chief examples of sins that creep into the hearts of people who seem to belong to the church—and some may have a smoldering faith—but who are in danger of losing their faith. This evil is beginning to burn in our time in a form of pietism which has seized hold of young people. Some want to hear the word of God (which is wonderful), but they don’t want to be shown how it applies. They want to make it fit their lives in their own way. Rather than showing their faith, they often betray their hearts and put on only a show of faith, a display of glory to suit their own opinions rather than God’s holy will.
There are different forms of this danger. In 1718, Pastor Valentin Loescher faced this same problem. He listed seven distinct errors which lead to different kinds of pietism, which I have adapted here:
- Rudeness, or “idleness” (1 Thessalonians 5:14); those who refuse the order of God’s Church like Naaman despising the sevenfold washing in the Jordan (1 Kings 5:11-12).
- Perfectionism. Here a person sets their own impossible standards, not God’s, but perhaps spattered with snatches of God’s word, which can only end in despair and rage. This led to the despair of Judas Iscariot.
- Setting all of one’s thought on one matter while neglecting, forgetting about, or rejecting others, like the Pharisees tithing both mint and stinkweed rather than showing justice or loving Christ (Luke 11:42-43).
- Seemingly limitless love and fascination for secret things, lofty things, or obscure things. This degenerates into mysticism and similar things. This was the sin of Simon Magus (Acts 8:9-24). This was also the source of the heresy of Millennialism.
- Mixing the powers of the soul and the spirit. Our own modest inclinations as Christians cannot match the will of God. Being too rigidly set on what is impossible in me may make me doubt the earnestness of myself in weak moments or even someone else.
- Excessive freedom. Here, the full flight of fantasy wants to apply human rules of poetics or some faddish structure of art or music to limit or even govern the word of God or the will of God. This is the source of religious “enthusiasm” (a negative term) and the so-called holiness movements. It is also the source of negative Biblical criticism.
- Confusion of things that ought to be grasped and treated distinctly. This is truly the source of pietism which confuses the result of salvation with its source. It is also the confusion of the thief, the robber, the rapist and many other sinners who adhere to the false logic that end justifies the means.
These things, but most especially the words of Jesus in our text, teach us that we must embrace the word of God over and above every other matter. All of our living flows out of our love of God our Savior. Without the cross, everything is darkness, rage, and despair. With the cross, everything is thanksgiving, joy, peace, and love. Let the love of God be the motive for everything in your life. Love your spouse, treasure your children, honor your employer, be loyal to your company or school, and most of all, dig deeply into the word of God, out of love for your Lord and Savior Jesus.
Pastor Timothy Smith
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