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Both/And not Either/Or

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23.23).

When you hear the word “Pharisee” in a religious discussion, it is rarely good. Most times it is derisively hurled at someone who supposedly “thinks he can earn his salvation” and believes that the commands and examples in the New Testament should be closely followed. At first glance, our text would seem to fit that narrative. Here is Jesus giving a scathing rebuke of the Pharisees’ narrow minded observance of an Old Testament command (tithing in Leviticus 27.30), all the while ignoring the big moral principles God had emphasized; principles which Israel had failed at keeping resulting in her captivity (Hosea 6.4-7). Clearly, the Pharisees shouldn’t worry about strict tithing and they should pay more attention to defending the helpless and loving their fellow man.

Except, that’s not what Jesus said. Many would have Jesus presenting an Either/Or choice: the Pharisees could EITHER strictly observe the Law, OR they could focus on refining their moral character. But Jesus didn’t present an EITHER/OR scenario, rather He said this was a BOTH/AND situation. Note the full verse: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.” (Matthew 23:23).

In paying attention to many of the religious discussion of today, I fear that a false dichotomy is being used. That is, we approach a matter as if it were an EITHER/OR choice, when in fact it is BOTH/AND. There are certainly some matters in Scriptures that are EITHER/OR choices (see Matthew 6.24). However, there are other matters that are clearly BOTH/AND. Here are three matters to consider:

Worship: Sometimes worship is treated as an EITHER/OR proposition. You can EITHER limit yourself to worshipping by the express commands and examples of the New Testament (singing without instruments, men praying, partaking of the Lord’s Supper each Sunday, etc.) OR you can worship with your heart and emotions. It’s a false dichotomy. God says that worship should be BOTH according to His will (Psalm 50.8) AND with our heart and emotions (Psalm 50.23; 66.1-4).

Caring for others. There are many discussions going on about a Christian’s responsibility to his fellow man, about how we can serve those around us. Well it’s not a matter of EITHER we need to teach them the gospel OR we need to help the needy. Again, that’s a false dichotomy. Jesus’ will is that we BOTH proclaim the gospel to the needy (Mark 16.15-16) AND that we be a neighbor to all who are in need (Luke 10.25-37).

Salvation. Sadly, many discussions about salvation take on an EITHER/OR dynamic. EITHER you believe that you are saved by God’s grace, OR you believe you’ve got to follow commands. It’s a false dichotomy. Jesus says salvation is a matter of BOTH God’s grace (John 3.16), AND man’s faithful obedience (John 14.15; Mark 16.16; Matthew 28.19-20).

In short, when it comes to following the will of God, it’s never a matter of following Him in EITHER one way OR another, rather God wants us to embrace a BOTH/AND mentality. May God help us to do so.