5. Swallow camels and strain gnats.
The Pharisees were masters of exalting scripture while avoiding its most dangerous truths. You too can be an expert on scripture all the while avoiding being changed unnecessarily by its power. Jesus put it quite well with. In the days before water filtration, you can imagine that straining gnats was something you might very well opt to do, before taking a big gulp from the local well. But for the law abiding it was a very careful, tedious and necessary project. God Himself told the Israelites in the Law that they were not to eat any animal with its life’s blood still in it. Sorry guys, no rare steak for you. The Pharisees were so concerned about this, that they instituted a law which required straining gnats so as to avoid even an accidental ingestion of any creature and its life’s blood.
This may be all well and good, but according to Jesus, while they were busy straining out gnats, they were also busy swallowing whole camels. (Incidentally, I’d love to see a cartoonist do a good drawing of this picture because we far too often miss the absurd humor in Jesus’ sermons, this being a great example. )
As someone who is trying to avoid being changed by scripture, the point here is to recognize that you can, in fact obsess, over tiny details of scripture and still avoid any major changes. As long as scripture becomes a burdensome list of minutiae to be followed, rules to be obeyed, then you can manage to look both spiritual and avoid any real spirituality. Many people, for example, will be impressed by your conviction and sincerity as you bow your head to pray before a meal, making a big deal of how bold you are to do so in the middle of a crowded restaurant, and never know how little of a real prayer life you never have when no one is looking. Self Righteous denial, done publicly, has, as Paul says in Colossians 2, an appearance of wisdom but adds the benefit of having no value in actually restraining sensual indulgence. Strain as many gnats as you like, just be sure to swallow camels as well and you will avoid accidentally forging ahead, blithely unchanged by Scripture.