You yourselves know, my brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts. As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.
O Lord, you search me and you know me,
you know my resting and my rising,
you discern my purpose from afar. (R./)
You mark when I walk or lie down,
all my ways lie open to you.
Before ever a word is on my tongue you know it,
O Lord, through and through. (R./)
Behind and before you besiege me,
your hand ever laid upon me.
Too wonderful for me, this knowledge,
too high, beyond my reach. (R./)
Jesus said, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean.
Saint Paul combines attitudes that may seem like opposites. Though a strongly independent self-starter, he reflects that he can be as gentle as any nursing mother, with the Christians whom he serves. He denies any intention of merely pleasing others, and yet was anxious to share in the lives of his people. He values common sense and practical devotion to duty in everyday life even while he points ahead to the second coming of the Lord Jesus.
Another contrast is in the preaching of Jesus, when he reverses what the Scribes and Pharisees consider essential and gives priority to what they think trivial. For him, the value of keeping the Law depends on the spirit with which it is kept. Of course, this kind of freedom could become very subjective, so that people would act more according to their feelings than according to their principles. But unless there is trust in God and in each other, legal principles alone will not keep us on the right track.
Paul offers guidelines to keep his Christians from anarchy, while seeking the highest spiritual ideals. They were to show courage in the face of opposition; and always seek to please God who tests our hearts, and avoid flattery and greed. They can learn from his own example; he had behaved as gently among them as any nursing mother. What an interesting image for Paul to use of himself, which surely gives the lie to any notion that he was a total misogynist. He used the tenderness of mothers with young children as the perfect example of how we should treat each other.
Jesus blames the Pharisees for insisting on unimportant details such as the exact tithing of herbs while neglecting the core values that the Torah sought to uphold, such as justice, mercy and faith. He stands in the line of the prophets who showed their people to value and to practice the virtues that really mattered to God.
We need to keep returning to the essentials, to the heart of the Gospel, to do what God really wants of us. It would be hard to find a better statement of those essentials than the three values stated by the prophet Micah and endorsed by Jesus. "what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Mic 6:8). These were the values Jesus embodied in his life and in his death. To live by them is to "put on Christ", which is our essential vocation as Christians.