Stop Eating the Camels!

Imagine visiting your local zoo. As you approach the camel pen you see a big sign: “Don’t eat the camels!” You’d likely laugh out loud. Who would ever try to eat a camel? Yet, Jesus posts just such a sign on the Christian pathway to spiritual maturity. It seems an odd warning – but let’s take a look at its indispensable message.

Imagine the absurdity of someone trying to swallow a camel in one big gulp. Clearly, not smart. Truly impossible. Probably deadly. Yet, this picture of a sad spiritual reality is often attempted by stalwart religious people, according to Jesus, who described the ultimate theologians of His day as those “who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:24).

His comment was probably a brief humorous illustration in the context of the most scathing sermon of His earthly ministry. If you are feeling like you have some thick skin today, you can read the entire message in Matthew 23:13-36. The common sermon title is “Eight Woes to the Religious Leaders.” Our Lord preached it among a large crowd in the temple as He pronounced His judgment on the Jewish religious elite. Some say it was in contrast to the eight blessings found in the Sermon on the Mount. Preacher Jesus didn’t make any friends that day with His “woeful” sermon.

The sermon targets those who took meticulous care to strain the small bugs out of their drinking water then turn around to gulp down a camel without even realizing the contradiction and hypocrisy of the experience. We might call it a very bad case of spiritual myopia, packed with contradiction and leading to destruction.

Modern Day Camel-Swallowers

We’ve all seen camel-swallowers in the church. Maybe it’s an attendee who did not like a particular song in the service, then goes around slandering the music pastor and creating massive disharmony. I’ve known people who want to go “deep” into the Scriptures and are critical of any teacher whose delivery doesn’t adequately meet their preferences. Yet, in their own lives they tolerate sinful habits and consistently exhibit a caustic and unrestrained tongue. I’ve heard stories of church leaders who create significant disunity within the leadership team over an issue of personal preference. The examples could go on for miles. The “Hall of Shame for Christian Camel-Eaters” is packed with ignoble examples.

Avoiding the Camel Choke

So how do we avoid choking our personal, family, and congregational vitality through camel swallowing? As a pastor, I’ve been responsible to encourage people to watch their dietary habits when it comes to gnats and camels. As one who has a burden for the body of Christ in our nation, I hope we can have an eating revolution and learn to stay away from the camels. As a follower of Christ, I pray for the personal wisdom to discern my own ways in order to please Christ and honor His character.

Here are a few suggestions:

1. Learn to discern. There is a difference between a legalistic approach (creating false standards of spirituality, and then judging others by your preferential standard) and a truly biblical approach of loving, direct, personal discussion (vs. open criticism). The only way to do this is to know the Scriptures enough to discern between myopia and maturity.

2. Check your motives. Is your heart motivated by grace, coupled with a passion to edify others and build up the body? Or is your approach simply a desire to control others (or even the direction of the church) through complaining and criticism?

3. Look in the mirror first. It’s been said that the critic who begins with himself will have little time to take on outside contracts. Are you careful to evaluate your own heart, life, and words first before launching your campaign against another brother or sister?

4. Invite accountability. We can often get so caught up in the subjectivity of our thoughts and feelings that we can’t even see the camels we are feeding on. Ask a truly godly, discerning, and courageous brother or sister to give you honest feedback about your behavior and words. Then, be ready to humbly listen and accept responsibility for whatever they tell you.

5. Keep a clear conscience. If you find out you’ve been gulping camels and have hurt other believers or a group of believers, demonstrate the sincerity of your self-evaluation and repentance by confessing it to the Lord and humbly seeking forgiveness from those you’ve hurt.

6. Remember eternity. All camel-eaters will ultimately be exposed. Eternity is a long time to live with the regret of a silly camel diet.

Let’s keep Jesus’ warning about hypocrisy and myopia always in mind. It helps underscore our own desire for spiritual authenticity. It’s a great idea for parents raising their children in a spiritually confused world. It is an essential principle for our dealings with one another. It is crucial for church leaders.

When asked, “How do you eat a camel?” I hope our answer will always be, “We don’t. It is no longer on the menu.”


Copyright © 2016 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.