Life Is But a Vapour, While You Are Busy Straining at Gnats and Rearranging the Titanics Deck Chairs
Updated: May 31
We know life goes by very fast, even though we may live anywhere around 70 to 100 years, sometime less and very seldom more. We know it goes by exactly 60 seconds a minute, but the point is what James wrote: life is but “a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” (Jam 4:14). On the other hand, eternity is forever. Billions of years is just the beginning. Even in a lesser, albeit significant way, the kingdom of Jesus Christ is a 1,000 years. There are biblical metaphors and secular ones that relate to the rapidity and fragility of life noted in James above. Let's consider a few.
Straining at Gnats and Swallowing Camels
Jesus said to the Pharisees which were false professing religious “believers,” that they “strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel" (Matt 23:24). The gnat was the smallest unclean animal in the OT dietary restrictions, and the largest was the camel (Lev 11:4, 42). Straining was by use of a filter. When you went to drink something sweet that attracted gnats, you made sure you got your gnats out with a filter in order to eliminate the unclean thing. There's obviously hyperbole here, a funny one at that though the subject is deadly serious, because the filter should get the unclean massive camel too, but in this metaphor, it doesn't. They swallowed it. In secular similitude, it would be like seeing the mouse in the room but not the elephant.
The gnat metaphor is comparing the Pharisees tithing “of mint and anise and cummin,” while leaving out “the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith” (Matt 23:23). They should have done these first, which would have then taken care of the inside of “the cup and platter” so “that the outside of them may be clean also.” (Matt 23:25). Salvation is the subject of this entire chapter and the entire four gospels for that matter, as noted here in v. 23: “the law, judgment, mercy, and faith.” Conversion through the Messiah, by appropriating the law, judgment, mercy, and faith, (cf. Jn 16:7-11; Gal 3) would have removed the camels of hypocrisy noted in their internal “extortion and excess” (v. 25) and “dead men's bones, and . . . uncleanness” (vv. 26-27), and their “hypocrisy and iniquity” (v. 28). The “gnats” they focused on was what other men could see, “their works they do for to be seen of men” (v. 5), such as tithing, while they should’ve given attention to the massive unclean camels they were swallowing and incidentally destroying them on their chosen wide path into eternal hell fire.
Everyone on earth has to focus on physical things, living in a physical world, but these physical things are temporal things, like bodily exercise. I watch people, who call themselves Christians taking care of the gnats, but they miss the camel. Their focus is on this life, on temporal things, even when it comes to the problems in this world. How do you see it? You can see the wrong emphasis on social media. It's all about this life, and it isn't important. What are you eating? What car are you driving? What kind of fashion are you wearing? All of this is less than gnats. They are nothing. They are the dung, what Paul uses for a kind of temporal things in Phil 3:8 that he turned from in his repentance for conversion.
Rearranging the Chairs on the Deck of the Titanic
The secular phrase, "rearranging the chairs on the deck Titanic," describes a futile, meaningless activity in the face of doom or catastrophe. The Titanic compares to the real catastrophe, lost souls going to Hell. Most of mankind will be missing Paradise, the kingdom of Jesus Christ, and heaven, as noted many places in Scripture such as Matt 7:13-14,
“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”
Greater than that, men please themselves and not God, because they do not receive His Word. Rearranging deck chairs may bring some temporal order and symmetry perhaps, better than what it might for the next cold few hours before the ship disappears in the icy waters. Imagine while the ship is sinking, the person taking charge of deck chairs announces to signal his virtue, that "he's going to rearrange the chairs" which had messed up from the new tilt of the deck. This is the kind of virtue being signaled today. Look at me, I'm tithing of mint and cummin, my little garden herbs (Matt 23:23), I can speak great swelling words or pretend humbleness, while souls all around are going to Hell, and not once is the true gospel that saves ever mentioned, let alone preached. That is the state of affair in vast majority of churches today.
Casting Pearls before Swine
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives the allusion of not casting pearls before swine (Matt 7:6). Pigs can't appreciate the beauty and significance of pearls. Appreciating pearls takes a minimal level of discernment. A particular brand of baseball cap or footwear supercedes eternal life for a lost soul. Taking the death shot because I love my career or love to travel, takes precedence over being right with God. Is my hair in style? Did I purchase the appropriate brand name of trousers? Are they ripped enough? Can you see enough skin? The world is on the fast track to the lake of fire and you're talking about your play list of “Christian” rock tunes (aka. CCM), sensual and worldly, or how your favourite hockey team is doing. This is insane like Judas. There was a reason he was casting his pearls before swine. Are you also?
Rather, you ought to be like the "merchant man," who was "seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.” (Matt 13:45-46). That Pearl of great price was the Lord Jesus Christ. So,
“Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” (Is 55:6-7).
Jesus said those who don’t do the will of the Father are unknown by Him and will be cast into eternal hell fire where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Living for self isn’t living after Gods will.
Selling the Birthright for a Mess of Pottage
In Genesis 25 Esau famously sold his birthright for a mess of pottage, essentially some lentil stew. Sure, he was hungry. Sure, he wanted to tour Europe. Sure, he wanted to fill his bucket list. Sure, he wanted more Facebook followers. What about God? What about his parents? Obedience to them? Honouring them? What about the Word of God? What about the work of the Great Commission? What about the things that God loves and He wants you to value? What about abiding in sound doctrine and separating from unsound doctrine and heretical churches? This is where the terminology arises, throwing your life away. Esau threw his life away. You are throwing your life away, but posing like your mess of pottage matters.
In essence, you are selling the life and eternal life that God has to offer, a birthright in God's eternal kingdom, for something very temporal.
But “what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mk 8:36-37).
“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (Jn 1:11-12).
The Apostle Paul instructed, "Redeeming the time, because the days are evil." (Eph 5:16). James said, your life is but "a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” (Jam 4:14). What are you doing with your time? Are you just straining at gnats, rearranging deck chairs, casting pearls before swine, and selling a birthright for a mess of pottage? You don't have to. Turn to the Lord now. Like Paul, count these other things as dung for the knowledge of Christ Jesus and then as one of the "just" you will live by the faith of God's Word (Rom 1:16).
If you are of them pertaining to the above while professing to be Christian, you may have a "faith" that may well not be saving faith. Read here as to the difference: Saving Faith versus Non-Saving Faith and here on how you can be Genuinely Born Again.