Mercy, knowledge, & obedience trump our sacrifices

Prostitute washes Jesus' feet (biblepicturegallery.com)
Prostitute washes Jesus

When living the life of a Christian, it is easy to get wrapped up in the mindset of thinking that our works are what bring about our righteousness, or to think of ourselves as being better than other people who don’t perform the same rituals as us. We can also even go so far as thinking that it is okay for us to commit certain habitual sins we know are wrong as long as we do something religious for God (or so we tell ourselves) to counteract the wrong we do so God won’t be mad at us. I have at times been guilty of these faulty mindsets and we have several good examples in the Bible where God shows us that this is not what he really wants from us.

King Saul’s disobedience

Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt.  Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. …

But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but every thing that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly. …

And Saul said unto Samuel, Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the LORD, and have gone the way which the LORD sent me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites.  But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God in Gilgal.  And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.  For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king. [1 Samuel 15:2-3, 9, 20-23]

God gave crystal clear instructions on what Saul was to do.  He was told to destroy everything and everyone in the Amalekite kingdom.  Instead, he and his followers saw the attack on Amalek as a way to selfishly enrich themselves, keeping all of the good stuff for themselves.  When confronted by Samuel about his disobedience, Saul tried to avoid responsibility for his actions by blaming it on what other people did and then thought he would make things right by saying he would sacrifice the best animals with a burnt offering to God. 

Samuel responded with his famous words that obedience is better than sacrifice.  Then he explained further with his cutting words that rebellion is like witchcraft and stubbornness is like idolatry.  How is rebellion like witchcraft?  Well, it seeks to have selfish, manipulative control over people and situations for self-glory, as witchcraft does.  Stubbornness against God, like idolatry, reflects the thought that says, “God, I don’t like the way you want it done, so I’m gonna do it the way I think you should want it to be done.”  In other words, we want God to conform to what we want instead of us conforming to what he wants.  If this is what God thinks about rebellion and stubbornness, then I’d say there is a lot of witchcraft and idolatry going on in churches.

I used to think harsh thoughts against Saul’s attitude in this situation until I thought about the times I purposely disobeyed God and then thought I would make it up to him later by saying an extra prayer during the week, or going to Wednesday night Bible study in addition to Sunday morning worship, or by giving extra money in the offering plate.  I’m sure many of you can relate, right?  Like the times we convince ourselves that we can go ahead and tell this “little white lie”, or that we can cuss this person out just this once because they deserve it, or that we can have this little extramarital tryst just this one time and then do something super-special for God later to make up for it and to get rid of our guilt.

And just think–the whole time God was telling me to keep my sacrifices of praise, offerings, special church services, and time because he would much rather have my continual obedience to his word.  I’m just glad we live under a different Testament than what King Saul had, where God can take away some of my rewards [see 1 Corinthians 3:13-15], but my kingship and priesthood are left intact.  Whew!

Israel plays the whore, but still performs temple rituals

I know Ephraim, and Israel is hot hid from me: for now, O Ephraim, thou committest whoredom, and Israel is defiled.  They will not frame their doings to turn unto their God: for the spirit of whoredoms is in the midst of them, and they have not known the LORD. …

O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away. …For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.  [Hosea 5:3-4; 6:4, 6]

At the time God sent out prophets like Hosea to rebuke Israel, the nation had intermarried and formed alliances with the pagan nations around them.  In the midst of their alliances, Israel adopted the pagan and sinful practices of their neighbors like lying, murder, stealing, adultery, and worshipping false gods.  And to add insult to injury, they still showed up at the temple for the sabbaths and other God-ordained holy days to give their burnt offerings to Jehovah.

God let them know he wasn’t pleased or impressed with their sacrifices by stating he desired them to display mercy and godly knowledge instead of giving sacrifices.  But ancient Israel has a whole lot of similarities to the modern church. 

We conveniently overlook the blatant sins of people in our congregation on the one hand and on the other hand if they are ever confronted about their sin, it’s done in vindictive, unmerciful ways such as through gossip and backbiting or stirring up strife.  If one’s congregation is large enough, one can look around on Sunday and see the person who was out getting drunk at the club last night over there, the unmarried couple living together over here, the guy who has a collection at home of things he stole from his job right there, and the guy who beats his wife and/or kids right here.

And they all converge at the church house thinking that their appearance at church automatically keeps them in good standing with God when God is saying he prefers them to live out his mercy and his knowledge.

Jesus hangs out with sinners, but doesn’t sin

And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples.  And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?

But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.  But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.  [Matthew 9:10-13]

Have you ever snubbed a sinner because they didn’t live up to your Christian standards and you felt they weren’t worthy of your personal time?  I know I have.  But Jesus did just the opposite.  Not only did he hang out with sinners, he socialized with some of the worst of the worst of sinners, from prostitutes to publicans. 

Why would the sinless Lord of glory do such a thing?  Well, he loved them so much that he wanted to see their lives changed for the best by showing them the life the Father wanted them to live through his Son.  He considered it necessary to socialize with them on their own turf by attending dinner parties at their homes.  The very ones who were society’s outcasts were the very ones Christ wanted to reach.  And the only people who had a problem with it were the self-righteous religious leaders.  When they questioned Jesus about his associations, Jesus let them know that God’s mercy trumped their personal sacrifice of avoiding the worst sinners.

If Christ had been in agreement with the philosophy of the Pharisees, then he never would have left heaven to come to Earth to save me!  Man, that’s a scary thought.  But I thank God he let his mercy win out.

If this is how Christ felt about reaching as many people as he could, not waiting for them to show up to church, then what type of attitude should we as his followers have?  This is not to say that this would give us the freedom to hang out with unsaved guys at strip clubs, but there are many other neutral, non-churchy environments where we can get to know them and let them get to know us while we stand strong in our godly convictions.  Jesus, while hanging out with those sinners, never compromised who he was or what God commanded him to do and neither should we.  If we would live out God’s mercy toward the unsaved, just think what a difference we could make in their lives!

Conclusion of the matter

So why are mercy, knowledge, and obedience much more important than our sacrifices?  Because they are the results of love, or charity.  If we perform our many sacrifices from going to church to giving to the poor without these three actions that come from love, our sacrifices are worthless.  When we display mercy, we reflect the love that God showed us when we were unloveable.  It is also a type of tribute to God that we give to others that says, “You know what, God?  Since you showed mercy to me, I’m going to honor you by showing mercy to others–even those who really know how to push my buttons.”

Knowledge of God shows God that we love him enough to want to know everything we can about him so we can put what we know into practice to please him.  By displaying the knowledge of God to others, we show that we love them enough to want to share with them the wonderful things God has taught us so they may experience that life-changing knowledge also.

Obedience to God says that we love God so much that we are willing to trust that he knows what’s best when he tells us to do something, even if obeying him may not make sense to us and we can’t see the purpose for our obedience in a particular situation yet.  If we love God, we will keep (obey) his commandments.  People around us also reap the benefits of our obedience to God.  When we strive to obey his commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves, we will make every attempt to try to avoid causing them unnecessary harm even when we may feel like knocking someone out for doing us wrong or coming up with an elaborate scheme to exact our revenge or even quelling our jealousy if they have something we wish we had.

–posted by Harry A. Gaylord–

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