"He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?"
As we start 2012 it is good to reflect on our relationship with the Lord. Many people think Christianity is only a crutch for weak people, for the needy or for the innocent. However, in life we need many things. Many of us need and prefer to have a spouse and children to love. We rely on people to bring goods to market so we can have food. We rely on the utility companies to provide us electric and heat so we can stay warm. We rely on doctors and nurses to help us get well. We do not call these people or companies crutches. And yet, when people seek God, and the community of believers, and cherish them in their lives, somehow others want to call that weakness. How foolish to accept the biased thinking that the God who made us should not be the best one to fix us, and the one we should worship and love.
In Micah 6 we find God angrily asking the children of Israel why they are weary of him. He reminds them how he redeemed them from slavery in Egypt, gave them spiritual leaders to guide them, and turned the intended harm of unbelievers like Balak and Balaam into blessings. He had protected them and rescued them, but their payback was ugly. God tells them their actions toward others as well as their actions toward him show their overall rebellion. The children of Israel had dishonest commerce.
Amos 8:5 states they were falsifying the scales by deceit and ripping off their neighbors. Furthermore, the rich were using deceit to take advantage of the poor for their own gain. They had also substituted worship of the true God for worship of a dead idol. They didn't believe God would notice or care. The prophet tells of the futility of their worship. They were looking to appease God instead of worship him. They thought if they brought more animals, or even their children, to him for sacrifice God would be very happy. They figured token worship was better than nothing, and God should be satisfied with whatever he got. What an outrageous attitude! Yet, if we are not careful, we can fall into the same way of thinking. We can be guilty of giving God token worship, not from the heart.
God spells out his requirements for worship in Micah 6:8, "He has shown you, O man, what is good?" The foundation of my commitment to Jesus is based on my understanding of his goodness and forgiveness. Paul remarks in Romans 2:4, "Or do you despise the riches of his goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?" If I have a romantic view of sin, and do not see my see for what it is, then I will not have a repentant heart. I must understand the best I bring to God is like bringing him filthy, putrid bloody rags, according to Isaiah the prophet. When I see my sin for what it really is in comparison to holiness of Jesus, I don't need a crutch, I need a deliverer.
God spells out three elements of worship he requires in my life. First I must do justly. This is a determination to do what is right, a new mind-set. It refers to triumphing over sin, walking in victory, joy and hope. My actions need to show the presence of God in my life. When I sin I am putting the reputation of God at stake. As Nathan said to David after his sin with Bathsheba, "Your sin has given others great occasion to slander the reputation of God." Sin reflects a false Jesus, one with a self-centered heart. Doing justly involves living in truth, obedience, love, discipline, morality, and righteousness.
We are then to love mercy. Many today love justice and have no desire to show mercy. The heart of Jesus is a heart of mercy. The heart of Jesus looks around at people, sees folks in their unrighteous and unbelieving state, and has compassion. The heart of Jesus looks at a lost and rebellious child and sees potential. Mercy means to bow the neck, to look at another as an equal, to be kind, to show loving kindness to others, a loyal love to them. It speaks of identifying ourselves with others in their need, realizing we are on the same level with them. It does not lower God's standards and tell people they can continue to sin against God, and he will just ignore it. It however reaches out to these same people with the good news of the Gospel, that there is hope in Jesus.
God will extend kindness if they will trust him. God tells the people to love mercy. What do you love today? How big is your God of mercy? Is he able to rescue the most hopeless sinner? Psalm 145:8 The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy. The LORD is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works. Justice looks to point a finger whereas mercy lends a helping hand.
Finally we are to walk humbly in our relationship with God. We are to live free of pride, to behave in a lowly manner. Humility means to live so others are comfortable around you, so they do not feel like you are better than they. This is the heart of Jesus. James 4:6 says, "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Humility follows naturally from a life of showing mercy. When I see myself on the same level with others and put myself in their shoes, it becomes increasing difficult to live in pride.
As we face an uncertain year in the life of our country, let us be reminded of the goodness and mercy of God. Let us seek to do justly, to follow his commands, to love what he loves, which is mercy toward our fellow man, and to humbly walk step by step with our God. God will richly bless you as you follow him.
Steve Estes is pastor at the West Davenport Free Baptist Church.