[This message is inspired by Ava Pennington’s post titled “Three Messages Pastors Should Not be Afraid to Preach.]
Within the overall perspective of God redeeming the creation through his Son Jesus’ ministry, death, resurrection and heavenly intercession there are consistent themes that run through the Bible. One of those themes is the answer to the question, “What does God want from me?” or “What does God want me to do now that I have been saved?”
The answer is first mentioned in Deuteronomy 10:12-21 at the time Israel was about to enter the Promised Land. It has a threefold punch. The first and most important aspect is the fear and love of the one true God with all our heart and soul. Along with that comes a requirement to “circumcise” their hearts and to cease being stubborn. Because God is great, mighty and also happens to be their liberator, a certain humility and cooperation with him is a good starting place.
The next two aspects flow out of God’s desire that they “walk in all his ways.” He introduces himself as the God who is not partial and who takes no bribe. He also “executes justice for the widow and orphan.” In other words, he is a God of unswerving justice who does not tolerate using the judicial system to oppress the helpless.
The idea of God protecting and helping the helpless of Israel is extended to the “stranger” in the very same verse. God “loves the stranger,” and it behooves the people of God to also love the foreigner among them. Immigrants to any country may be among the most vulnerable people due to a lack of support mechanisms of family and friends. It would be easy to take unfair advantage of them in terms of lower wages or lack of access to jobs. God wants his people to be kind to the disadvantaged by providing the sustenance, shelter and clothing they desperately need. Kindness and mercy are important aspects of “walking in his ways.”
Centuries later both kingdoms had wandered far from God. A chief symptom of that wandering was the evil of the strong preying on the weak. In the works of the prophet Micah,
Alas for those who devise wickedness and evil deeds on their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in their power. They covet fields, and seize them; houses and take them away; they oppress householder and house, people and their inheritance. [Micah 2:1-2 NRSV]
Hear this, you rulers of the house of Jacob and chiefs of the house of Israel, who abhor justice and pervert all equity who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with wrong! Its rulers give judgment for a bribe, its priests teach for a price, its prophets give oracles for money; yet they lean upon the Lord and say, “Surely the Lord is with us! No harm shall come upon us.” Therefore Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height. [Micah 2:9-12 NRSV]
God reminds them through this prophet of the reason for the anger and disgust with his people.
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly before your God. [Micah 6:8]
Once again God gives them a threefold response. Justice, kindness and a humble walk with God are what God expects of his people. It is interesting that he expects them to “love kindness.” Kindness is not intended to be a grudging aspect of character, but a matter of strong and willing desire.
By the time of Jesus the religious establishment in Judea (the “remnant” of Israel under Roman domination) had decided that obedience to the ceremonial laws would be enough to gain God’s favour. Jesus has this to say about the prevailing view,
Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice, 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! [Matt. 23:23]
It is easy to see what Jesus considers to be the most important aspects of what God expects of anyone who would follow Jesus. Those three words, justice, mercy and faith are elaborated on in the Deuteronomy passage above. This message is consistent throughout the Bible.
I recently had an experience that, for me, underscored how difficult “faith” as described in the Bible is. A humble and obedient “walk with God” is not easy at all. Faith is not just a matter of mental belief. It is more a matter of “being faithful” to God.
I have what is referred to in seminary as a “bi-vocational ministry.” In other words I am not a paid minister. I have a day job, like most other people. My employer contracts services to other business and government organizations.
In my desire to be helpful to both our client and their customers I sometimes overlooked restrictions our client placed on my work. Naturally I had all manner of justification in my mind for doing so, such as helping with the smooth flow of work at the site. In the end, however, I was simply doing what I was not allowed to do.
My employer received an official complaint from our client about my activities in that regard, and had the unpleasant task of officially reprimanding me. No matter what my rationalizations, the fault was entirely mine. By violating my conditions I was not being faithful to my employer nor to our client.
It would have been perfectly just for them to fire me for the breach, but they graciously allowed me to remain after a stern official warning on my work record – as long as I stop violating the conditions.
That was a wake-up call for me on more than one level.
If it is so easy for me to be less-than-faithful on the “secular” plane, how hard is it for me to be faithful in my “walk” with God? Of course, keeping faith with my employer is part of my walk with God, so repentance and acceptance of consequences is part of the package.
In retrospect, my life at work has become easier and more productive since I stopped doing what I was not supposed to do. That has also been the case for every area of my life in which I have turned from sin.
Fortunately, God is even far more gracious than my employer. Softening a hard heart is a specialty of his Son and his Spirit. I know I’m in good hands as I discover the myriad ways that my “walk” with him needs to change in order to more closely match his ways, and not my own.