SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSONS
Commentary by Walter Albritton
June 17, 2007
If We Do Not Walk like We Talk Our Worship is Worthless
Isaiah 1:10-20; 2 Kings 15:32-35
Key Verse: Seek justice, rescue the oppressed. – Isaiah 1:17
Most of us have had bad days that we had just as soon forget. I had my share as a pastor. More than once I managed to ruin a day with my family by losing my temper and acting like a jackass. The “bad day” was the next day, usually Sunday, when I had to put on my “holy” face and lead the congregation in worship.
What made it bad was the rotten feeling inside me which was nothing more than the Spirit convicting me of my sin. I felt miserable pretending that I had it all together when in my gut God was calling me to repent and be reconciled to my wife and children. And I knew from past experience I would have no peace until I repented and asked them for forgiveness. There was no way of escaping what I knew God demanded of me.
Bad days are one thing. We all have them. But we are in real trouble with God when hypocrisy becomes a way of life for us. Even though most of us cannot tame our conscience, we can sear it enough to allow our sins to overpower it. When that happens we find it much easier “worship” God and fail to love our neighbor as God demands.
If “demands” seems a little strong, that may be an indication that you have been searing your conscience. One of the ways we excuse ourselves from fully obeying God is to assume that God is so kind and loving that he would never “demand” anything of us. Wrong.
God does in fact demand of us obedience of his commandments. While he will not force us to obey him, and longs for us to love him so much that we want to obey him, still he refuses to “water down” his requirements. His commandments are commandments; they have never been “suggestions.”
The Prophet Isaiah understood this. The Spirit revealed God’s heart to the prophet. He knew that God wanted to throw up when the Israelites came singing songs of praise without repenting of their refusal to “love their neighbors.” God, Isaiah said, did not want to hear the singing of people who at the same time were oppressing the poor and ignoring the needs of widows and orphans.
God wanted then, and still wants today, praying and singing that are mingled with good deeds. Isaiah heard God demanding that the Israelites “cease to do evil” and “learn to do good” if they expected their worship to be acceptable.
Isaiah’s message was not a new revelation. It was in fact as old as Moses for it was “the law of Moses.” “Love your neighbors” is not a complicated demand. It did not mean simply to have kindly thoughts toward your neighbors and wish them well. It meant to stand up for them when they needed help or to be an advocate for them when they were being mistreated. Such love meant to rescue your neighbors when they were in trouble.
We need to take a long, hard look at the teaching of Isaiah and ask how it applies to us. It should prompt us to search our hearts and “see if there be any wicked way in us.” We are sometimes guilty of “saying” we love God while hating our neighbors. That is a waste of time. Or we may “pray” for hurricane victims but never give a dollar to help them recover. We may ask God to bless our church but give only a pittance when the offering plate is passed.
What we need to face is the truth. Words without deeds of love and mercy are despicable to God and especially when such words are offered as our worship of God. Pious praying and singing are repulsive to God unless they are accompanied with deeds of love that cost us something.
The good news of God’s grace is not limited to the New Testament. We find it throughout the Bible. Isaiah warned the people and told them the ugly truth about their worship. But he also gave them hope. He told them of God’s mercy as well as his judgment. In a beautiful way Isaiah said, “Though your sins have made you dirty, God is ready and able to make you clean.”
As Christians we love Isaiah’s words of hope, especially when we think of the blood of our Savior and how it can “wash away our sins.” In the New Testament we hear Christ saying, “Come unto me.” Years before Isaiah heard the Father of our Lord Jesus inviting repentant sinners to “Come now, let us argue it out: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”
This shows us that God is consistent. He never changes. His nature is love. He has given us his formula for living. We are to love our neighbor but when we fail, as we often do, God is willing to forgive us and cleanse us. In so doing God gives us the grace to pick up the pieces and start over, again and again, until we get it right. He loves us too much to leave us alone when our worship is worthless and hollow. He will never stop offering to help us put an end to hypocrisy and get our act together.
May God grant us the wisdom to see ourselves as we are and to plead for the grace to become all that God wants us to be – genuine disciples of Jesus Christ who walk like we talk so that our worship is like a sweet aroma in the nostrils of our God.