Proverbs 21:3 – To do righteousness and justiceis more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.
We are created for worship. Adam and Eve blew that right out of the water of course and so God goes on His mission of saving people to become the worshippers we are created to be. He crushes the head of the serpent to enable us to do what we are here to do and be (Genesis 3:15). He seeks out worshippers who will worship Him in spirit and truth (John 4:24). Worship is our raison d’etre. Adam and Eve were not the last ones to miss the mark of worship. Saved sinners we may be but we are still sinners and we sin most of all in missing the mark of the chief reason we are saved. We are saved to worship.
Worship conjures up all kinds of pictures in our minds, depending on what our culture is, our background, our church tradition, our tastes. That is the beauty of corporate worship. There are all kinds of ways to go about it. On any given Sunday, followers of Jesus Christ will worship in cathedrals, halls, schools, mud huts, the open air…. you name it. They will worship with great pomp and circumstance and in quiet simplicity. They will worship with 500 year old liturgies and unplanned spontaneity. They will worship with 400 year old hymns and songs that barely have the ink that wrote them, dry. But in all of them the Bible, if there is one to be had, will be read, prayers will be prayed, some form of preaching will be attempted and fellowship will be enjoyed. And of course there will be singing. And when the corporate worship is finished, people will leave their place of worship whether it be cathedral or mud hut or school gym, and return to their homes.
What will they return to their homes to do? What does God then call them to do after they have met together to worship? Worship. They return home to worship. In this part of the world we have almost completely lost sight of this truth, but it is a great thrill to see that it is returning, if not in great emphasis in our churches, at least in the hearts and minds of many. Hopefully, this will catch on and it will become a well known and well accepted fact that we worship corporately to help us worship practically all week. A whole culture of worship as only a meeting that takes place in a building has gripped the western church for a few centuries now and we can only pray that it will soon come to an end.
The verse from Proverbs 21 cited at the top of this page is about worship. It says that righteousness and justice are more acceptable than sacrifice. The sacrificial system was designed by God as a prophecy of Jesus Christ’s saving work. It was designed as a system of worship. By faith the Old Testament saints would offer up their sacrifices and be accepted by God. It was the key element in their worship. The sacrifices were to be practised from hearts of faith.
Ritual is easy. Form is easy. Bringing the heart into such things is a miracle of grace. Throughout the Old Testament we are constantly being confronted with the fact that the people of Israel were somewhat faithful to God in the outward ritual of their worship, but very unfaithful in bringing their hearts into it. Consider the following texts:
Isaiah 58:1-4 (ESV)“Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet;declare to my people their transgression,to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek me dailyand delight to know my ways,as if they were a nation that did righteousnessand did not forsake the judgment of their God;they ask of me righteous judgments;they delight to draw near to God. ‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not?Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fightand to hit with a wicked fist.Fasting like yours this daywill not make your voice to be heard on high.Jeremiah 7:1-4 (ESV)The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord:  “Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord.  Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place.  Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’Hosea 6:6 (ESV)For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.Amos 5:21-24 (ESV)“I hate, I despise your feasts,and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,I will not accept them;and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs;to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters,and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
We would be very foolish to think that the sin of false worship ended with the last Old Testament prophet. We can go through the motions just as easily as Israel did.
It is a very striking thing that the longest text in the New Testament that deals with worship never once refers, in any way at all, to a group of people gathering on a Sunday morning for a service of singing, praying, Scripture reading and preaching. The longest text in the New Testament dealing with worship? Romans 12:1 – 15:13. Romans 12:1 says:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Our bodies are living sacrifices and offering them to God is our worship. It begins, as Romans 12:2 points out, by living transformed lives not conformed to the world. Then Paul starts telling us what this living sacrifice looks like. Read the rest of Romans 12:3-15:13 and see for yourself.
The point here is this. God would rather we lived lives of righteousness and justice than simply meet in a church building on a Sunday morning and do the religious stuff. I say this as a pastor of a church. I want people to come to church. I want our gatherings of corporate worship to be real and alive and vibrant and meaningful for everyone who is there. Meeting together as a body is important. But if these services of worship to God do not produce lives of righteousness and justice in between the Sundays, then they are a waste of time. Formal worship on a Sunday morning does not trump holy living. Or to put it the way Solomon did – To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.