July 26 “Worthless religious activity”

religion, pious What does God value in the way of Christian service and religious activity? Are you relying on things that are worthless to God?

Today’s Readings:
Nehemiah 3-5
Psalm 89.1-4
Proverbs 21.27
Acts 26.1-32

Nehemiah 3-5:

Greed and selfishness

Nehemiah and the people continued to rebuild the wall, but not without opposition. Nehemiah’s response was the same one we should have when we encounter problems. Chapter 4, verses 8-9:

“… and all of them conspired together to come and attack Jerusalem and create confusion. Nevertheless we made our prayer to our God, and because of them we set a watch against them day and night.”

Nehemiah and the people prayed, did what they believed God wanted them to, and left the rest in the hands of God!

greed, money

Chapter 5 changes focus and talks about problems among the people themselves. Some of the Jews had taken advantage of the hard economic times and had charged high rates of interest and even taken as some of the other Jews as slaves to repay their debts. This was forbidden by the law. God takes a very serious view of this kind of behavior and Nehemiah dealt with it accordingly. Verses 11-13:

11 Restore now to them, even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their olive groves, and their houses, also a hundredth of the money and the grain, the new wine and the oil, that you have charged them.” 12 So they said, “We will restore it, and will require nothing from them; we will do as you say.” Then I called the priests, and required an oath from them that they would do according to this promise. 13 Then I shook out the fold of my garment and said, “So may God shake out each man from his house, and from his property, who does not perform this promise. Even thus may he be shaken out and emptied.”

Nehemiah himself refused to follow in the footsteps of some former governors. Rather than living off a tax on the people, he supported himself. Nehemiah could have easily justified taking the traditional tax, because it cost a great deal to maintain his responsibilities. Verse 18:

“Now that which was prepared daily was one ox and six choice sheep. Also fowl were prepared for me, and once every ten days an abundance of all kinds of wine. Yet in spite of this I did not demand the governor’s provisions, because the bondage was heavy on this people.”

Can you imagine one of our politicians today saying, “I’m not going to take a salary for serving our country because the people’s taxes are already too high”?!

The Apostle Paul had the same attitude. He worked as a tentmaker to support himself so that no one could say his motive was his own greed. Again, that does not mean it’s wrong for people in ministry to be paid for what they do. In fact, both the Old and New Testaments teach that believers should be generous in their support for their spiritual leaders. 1 Timothy 5. 17-18:

17 Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”

Psalm 89.1-4:

Do you sing of His mercies?

Verse 1, “I will sing of the mercies of the LORD forever; with my mouth will I make known Your faithfulness to all generations.”

When God really has our hearts, we want to sing and tell others about what He has done in our lives! Ephesians 5.18-20:

“… but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

business man in grey suit praying

Proverbs 21.27:

Worthless religious activity

“The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination; how much more when he brings it with wicked intent!”

Religious activity, no matter how pious it appears to others, means nothing to God. And when it is done out of a desire to appear holy or spiritual or worse yet, personal gain—it’s not only worthless, but an abomination and detestable to God! This is a theme repeated throughout Scripture. 1 Samuel 15.22-23:

22 Samuel said, “Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams. 23 “For rebellion is as the sin of divination, And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He has also rejected you from being king.”

Saul had disobeyed God’s command to destroy all the spoil won in battle. Instead, he kept back the best of the goods and animals and tried to justify it by saying, he planned to sacrifice them the Lord. And in Malachi 2.13-16:

13 “This is another thing you do: you cover the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. 14 Yet you say, ‘For what reason?’ Because the LORD has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit. And what did that one do while he was seeking a godly offspring? Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth. 16 For I hate divorce,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong,” says the LORD of hosts. “So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.”

The people in Malachi’s day were carrying on a pretense of religion, praying and sacrificing, while disregarding their marriage covenants, and God would not accept their offerings or hear their prayers. Peter said the same thing in the New Testament (1 Pet. 3.7). And listen to the words of Jesus in Matthew 6.1-8:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. 2 “So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. 5 “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. 7 “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. 8 So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.

Today there are those who justify sinful business practices by saying, “… but I tithe.” We can’t justify sin by putting a religious spin on it.

And there are those who perform all kinds of religious activities without a genuine relationship with God or a desire to apply biblical truth to their own lives. Matthew 7.21-23:

21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”

Acts 26.1-32:

Paul’s testimony and yours

As I mentioned in an earlier commentary, Paul was giving his testimony to King Agrippa. We can follow the same basic outline when sharing our testimonies with others. In verses 4-11 Paul tells Agrippa what his life was like before conversion, how he tried to be religious by persecuting Christians, as well as, leading an exemplary religious life (sound familiar?). In verses 12-18 he explains how he came to know Jesus Christ as Lord. And in verses 19-23 he explains how it has impacted his life and what his life is like now.

journal

Have you ever sat down and written out your testimony? If not, consider doing so. It will better prepare you to share when you have the opportunity. Again the three parts are: what your life was like before conversion, how you came to know the Lord, and what God has done in your life since then.

The passage ends in verse 32 with this statement by Agrippa, “This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.” Again, we see the sovereign hand of God at work, taking Paul where He wanted him.

Blessings,
Donna

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