The Book of Isaiah was written some 2,700+ years ago, yet the very things which Isaiah spoke on behalf of God, are still with us today.
In Chapter 58, Isaiah was called out to lambaste the people for their rebellion and the house of Jacob for their sin. On the surface all appeared well, for v2 says “Yet they seek Me daily, and delight to know My ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and one who did not forget the ordinance of their God. They ask of Me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in drawing near to God.” But the people had been fasting and humbling themselves for a show; that others may see how pious they were. They had changed their sacrifice of fasting and humility into an idol of their own making and the Lord was angry. In v5 God asks “Is it such a fast that I have chosen? A day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast and a day pleasing to Jehovah?”
God then makes it very clear in v6-7 what is needed from us before a fast and the type of fast which is pleasing and acceptable to him: “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? To loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed ones go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to break your bread to the hungry, and that you should bring home the wandering poor? When will you see the naked and cover him; and you will not hide yourself from your own flesh?” When we do these things, looking after the poor, the hungry, the naked, the widows, the orphans: then the Lord promised us in v9 He shall answer; “Here I am” when we call out and when we pray.
Not surprisingly, some 750 years or so later, not much had changed; such that in Matthew 23:23, Jesus felt it necessary to publically rebuke the leaders of the Jewish community by warning them “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithes of mint and dill and cumin, and you have left undone the weightier matters of the Law, judgement, mercy, and faith. You ought to have done these and not to leave the other undone.” They were still making the same errors as their predecessors whom Isaiah had berated; they had ignored the disadvantaged in their midst. They has made an idol of complying with the laws, and omitted altogether the call toward love, mercy and justice. They has not fed the hungry, nor clothed the naked, not looked after the widows.
Yet we have are in no position to stand with our heads held high! James found it necessary to write to our predecessors and to us, and in James 1:26-27 tells us clearly and in no uncertain language, that “If anyone thinks to be religious among you, yet does not bridle his tongue, but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit orphans and widows in their afflictions, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”
James was a good judge of human nature, for he followed up (chapter 2) explaining to us that our actions speak much, much louder than our words. James 2:17 tells us that “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” v22 asks us “do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works, faith was made perfect.” At the same time he was warning of our spiritual pride lest we make an idol of our piety as in v2-4 “For if there comes a gold-fingered man in fancy clothing into your assembly, and if there also comes in a poor man in shabby clothing, and if you have respect to him who has the fancy clothing and say to him, You sit here in a good place, and say to the poor, You stand there, or sit here under my footstool; Did you not make a difference among yourselves and became judges with evil thoughts?”
When I sit in a Church I look around and all the people are just like me. There are no really rich ones – I guess they have their own Church. There are no really poor ones – well none I know of – I guess they have their own Church. There are no obvious broken drunks stinking of booze, or drug addicts high on chemicals or prostitutes with heavy makeup and skimpy clothes or migrants who can hardly speak the language and don’t look or smell like us. I guess they all have their own Churches. I have often heard it preached that “Church is a hospital for sinners not a museum for saints.” I guess most Christians miss the irony in that statement.
James draws us and the Church to task, then and now. We do well to read all of James 2 and reflect on it. James asks in v14 “My brothers, what profit is it if a man says he has faith and does not have works? Can faith save him?” For those in faith in Christ, works follow and works follow automatically. They are an expression of the workings of the Holy Spirit within us. First John 2, asks us to test ourselves, to know that we know Him for v6 says “for he who says he abides in Him must himself to walk just as He walked”. Jesus, our servant-leader, lived to serve His Father and He can be recognised not just by His faith in the Father, but also His works for the poor, the demonised, the sick, those whom society did not want to have anything to do with.
It is easy for us to focus on prayers for revival in the Nation, the Region, the District, the Church, and even our Church but we deceive ourselves, yes we deceive ourselves, if we think that we will receive the full blessings of the Lord if we do not first take service to our local community seriously and act on it. For God to call it “worship”, we need to give Him all that he asks from us.
In the Old Testament, they did not seem to get it. In Jesus’ time, they did not seem to get it. When will we get it? Why don’t we seem to learn when it is all written down for us to read and follow? How hard can it be?
Amen and Amen.
As I finished typing this, the Lord reminded me that if you and your Church would like to learn more on this, please read “If Jesus were Mayor” by Bob Moffitt. The Lord is doing new things in these times. This book will show why your church should take part and be part of the leading edge of the Lord’s rhēma words and works and HOW.
“If Jesus were Mayor” by Bob Moffat.