If you’re really in love with someone (like your girlfriend/boyfriend or spouse), then don’t you want to know them? Wouldn’t you be interested in what they like and dislike? Wouldn’t you care to know what their priorities in life are?
That’s one of the main purposes of the Law, by the way, and a good way of applying it to our lives as N.T. believers. By reading the Torah (the books of Moses), you can see for yourself what God’s priorities are. If you’re going to be a follower of Jesus, I'd think this would be important.
That’s why passages like today are important. They show God’s priorities. He values some things over other things.
Taken on the face of it, it looks like God values taking care of people over ritual. Imagine an observant Jew of Isaiah’s time. He fasts when it’s time to fast, and he’s careful to follow the rules down to the smallest detail. He tithes scrupulously. He goes to corporate worship on a regular basis. But the Lord says that the “fast” which really impresses him is taking the chains of oppression off of hurting people. He says that the “fast” that he really wants to see is giving to the poor and other needy.
Now, we need to be cautious. What’s my key word in studying Scripture? I have three words which really help me keep perspective and steer clear of fuzzy thinking: context, context, and context. The rest of the Bible has listed rituals which the Almighty God of Israel instituted. He gave Moses the fast days. He gave Moses instructions on tithing. He gave the rules concerning the Sabbath. Is God contradicting himself here? We might disagree about how (or if) N.T. believers are expected to do things like tithing or observing the Sabbath. But these are Old Testament believers. They were still under the Mosaic Law. There'd been no word that the Lord was abrogating his earlier instructions.
So what are we to make of this? Although God might consider religious ritual and public observance to be less important than how we deal with people made in his image, that doesn’t mean they aren’t important at all and that you shouldn’t observe them.
Let’s take church attendance as an example. We’re commanded by the writer of Hebrews (a N.T. writer) to gather together on a regular basis as a local body of believers to encourage and challenge each other. Now, let’s say that on my way to church I see someone on the side of the road who has a flat tire. Which is more important to God: That I make it to church on time, or that I help that person in the name of Christ?
Let’s take another example, one which might hit closer to home than my “church or flat tire” example, one which you’re unlikely to encounter anyway. Lots of professing believers would never consider missing a Sunday church service or even a Wednesday night prayer meeting, but they think nothing of being rude to their server in a restaurant or to the guy trying to get into their lane.
Now again, please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that church attendance or giving to the church isn’t important. I don’t say that, and God doesn’t say that. But just like the Israelites in today’s reading, our attendance to ritual might be overshadowed by how we treat people who are made in our Creator’s image.
Let me be perfectly frank here. If you go to a restaurant for Sunday lunch right after a worship service, and you don’t overtip and are not especially kind to your server, something is desperately wrong.
Your Lord has priorities. He thinks some things are more important than others. Are you getting in sync?
Father, I want to be. I desperately want to be. Where your thoughts are different from my thoughts and your ways different from my ways, it’s me that needs to change. Please help.