“To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.” Ask any Christian how to be a better Christian, and they’ll say to do more Bible reading, praying, and going to church. How do we get closer to God? Same answer. How do we have a stronger relationship with God? Same answer. But that’s not what this proverb and a host of other verses (Isa. 1.11-19; Micah 6.6-8; Prov. 15.8; 21.27) say. The right answer is morality and justice.
Of course God loves “sacrifice”. Of course he wants us to pray, read our Bibles, and go to church. Duh. But the point is similar to that of 1 Cor. 13.1-3: without righteousness and justice, Bible reading, prayer, and going to church are worthless. Even if one is not a believer, any civilized society has to be responsible in doing right and being just. The differences between believers and others is not in that we value these things, but in how righteousness and justice relate to our spiritual obligations. It’s not just being practical (for the good of society and the perpetuation of humankind), but more foundationally, we know justice is built into the fabric of the cosmos reflecting the character of God. We are not trying to “please the gods;” we have a spiritual obligation to be Godlike. This is not accomplished by religious rituals but by repentance, reformation, AND ethical behavior and personal holiness.
Few human behaviors are more open to criticism, more doubtful, or more dangerous than religious behavior. The vast array of worship practices, from the grossest superstition to the most delicate spirituality, is under suspicion from men and from God alike. God treats religious expression as disjointed and dysfunctional arrogance, and men treat it as foolish illusion. Most of the time, religion is an attempt to avoid the Living God. We tend to create rituals, rites, and ethical systems to justify our existence, ease our consciences, make us feel good about doing our religious thing, and ease our sense of guilt. We are trying to get right with God. But God has already “gotten right” with us: God has reconciled the world to himself in Christ. To continue to work for our own justification instead of accepting the justification God gives to us is the essence of religion. And it stinks in God’s nostrils (Isa. 1.13-15).
Our obligation is not only to look after ourselves (Bible reading, prayer, and church attendance), but toward those unable to look out for themselves (the poor, sick, imprisoned, orphaned, etc.). Read James 2.14-26; 1 Cor. 13.1-3, and James 1.22-27. And Micah. And Amos. And Isaiah. And…