What doth the LORD require?
Starting in the 6th verse of Micah 6 we read, “Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offering, with calves of a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
As we prepare our hearts and minds for remembrance of our Elder Brother and soon coming King, and knowing that it is not only a time of remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice but a time for self examination as to our intentions and actions, it would be an appropriate occasion for us to consider an emphatic and recurring theme that appears in the scriptures regarding the kind of person that God requires us to be. The concept of “religion” or the idea of joining or rejoining a relationship between God and man in seeking or devising ways to please the Creator has been a constant issue since man was driven out of the Garden due to sin. Unfortunately the concept of “religion” has mainly been manipulated by the thinking of mankind ever since Adam and Eve took it upon themselves to cover their nakedness with fig leaves, and then not too much further on in time when Cain took it upon himself to approach Yahweh with the fruit of the ground rather then through the shedding of the blood of an animal sacrifice. Not only has it been the habit of man to devise his own modes or rituals in which to approach the Deity, it has been his continual inclination to devise his own moral codes or manner of conduct in which he imagines will some how be pleasing to the god or god’s that he envisions to exist. Religion of one kind or another has dominated the history of this earth, whether it is the worshipping of Nature, the heavenly constellations, a burning volcano, images of stone or wood, emperors or kings, a Triune god, or in much fewer cases the worship of the One True God of Israel.
Religious Ceremony and Ritual
One thing that all religion has in common, including true or “pure” religion as mentioned in the book of James, is the carrying out of certain rituals. We could spend a great deal of time reviewing the different customs performed by the various religions, sects, and cults that have dominated the history of the earth but it would be an exercise in futility in that all the asinine, cumbersome and sometimes brutal sacraments devised by men are nothing more then what they appear on the surface to be – hollow, senseless, and of no eternal value. They have not been sanctioned by God therefore they have no purpose then to fool those who participate in such noise and show into thinking that they have done something good for themselves. And though true religion, that which has been devised by the One true God and has been clearly instructed to men through the prophets of old, also has a degree of ceremony or ritual accompanied with it there is much more involved then merely the carrying out of certain ceremonies. From Adam to Moses there was the ritual of animal sacrifice – the burnt offering; from the time of Moses to Christ there was an extremely stringent set of codes and procedures as well as a greater variety of sacrifices added on top of the burnt offering. After Christ’s ascension we have the act or rite of baptism and on a weekly basis there is the ceremony of the breaking of bread.
Unlike the noise and show put on by the religions of the past and present, true religion (that which God requires of us) is not to be ultimately defined by mindless procedure. As was to be the lesson for those who lived and died under the Mosaic system – offering animal sacrifices (though a part of God’s commands) was not the ultimate lesson to be learned or the end of their responsibility in trying to please Yahweh. Were such rituals even necessary? Absolutely. But if not accompanied with more profound attributes they were of little redeeming value. God does not desire for us to do only some of what He wishes, but all of what He has asked us to think and do. Participation in only those things that simply require physical repetition or that which is done at our own convenience or comfort level does not accomplish what God is trying to develop in us. We have to do the things that exercise and develop the very core of our existence, and that is in the area of our character. The same holds true to the ceremony of the breaking of bread that we participate in from week to week. What value is there in sipping a cup of wine, and eating a piece of bread if only done as a matter of repetition, as merely a required ritual? This is what such activities had become to the Children of Israel – merely a ritual, which necessitated the words we have read from the prophet Micah. The same had become true of the early believers in Corinth in which made it necessary for Paul to rebuke them for what they had done with the memorial service and required that he explicitly lay down the framework and reasons for why they were to gather together. He had to remind them of what the bread and wine represented, he had to explain to them that their hearts and minds must be exercised by the activity by “examining themselves” to make sure that they were considering the purpose of the Lord’s sacrifice and to whether or not they themselves were worthy of partaking. If their minds and hearts were not exercised in the appropriate way, if they were living in a manner incompatible with the requirements of God then they were in a very real sense mocking the sacrifice of Christ and therefore bringing “damnation” or condemnation upon themselves “not discerning the Lord’s body.”
Justness, Mercy, and Humility
This leads us directly to the lesson that we wish to consider this morning as explained to us by the prophet Micah. Are there rituals, ceremonies that we must participate? Yes. But, as we have already mentioned such activities bring no pleasure to God and are of no spiritual benefit to us if not accompanied by something else. So, what does God require of us? - To “do justly”, to “love mercy”, and to “walk humbly”. These are not merely actions or ceremonies, but require a proper mindset, a way of thinking, and a way of believing. Such things have to involve the constant and careful exercise of the heart and mind – the whole person as it were. Each individual has to give up their complete will in order to carry out what God fully requires of us. Psalm 4:5 instructs us to “Offer the sacrifice of righteousness” and Paul in the letter to the Romans emphatically commands us to “present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable (or logical) service.” What is pleasing to God is not the carrying out of mindless activity but the complete development and application of the inner man to what God has commanded us to do. What we do is extremely important, but equally important is the character and motivation that drives our actions, which if correctly applied will result in the justness, mercy, and humble walk that is required of us. We are supposed to worship God “in spirit and in truth”. It does not say merely that God wishes us to do a few ceremonies and rituals on a weekly basis and everything will be as it should be. If we have such a careless attitude about what is pleasing to Yahweh then there is much that is left out of the spiritual picture as was the grave error attributed to the Children of Israel. They were doing some of the things that had been commanded them, but at the expense of the more fundamental requirements of God that necessitated a much greater degree of self-control and motivation. And by not demonstrating the more fundamental requirements they had slipped into the practice of religious rites that were against God’s very commands- as was seen in the offering up of their children to Molech. If our understanding and motivation is not correct then the application of flawed or absent conviction will no doubt fall quickly into error.
Quite simply, to “do justly” is to do those things that are right - The exercising of God’s laws and precepts in our own lives and our dealings with other men. The scriptures are very clear as what it means to be just. There is a lesson here of fairness and integrity. Proverbs 10: 31 tells us that the “mouth of the just bringeth forth wisdom.” In 20:7 we read “the just man walketh in his integrity”. Isaiah 26:7 – “The way of the just is uprightness”. The scriptures tell us on more then one occasion that “the just shall live by faith”. Men such as Noah, Lot, Joseph the husband of Mary, and John the Baptist are specifically spoken of as being “just” men. They stand as examples, along with all of the other faithful of old, as to what it is to “do justly” in their attitude towards sin and their dealings with others.
To “love mercy” does not allow for one to pretend. Many of this world take pride in their “mercy” so called by helping others through charities and such. Men love to be recognized for their help to others. But love as defined by God must come from the heart of a man, and for mercy to be truthfully and practically demonstrated to God it has to be real to the character of the individual. We must be willing in our effort and actions towards others. In Hosea 6:6 it states, “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” In I Peter 3:8 we read, “be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing; but contrariwise blessing”. Events in the world demonstrate the exact opposite of this by the actions of brutal and evil leaders towards their own people - The very people that they should protect and help. This is nothing new to the history of this world, or to the history of religion so called. But as those who wish to do what God requires we are to demonstrate a totally different character by not only “doing good to all men”, but especially being mindful of our duty to our brethren. Christ instructs in Matthew 5:7, “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” Mercy is something that is to be shown towards those who by circumstance or their own action are in a position of disadvantage to our position. When Christ was about to be crucified, being temporarily at the mercy of the Jews, asked that God would have mercy on them by asking that God might forgive their sin. Though at that time prior to the crucifixion Jesus was at a physical disadvantage to the Jews, as having a moral advantage he recognized that by their actions the Jews were at a weakness (as are all men) in comparison to the power and control of Yahweh. By nature and our own actions all men are in desperate need of God’s mercy. So as we are to demonstrate mercy to others so will God show mercy to us. Strict adherence to religious ritual does us no good if not accompanied by this very practical attribute. Mercy does not mean the toleration of evil as some would try to have us believe but indicates help to those who are in need of our help.
The third characteristic mentioned is that of humility. It is of the utmost importance for one wishing to be a servant of God to develop such a character. In the writings of the scriptures there seems to be no greater vice that has brought down the ambitions of men by the mighty hand of God then the sin of pride. The Almighty viewed men such as Nimrod, Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, the Pharisses, etc., with great disdain because of their lack of humility before Him. I Corinthians 1:29 informs us, “That no flesh should glory in His presence”, that being God’s presence. In Isaiah 57:15 we read, “For thus saith the high and lofty One That inhabiteth eternity, Whose name is Holy; ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” As understanding that we are absolutely dependant on God’s mercy so must it be realized that we can cannot prosper or even exist without Divine help. It is not man that saves himself but it is God that holds all things together by His power. One of the common evils that arise out of the flesh leading to sin is “the pride of life”. One of the main human weaknesses is for man to think himself more important, more capable then he really is. This leads to placing the wants and ambitions of self over the commands of God and the spiritual and sometimes natural needs of our fellow. I Peter 5:5 commands us to “be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you.” But as instructed by Micah we are not only to walk humbly but we are to “walk humbly with God”. To have the characteristic of humility is not enough if not accompanied by walking in God’s ways and in His Truth. There are unquestionably people of the world that due to their personality or life’s experiences reflect a degree of humility in their character but such must be in association with a walk in the Truth and a complete keeping of God’s commands to have eternal benefit. Just being a “good person” does not fully comply with Yahweh’s requirements.
Just as in the case of mercy, some try to wrest the meaning of humility to indicate that for one to show conviction and strength of belief is not to be humble, but such a view is a misunderstanding of the principle. Moses was spoken of as being “very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” but here was an individual who showed absolute conviction and boldness in the cause of the Truth. Not to the glory of the flesh but to the glory of Yahweh in whom he served, which is the key to understanding humility. True humility understands the unlimited supremacy of Deity and the worthlessness of the flesh – pride does not. Humility understands that what Yahweh has spoken is absolute Truth and has unlimited faith in what He has revealed – those with feelings of self-importance and that deal with God’s word as an intellectual game do neither of these things.
The prophet Micah was not alone in dealing with this all-important subject as to what God desires of us. So the Israelites and ourselves are not able to plead ignorance in what God has required beyond the mechanical issues of religious ritual. In Deut. 10:12 we read, “And now, Israel, what doeth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all His ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, To keep the commandments of the LORD, and His statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good?” Here the emphasis is even stronger in support of the argument that these matters go beyond just a ritualistic approach to worship. These things are to be done “with all thy heart and with all thy soul”. And added here in this passage is the understanding of loving the LORD. How do we show our love towards God? As another scripture tells us by “keeping His commandments”.
These matters are of the utmost importance to us; they are truly a matter of our salvation – a matter of life and death. In Psalm 24 we see the matter of what God requires of us expanded in the question, “Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who shall stand in His holy place?” This passage is no doubt speaking of the ultimate salvation that we are to desire. The answer given is, “He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” Here it is mentioned that “clean hands”, a “pure heart”, not being caught up in “vanity”, and not being “deceitful” will result in the blessing hoped for. Again, these are not issues of religious ritual but of the heart and mind of the individual. Upon these principles we have a foundation for doing justly, being merciful, and walking humbly with God. Men may fool others into thinking that they are just, merciful, and humble but God is not fooled by the performance of men. These are characteristics that cannot be feigned in the eyes of God but must be real and a part of the individual inside and out if we are to truly do what Yahweh requires of us.
So as we prepare ourselves for the memorial table, we must do so not out of repetition, or religious ritual, but as a matter of deep-rooted understanding and devotion to the ways of God. Justice, mercy, and humility have been shown to us through the sacrifice of the Anointed. We must understand this, we must appreciate the fact, and we must reflect such an understanding in the way we approach the breaking of bread as well as how we live our lives beyond our Sunday observances. Our minds and hearts must be constantly exercised. We cannot pretend to be religious or people of Faith if it is not deeply rooted in our very being as a matter of truthful conviction. “What doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”