32 So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. 33 And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” But after that no one dared question Him. (Mark 12:32–34, NKJV)
Obedience is worthless when it does not come from a heart given to God completely. The scribe in today’s text perceived this truth when Jesus told him the first of all the commandments was to love God fully (Mk. 12:28-30). May we grasp this fundamental truth; Out of the heart comes the obedience that pleases God. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (Jno. 14:15). Without love for God in our hearts, our outward actions of obedience are null and void. Christ calls us to be obedient children, so we will not discount the place of obedience in the Christian’s life (1 Pet. 1:13-16, 22). Obedience from the heart pleases God and frees us from the bondage of sin (Rom. 6:17-18).
For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6, NKJV)
God deplored the insincere faith of Ephraim and Judah: “O Ephraim, what shall I do to you? O Judah, what shall I do to you? For your faithfulness is like a morning cloud, and like the early dew it goes away” (Hosea 6:4). He still does. In defense of His interaction “with tax collectors and sinners,” Jesus explained that He came to call sinners to repentance – those who need spiritual healing (Matt. 9:11, 13). He applied Hosea to His critics, “But go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’” (Matt. 9:12). Accurate knowledge of God compels mercy toward sinners without forgetting one’s dutiful offerings to God (Matt. 23:23; Psa. 85:10-13). We have received His mercy and are to be merciful as we serve God (Matt. 18:33). Yet, being a Christian is often reduced to rituals and formalities in not a few churches. Sinful conduct of members is winked at and ignored because they are large donors, prominent in the community, in regular attendance at worship services, or otherwise highly regarded (1 Cor. 5:1-2). They may “fast twice a week” and “give tithes of all” they possess, but such things are meaningless to the Lord when hearts are far from Him (Lk. 18:10-14). God foretold and executed judgment upon Ephraim and Judah for their insincere, disobedient faith (Hosea 6:5). Let us learn from their failures and not repeat their sins (1 Cor. 10:5-13). Genuine and enduring faith must be driven by mercy toward others as we keep the commands of God.
21 “I hate, I despise your feast days, and I do not savor your sacred assemblies. 22 Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them, nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings.” (Amos 5:21–22, NKJV)
If you are under the impression that God accepts whatever worship is brought to Him, then please give close attention to today’s passage. During the days of Amos the northern kingdom of Israel was immersed in idolatry, immorality, and injustice against one another (Amos 5:25-27; 4:1). They oppressed the weak and rejected the word that God sent them by His prophets (Amos 5:10-15; 2:11-12). They attempted to worship the Lord with gold calves (set up by Jeroboam as a hedge against the reunification of Israel and Judah, 1 Kgs. 12:26-30). Israel could not come before God with impure hearts and unclean hands and be accepted by Him. Neither can we (Jas. 4:7-10). It is the height of hubris to ignore the word of God that explains how we must worship Him “in spirit and truth” while confidently asserting God is pleased with us (Jno. 4:23-24). Such arrogance is rejected by God, who “resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Jas. 4:6). You see, it matters how we worship God as well as what type of heart we bring before God when we worship. Let us humble ourselves before God and obey His word, so that our worship will be in spirit and truth. Otherwise, our worship will not be accepted by the Lord.