Wineskins Archive

January 21, 2014

Pure and Undefiled Religion (Aug 1992)

Filed under: — @ 1:37 pm and

by Rick Mars
August, 1992

“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream” (Amos 5:24).

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).

“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:16-17).

Hearing the call and claim of the gospel is never easy, but perhaps more difficult when we enter the world of the Old Testament prophets. With the mention of “social justice,” sensitive listeners fear that the true essence of the gospel may be diluted into nothing more than social activism. Others, perhaps unfamiliar with the bulk of the prophetic literature, assume that the only gospel present lies in the messianic references anticipating the advent of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, such limited vision hinders us from a full and rewarding hearing of the call and claim of the Lord upon our lives through these ancient prophets of God. God’s men of old provide us with rich resources as they delineate for us the practical social implications inherent in being a child of God and a glad recipient of his gracious kindness.

Isarelite society of the 8th century B.C. reverberates with irony. During the middle of that century, Israel had once again risen to impressive heights economically, politically, and militarily. Those in power naively assumed that such prestige and affluence were the rewards of God’s favorable beneficence. Tragically, this rise in wealth and socio-political power was in direct proportion to the alarming rise in social injustice and exploitation within the society. Not surprisingly, God’s spokesmen can only decry the appalling circumstances of the day.

Amos, surveying the social inequities and judicial travesties during the height of Israel’s power, poignantly laments:

Alas for those who are at ease in Zion, and for those who feel secure on Mount Samarium, the notables of the first of the nations …

Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall; who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and like David improvise on instruments of music; who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! (Amos 6:1, 4-6)

Where the establishment sees a prosperous and flourishing land, God’s prophets see a society wracked with violent oppression and callous disregard for the rights and needs of the poor and lowly.

For the prophets of the 8th century (viz., Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah), the scene is doubly tragic, for these are not social horrors committed by the impious and irreligious, but by those who see themselves as deeply religious and faithfully devoted to the Lord. In fact, in a most striking scene, Amos depicts those in power devising unethical business ventures while sitting in worship (see Amos 8:4-6)!

As we view these graphic scenes of God’s people from old, we must ask what led to such disregard and lack of concern for the plight of the needy and cause of the poor. The powerful indictments of the prophets of God can only be understood and appreciated against this backdrop of social injustice and unrighteousness. For many in ancient Israel, religious life and ethical behavior had become completely severed. The prevalent notion envisioned God as simply and solely concerned with correct religious practices and matters having to do with formal religious obligations. Not surprisingly, the prosperity and political stability of the day was interpreted as convincing evidence that God was pleased with their religious practices!

In response, the prophets of God struck at the core of God’s relationship with his people and the requirements of the covenant. This holy God, the redeemer of battered slaves and righter of atrocious inequities, would not tolerate similar abusive and exploitative practices among his own people! This God of justice and righteousness refused to condone heinous acts of injustice within his own people. No amount of religious behavior could offset this fundamental disregard for the rights of another.

If we will hear, the message of the 8th century prophets continues to speak loudly to the contemporary church. These prophets forcefully remind us that our God is a God not simply nor solely concerned with religious behavior and practice, but intensely concerned with our daily treatment of the powerless and less fortunate.

Our God of justice and righteousness is keenly observing whether we will manifest a fundamental fairness in our daily lives and treat everyone, regardless of social position, with basic justice and righteousness. The prophets remind us that no amount of religious activity and piety can negate God’s fundamental demand of active and compassionate concern for another human, especially for that individual without socio-economic clout.

Requirement of such behavior does not cease with the closing of the Old Testament; it is the stuff of which the life of Jesus is made. The prophetic call for the active manifestation of compassion rings out in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16). Jesus’ concern for the potential abuse and exploitation of the powerless is strikingly manifested in his caring treatment of the entrapped woman (John 8). Such is the nature of a life given daily to manifesting justice and righteousness in every sphere of activity.Wineskins Magazine

Rick Mars

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