continued from Part 4: learning by doing
~ learning from others ~
“But Lord, why am I such a stickler for even little details of truth in Your word? Am I just too critical? Am I holier-than-thou? Am I being judgmental over things that should be non-essential?”
The very next day after spending some time in prayer over this question that had been nagging at me, I was reading Matthew Henry’s Commentary on Exodus. In most of my learning, I search for answers directly in God’s word. But in this case my question was whether there was something wrong with how I was handling God’s word. And so He led me to the truth of His word through the writings of one of His faithful servants, so I could see that it was not just me.
In Exodus 30:1-10, instructions are being given for the golden altar in the tabernacle, and the offering of incense upon it. Mr. Henry describes the incense altar as a type and shadow that represents our holy life in Christ today. The priest offered incense morning and evening, accompanied by the prayers of the people, as a perpetual offering. In the same way, we are to offer our sacrifice of prayer morning and evening, cultivating a holy life in Christ that is a perpetual offering. Mr. Henry concludes that:
“And, if the heart and life be not holy, even incense is an abomination (Isa. 1:13), and he that offers it is as if he blessed an idol, Isa. 66:3.”M.H. Commentary, Exodus 30:1-10, p 316
And this made me stop and think. Our most eloquent and constant words and prayers in the name of the Lord, if they are not carefully rooted in a life of holiness and true devotion to God, are an actual abomination. Not just less effective. Not just not-as-good. Not accepted at all. Utterly abhorred. As though we were actively worshipping another god. This is a big deal.
Matthew Henry bases his conclusion on two reference texts from Isaiah.
Bring your worthless offerings no more; your incense is detestable to Me—your New Moons, Sabbaths, and convocations. I cannot endure iniquity in a solemn assembly.(Isaiah 1:13, BSB)
In this first passage, God says that He cannot endure iniquity in the solemn assembly. We are His church. If we endure iniquity, a little cussing here, a little inappropriateness there, a little inaccuracy this time, a little worldliness next time, a little pridefulness today, a little tolerance tomorrow, we make our worship worthless. To praise the Lord while tolerating unholiness is actually detestable to God.
How careful must we be, then, in all of our words and actions to love Jesus and obey His commands so that our prayers and worship may be acceptable in His sight?
Whoever slaughters an ox is like one who slays a man; whoever sacrifices a lamb is like one who breaks a dog’s neck; whoever presents a grain offering is like one who offers pig’s blood; whoever offers frankincense is like one who praises an idol. Indeed, they have chosen their own ways and delighted in their abominations.(Isaiah 66:3, BSB)
In this passage, we see a people who have chosen their own ways. Yet they are still carefully following the detailed laws of offering sacrifices in service to God. And God says that when they do, they actually become murderers and idolaters. This is why the person who believes that God just wants people to be happy is not enjoying a minor and non-essential expression of his faith. Neither is the person who believes in evolution or the person who believes divorce is acceptable or the person who believes a prosperity gospel. They are each choosing their own ways. It seems a small thing in their eyes, but God’s word tells us that from that point forward, every prayer offered is an abomination lifted to a false god. Any acts performed in the name of the Lord are as murder and desecration. To try to worship the Lord while choosing our own way is an abomination to God, and is actually the same thing as worshipping a false god.
How meticulous must we be, then, to search and know the ways of God so that we can worship Him in truth?
This helped me really understand why no truth of God’s word is trivial. This helped me understand why something inside me is always driving me to be more carefully faithful to the entire truth of God’s word, as far as I can understand it. And it helped me understand why I had such an urgent sense of concern when I saw departures from God’s truth in the words of anyone who claimed Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. It may seem small to them, but the consequences are huge!
Everyone likes a pretty picture. Everyone likes an encouraging word. But not everyone likes the truth.
Just about this same time, I stumbled across another Christian teacher, J.I. Packer. As I read a bit about his life in an article called “10 Things You Should Know about J.I. Packer,” I found that his perspective on standing for God’s truth was really similar to my own recent experiences.
9. Packer has been a controversialist virtually his entire public life.
Packer has said that he has “always wanted peace, and like Richard Baxter I’ve been involved in trouble, trouble, trouble, all the way.” The “trouble” that Packer references is public controversy and attacks on him. In private conversation Packer confided to me that he has been a controversialist by necessity, not by preference.
In 1991, Packer wrote an article discussing how he wishes to be remembered, and regarding his lifetime of entering controversy for the sake of truth he said that it is something that needs to be done but tends to be “barren . . . for the soul.”10 Things You Should Know about J. I. Packer
It is hard inside to enter into conflict and argument and debate with someone else regarding the word of God. It is absolutely necessary for our own souls, as I had discovered, to stand firm for God’s truth. But it is hard to face controversy when you know that the truth of God is meant to unite all people into one holy family.
It is hard because you realize that the controversy means someone is rejecting God’s truth and forsaking this precious promise. God comforts us that He will uphold us against those that hate us for His Name’s sake…
Hear the word of the Lord, ye that tremble at his word; Your brethren that hated you, that cast you out for my name’s sake, said, Let the Lord be glorified: but he shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed.(Isaiah 66:5, KJV)
…but it is bittersweet because our own deliverance means someone else’s destruction. And even through this is perfectly just and righteous, in this life it is still sad because we live according to the desire that not one person should perish.
…but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.(2 Peter 3:9, KJV)
by Sydney Michalski