“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
This is a powerful call to righteousness and justice in its own right, but its context makes it even more powerful. Take a minute to read again what comes just before this. God essentially tells the people to stop worshiping Him. Well, not exactly that, but close enough as far as they were concerned.
For the people of Israel, the worship of God was found in the rituals. Having rituals be a part of our worship isn’t a bad thing. In fact, where those rituals help focus our hearts and minds on the God to whom we are directing our attention they can be a very good thing. But, it is easy to begin thinking that the rituals are valuable in and of themselves. As a point of fact, they’re not.
Israel had gotten to a place where the rituals were the end rather than the means. As a result, they had begun to believe that as long as the rituals were in place, then it didn’t matter all that much how they lived their lives. This led them to become callous toward the things that were near and dear to God’s own heart. Things like justice, righteousness, and care for the least, last, and lost among them.
Where our worship points us toward putting our love for God into action by caring for His people, it is serving its purpose. Where it connects us more deeply with the God who is supremely and singularly worthy of worship–a connection that plays itself out through our practical pursuits of justice and righteousness in our families and our communities and our world–it is worthwhile. But, where it becomes a cover for doing just the opposite, it has actually become something life-stealing rather than life-giving. Worship that makes us more like Christ is worth our time. Anything else is not. Worship that doesn’t spill out of the sanctuary into our lives-at-large may still be worship, but not of the God revealed in the pages of the Scriptures.