Today was one of those days where information came in faster and deeper than I could absorb it. The above three passages gave me much to think about.
The first one showed the links between faith, obedience, and God’s blessing. While the Bible says we cannot earn or deserve the grace of God, trusting Him makes a difference in our experience of Him. Without faith, we have no idea what God would and can do for us.
Genesis 22 tells of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son. This makes no sense; God forbids such things. Maybe that is why Abraham did not question Him, but headed up a mountain with a load of firewood and his son, Isaac. When the young man asked about the animal required for the sacrifice, Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went together to the place God called them. (Genesis 22:8)
After the angel stopped Abraham from killing Isaac and produced a ram as the sacrifice, God said to him, “By myself I have sworn, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:16–18)
Faith + obedience = God’s blessing. These are intertwined. In the next passage, God is saying the same thing in the form of a specific example. He says I need to believe and obey this . . .
“Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil . . . . Let not your mouth lead you into sin . . . . Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear.” (Ecclesiastes 5:1, 6–7)
Too much yakking is sinful. My mouth can lead me into sin and God’s anger can destroy what good I might do with my hands if I talk too much. Increased plans and dreams and words can come from vain ambition, vanity, and be like a puff of smoke. Instead, I must fear God (be in awe), draw close to Him and listen so as to trust and obey Him, and then experience His blessing on what I do.
In the NT, the message is the same about paying attention to my motivations. This time the example is human traditions. Some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem with this question, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” Jesus answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? “ (Matthew 15:1–3)
My first thought was how some church-goers hold dearly to things like the style of music used in worship and the kind of clothing people ‘ought to’ wear to church. As I read on, Jesus described those involved in defending their traditions this way: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:8–9) That echoes Ecclesiastes and “listen instead of talking!”
Jesus then addresses another tradition (hand-washing) and goes right to the source of the problem, the human heart. He said it isn’t what comes out of our mouths that defile us, but what comes out of the heart, “ . . . For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” (Matthew 15:18–20)
From this I understand that I not only need to watch my mouth, but also my heart. Insisting on my traditions is one thing, but a far more serious problem is a heart that has sinful desires and intentions. If I let that go unchecked and do not confess those sins, my mouth will make a mess of all sorts of things.
Lastly, I read about a non-Jewish woman who asked Jesus to heal her daughter. He said it was not right to give the children’s bread to the family pet, but she replied, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” At this, Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:27–28)
Again, God blesses faith + obedience. Do what He says, even if it seems unreasonable. Talk less and listen more, especially in my conversations with God. If insisting on tradition, check my Bible and my heart and find out what God says. And when I have needs, bring them to Jesus in faith plus obedience and He will bless me.