So Then How Should We Live?
Right at the very outset I want to make it clear that these verses are not about conversion. They are not designed to teach a man or a woman how they might be made right before God. If that is your question you will make a big mistake if you simply try to follow the advice contained in these verses because the instruction that is here is for those who are already in a relationship with God. If you are a not-yet-believer please don’t put the cart before the horse and try to act like a Christian before you become one. There is nothing wrong with the teaching of this passage, in fact it is very good, but you’ll be in tremendous danger if you wrongly apply it.
During the week I read in the paper the report of a woman who was given way too much paracetamol while in hospital. The result was that she died. Now normally paracetamol is harmless but when it is taken wrongly it can have devastating consequences. It did in the case I read about. In the same way Bible truth, when wrongly understood and badly applied, is dangerous.
Let me give you a couple of examples just how that might be the case:
Bible promises and Bible instructions are usually accompanied by terms and conditions; but if you fail to understand what those terms and conditions are you can easily go astray. You may imagine that all is well, that you’re entirely safe, when the reality is that you’re still in terrible danger. And if you think all is well then you won’t bother to look any further for the solution you really need. You might feel at peace but that peace will prove false in the end.
Bible promises and Bible instructions are given to instruct people at every stage of their lives but if you mix things up you’ll get into trouble. You may well waste a load of energy as you try to achieve your goals by following the wrong advice.
I remember the first computer I owned and how I wasted hours trying to get it to do what I thought was a simple task. It was only when I carefully read the manual that I discovered that the program I was using was never designed to work in the way I expected it to. It was frustrating for me on that computer but it will be more than frustrating for you if you use the wrong means as you try to pursue spiritual reality in your own personal life.
There are truths to be found for all of us in this passage of Micah regardless of whether or not we are believers. If some errors of thinking are understandable as the unbeliever thinks about spiritual matters it is perhaps sadder when these errors persist when a person becomes a Christian.
A Would-be Worshipper and His Ideas
Let us turn to our text where Micah begins by putting himself in the place of a would-be worshipper. The person he has in mind is not an absolute pagan but a member of the covenant people of God and he has a question. It really is quite simple and straightforward, let me read it to you again:
v.6a "With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high?"
This is not the first time such a question has been asked in the Bible. A few hundred years earlier David had asked a similar question in Psalm 24:
Ps.24:3 "Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?"
And both these questions are good questions to ask.
Both, for example, recognise that God is great and exalted. I wonder how great and exalted he is in your thinking.
Both recognise this God is approachable. He is not disinterested and removed and can be approached the question is "how?"
And both also recognise that approaching him is no easy or mundane thing.
And every man and woman should seriously consider such questions. All of us have been made in the image of God and intended for a relationship with him but that image has been so disfigured by sin that none of us can naturally enjoy that relationship. The trouble for so many of us and our contemporaries is that we tend to think that it is a small and easy thing to approach our God; we forget that he is a consuming fire.
Sin, our sin, is in fact so grievous a problem that it could only be dealt with by the coming into the world of Jesus the Son of God who died the death that sinners deserve. His sacrificial death was accepted by the Father who was completely satisfied by what his Son had done. Salvation has in this way been secured by the Lord Jesus for all those who receive and trust him.
How easy it is to become a Christian! All that is needed is repentance and faith! We not required to work long hours, to go on pilgrimages, to become a religious fanatic because Jesus has already done all that is necessary. All that is left to us is repentance and faith – and that is something the young and the old can do, the weak and the strong, the sick and the healthy.
But again, how difficult it is to become a Christian! After all, all that is needed is repentance and faith! It takes humility to admit that God is right and we are wrong and we don’t naturally demonstrate such humility. You know it takes humility too to accept that we don’t have to add anything of our own to what Jesus has done for us and to simply put all our eggs in the one basket of trusting him.
Let me illustrate this: You will all probably know someone who when offered help is reluctant to accept that help often saying something like "I don’t want to be a burden" – you may be like that yourself. But such an attitude will prove your downfall if you apply it to the gospel. We naturally long to make some contribution of our own, whether big or small, to our own salvation – but no, if we are to be saved it is Christ who must save and that from A to Z. He is big enough to bear our burdens – indeed he is the only One who can.
But becoming a Christian is just the beginning of the journey and the context of Micah’s question as well as that of David before him is that of a person who has already begun that journey. But the simple fact of having begun the journey doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ve got it all sorted out yet.
Micah was dealing with the covenant people of God but who, in his day, had left the straight and narrow and were no longer walking and behaving as they ought to be walking and behaving. His ministry to them was to show them the error of their ways and to call them to a fresh repentance and to a renewed spiritual life. It is to help them that he adopts the position of a person who has heard his challenge and is unsure of how to go about responding to it.
"With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high?"
And the would-be worshipper considers three possibilities vv.6b-7
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?"
I wonder what you make of that list. The three options are put in an increasing order, aren’t they?
The first seems reasonable enough doesn’t it?
"Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?"
Why not? After all burnt offerings are mentioned in the OT and the burnt offerings of year old calves would be an expensive business. Wasn’t this the way to gain admission to God’s presence?
The second option is not just costly but it is extravagantly so.
"Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?"
Not a few calves this time but thousands of rams and torrents of oil! And in the history of the people of God there had been a few occasions when extravagant offerings just like this had been made – here are three examples:
David once organised a great offering:
1Chron.29:21 "And they offered sacrifices to the LORD, and on the next day offered burnt offerings to the LORD, 1,000 bulls, 1,000 rams, and 1,000 lambs, with their drink offerings, and sacrifices in abundance for all Israel."
So did his son Solomon:
1Kings 8:63 "Solomon offered as peace offerings to the LORD 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep. So the king and all the people of Israel dedicated the house of the LORD."
And in Micah’s own there was Hezekiah, even though, compared to Solomon, his offerings appear rather timid:
2Chron.29:32-33 "The number of the burnt offerings that the assembly brought was 70 bulls, 100 rams, and 200 lams; all these were for a burnt offering to the LORD. And the consecrated offerings were 600 bulls and 3,000 sheep."
Does all this mean that these extravagant offerings set the standard for acceptable ways of approaching God? Surely God must be pleased with such an approach. Don’t these suggest that we really ought to aim to be extravagant if we are really to be serious about approaching God?
If Micah’s suggestions begin with what is costly and then moves on to what is extravagant surely his third suggestion moves into the realm of the extreme.
"Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?"
Can Micah really be serious? Surely he’s exaggerating for effect here isn’t he? Well, I’m not so sure after all Micah was living in the real world and in the real world men and women do strange things. In Micah’s day some men were doing exactly what this verse suggests.
Early in the nation’s history the question of human sacrifice should have been settled once and for all when God tested Abraham but intervened to stop Abraham killing his son Isaac. Such sacrifices were subsequently explicitly prohibited by the law:
Lev.18:21 "You shall not give any of your children to offer them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD."
But that hadn’t stopped some people from behaving in just this way. Part of Micah’s ministry occurred under the reign of King Ahaz of whom we read:
2Kings 16:2-3 "Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. And he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD his God, as his father David had done, but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel. He even burned his son as an offering, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel."
Regrettably the practice did not die out and years later we can read of yet others who did the same thing.
With all these questions Micah was basically raising the type of question that the uninformed asks; the kind of question that the person who doesn’t know and understand what God’s Word really means and teaches. These are the type of suggestions that man’s fertile imagination dreams up when he thinks about how he might be able to please God.
The unbeliever relies upon his own ideas when it comes to making himself right with God – the existence of so many religions in the world today bear witness to such thinking. Oh, they might not call for child sacrifice but each religion has its list of what MUST be done and frequently the costlier the better.
But I’ve already said that Micah is not really thinking about the unbeliever but of those who are already members of God’s covenant people. Sadly it is possible for such people to have so lost the plot that they resort to these worldly ways of thinking when they do think about how they might approach.
And the mistake that they fell into is a mistake that you too can fall into if you are a careless, thoughtless Christian.
An Analysis of the Worldly Way
Did you notice that the three answers Micah puts into the mouth of the would-be worshipper are all religious answers with their emphasis upon liturgical practice? A bit more religious fervour was surely the way. And, you know, it is easy for us to react in a similar way. How easy it is for us to put the emphasis upon some religious practice as the sure fired way in which to gain the Lord’s approval and so to approach him successfully.
Maybe one service a Sunday is a costly enough sacrifice for you to offer and you convince yourself that God will be happy with that. Maybe you want to really show your commitment to the LORD by attending every meeting possible - surely God will be happy with that. Maybe you’re even ready to go into full-time service – surely the LORD would reward you and grant you access to him if you were to take such a path.
And so we can take the good gifts the Lord has given us whereby we might respond with joy and gladness to him and we turn them into a kind of bribe/payment that we offer him in the hope that he will keep on blessing us.
How easy it is to corrupt what ought to be our joyous responses into painful and costly duties that disappoint us when the LORD refuses to play ball!
Micah has finished giving us the worldly man’s view of worship and how he thinks God is to be approached. It is now time for him to tell his hearers what the LORD’s take on these matters is. Listen to what he says:
v.8 "He has told you, O man, 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?"
Let us think about this verse for a few moments.
So you want to know how to approach the LORD, Micah continues, well it’s no secret for the LORD has already told you! He doesn’t keep on changing his mind and there isn’t one set of rules for some and another for the rest:
"He has told you, O man..."
And then Micah continues to explain what that is:
"what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"
In a wonderfully brief compass Micah provides us with a summary of the kind of behaviour the LORD expected of his OT people.
To illustrate this we could look at any number of different verses from the OT – here are just a few:
In Genesis the LORD spoke about the purpose he had in mind when he chose Abraham:
Gen.18:19 "For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him."
Moses preached to the Israelites as they waited to enter the Promised Land and he said to them:
Deut.10:12-13 "And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?
And Samuel rebuked King Saul for doing things his way rather than the LORD’s:
1Sam.15:22 "And Samuel said, "Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.
The Book of Proverbs put it succinctly when it says:
Pr 21:3 "To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice."
And of course Micah has already raised some of these very issues earlier in his book when he condemned the unjust confiscation of land and possessions (ch.2) and the inhumane treatment of others (ch.3).
Now do you see the difference between the answers of worldly men and the answer that the LORD gives. Men were content to suggest religious answers that could easily leave personal moral behaviour relatively untouched but the LORD, on the other hand, called for a thoroughgoing transformation of life. To be in right relationship with him can never be confined to a spiritual or religious box isolated from the rest of life.
"To do justice" means that all of one’s behaviour will conducted in a meticulously upright manner respecting and upholding the rights of others.
"To love kindness (or mercy)" means personally practising it with eagerness and joy and not simply admiring it in theory or in others.
"To walk humbly with your God" – means that even when you have done your very best you won’t allow yourself to be puffed up with pride or to smile contentedly about your own achievements. No, it will be accompanied by words such as those suggested by Jesus in Luke’s gospel:
Lk.17:10 "We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty."
And this is because the same criteria apply to the believer coming to God in Christ in the NT. Do you remember what Jesus taught his disciples about this in the Sermon on the Mount? He said:
Mt 5:48 "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
Or, as Luke put it:
Lk.6:36 "Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful."
Again please note that Jesus is NOT explaining here to the unbeliever how he is to enter into a relationship with God; he is not teaching that the way of salvation depends upon you making yourself perfect or holy and we should be very glad he isn’t because which of us could ever hope to make ourselves perfect and holy? No, Jesus is telling his followers, who, because of his grace, have already been given salvation, how they are to live out that relationship. And of course they are not to stay away from God but to approach him with confidence as they seek to conform their lives to that of their Master.
And let us be in no doubt. This standard of behaviour is high and demanding. It is the standard which Jesus kept, leaving us an example to which we can aspire.
Jesus and justice:
The entire testimony of the NT is that Jesus was both just in himself and just in his actions.
The Father spoke of his Son in this way:
Mt 12:18, 20 "Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles... a bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory;"
Jesus challenged his hearers to show him anything he had done wrong:
Jn.8:46 "Which one of you convicts me of sin?"
Peter, John and Paul all expressly declare that Jesus was guilty of no sin with John describing his Master as "Jesus Christ the righteous." (1Jn.2:1)
Jesus and kindness/mercy
Sinners cried out to him for mercy and weren’t disappointed. He went about doing good; he exercised compassion towards those in need; he taught those not knowing the way; he fed the hungry; he healed the sick and delivered those who were spiritually oppressed; he had compassion on those who were grieving because of bereavement.
Jesus and humility
If there was ever a man who could walk about with his head proudly help up high it was Jesus, the eternal Son of God. But he didn’t! Instead of grasping onto to the divine status that was his by divine right he let go of its privileges in order that he might carry out his Father’s will and purpose. In carrying out that purpose he didn’t act, speak or judge on his own authority but his joy and delight was to follow everywhere his Father led – this is what he said about his own life and behaviour:
Jn.8:28 "I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me."
Jn.5:30 "I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.
Jn.15:10 "I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love."
And with what tenderness he receives the sinner who will come trustingly to him:
Mt.11:29 "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."
My friends, the reason why we are called upon to live lives of such quality is not that we might try to persuade God to be nice to us, nor is it somehow to seek to earn our salvation. The reason for such a life is so that we might properly and joyfully express our thankfulness and praise to God for all that he has done for us in Jesus Christ. And if we have begun to understand something of the greatness of his grace towards us then we will be glad to know how we should now seek to live our lives.
May we indeed truly love our God knowing that before there were any such stirrings in our own hearts he had already demonstrated wonderful love towards us in sending his son to die for us while we were yet sinners!