Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or 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? He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? Micah 6:6-8
As synod begins, dark clouds are hanging over our denomination. We remember tonight how COVID-19, which has brought the world to a standstill, has affected our churches. Gathering for corporate worship has not been the same. Synod’s meetings are affected as well. The synod of the PRCA is the only synod I know of that is actually meeting at its scheduled time, for which we give thanks to God. However, synod can only meet if attendance is limited to those who need to be there for synod to conduct its business.
But there is a larger, darker, and growing cloud hanging over our denomination now. This is evident from some of the appeals and protests coming to synod. Appeals and protests are not rare at synod. But some of these appeals and protests are dealing with matters synod has judged in the past, which tells us there is ongoing unrest and disagreement with the decisions of our assemblies on these matters. There is a growing divide in our churches with the formation of a new publishing organization and a new magazine. Along with this there are accusations, charges, and a critical spirit among some that has resulted in the gloominess of factions, divisions, and tensions in our denomination. And it is painful.
I do not stand before you to provide my own commentary on these things, but to preach the gospel for the encouragement of synod and our churches in a difficult time. In these times, what does God require of us? He requires what He has always required. He requires that we do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. This is not a three-step program to fixing all that is wrong with our churches. God does not require the synod to fix everything. Decisions must be made, certainly. But God does not come to Synod 2020 of the PRCA demanding we fix everything. He requires what He has always required: do good. This is simple, direct, and vital for how we live as God’s people right now.
When Micah spoke these words to Judah, the people were not concerned with gratitude but self-righteousness. This is evident from the context. The Lord called Micah to prophesy in Judah during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. Although two of these three kings did what was right in God’s eyes, this was a period in Judah’s history marked by extreme wickedness. The worship of Jehovah continued during the period, but for most in Judah their worship was vain. They worshiped God but their hearts were far from Him. This is evident from the ongoing idolatry that plagued Judah. And this was a time of injustice, lying, and violence. Mercy and kindness were not shown to the oppressed. Instead, the oppressed were exploited and abused.
In Micah 6, the self-righteousness of Judah is exposed when the Lord brings them into His courtroom (vv. 1, 2). The Lord declares that He has a controversy with them. He requires of them an answer. Micah speaks for the people in verses 6 and 7. In these words, the heart of Judah is exposed. The question is, how shall they come before the Lord? There is no confession of guilt, grace, and gratitude. Instead, they say, “Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old?” They said they brought to God their best calves, even calves they fed for a whole year. If that is not enough, “Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams or with ten thousands of rivers of oil?” They substitute quantity for quality. Maybe if we bring more, then God will be pleased with us. And if that is not enough, “Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression?” Judah refers here to the heathen practice of offering one’s firstborn to their god. The idea is, “What does it take to pacify Jehovah God? We have done everything God has demanded of us. This should be enough!”
Judah’s wrong view of the covenant is exposed here. They fall into the delusion of self-righteousness and works-righteousness. They think they can gain God’s favor by keeping the ceremonial law. Will not God’s wrath be appeased with animals—either quality or quantity or both? They do not understand their transgression before God. This is the same heresy of the Pharisees that Jesus’ addressed and that the church continues to fight.
This is not what motivates the delegates of the PRCA to Synod 2020. We are not motivated by a self-righteous thinking that we can earn a good outcome by following the letter of the law. We do not come in the delusion of taking our transgressions lightly or striving for a good appearance. God detests this.
The right viewpoint of the covenant is the motivation to express thanks to the Lord for His covenant goodness in Jesus Christ.
In verses 4 and 5, God reminds Judah what He did for them. He does this in response to His questions in verse 3, “What have I done unto thee? And wherein have I wearied thee? Testify against me.” The clear answer is that He has not wearied them, unless they count unchanging mercy and unconditional goodness as wearisome. The Lord reminds them in verses 4 and 5 of what He has done for them: I delivered you out of Egypt’s bondage and I cared for you in the wilderness even when Balak hired Balaam to curse you.
The Lord reminds them and us that He alone establishes, maintains, and perfects His covenant. His covenant is an unbreakable bond of love and fellowship with His people in Jesus Christ. The Lord has done everything to bring us into this covenant. He has done this through the work of Jesus Christ by which we are reconciled to Him. All the sacrifices and feasts of the Old Testament pointed back to the deliverances the Lord gave to His people and they pointed ahead to what He would do in the promised Messiah. The sacrifices and feasts were not opportunities to earn the Lord’s favor, but they testified of His covenant faithfulness. Thus, God’s people were to be motivated in life by gratitude to Him.
This is what God says to us as we begin synod: remember My goodness and be motivated by gratitude. He is so good to us and we are so undeserving. It would be easy with the darkening clouds hanging over our denomination to forget what God has given and forget to be thankful. God has given us much. He has given us the good gift of Reformed church government and men who are called to and equipped for the offices. God has equipped us to be churches who are the pillar and ground of the truth. God has preserved us in our heritage and history (for almost 100 years) although we are so completely undeserving. God has given us the ministry of the gospel and men to preach and opportunities to preach in many different places around the world. Let us give thanks!
Out of gratitude, we are required by God to do good. This goodness is described in three ways: do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God.
What does it mean to do justly? The text is not speaking of social justice, as the world speaks of it. There are so many broader assemblies of denominations that deal with social justice issues. This is not what God calls us to deal with. We are called to deal with ecclesiastical matters in an ecclesiastical manner.
Doing justly reflects God’s character because God is just (Deut. 32:4). What is good and just is determined not by a mob but by God. He is the standard of doing justly because He is perfect and always does what is right. He only and always does what is good and just.
Doing justly especially refers to the fair and just treatment of others, especially those who are struggling and disadvantaged. Injustice is to take advantage by an abuse of a position of authority. Such injustice is vividly described in Micah 3:1-3 and Micah 6:10-12. Those who are in positions of authority and power must not use those positions to take advantage of others, but to do justly to them. Specifically, those who are in office in the church must treat the members of the church fairly and justly.
God requires that we love mercy. What is mercy? Mercy is the compassion and pity toward others that is rooted in God’s mercy for His people. Micah 7:18 tells us that God delights in mercy. Hosea 6:4 declares that the Lord’s mercy is refreshing like morning dew. Mercy is the compassion and pity God has on His people in the misery of their sin. Mercy is God’s desire to bless. Mercy is God’s activity of saving His people—miserable in their sin, in Christ and forgiving their sins.
Mercy is the compassion and pity with which we are to deal with each other in the context of sin. Mercy is an attitude of compassion and pity upon others, a desire to do them good, and the action of helping them.
We are called to love mercy. We may not be indifferent toward mercy. Loving mercy does not mean discarding justice. Neither does doing justly mean forgetting mercy. God does not call us to be just sometimes and merciful at others. We are to do justly and love mercy all the time. We love to be shown mercy by God. Those who love God’s mercy will love to show that mercy in their lives. We will show this mercy not because we judge people are deserving of this mercy, but because we know the unchanging mercy of God in His covenant.
God requires that we walk humbly with Him. Walking with God is a beautiful covenant concept. Think of two walking together, arm in arm or hand in hand. Think of Enoch and Noah who were described as walking with God. Walking with God is to live daily in the constant awareness of God’s love. It is to live knowing, loving, and delighting in God. It is to live for His glory.
We are called to walk humbly with God. The idea is to walk in submission to Him. This is an important covenant concept. God does not make us equals to Himself in the covenant. We are under Him. Thus we walk in the awareness of His greatness and glory, as this is revealed in His grace and mercy. The one who walks humbly with God fears Him. We do not live in terror but, knowing His love, we want to submit to His Word and rule in all of life.
What does God require of synod and our churches in this tumultuous time? He requires what He has always required: do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him. In the decisions we make, may justice prevail—the justice of God’s Word and truth. In the decisions we make and discussions we have, may we love mercy, reflecting the mercy of God. In all our work this week, may we walk humbly with our God.
This is also what God requires of us as a denomination. No backbiting, slander, or schism because this is contrary to justice and mercy. I am glad that we do not have protestors, as we find in cities around us, coming to our assemblies. But do some of us have our own form of protest (not formal protests to a church body, but outward displays of rebellion)? Such rebellious protests are contrary to justice, mercy, and walking humbly with God. Instead may God’s justice and mercy prevail in our churches at this time. Truth is important, and God’s truth will always prevail. But at the same time we must not think that defense of the truth means we may discard justice, mercy, and humility.
When we see what God requires of His church, we see a people who fall short. We might think the only one who fell short was Judah. They did not do justly, love mercy, or walk humbly with God. Not only is this true of Judah, but this is also true of us. We all have fallen short.
We see our great need for Jesus Christ. He is the only One who walks in this way perfectly. He was so just He perfectly obeyed His Father as He bore the penalty of the law in our place. He loved mercy by dying on the cross on our behalf. He walked humbly with His Father, delighting to do His will as He laid down His life in obedience to the Father’s will. We see in Jesus Christ the One who took our place and the One whom we desperately need for the injustice of our sin. In a world of injustice, the greatest injustice is our sin against God.
The strength we need to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God is found alone in the cross of Christ (2 Cor. 5:14, 15). May the Lord grant us this strength!
*Pre-synodical sermon: June 8, 2020.