Wednesday, March 16, 2011
the essence of doing good
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?
This is probably the most familiar verse in Micah, and perhaps for most people who are reasonably aware of the content of the bible, it is the most familiar verse of the minor prophets. I know that I have known about this verse since I was a teenager and we sang a praise chorus that was a direct quotation of this passage. But I must confess, I have never really taken a good look at it in its context. It becomes even more striking when viewed this way and it is lifted from its "poster child for social justice" status into something much more powerful.
The verse is a question that answers a question. In that sense it is a literary device meant to compel the reader into thinking about meaning. The initial question is found in Micah 6:3, and it is a question to God's people asking them to recount His acts of saving grace to them. In fact, Micah 6:3-5 detail a short overview of God's work on their behalf and implicit in it is His discipline of them in the wilderness, along with His saving of them from Egyptian slavery during the Exodus. The point being made is that sometimes God's judgment is the best thing He can do to bring His people around to Him.
Then there is a second series of questions being asked in Micah 6:6-8. They begin with asking how God's people should come before the Lord in worship and sacrifice, showing that the act of sacrifice alone is not sufficient. Verse nine is meant to show that the attitude behind the sacrifice will be backed up by actions of personal character and commitment. Then... and only then... God will be worshiped.
So the preceding context shows us that the acts of doing justice, loving God's lovingkindness, and humble walking with God are the proper spiritual response to God's redemptive grace. And they must accompany and precede any other sheer obedience to His commands. God wants to be worshiped by a heart that wants to live and love what God does. God is all about His justice and mercy ruling in the world. The essence of doing good is living that way as well.
But we must keep that in context. So far, we have only looked at half of Micah chapter six. Micah 6:8 is the hinge on which the message turns to God's plans for a disobedient nation that would not heed to His call to "humbly walk" with God. Micah 6:9-16 delivers a list of devastating pronouncements against the specific injustices and unmerciful attitudes and actions of God's people. God had shown them what he required in relationship with Him. They had disobeyed. He would judge such gross sin in the nation. If you want to get an idea of what "doing justly" looks like, look at the list of injustices God took Israel to task for: 1) Dishonest business practices (Micah 6:10-11). 2) Violent oppression (Micah 6:12). 3) Lies in daily dealings with people (Micah 6:12). 4) Sinful modeling of the wicked culture (Micah 6:16). The resulting judgment would visit these sins back upon them as only God can do in absolute justice.
So seeing the passage in its entirety helps me understand that doing good as God defines it is the way in which my worship really matters. And it matters to God that my authentic faith drive my relationship with Him. It means being honest with those around me. It means being truthful in how I deal with people. It means opposing violence and oppression with the gospel message of peace and hope. It means turning from the influences of sinful culture that mock righteousness. God has the right to discipline those who fail to understand this truth.
- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13