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? ~Micah 6:8
Rituals. We have all kinds. Some will paint their faces or wear certain clothes when going to a ball game. Some go to the same spot year after year for vacation or a birthday or an anniversary because of the special memories we associate with it. Then, of course, are religious rituals. Different religions and even different sects within religions have different requirements or traditions that we repeat time and time again.
The Bible has its rituals, too. One cannot read through the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) and not see the different offerings and sacrifices God required, along with special garments and utensils used by the priests to perform the sacrifices and rituals.
Most of these, the New Testament says were fulfilled through Jesus, so God no longer requires what Jesus as the true spotless sacrifice and perfect priest fulfilled for us. Even then, Old Testament and New, we see that when God commanded ritual, his main interest was never in people going through the motions.
The prophet Micah spoke to a people who had their rituals and appeared religious, but whose hearts were turned far from God. So a question is asked, as if the people were speaking: “With what shall I come before the Lord…shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be please with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?” (Micah 6:6-7)
It’s the attitude: What can I use to pay back God so he will no longer judge me?
In 6:8, Micah answers that such questions miss the point. What matters most is whether or not one’s heart is turned toward God and how the fruit of this relationship impacts our daily lives. Yes, the Law had requirements of sacrifices and offerings, but what mattered at the core was one’s character and relationship to God: Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.
Or to put it as Jesus said in Matthew 22: Do we love God and love others?
To walk humbly with God is to realize our need for him. The sacrifices and rituals were pointing to something greater: Jesus. We need his sacrifice because of our sin and rebellion. We can’t pay back God, we can’t buy our way out of his judgment. We need Jesus, who covers our sins and makes us whole. Then we keep pursuing God, following after Jesus, in the power of his Holy Spirit as we live each day for his glory.
To do justice and love kindness is to love others and show them God’s goodness. Justice cares for the poor, the needy, and the oppressed. Kindness respects and honors everyone around us. These character traits show the very heart of Jesus toward us. He pulled us out of our spiritual poverty and gave us an eternally better home, and he did it all from his love and kindness in giving of himself.
We still have rituals, like baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We still have traditions like when we meet to gather as a church. Important things to be sure, but greater than these is our love for God and love for others. So don’t simply carry out the rituals. Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.
This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.