Theme: Avoiding the hypocritical, applauding the authentic
Bible study on the set readings used by many churches (Revised Common Lectionary), for Sunday, November 1 (Year A).
Micah 3:5-12 — Outsiders who challenge the status quo may be bringing God’s answer to avert devastation
Matthew 23:1-12 — What is done for show, exalts man. Rather, follow those who practise what they preach
1 Thessalonians 2:9-13 — Being good news, not just telling it, gives us the authenticity to share the message
Micah 3:5-12 — Without the will to change, devastation beckons
Outsiders who challenge the status quo may have God’s answer
5 This is what the Lord says: “As for the prophets who lead My people astray, they proclaim ‘peace’ if they have something to eat, but prepare to wage war against anyone who refuses to feed them.
“The prophets who lead My people astray” — introduces Micah’s disputation with those falsely predicting peace of Judah. The reality was destruction and exile, v.12 below and 4:10.
“If they have something to eat” — the false prophets were among Israel’s leaders and they were self-serving and motivated by greed. It had become the practice for seeking a word from the Lord to be accompanied by a gift for the seer. Like Balaam, Numbers 22:15-18, they were offering their services to the highest bidder.
• For further study, see Jeremiah 6:13-14.
6 “Therefore night will come over you, without visions, and darkness, without divination. The sun will set for the prophets, and the day will go dark for them.
7 “The seers will be ashamed and the diviners disgraced. They will all cover their faces because there is no answer from God.”
“The seers will be ashamed” — false prophets, like Balaam, had some ability to see beyond human perception, but this would cease abruptly. Israel’s court advisors could expect a measure of divine guidance in better times; now they would become like the powerless fortune-tellers of Babylon and Assyria, expected to tow the party line.
• For further study: Numbers 22.
8 But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression, to Israel his sin.
“Filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord” — true prophets were Spirit-filled messengers who carried the authority of the One commissioning them.
“Justice and might” — or powerful justice. Justice is always a hallmark of God’s prophets.
9-10 Hear this, you leaders of Jacob, you rulers of Israel, who despise justice and distort all that is right; who build Zion with bloodshed, and Jerusalem with wickedness.
“Rulers… who… build with bloodshed” — an indictment against Jerusalem for its corruption and by stark contrast with true prophecy, disdain for justice.
11 Her leaders judge for a bribe, her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money. Yet they look for the Lord’s support and say, “Is not the Lord among us? No disaster will come upon us.”
“Her leaders judge… priests teach… prophets tell… for money” — all were delivering what was politically expedient, for reward.
“Is not the Lord among us” — the corruption of Jerusalem’s leaders was marked by pride, complacency and entitlement.
12 Therefore because of you, Zion will be ploughed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.
“Zion… Jerusalem… the temple hill… overgrown with thickets” — the sacked holy city would revert to waste land, the remains of the temple without the Lord’s presence, an empty shell.
SUMMARY Micah was a contemporary of the prophets Isaiah, Amos, and Hosea and later in Jeremiah’s time was recognised as an anointed prophet. He addressed a corrupt administration at Israel’s court, where royal, religious, and political elements blended together. Many of the king’s advisers styled themselves as people who could speak for God — and foretell what the king wanted to hear, always a good way to gain favour and position! By contrast, God’s anointed messengers, the true prophets, were outsiders, not favoured courtiers. For generations they had been warning of God’s call to the nation to get back to the covenant, to get back to Him and to address the many injustices in the way rule was administered. The consequences for carrying on would be severe: invasion of the country, devastation and eventually the destruction of the Holy City itself. But time after time, the warnings were dismissed, and so it happened, exactly as foretold, in successive waves of deportation, first by the Assyrians and then by the Babylonians. In this exchange of words long beforehand, Micah prophesies God’s warning about the corrupt leadership and self-seeking advisors who styled themselves as prophets when they were not.
APPLICATION There is a tension today between the church establishment, defending its traditions and concerned about its reputation, and those calling the church back to God who see things from a different perspective. It’s as if the two communications are going past each. other in different languages. There are denominations and churches struggling to manage a decline that has lasted for many decades, and then there are others which have the opposite problem — rapid growth and needing space expand and opportunity to plant. The prophetic voices point out the need to change, to seek God afresh and the ‘best practices’ that bring God’s blessing but, as in the days of Micah and Jeremiah, we find it hard to listen to what we don’t want to hear.
QUESTION How does God view the decline in His church? What is He saying about it?
Matthew 23:1-12 — Done for show, means done for man
Jesus says, don’t follow those who don’t practise what they preach
1-3 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to His disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practise what they preach.
“Sit in Moses’ seat” — The Pharisees considered themselves authorised successors to Moses, took a legalistic view of Scripture, and went beyond legitimate authority in expecting their instructions to be followed. A contemporary belief in some parts of the church relates to being successors of the apostle Peter.
4 “They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
“Loads… on other people’s shoulders” — instead of caring for people by helping to free them of their burdens, these hypocrites imposed greater bondage with their over-emphasis on rituals and regulations.
5-7 “Everything they do is done for people to see: they make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honour at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the market-places and to be called “Rabbi” by others.
“Done for people to see” — they were like religious billboards, with their own dress code of prominent scripture boxes worn on the arm or head and oversized tassels on their robes, and they liked to be addressed by a religious title.
“Greeted with respect” — to give honour to whom honour is owed is good, but to seek it, brings to mind Paul’s warning about thinking too highly of oneself.
• For further study, see Romans 13:7, 1 Thess. 5:12, Romans 12:3.
8-10 “But you are not to be called “Rabbi”, for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth “father”, for you have one Father, and He is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah.
“Not to be called…” — A warning about the pride and pretence behind seeking honorific titles; the Pharisees assumed an elevated role in mediating knowledge of God to others. But the New Covenant is a mutual fellowship in which each one knows and relates to God through their own relationship with Jesus the Messiah and Teacher.
11-12 “The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
“The greatest… will be your servant” — there is to be no elitism in the family of God, but there are distinctions of calling, gifting and experience in the church. All leadership is to be carried out humbly in the way of modelling servanthood, 1 Thess. 5:12-13, 1 Timothy 5:17, Hebrews 13:17.
• For further study, see Jesus’ illustration addressing those who were convinced of their own righteousness, in Luke 18:9-14.
“Will be exalted” — in the future reign of Christ, Romans 8:17, 2 Timothy 2:12.
SUMMARY Jesus delivers a stark warning about self-exaltation, particularly the kind the Pharisees paraded with their affectations about titles and distinctive dress code, and the right to occupy the prominent places in a gathering. The way to be great, Jesus taught, was to be a great servant to others, and helping to free them of life’s burdens. The Pharisees loaded them up with their rules and regulations, because they wanted to be superior — but, He said, you have one Messiah, one Teacher before whom you are all brothers.
APPLICATION Elitism is a desire of the flesh, a need to prove something, and it works its way into every flavour of church tradition from the razzmatazz around the ‘anointed’ preacher, to the acting-out of an over-formal liturgy. These things mask an attempt to prove something about man, rather than making room for God by His Spirit to reveal His presence. Those born in recent decades are highly alerted to what is ’the real deal’. What is authentic will be like good bread shared by a good-hearted servant.
QUESTION It’s a particular trap for those who minister publicly, but how do the rest of us keep ourselves and what we share, real and unpretentious?
1 Thessalonians 2:9-13 — How to be good news, not just tell it
Being seen to live the life gives us the authenticity to talk about it
9 Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.
“We worked night and day” — in Greek culture, manual workHowever was considered to be what slaves did. However, Paul, along with Silas and Timothy worked as tentmakers, Acts 18:3, 1 Cor. 4:12, showing themselves in this relatively poor fellowship, to be largely self-supporting, and confronting the false charge that Paul preached for money, like a Greek orator. It was also a positive example to those in the church who despised work.
• For further study, see 1 Thess. 4:11, 5:14; 1 Thess. 3:6-15.
10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.
“How… we were among you” — Paul’s approach was relational, talking to people as he worked, and sharing his life and lifestyle transparently, not just his words. The words “holy, righteous and blameless” all mean much the same thing — he is inviting them be judges of his integrity before them and God.
11-12 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into His kingdom and glory.
“Encouraging, comforting and urging” — like a good father, the apostolic team both cared for and built up the Thessalonians, and also challenged them to live their new lives by new values that God would consider worthy of Him, doing what pleased Him, avoiding immorality and honouring marriage, 1 Thess. 4:1-6.
“Calls you into His kingdom and glory” — Paul emphasises Jesus’ kingdom and Jesus’ glory. Christians paid a significant social cost by not being able to participate in the cult that honoured the emperor and accusers had distorted Paul’s message as a challenge to the emperor, Acts 17:7.
13 And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.
“As it actually is” — what Paul and his companions lived and shared was love and grace, standing in sharp contrast to the legalism and pride that characterised Jewish religion, and the immorality of the pagan practices. This was not the opinions or oratory of “a human word” but the real deal, and evidently life-transforming in its effect.
SUMMARY Paul was the living demonstration of the very opposite of hypocrisy. He clearly wasn’t in it for personal gain, working long hours to remain self-supporting. His life was an open book and his message of grace was backed up by his love and grace in action, even in chiding and challenging these young Christians to live up to their new life in Jesus.
APPLICATION People today have ‘seen it all and heard it all’ and are adept at evaluating what is really authentic. People back in Paul’s time were also asking their versions of those questions. That is why Paul was at pains to demonstrate his honesty, such that accusations could not stick. What does that teach us? People will reject anything in us which is phoney or false. We have to be people who, in Paul’s words, “preach the gospel of God”, whether that is one to one or sharing in our small group or speaking more publicly — but it must be good news, heartfelt, and coming out of our own relationship, the relationship we discovered by trusting Jesus.
QUESTION How does this help us understand what causes some churches to grow rapidly and others, decline?
PRAYER Lord, may we, like Paul and his companions, so BE good news to others, that is is clear that what we carry is the real message of hope, the “gospel of God” and not some other construction of man. Help us not to need to prove anything, but simply to be righteous and blameless servants who reveal You more, by drawing less attention to ourselves. In Jesus powerful name we pray, Amen.
1 Vindicate me, my God, and plead my cause against an unfaithful nation. Rescue me from those who are deceitful and wicked.
“Vindicate me, my God” — opening appeal of a prayer for deliverance from the enemy and to be restored into God’s presence.
“Plead my cause” — the psalmist pleads His case with God as if in a court proceeding. It is a protest of innocence by one harmed wrongfully.
“Deceitful and wicked” — either Gentiles who were outside God’s covenant, or Israelites who were unfaithful to it.
2 You are God my stronghold. Why have You rejected me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?
“Why have You rejected me” — a common assumption when a prayer appears to have gone unanswered.
3 Send me Your light and Your faithful care, let them lead me; let them bring me to Your holy mountain, to the place where You dwell.
“Your light and Your faithful care” — in NLT, “Your light and your truth”, pictured here as holy pilots coming on board to navigate the way to God’s presence, Psalm 104:2, 100:5.
4 Then I will go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.
“Go to the altar” — cf. Psalm 26:6 “I wash my hands to declare my innocence.
I come to your altar, O Lord.”
5 Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Saviour and my God.
“Why, my soul, are you downcast?” — a declaration to the thoughts and feelings of the soul, to turn to praise. A repeated refrain, Psalm 42:5, 11. Prayer is effective whether or not God appears to be present; faith empowers the believer to give sincere thanks, before the answer is experienced.
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