Good morning, church. It’s good to see you all. I want to greet all of those of you who are online as well, and a shout out to a couple of our regulars, Judy, and Vilma, Jerry and Cheryl. We always want to let you know that we love you. I’m glad that you get to join us virtually at this season in your life.
So, we’ve been in Judges now since the beginning of the year. It’s been a while since I’ve preached in the book. Peter’s been walking us through this story of the book of Judges. And so, I want to begin with a Judge’s corporate quiz. I want to see how well you all have listened to Peter over the past several months. We’re even going to do that in a multiple-choice way. I’m even going to set it up.
We’ve noticed this pattern that keeps recurring in the book of Judges. So, last week, at the very end of the story, a judge named Samson died. He had judged for twenty years, and then he died. So, because we’ve seen this cycle before, what should happen next?
So, here are your three choices — a) Samson is resurrected from the dead; b) The land has peace; or c) The parting of the Red Sea. Say it out loud. What’s the answer? B! The land has peace, right? We’ll ignore the other one. The land has peace! That’s what should happen next. That’s the way these stories keep working.
And then after peace, what typically happens? Here’s your multiple choice — a) The people do evil; b) The people have a night of worship; c) The people gather to smoke brisket. Which is it? It’s a toughie. A! Every time! At the end of every story, they do it again.
But then, what does God typically do after that? After they do evil again, is it a) God sends manna for a feast; b) God writes new laws in stone; or c) God raises up another judge? C! You guys are great! Peter did a great job, didn’t he? Yeah! He raises up another judge. Peace … People do evil … New judge … We start all over.
So, now that I’ve set up for you exactly what’s going to happen in Judges 17, would you stand and listen to Judges 17? These are God’s words now, not mine.
“There was a man of the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Micah. And he said to his mother, ‘The 1,100 pieces of silver that were taken from you, about which you uttered a curse, and also spoke it in my ears, behold, the silver is with me; I took it.’ And his mother said, ‘Blessed be my son by the Lord.’ And he restored the 1,100 pieces of silver to his mother. And his mother said, ‘I dedicate the silver to the Lord from my hand for my son to make a carved image and a metal image. Now therefore I will restore it to you.’
“So when he restored the money to his mother, his mother took 200 pieces of silver and gave it to the silversmith, who made it into a carved image and a metal image. And it was in the house of Micah. And the man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and household gods, and ordained one of his sons, who became his priest. In those days there was no king in Israel. And everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
“Now, there was a young man of Bethlehem in Judah, of the family of Judah, who was a Levite, and he sojourned there. And the man departed from the town of Bethlehem in Judah to sojourn where he could find a place. And as he journeyed, he came to the hill country of Ephraim to the house of Micah. And Micah said to him, ‘Where do you come from?’ And he said to him, ‘I am a Levite of Bethlehem in Judah, and I am going to sojourn where I may find a place.’ And Micah said to him, ‘Stay with me and be to me a father and a priest, and I will give you ten pieces of silver a year and a suit of clothes and your living.’
“And the Levite went in. And the Levite was content to dwell with the man, and the young man became to him like one of his sons. And Micah ordained the Levite, and the young man became his priest, and was in the house of Micah. Then Micah said, ‘Now I know that the Lord will prosper me because I have a Levite as priest.’”
You may be seated. These are God’s words. Who in the world are these people, and why in the world is this story next? It is very okay for us to ask that question of the editor of the book of Judges. What in the world?! You have set up the cycle. We all know what happens next in the book. And now we have Micah and a Levite and his mom and weird, weird stuff. No people, no peace, no doing evil, no judge, no enemy, no normal cycle. What kind of kid steals from his mom? Is this typical behavior in Israel?
See, Judges 17 is like a good college professor. It raises questions to make students think rather than just giving answers to make students be quiet. So, what I want us to do is repeat Judges 17:6 out loud, all together, big, full voice, all of us at one time, really short. Here we go.
“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
So, I’m going to give away my whole big idea of what this passage is about right here at the beginning. Here’s the big idea: When rightness is self-determined, worship is self-defined. That’s what this story is all about. When rightness is self-determined, then worship is self-defined. When rightness is self-determined, genuine worship goes genuinely wrong.
So, this story has two scenes interrupted by this editorial comment. So, we’re going to look at the scenes and the comment and then figure out what in the world all of this has to do with Israel and with us. So, Scene 1 — Micah and His Mom. We have a random son with an ordinary Hebrew name, a random mom and grandmother with no name. We have the absence of a dad, kind of a random, silent bit of info. All of this is so random and so out-of-thin-air that it’s almost as if this could be any mom and any son anywhere in Israel. It’s an isolated story that illustrates a holistic problem.
So, after we’re introduced to these two characters, Micah and his mom, we have the action of Scene 1. And the first thing that happens is Micah’s confession. He confesses stealing his mom’s money. Now, here’s the deal. This isn’t a twelve-year-old who takes a dollar off his mom’s dresser to buy a donut at a store. This is an adult man, who has a son, who steals his mom’s retirement account. So, that’s what’s happening in the story. And Micah’s confession is less than ideal. See, when a kid does wrong, I think most parents want the kid to just come and say, “Hey, this is what I did wrong. I did something wrong.” That would be glorious if that’s how parenting worked — a child realizes “I have done wrong, Father, and I wanted to come and tell you that I have done wrong.” That would be great! That’s not what Micah does.
Actually, Micah’s confession is curse-coerced. The only reason he confesses is because of a curse, and this is a normal part of this culture — “Because you did this, I bring down a curse upon you from the gods.” So, Micah’s confession is informed by the fact that bad things will happen to him, in his view, if he doesn’t come clean.
Micah’s confession is also mother-managed. Did you hear that little comment in there that Micah says when he’s confessing? “Hey, Mom, remember that silver that you uttered a curse about and also spoke it in my ears?” Maybe Mom had her suspicions about Micah. Maybe Mom let the curse and the speaking in his ears happen on purpose so that Micah would give the cash back. Either way, Micah’s confession doesn’t seem to be flowing from an idea of fearing the Lord and doing what’s right. He’s protecting himself from a curse.
The second part of the action of Scene 1 is this really weird, double restitution of money, money being changed back and forth all over the place. So, Micah comes, gives the money back. “I stole it. Here you go.” Mom does that kind of weird “blessed be my son by the Lord,” which is a really, really fast response to stealing your retirement account. “Hey, you be blessed, kid.” But, hey, maybe Mom’s a great person, more character than I. Good for her. Happy Mother’s Day! It’s about the only point we get to say Happy Mother’s Day with mom here because it’s about to get a little sketchy.
She then says, “I’m going to give the money back to you, son, to the Lord.” That’s beautiful. “You stole the money? We’re going to use this for the Lord.” But then we get all of these odd details over and over. Mom only takes 200 of the 1,100. “I dedicate all of this money to you.” She has 900 set aside and gives 200 to the silversmith for these two carved images.
Well, now we have real questions about Mom’s honesty and integrity. Was all of this curse a ploy to get her cash back? And what’s going on in her heart, where I dedicate all this money to you, and then she starts sorting out pockets of money? Did she really just want to pocket the nine hundo and move on, do a really beautiful worship thing, and have a lot of cash in her pocket? It’s odd.
The third part of the action is what I’m going to call “genuine worship gone genuinely wrong.” And what I mean by that is Mom and son … It doesn’t appear in the text that these are purposefully evil-intentioned people trying to do something against what God does in order to just be against God. It seems like they’re genuinely trying. The problem is they’re doing it wrong. The God-dedicated money is used to create graven images. The problem there is God is not pro-graven images, at all.
In Exodus 20:4 and Leviticus 19:4, these types of images in worship are strictly and specifically forbidden. The same language is used, same word. You can’t make graven images and metal images. Don’t do it. And now in Judges 17, we see them in a genuine way, being commissioned to worship Yahweh in response to a confession and restitution of money. And then the details just start snowballing. Micah has a shrine, which is a localized place of worship, a place he wants to try to meet God. The problem with that is, God picked a place to put his name, where he was to be met, and that was called Shiloh. God chose that place. God put his name there. God said, meet me there.
Micah also made an ephod, this garment and this decoration that was a way to interact with God. But he wasn’t supposed to do that. He’s pulling a Gideon, if you remember that story, where Gideon also made an ephod. And it was a big problem for Gideon’s family and all of Israel.
Then Micah commissions his non-Levite son as a priest. What in the world is going on? We could ask the question, “what is it like in Israel?” and we land in Scene 1 of Judges 17, and we see it. When rightness is self-determined, worship is self-defined. When rightness is self-determined, genuine worship goes genuinely wrong.
Now, the point here is actually not to look at Micah and Mom and judge them as if we’re better than them. The point is to wonder how could their worship and our worship get that bad, confused, and wrong? And it’s at that point that the author inserts his editorial comment about the situation.
“In those days [the days of the Judges] there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
This cry of “no king” is going to sound again in the book, in chapter 18:1, 19:1, and 21:25. The author seems to be crying out, “If only there were a central authority who could rule and reign and guide the people to do the right thing, then everything would be great. If only we had that in place.” But we’ve already seen in the book of Judges that no human judge can pull off the permanent spiritual delivery of Israel. It hasn’t worked yet, and we’ve worked through cycle after cycle after cycle. Now, the author is longing for a king, a different type of ruler, to try to pull off the permanent spiritual deliverance of Israel. But just as no ordinary human judge can do it, no ordinary human king could do it. And Israel would know that when they read Judges, because Judges was probably delivered to Israel during the reign of the kings, and that is an important detail. When they read that phrase, they would actually have history, king after king after king after king, and their present king, who still has not permanently, spiritually delivered Israel. The perfect king hasn’t shown up yet, even as this author longs for one who will fix Israel.
The editorial comment has that part about the king, and then it talks about everybody doing what was right in their own eyes. Now, here’s why that phrase for one of the original readers would have been a little bit shocking, because God said through Moses, before the people entered the promised land, “Don’t live that way.” And he said it specifically. Deuteronomy 12:[5,8],
“You shall seek the place that the Lord your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation there.” (Shiloh.) “There shall you go.”
And then Moses goes corrective on Israel. He says,
“You shall not do according to all that we are doing here today.”
And what is that, Moses? What are we doing here today?
“everyone doing whatever is right in his own eyes.”
Don’t live that way, Israel. Live according to the law that God gave you, the rules he gave you, the way to approach him that he gave you. Judges 17 — Israel’s living like this all over again. Entrance to the Promised Land didn’t perfect the people. Their compass, their worship compass is way off. They’re way far away from the destination of Yahweh and worshiping him the way he says. And they’re off in the middle of their own travels, their own view. They’re off track. So, that’s Scene 1 — Micah and His Mom, editorial comment.
Scene 2 — Micah and a Levite. All right, everybody. Here’s what I need you to do. Right where you’re seated right now, I need everyone to put on your Old Testament roller coaster seatbelt. Keep your arms and hands inside the ride at all times because we are going to go through a lot of Scripture in the Old Testament right now. All right? A little energy on your part would be great right now. All right? Thank you.
Just like you can’t understand Harry Potter if you don’t know what a Muggle is, you can’t understand Judges 17 if you don’t know what a Levite is. And not just a general notion of, “Oh yeah, a Levite is thing mentioned in the Bible.” What is it? Because if we know that, then we know the drama that’s happening in Scene 2 of Judges 17. So, I want us to take some time to figure out what in the world is a Levite and why in the world does it matter to this story? Because it’s kind of a big deal. Here we go.
Genesis 29: 31, 34, “When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb … She conceived and bore a son … His name was called Levi.”
So, the Levites were Jacob’s descendants from Levi.
Numbers 3:11-13, “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the people of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the people of Israel. The Levites shall be mine, for all the firstborn are mine. On the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I consecrated for my own all the firstborn in Israel, both of man and of beast. They shall be mine: I am the Lord.’”
So, here the Levites were God’s chosen portion after Passover as representatives of all the firstborn that would happen in Israel.
Numbers 1:50, “But appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the testimony, and over all its furnishings and over all that belongs to it. They are to carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings, and they shall take care of it and shall camp around the tabernacle.”
So, the Levites supervised the tabernacle, which was kind of God’s mobile presence before he picked Shiloh.
Numbers 3:5-10, “And the Lord spoke to Moses saying, ‘Bring the tribe of Levi near, and set them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister to him. They shall keep guard over him and over the whole congregation before the tent of meeting, as they minister at the tabernacle. They shall guard all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, and keep guard over the people of Israel as they minister at the tabernacle. And you shall give the Levites to Aaron and his sons; they are wholly given to him from among the people of Israel. And you shall appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall guard their priesthood.’”
The Levites were ministers and guardians of people and priests during proper worship.
Deuteronomy 27:15-16 is an interesting one because here the Levites are speaking. They’re speaking over the people these curses, that if you don’t do what God says, here’s what’s going to happen. It’s kind of a call and response in worship. The Levites speak; the people say “amen.” Listen to a couple of them that they said over the people before they came into the Promised Land. Levites, speaking on behalf of God …
“Cursed be the man who makes a carved or cast metal image”
Anybody remember those two words?
“an abomination to the Lord, a thing made by the hands of a craftsman, and sets it up in secret.”
Oh, I don’t know … a place like a shrine, your own localized place of worship.
“And all the people shall answer and say ‘Amen.’
Amen. We agree with this deal, God. Here’s another one.
“Cursed be anyone who dishonors his father or his mother.”
I don’t know, say by stealing their retirement account.
“And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’”
So, the Levites spoke God’s messages to God’s people directly.
Numbers 35:1, “Command the people of Israel to give to the Levites some of the inheritance of their possession as cities for them to dwell in. And you shall give to the Levites pasturelands around the cities…. All the cities that you give to the Levites shall be forty-eight, with their pasturelands.”
Deuteronomy 14:27, “And you shall not neglect the Levite who is within your towns, for he has no portion or inheritance with you.”
So, the Levites, unlike every other tribe, didn’t have land like the other tribe or places to go. They were gifted it by all of the other tribes.
So, here is a summary of the Levites. It’s not brief, but we’ll give it a whirl. The Levites are God’s portion; a gift to the people; the tabernacle tent team; mobile ministers; landless but not without homes, families, crops, livestock, and places to stay. The Levites were worship workers; God’s guards for priests and people; worship warners; and worship enforcers. That’s the Levites.
Scene 1 — Micah and His Mom — everything done wrong. Editorial comment — If only somebody could fix this!
Scene 2 — Levite Shows Up. For the original readers, this is best-case scenario. This is the hero stepping into the scene. The minister, the guard, the enforcer, the mouthpiece of God is here. Of all the people to show up! When worship is wonky, you want a Levite. This is the guy for the job. Salvation is here. Deliverance for Micah’s family from their dysfunctional worship is going to come through a Levite. We don’t need a judge. We need a priest. And a Levite steps into the scene.
And then Judges does what it does every time, because when rightness is self-determined, worship is self-defined. When rightness is self-determined, genuine worship goes genuinely wrong, and even the Levites were doing what was right in their own eyes. We don’t have a hero. This priest isn’t going to pull it off either. We have these Levitical red flags that the author gives us in the text, warnings about this particular Levite.
First, he was a wandering Levite. Did you see all that language in there? I tried to emphasize it when I read the whole passage — “sojourned, departed, journeyed, sojourned where he could find a place.” Lots of travel words! Why was this dude wandering around? Why was he out there? He had a job at Shiloh. He was part of a rotation of people. He had to be there to work, and he had places to go. He could choose forty-eight cities to live, get land, have a family, work pasture. He could have gone to any of them. He would have had income and food from the offerings that were given at Shiloh.
So, why was he wandering around? Well, couple of ideas — one, maybe worship in Israel was so bad that the Levites were being neglected, and he had to. Remember, the Levites didn’t have land. They were supposed to be taken care of. “Don’t neglect the Levite in your town.” And Moses said that more than one time in the Law. It was a big deal. Take care of these guys. If worship at Shiloh had broken down like Micah’s family, maybe they weren’t being taken care of. Maybe that whole care system ceased.
Or maybe this was just a young man wandering around with a backpack, doing his own thing, a young man living on a prayer, “looking for a reason, roaming through the night to find his place in this world, his place in this world.” Either way, his wandering is curious, and it’s troubling. He was an opportunistic Levite — silver, clothes, room and board. That was the offer of payment from Micah to the Levite, and the text tells us he was content to dwell there. Now, when we read the phrase “content to dwell,” it’s kind of like you’re driving on vacation, and you find a hotel: “Oh, yeah, we’ll stay there.” No, this is a little bit richer. When he heard this deal, he was persistent, content, pleased, determined to undertake this new gig, his new calling. He finally found what he was looking for.
And finally, and perhaps the most difficult red flag is he was a passive Levite. Here’s one little example. Did you notice that whenever Micah asked the Levite to come into his house, he said, “Will you come in and be to me a father and a priest?” Three lines later, it says, “The priest became one of Micah’s sons.” The power dynamics got jacked up. The guy who was supposed to lead worship was following someone who wasn’t supposed to lead worship. He was passive.
And then this Levite would have had knowledge of the law. All the things that he saw going around … again, if he’s the hero, we want him going in there in a just way and busting up ephods and shrines and gods and all of these metal images. Burn ’em! Melt ’em! That’s what a Levite should do, and he doesn’t. He’s not a good priest. The hero, the worship expert is just as dysfunctional as the dysfunctional family that is dysfunctionally worshiping. It’s the blind following the blind.
So, now, as we often have in this book of Judges, as readers, whether original readers or today, once we understand the drama of it, our hopes are kind of dashed. Come on! Why couldn’t the Levite just be the hero once? Can’t we just get one story where it works? But the story isn’t over. Scene 2 still goes on, and Micah walks center stage, looks at the successful turn of events for him — he has his Levite, he has a priest, he has a shrine, he has his gods. And he declares with great clarity his theology, his view of God.
“Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, because I have a Levite as priest.”
God will prosper me because of what I have done and what I possess in my own way. I can do it my own way. The goal of Micah’s worship is personal prosperity. That word “prosper” is used four other times in Judges. “I know the Lord will prosper me.” Here are some images that go along with that word “prosper.” It’s going to be used in chapter 18 about the Levite when he gets another job offer that’s better, and he takes it. The new offer is going to make his heart glad.
The word “prosper” is used later in chapter 19, when some people are having a couple of meals in which they eat and drink, and the result is they are “merry” … same word. So, Micah … the images that flowed into our head when we think “he’s going to prosper me” are “he’s going to give me circumstances to make my heart glad. He’s going to give me food and drink that will make me merry.” That’s what prosperity looks like, according to Micah. The Levite became Micah’s lucky rabbit’s foot. A more modern image — The Levite became currency that Micah could put into the God vending machine to get out what he wanted. The Levite became for Micah a magic eight ball that he could shake and get the answer to all of his questions so that he could get what he wanted. Micah believed God was controllable by creating the right scenario with the right people at the right time.
And the worst part is Micah misunderstood prosperity because God talks about prosperity. Prosperity isn’t a bad word, and being prosperous isn’t a bad thing. God talks about it a lot, actually.
Deuteronomy 28:9-11 – Listen to the connection about prosperity though.
“The Lord will establish you as a people holy to himself, as He has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in His ways … And the Lord will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your livestock and in the fruit of your ground, within the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give you.”
Deuteronomy 29:9, “Therefore keep the words of this covenant and do them, that you may prosper in all you do.”
Joshua, the follow-up leader to Moses, echoes the same instruction.
Joshua 1:7-8, “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you have good success.”
Prosperity arrives through genuine worship done God’s way. So, Micah, if you want prosperity, the path is obedience to God’s way of worship. God said, “Don’t make images.” You did that. God said, “Don’t dishonor your mom.” You did that. God said, “Don’t steal.” You did that. God said, “Worship where I place my name.” You ignored that. God said, “Don’t do what’s right in your own eyes.” You ignored that as well. Don’t assume prosperity during disobedience. See, Judges 17 is this Polaroid photo, this little story stuck into the album of what it looks like when worship is divorced from obedience.
When rightness is self-determined, worship is self-defined. When rightness is self-determined, genuine worship goes genuinely wrong.
So, at this point in Judges 17, the work for the original readers and the work for us only begins. What do we do with it? We see when it talks about worship and righteousness and God’s definition, but what do we do to solve it? How do we deal with it? Well, I think we look at that editorial comment that’s thrown in there, and we look for a King who can fix it.
But is there a king who can fix this problem that keeps happening in Judges, where worship never quite is perpetually good? It’s never permanent spiritual deliverance. This deepest need that we have in Judges … and I defined our deepest need this way — We need God to raise up an unlikely, perfect, immortal deliverer, an immortal Judge who can righteously and eternally save all people and defeat the evil empires of the world. Judges leads you to that conclusion. That’s what we need.
But here’s the problem. Judges 17 steps in and goes, “Oh, that is true. But you also need an immortal King, and because of the Levite, you need an immortal Priest.” Now we need somebody who can be a perfected person in all three of those categories. Where in the world do we look for someone like that?
I think we go back to the book of Revelation, the revelation of Jesus Christ, and we see a perfect Judge.
Revelation 19:11-13, “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True,”
And how does he judge?
“and in righteousness he judges and makes war.”
He will deliver us from all the evil empires.
“His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood,”
A correct offering.
“and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.”
And brothers and sisters, that Word of God there is Jesus Christ. Guess where He was born? Bethlehem. Now there was a Levite from Bethlehem in Judea. So, we have a judge who arises out of the same place where the bad priest came from.
But then we get to question Jesus. Is Jesus a perfect priest? We can see him as a deliverer here. He judges righteously. But what about being a priest? Well, let’s stay in Revelation. Notice all of the temple language here, how worship happens in a new temple when God returns and reunites earth and heaven. Brand new! Look at what happens.
“And I saw no temple in the city,”
No localized place where we meet God, no Shiloh, no tabernacle that travels.
“I saw no temple in the city,”
“for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.”
The Lamb is the temple.
“And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.”
So, the Lamb is both the lamp and the temple.
“By the Lamb’s light will nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory to it, and its gates will never be shut by day — and there will be no night there.”
No potential for evil ever again.
“These nations will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But …”
But what does this new temple have that the other temples don’t have?
“… nothing unclean will ever enter it,”
Worship is fixed forever. No unclean worship ever again in this temple that’s lit by the light of the Lamb.
“nor anyone who does what is detestable”
an abomination to the Lord, the language of Deuteronomy, graven images. That’s not allowed because this Priest, this temple, this Lamb, this light protects it and guides his people to proper worship. Who are those people?
“only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”
Jesus is the perfect Judge. Jesus is the perfect Priest. Oh, but what about that third one? Can he rule rightly?
Revelation 19:15-16, “From his mouth”
That Judge who sits on a white horse …
“comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron.”
The rule of Jesus Christ as king is as strong as a rod made of iron.
“He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.”
He is not only a king, he’s the best King. He’s the King of all kings ever. Perfect Judge. Perfect Priest. Perfect King. Jesus is the solution to the dysfunctional worship of Judges 17, and he alone reveals our deepest need. We have to look for this King who can fix it.
So, what else do we do with Judges 17? There are many things that we could talk about. I just have one more. How would you finish Micah’s statement?
“Now I know God will prosper me because I have _______.”
How would you finish it? And let’s not be mistaken here and judge Micah too harshly. At the end of the day, we all have a way we answer that statement. So, this struck me during first [service]. I’ll just be super transparent with … and we all have multiple answers. I’ll give you one of mine. “Now I know God will prosper my preaching this week because I worked really hard not to sin this week.”
Now think about what I just said. Weeks that I preach I’m placing a contingency of effectiveness on whether or not I sin that week. So, I’m super vigilant the weeks I preach. “Now I know God will prosper me because this week I’ve really worked hard.” Do you see how dysfunctional that is? It’s okay to say yes. I’m up here, but I sit out there, too. That is dysfunctional worship. That’s terrible theology on so many levels that I don’t even have time to unpack my own junk. But you have a way you finish that statement, too, right? “Now I know God will prosper me because I ________.”
And at the end, how does God prosper us? I don’t think God’s definition of prosperity has changed from the law to where we live now. God gets to define what prosperity looks like, and God gets to define the parameters under which it happens, okay? He defines it. We don’t get to define prosperity. “Oh, God, give me all the money in the world that I want, and I would really like a four-door jeep that is yellow.” That’s not the way it works. God defines what prosperity is, but he also defines the parameters about which it happens. Listen to the I Peter 3.
“Finally, all of you”
Everyone in here. Everybody. Hey, all of you,
“have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you have been called [Why?] so that you may obtain a blessing.”
God is asking us, just like Israel, live certain ways. And what dominates his way of living is the ethic of loving your neighbor. It is everywhere. That is how we live. To put ourselves within the parameters of prosperity as God defines it flows through love of neighbor. Peter then goes on to quote at length from Psalm 34. He says this:
“For whoever desires to love life and see good days”
So, anyone here, if you want to love life, and you want to see good days, guess what? I can tell you how. Here we go.
“Keep your tongue from evil. Keep your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil. Do good. Seek peace. Pursue it. [Why?] For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
If you want to live life, see good days, God tells you how. We get into those parameters through this perfect King, Priest, and Judge — Jesus. We get to live out of his life and his power so that we can love God and love our neighbor rightly. And I think in that space, that is genuine worship done genuinely right. May God allow all of us to live out of that reality. Let’s pray.
So, Father, I ask you a couple of things right now — that you would orient our definition of worship to your words, your person, and your character. I pray you would orient our hearts to love you and love our neighbor. I pray you would give us as individuals the courage to figure out and investigate how we view your blessing upon us. I pray you would give North Hills the courage to check ourselves and see where is our genuine worship going genuinely wrong. And would you course-correct us through the Spirit, the Word, our brothers and sisters? I pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.