There are so many different ideas about what we should do and what we don’t have to do within the multitude of Judeo-Christian religions that exist in the world today. Many of these traditional teachings are about “The Law”, which most understand to be the Torah, the first five books of the Bible.
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To begin with, the word “Torah” means “teaching”, not law- the Hebrew word for law is “mitzvah”, which (not coincidentally) can also mean performing a good deed, such as, “Did you see that boy help the old man carry his groceries? Oy, such a mitzvah!”
God has given us commandments, regulations, laws, and ordinances, all of which I prefer to call instructions, which tell us what God expects from us.
However, knowing (as we do) that because God is always the same his instructions are always the same, he also tells us that he is more interested in the attitude of our heart than he is in the performance of these instructions.
God does want us to obey the specific instructions he gave us, which tells us how to worship him and how to treat each other, and when we follow these instructions we will be able to live a long, happy, and productive life. And because he loves us so much, he gets quite upset when we reject his good instructions. He stops protecting us and allows the evil in the world to come against us, in the hope that one day we will realize that our way isn’t better than God’s way. When that happens, which is much less frequently than one would think it should happen, we look to God and obey his instructions.
I can understand, having been one of the most sinful types for nearly 2/3 of my life, how people can ignore and outright reject God, but that only makes my T’shuvah (turning from sin) all the more potent. When we turn from sin to God, it is like people who smoked and then stopped. Ask any ex-smoker and they will tell you that now cigarette smoke is an anathema to them- they can’t stand the smell and hate to be near anyone who is smoking. That is how I feel about sin now that I have come to accept Yeshua as my Messiah and turned back to God.
So what does this all have to do with the thought being what counts? Here are just a few examples of what God tells us how he feels when we go through the motions without really having the desire to please him as our true motivation:
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.
“What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.
Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt offerings are continually before me
“I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
These are taken somewhat out of context, but in all of them, the idea is that even when we do what God wants us to do, if we are doing it just to say “Look, I did what you wanted.” that will not please God. He doesn’t need animals, he doesn’t get any special reward from sacrifice…in fact, all the things God wants us to do are not for his sake at all. They are totally for our sake!
We don’t have to understand why these things are important, only that when God told us this is how we must live and worship him, he meant it. He makes the rules, and we are to follow them, BUT (and this is a really big “but”) if we do these things without joy or desire to make God happy, he will know.
We sin joyfully, we do wrong with pleasure, and then we think if we go to a Priest and confess it all, we are golden. Really? What about when we fast over Yom Kippur? While at shul all day, we think we are going to be good before the Lord, but if our hearts and minds are focused on waiting for this fast to end so I can go back to what I want to do, do you really think that will be acceptable?
Here’s an old joke that I think gets the point across:
A man is attending shul and the Rabbi is going over the Ten Commandments. When he comes to “Thou Shalt Not Steal”, he notices the man looking around at his feet and his face seems worried. Later, when the Rabbi comes to “Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery”, the man suddenly relaxes and looks relieved.
Afterward, the Rabbi asked him why he acted that way, and the man said, “When you said we shouldn’t steal, I noticed my briefcase wasn’t anywhere around me and I thought maybe someone took it.”
The Rabbi said, “Oh, well, I can understand your reaction. But why did you seem relaxed soon after?”
The man replied, “When you said we should not commit adultery, I remembered when I had left it.”
Obedience to the instructions God gave us is not a suggestion or optional, but it must be done with the intention and desire to please the Lord. God wants our obedience to be motivated by faithful appreciation and desire to please him, not as a fear-induced or coerced action. King David knew, and told us in Psalm 51, that a broken spirit and contrite heart is always acceptable to the Lord; in other words, truly feeling bad about our sins and desiring to now do what is right before the Lord is the most important thing to God.
Traditional teaching tells us that Abel sacrificed the best he had willingly and with joy, whereas Cain only gave what he didn’t want, which is why his sacrifice, although done properly, was unacceptable.
Let’s finish today’s message with a statement I am going to make that I am sure (at least) some of you will think “I can’t believe he just said that!”, but here we go, anyway:
If you aren’t obeying God’s instructions because you want to, then don’t waste your time or his.
God wants us to obey him, no question about that, and he wants us to live and have happy lives (Ezekiel 18:23), but if you are doing just for the sake of doing, then as far as God is concerned (from what I understand him saying in the Bible), you haven’t done anything of value. Before you change your actions, change your attitude.
People, believe me when I tell you, it really IS the thought that counts.
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Until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!