The following devotional was written by Kyle Weeks, a seminary student and Life Team member at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. He presented it to the Concordia Seminary Life Team on January 9, 2016. Feel free to share this as a devotional at your next Life Team or other life ministry meeting.
Recently I came across Hosea 6:6, and it sparked a thought that really drove home one of our core Life Team concepts. In it God says to the Israelites, “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (ESV).
Now being the good Christians that we are, the first place we might go to with this text is as a proof against works-righteousness. We might think, “Hmm, ‘sacrifice’ in the text is code for ‘works I’m trying to offer to God.’ But I know that my works are never enough. Yes, salvation is by God’s mercy received by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Got it, get it, I’m good - end of story.”
And while that thought is certainly not wrong, it is incomplete. With that understanding of the text, the message is reduced to a simplistic admonition not to offer sacrifices or works to God in order to gain a favorable disposition from Him. But all this got me thinking, “What about the sacrifices we, as a Life Team, might sometimes demand of other people?” We may understand that our own personal salvation does not depend on works, but do we proclaim the same thing through our expectations of others, particularly in the life arena and to those outside the Church?
Or, do we demand others meet our moral standards and perform good “life-affirming” works before we offer mercy? Do we show “righteous” anger, or a distant coldness until someone agrees with our viewpoint on physician-assisted suicide, or do we begin to walk alongside them and offer assistance before they agree with us? Do our words and actions invite them to discuss the pain of a past abortion, or do we signal condemnation from afar? Is our offer to love them only valid before the trip to an abortion clinic? Does our assistance dry up and move on to something more urgent after the mother has kept the baby? Do we reach out to comfort the invisible persons struggling with depression, who are behind bars, or who have had a miscarriage, or do we impose silence on them until they can conform to some sort of ideal for healing and wholeness?
I know I’ve been guilty of these attitudes more than I care to admit.
None of this is to say we should abandon the God’s moral instructions and condone sin. It doesn’t mean we should stop trying try to guide others to adopt God’s will as the moral standard for their life. After all, as Peter says, “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
Jesus commented on this very issue in Matthew 9:12-13, where he quotes and clarifies Hosea 6:6 for the Pharisees, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (ESV).
Our responsibility to our neighbor is to love them, not to act as gatekeepers to a Church where adherence to the law gains entry. Of course we are to be discerning, but we’re not to elevate ourselves to a place of authority where we claim the right to hand down judgment over our neighbors. When we do this, we’re denying God’s grace to our neighbors, sacrificing them on the altar of our righteous cause. If anything, we – as the grateful recipients of God’s grace in Christ - should gladly extend that same grace to our neighbors as we walk in love before them.
Life Teams do good work – work that is needed now more than ever, especially with our core value of being motivated by the Gospel rather than by anger, self-righteousness, and the like. So let’s continue to embrace that value by no longer burdening people with a self-serving version of God’s law. Instead, let’s proclaim that Jesus’ yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:30), and that Christ came to offer life, forgiveness, and salvation for the sick and for sinners, just like us.
Dear Heavenly Father, we thank You that You are a God who desires to heal us and to extend us mercy. We thank you that You are a God like this despite the fact that we have no right to Your mercy, and considering that we offer sickly sacrifices instead of admitting our fallen condition. And we thank You, Lord, that You did not leave us to our own ineffective sacrifices, but showed mercy by sacrificing Your Son on Cavalry so that we could be healed and reconciled to spend eternity with You. Empower us to live in the light of this hope, and to love our neighbors, particularly through the activities of this Life Team and our planning efforts here today as we work to graciously reveal Your will for creation in the realm of life. Amen.