Category Archives: Micah

Micah 6-7: What does the Lord require of you?

Clear expectations and instructions are important.

Organisations, like churches or businesses, work hard to DEFINE THEIR VISION. (Where they want to finish. Their ideal future). Because if you don’t know what your TARGET is/ it’s very hard to HIT it.

And a good boss will make sure an employee has AN ACCURATE JOB DESCRIPTION. And she’ll give CLEAR FEEDBACK. Because it’s frustrating for EVERYONE if you don’t know what you’re supposed to DO in your job.

And a good SPORTS COACH will set clear expectations about what he wants his team to do. Skills will be explained, demonstrated, copied, observed, and corrected.

And a young couple preparing for marriage will practice COMMUNICATION techniques, so they can clearly share their hopes and preferences. So there’s less chance of confusion or guesswork or resentment.

Clear expectations and instructions are important.

If it’s important in THESE situations, HOW MUCH MORE IMPORTANT is it to know what GOD expects? To know how he wants us to live, and respond to him. (The One who MADE you, who holds your life in his hands. The One who’ll, one day, call you to account). Is there a more important question than the one in Micah chapter 6 verse 8? “And what does the LORD require of you?” I don’t think so! So I can’t think of anything better you could be do for the next twenty minutes or so than listening to how God answers that question.

What the LORD DOESN’T require of you (6)

Chapter 6 begins with a command to LISTEN. Because God’s about to speak. It’s the same way chapter ONE began, and the way chapter THREE began. Look there in v1. “Listen to what the LORD says.” God’s the PLAINTIFF in a courtroom scene. He’s bringing his complaint against his people, and he’s calling on the MOUNTAINS to back him up. To support him.

2 Hear, O mountains, the Lord’s accusation;      listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth. For the Lord has a case against his people;      he is lodging a charge against Israel.

The mountains have witnessed God’s relationship with his people, right from the beginning. They’ve seen EVERYTHING. God begins his complaint in v3, firstly by examining HIS part in the relationship.

3 “My people, what have I done to you?      How have I burdened you? Answer me. 4 I brought you up out of Egypt      and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you,      also Aaron and Miriam.

In other words, “What did I do that was so terrible? I rescued you and redeemed you, and provided leaders for you. V5, I rescued you from the devious plans of King Balak. And I brought you safely across the Jordan River from Shittim into the Promised Land at Gilgal.”

And he finishes the history lesson at the end of v5, “that you may know the righteous acts (or “righteousness”) of the LORD. Most of the time when that word’s used, it’s about KEEPING A COVENANT. God’s RIGHTEOUS. He’s kept his side of the bargain. History bears witness to it. The mountains, there since the beginning, bear witness to it.

Two Wrong Answers

That’s the “terrible burden” God’s placed on his people. He’s setting the scene for his complaint about how badly his people have RESPONDED to that righteousness. (How undeserving he is of their faithlessness).

But before he can move on to the substance of his complaint, v6 and 7, one of the hearers interrupts him.

I’m imagining it’s A MAN. It’s one of the communication mistakes we identify in pre-marriage counselling. The wife wants to complain about her day. Her new husband BEGINS to listen, but then quickly interrupts with the SOLUTION. (What he’s going to do to FIX things.) But the wife normally doesn’t WANT a solution. She just wants him to LISTEN! Which is NOT what this person’s doing with God. Despite the command in v1to LISTEN. He jumps straight in with what he THINKS God wants him to do. (“With what shall I come before the LORD?”).

And it’s the FIRST of TWO WRONG ANSWERS. It’s NOT what God requires of us. God asks the question, “What did I do that was so terrible?” And then, v6, the hearer replies with a bunch of questions of his own.

With what shall I come before the Lord      and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,      with calves a year old? 7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,      with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,      the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

There’s an exasperated tone to the questions. As if he’s frustrated that he can’t please God, whatever he does. His FIRST question asks how he can please God. (What gift will satisfy him?) And then gives three answers, also in the form of questions. And they get, progressively, more and more ridiculous. Will a burnt offering work? A year old calf? No? Then what about THOUSANDS of rams? Or ten thousand rivers of oil? Ridiculous to even IMAGINE.

His THIRD question moves from the ridiculous to the absolute wicked. If God’s not satisfied by VOLUME. Then perhaps VALUE will do it. “What about offering my FIRSTBORN child for my transgression?” Even though God had specifically FORBIDDEN it! Of course God won’t be satisfied with THAT! God might have spoken with a bit of IRONY in v3 – “How have I burdened you?” But this is completely SARCASTIC.

It’s a WRONG ANSWER because it’s DEFLECTING BLAME. It’s not accepting responsibility. It’s thinking the problem’s with God. His standards are too high. He can’t be pleased. He’s unreasonable. We all make mistakes, why can’t God just OVERLOOK IT this one time?!

Or perhaps the thought is God’s being UNJUST. THIS GENERATION hasn’t done anything to deserve God’s anger. Why should THEY suffer defeat and exile because of the sin of their ancestors? God’s being UNFAIR. We’re not to blame! God’s to blame!

It’s like the person called out for bad behaviour. Losing his temper, for example. Rather than accept fault, and ask how he can repair the damage, he DEFLECTS BLAME. “It’s not my fault. He made me do it. She was asking for it. She knows just how to push my buttons.”

Or perhaps the attitude is GENUINE, rather than sarcastic. (He truly wants to do what’s right before God.) In which case, it’s wrong because it’s PROUD and SELF-RIGHTEOUS. It’s under-estimating the seriousness of sin. Or over-estimating our ability to satisfy God. It’s the morally upright person who thinks he’s acceptable to God because he’s nicer than other people, and doing his best.

It’s the anxious religious person, who builds up a portfolio of good works to impress God, and earn his entrance into heaven. But who’s constantly uncertain about whether he’s done enough.

It’s the older son in Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son. Who thinks because he’s SLAVED for his Father for years, he deserves lavish gifts and a party of his own.

(That’s ONE wrong answer. We’ll see ANOTHER in a few verses.)

Which brings us to v8 – our key verse for today. It seems to be Micah stepping in, and speaking up for God. “Stop asking ignorant questions! Stop trying to GUESS what God wants from you!” V8

 He has SHOWED you, O man, what is good.      And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy      and to walk humbly with your God.

A pretty famous verse. Deservedly. Summarising what God’s shown his people over generations. We’ll come back to it in a moment. It’s the RIGHT answer to the question. But let’s jump past it onto v9. Which begins with another command to LISTEN.

Micah’s reminding people that GOD’s the one with the microphone. Stop your interruptions. “Listen! The LORD is calling to the city.”

God hasn’t finished his complaint. In fact, he hasn’t even STARTED it. He’s only described how faithfully he’s kept HIS side of the contract. So, v10, we finally get to God’s complaint.

Am I still to forget, O wicked house,      your ill-gotten treasures      and the short ephah, which is accursed? 11 Shall I acquit a man with dishonest scales,      with a bag of false weights? 12 Her rich men are violent;      her people are liars      and their tongues speak deceitfully.

The sorts of sins we saw back in chapters two and three. Injustice, dishonesty, violence. It’s the SECOND wrong answer to the question, “What does God require of you?”

God demands obedience. He demands people reflect his character and values. Living out justice, truth, compassion, mercy and forgiveness. And, instead, they DISOBEY. They walk in the OTHER DIRECTION. The OPPOSITE of justice, truth and mercy: INjustice, DIShonesty, and ABUSING the weak.

It’s the YOUNGER son in Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son. Independently walking away from the Father. Ignoring his care and wisdom. BOTH sons in the story aren’t living in fellowship with their Father. They’re not doing what he requires of them.

Injustice, dishonesty and selfishness. We see it in INDIVIDUALS. And we see it in OUR SOCIETY AT LARGE. We see it corporate culture. We see it in how FIRST World countries treat the THIRD world. How the HAVES treat the HAVE NOTS. How we treat indigenous people. Or refugees. Or the disabled. Or the unborn. Or unsupported expectant mothers.

God SEES it, and God CARES about it, and God’s going to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Which he describes in v13 to 16.

13 Therefore, I have begun to destroy you,      to ruin you because of your sins. 14 You will eat but not be satisfied;      your stomach will still be empty. You will store up but save nothing,      because what you save I will give to the sword. 15 You will plant but not harvest;      you will press olives but not use the oil on yourselves,      you will crush grapes but not drink the wine.

The punishment’s not what we expect. It’s not destruction and exile. It’s frustration. It’s desolation and despair. They dishonestly pursued their idols of comfort and riches. So God will make their idols WORTHLESS. They won’t SATISFY them.

They’ll work to produce plenty of food, but they’ll still be hungry. They’ll horde money and possessions, but it will all slip through their fingers, and they’ll be left with nothing. They’ll plant and harvest and manufacture. But at the end of all the work, there’ll be nothing left to show for it. They’re seeking satisfaction from things God never designed to SATISFY.

It’s what lots of people experience TODAY, who spend their lives pursuing riches, or promotions, or beauty, or fame, or pleasure, or excitement. And when they GET it, it doesn’t SATISFY them. It couldn’t deliver what it PROMISED. And they’re LOST. They need a better TREASURE. A better object of worship. A better goal in life. The answer, of course, they need Jesus!

And that takes us to the end of ch 6. And the end of God’s complaint.

Three Right Answers

But let’s jump back to consider Micah’s answer in v8. We’ve seen TWO WRONG ANSWERS. (Proud legalism and wilful disobedience). Let’s look at THREE RIGHT ANSWERS. (What WILL please God?)  He has SHOWED you, O man, what is good

It’s not a MYSTERY. We don’t have to GUESS. He’s SHOWED you through the history of his dealings with his people. Through his law, and through his prophets. For US, in New Testament times, that’s even TRUER. Because in Jesus we see GOD HIMSELF. As Hebrews 1:2 says, in these last days he’s spoken to us BY HIS SON. The radiance of his glory, the exact representation of his being. Jesus is God’s clear communication of both WHAT HE’s LIKE, and WHAT HE EXPECTS OF US. He LIVES IT, and he COMMAND it. And Jesus’ answer is the same as Micah’s answer. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy      and to walk humbly with your God.

What GOOD RESPONSE does God require to his righteous covenant actions? It’s not IMPOSSIBLE, like pouring out ten thousand rivers of oil. It’s not IMMORAL like sacrificing your first-born child. But it’s also a lot more COMPREHENSIVE AND WIDE-RANGING than simply offering a sacrifice. (Than doing your religious duty. Than attending Sunday morning worship services, or chanting five ‘Our Father’s and three ‘Hail Mary’s).

First, ACT JUSTLY. Or to DO JUSTICE. The OPPOSITE of the Jews with their dishonest scales and ill-gotten treasures. Treat people FAIRLY. Don’t play favourites, based on wealth or influence. Treat the cleaner the same way you treat the company CEO.

Second right answer: LOVE MERCY. Don’t just DO mercy, LOVE mercy. It’s more than just ACTION. It’s ATTITUDE. Mercy translates the Hebrew word HESED. Or LOVING-KINDNESS. Covenant FAITHFULNESS. It’s what God shows us. So LOVE it. Internalise it. Make it part of YOUR way of doing things. Be Reliable. Truthful. Trustworthy.

And sprinkle it with MERCY. With gentleness and grace and compassion and patience. Be drawn to the lowest and the weakest, rather than the attractive and useful. HESED – MERCY – is about love AND truth. Heat AND light.

And THIRD right answer: walk humbly with your God. In Hebrew, it’s literally, “And in humility, walk towards your God”. Two answers to do with how you treat OTHERS, and ONE to do with how you treat God. Your life’s ATTITUDE is to be humility. And your life’s DIRECTION is to be GODWARD.

Humility recognises that your obedience has no merit about it. But everything comes by God’s grace. And so you’re thankful and joyful, as you walk towards him. Seeking to please him. Not self-righteous PRIDE like the cynical questioner in v6-7. Or the older son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. And not walking rebelliously AWAY from God, like Jerusalem society in v9-12. Or the YOUNGER son in Jesus’ parable. But walking humbly towards your God.

For example

But what does that LOOK LIKE? Especially when times are TOUGH? As we move into chapter 7. we see what it looks like to walk humbly before God / IN THE LIFE OF MICAH.

Verses 1 to 6, he despairs at the sin around him. Like a fruit picker, looking for a harvest but the trees are EMPTY. There’s not a righteous person to be found in the whole land. V3, the ruler demands gifts, the judge accepts bribes, the powerful decide the rules.

But rather than descend to their level, look at Micah’s response in v7.  But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord,      I wait for God my Savior;      my God will hear me.

Walking humbly after your God begins with HOPE. Waiting expectantly for God to answer and act. And the REST of chapter 7 is the FRUIT of that hope. Circumstances might be hopeless. And your enemies might be sniggering. But God knows what he’s doing and I TRUST him. V8, Micah speaks to the enemies of Jerusalem.

8 Do not gloat over me, my enemy!      Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness,      the Lord will be my light. 9 Because I have sinned against him,      I will bear the Lord’s wrath, until he pleads my case      and establishes my right. He WILL bring me out into the light;      I will see his righteousness.

Micah’s humility means he recognises his SIN. But it drives him TO God, not AWAY from him. Even if God’s bringing punishment. He still trusts God’s GOODNESS. “He’ll deal RIGHTLY with me. His MERCY will triumph over his JUSTICE.”

And, if you jump down to v18, you can see WHY Micah’s so hopeful. And why his humble walking after God won’t be disappointed. It’s not because Micah’s LOVELY or LOVEABLE. It’s all because of God’s LOVE. He knows God’s CHARACTER.

Who wouldn’t want to please a God like this? Who wouldn’t want to walk humbly after a God like this?

Who is a God like you,      who pardons sin and forgives the transgression      of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever      but delight to show mercy. 19 You will again have compassion on us;      you will tread our sins underfoot      and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. 20 You will be true to Jacob, and show mercy to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our fathers in days long ago.

Which would be a great place to stop. But I can’t help myself. I’ll finish with Jesus’ words from the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15, backing up Micah’s words about the compassionate and forgiving heart of God for repentant, humbled sinners.

Luke 15:20-24 So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

What does the Lord require of you? To act JUSTLY and to love MERCY and to walk HUMBLY with your God.

Micah 1-2: Incurable sin

A sobering milestone was passed, without much notice, on January 14 this year. Two million deaths worldwide from COVID-19. And around 15000 people continue to die every day from COVID.

In other news, there’s widespread FAMINE across much of Africa due to conflict, climate change, natural disasters and COVID. A UNICEF report this week said that MORE THAN 10 MILLION CHILDREN across central Africa will suffer severe malnutrition this year.

It’s statistics like these that cause lots of people, Christian and non-Christian alike, to ask questions like, “Does God SEE? Does God CARE? Is God doing anything ABOUT it?”

It’s tempting when we see the sin and the injustice and the suffering all around us. And even, as we EXPERIENCE IT OURSELVES. To ask the question, What’s God DOING? We know with our HEADS that God’s in charge of everything. We TRUST that to be true. But, most of the time, it doesn’t LOOK LIKE IT. It LOOKS like God DOESN’T see, and he DOESN’T care. And he’s NOT doing anything about it! We’re ANXIOUS, and UNCERTAIN, and WEARY.

What we need to do is listen to the prophet Micah. His message in these first couple of chapters is that God SEES all the sin and suffering. But that’s not all – he CARES about it. But that’s not all – he’s DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

Micah lived at a chaotic time in world history. It was around 730BC. Assyria was the world super power, and it was THREATENING. It had already conquered the Arameans, and the Philistines. And Israel was next in line. And both the SOUTHERN kingdom of Judah and the NORTHERN kingdom of ISRAEL were paying heavy tribute.

Micah lived and prophesied in the SOUTHERN kingdom of Judah. And his message is about what God was going to do to the NORTHERN kingdom. To ISRAEL. How he was going to punish, using Assyria. But not only that. JUDAH was in God’s sights TOO.

Listen up, everyone, he says in v2. God’s got a MESSAGE against you. But don’t just LISTEN. V3, LOOK! Pay attention! God’s COMING. From his dwelling place in heaven. He’s coming TO GET INVOLVED. To get his hands dirty. You thought he didn’t SEE. Or didn’t CARE. But he DOES. He’s been PATIENT with you, and SLOW to anger. But not any more. He’s going to DO something.

And, v4, when he does, the mountains will MELT, and the valleys will SPLIT APART. He’ll come like a nuclear bomb exploding!

And what’s CAUSED this? V5, Jacob’s transgression. In other words, the sin of the nation of Israel. And the big ugly boil at the centre of it is THE CAPITAL CITY, SAMARIA. In v7 Micah identifies their IDOLATRY as what’s so offensive to God. Worshipping and honouring other gods. Even down to temple prostitutes.

And so, v6, God’s going to make Samaria A HEAP OF RUBBLE. And, v7, all its riches burned and destroyed.

That’s Micah’s message.

But there’s no DELIGHT in it. No joy that Judah’s neighbour and brother is suffering. V8, Micah’s response is TO WEEP AND WAIL. To go barefoot and naked. Howling like a jackal and moaning like an owl. It might all be metaphor, but he might also have done it LITERALLY! Walked around town in HYSTERICS!

Why? Because of the inescapable certainty of the coming judgment. V9. “For her wound is incurable”. The prognosis is it’s TERMINAL.

Do you MOURN LIKE MICAH at the sin in society around you? Does its blindness, ignorance, and hopelessness draw out compassion and care from you? Do you DESPAIR at injustice, and greed, and racism, and oppression? Or do you JUDGE? Or gloat? Do you dismiss them with self-righteous harshness? Or maybe just IGNORE – which is even WORSE?

Unfortunately, that’s often the reputation the Christian church has. And often with some justification. To our shame. May our love for our neighbour produce A GODLY SORROW for their situation, like that of Micah!

(Back to Micah, despairing at the fate of Israel). But it’s even WORSE. It’s not just ISRAEL. The sickness is CONTAGIOUS. V9, it’s COME TO JUDAH. “It has reached the very gate of my people, even to JERUSALEM ITSELF,” says Micah.

And then, from v10-16, Micah wants the rest of Judah to JOIN IN WITH HIS DESPAIR. He names a number of towns in Judah, and describes the suffering that’s coming for them.

We miss all the cleverness in English. But in Hebrew, he’s using puns on what the names MEAN, or SOUND LIKE, to describe what will happen there. So, v10, In Beth Ophrah – HOUSE OF DUST – as a sign of mourning, you’ll ROLL in dust. Or, v11, Beth Ezel – house of TAKING AWAY – you’re PROTECTION will be taken away. (there are more in V12-15)

Why will all this happen? V12, because disaster has come from the LORD, Not just over THERE, in ISRAEL. It’s HERE. EVEN TO THE GATE OF JERUSALEM. V15, A CONQUEROR. And v16, mourn because you’ll GO INTO EXILE.

So what’s JUDAH done wrong? Why’s God decided to come down from heaven and bring judgment? (Into chapter 2) Because there’s something rotten at the core of Jewish society. V1.

1 Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds! At morning’s light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it. 2 They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud a man of his home, a fellowman of his inheritance.

The HAVES are plotting to take advantage of the HAVE NOTS. They lie awake at night making plans. Not about how they can make the world a better place. How they can relieve suffering. Or bring to pass God’s plans of justice and peace and plenty. No! They plot about how they can take from those who have LESS than them, so they can have EVEN MORE.

Why do they do it? Not because they NEED fields and houses. Simply because they CAN. They have the POWER to.

Sound familiar? It’s nothing specific to Israel, is it? It’s been the same in most societies since the dawn of time. Whoever has the power USES it for personal gain.

  • Kings and dictators amass power and wealth for their own use.
  • Countries that invade others do it because THEY CAN.
  • Every military coup, or uprising by the people, brings down ONE autocratic abuser, and replaces them with a new system they promise will be DIFFERENT. But before long ANOTHER tyrant takes their place. And begins their OWN plan of taking from the HAVE NOTS.

Doesn’t matter what the system is, LEFT or RIGHT, kingdom or republic, capitalism or communism. The problem’s not the SYSTEM, the problem is the sin of the human heart.

(Interestingly, if you go through world history and look for the exceptions, it’s CHRISTIAN countries that are unique. Those influenced by JESUS, the SERVANT king, who came to serve. Good leaders are those who SERVE, rather than EXPOIT, those UNDER them. Whether kings or politicians. It’s Christian countries who use their armies to DEFEND the weak, rather than EXPLOIT them.)

But that wasn’t JUDAH in the time of Micah. The powerful plot evil against the weak. So, v3, therefore God will plot evil against THEM. God SEES. God CARES. And God will DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

And they’ll be powerless to save themselves. They had the power to take from the poor. But they’ll be powerless in the face of God’s disaster. They’ll be humbled. And, v5, the land and possessions they trusted in, and coveted, will be stripped away.

It’s one of the lessons we’ve been forced to learn through the pandemic. Especially those of us in the First World. The middle class. Who are used to having plenty of freedom. Who think we have POWER. Money can normally buy you choice, and options. But we’ve had to learn that it doesn’t matter HOW much money you’ve got, it won’t guarantee your health, or let you travel where you want, or give you freedoms.

That’s the bad news Micah delivers to the privileged and powerful of Judah. (Your power is useless, and God’s calling you to account).

And how is the message received? Like MOST bad news – NOT WELL!

In v6, Micah describes what OTHER prophets are saying about him. (The ones the people PREFER to listen to. Because they bring a comfortable message.) V6

6 “Do not prophesy,” their prophets say. “Do not prophesy about these things; DISGRACE WILL NOT OVERTAKE US.”

In other words, “Don’t listen to HIM. He’s got it all wrong! God won’t bring judgment. He’s not angry.

And the people are choosing which message they prefer. They’re COMPLACENT, and COMFORTABLE. They like those bits where God promises to do GOOD! But they’re ignoring the COVENANT REQUIREMENTS. The WARNINGS for disobedience. But you can’t pick and choose like that.

So, v7, Micah responds with some TRUTH about God’s requirements.

7 Should it be said, O house of Jacob: “Is the Spirit of the Lord angry? Does he do such things?”

The false prophets are dismissive and cynical about Micah’s warnings. They claim ONE thing about God’s promises – that he’s not angry. That he’ll do good WHATEVER God’s people DO. But the reality’s something DIFFERENT. (v7b)

“Do not my words do good TO HIM WHOSE WAYS ARE UPRIGHT?

Yes, he’ll do GOOD, but only as his people show they trust him by DOING WHAT HE SAYS.

Which is NOT what they’re doing. V8. More evidence of how rotten the society is.

8 Lately my people have risen up like an enemy. YOU STRIP OFF THE RICH ROBE from those who pass by without a care, like men returning from battle. 9 You drive the women of my people from their pleasant homes. You take away my blessing from their children forever.

More examples of the “HAVES” taking from the HAVE NOTS”. Not just FIELDS and HOUSES. But the clothes off their backs. Even though, in Exodus 22, God had commanded to CARE for the poor. That robes taken as security on loans were to be returned at sunset. And vulnerable widows were to be protected, not exploited.

You see, God CARES about how we treat the vulnerable. Doesn’t matter whether it’s Old or New Testaments. God lifts up the broken and humble. And he brings down the proud and powerful. And we’re to have that same compassion and action. That’s what his kingdom LOOKS LIKE.

And so, v10, God delivers his verdict

10 Get up, go away! For this is not your resting place, because it is DEFILED, it is RUINED, BEYOND ALL REMEDY.

God’s plan was that the Promised Land would be a place of REST, and JUSTICE, and PEACE. Where the characteristics of God himself, and his kingdom, would be demonstrated. But, instead, his people had RUINED it. Ignoring God, and ignoring his commands. There was no justice, or rest, or peace. There was no cure. And they’ll be removed from it.

And that’s the way it turned out in history. When, 140 yrs later, 587 BC, Babylon destroyed Jerusalem, and the temple, and exiled the Jews to Babylon. God sees. God cares. And God’s doing something about it.

That’s the BAD news. But it’s not ALL the news. The chapter finishes with a glimmer of GOOD NEWS. A glimpse of a DIFFERENT future. Like a beam of brilliant sunshine piercing through dark thunderclouds. A DIFFERENT response from God. One that flows more naturally from his heart. What he loves to do. Yes, God’s ANGRY. And he’s PUNISHING. But his character is that he’s SLOW to become angry. He’s compassionate and gracious. And his anger quickly runs out of steam. But he ABOUNDS in love and faithfulness. Maintaining love to THOUSANDS of generations, forgiving sin.

And Micah brings that GOOD news. At least for SOME. God can’t WAIT to show forgiveness and compassion. V12, he promises

12 “I will surely gather all of you, O Jacob; I will surely bring together THE REMNANT OF ISRAEL. I will bring them together LIKE SHEEP IN A PEN, like a flock in its pasture; the place will throng with people. 13 One who breaks open the way will go up before them; they will break through the gate and go out. Their king will pass through before them, the LORD at their head.”

There are two big ideas here, themes that run through the Bible like veins of gold through rock. The faithful remnant. And God as a Shepherd King.

All the way through the Bible, God calls to himself A FAITHFUL SUBSET to be his people. One son, but not another. One family out of sinful humanity. A faithful minority among a faithless nation. And at the end of their exile, that’s what God promises to do for his people. Many will be destroyed. But SOME will be protected.

And God, their shepherd king, will seek out his sheep, and rescue them. He’ll break down the gate that locks them in. And he’ll lead them out, back to his land. United, protected, at peace, under his care. Like sheep in green pasture.

And that’s the way it turned out in history. At least a SHADOW of that. When the people RETURNED from exile in Babylon. Under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. And rebuilt Jerusalem and the temple. And, for a while, lived in SOME sort of peace.

But they never FULLY lived with God as their shepherd king. And the kingdom of Israel was only a SHADOW of what God’s kingdom was MEANT to be. First, Persia ruled over them. Then Greece conquered. Then Rome. And the old problems of greed and self-centredness and injustice remained.

Until JESUS came. And TAKES ON HIMSELF God’s own job description as Israel’s shepherd king. (Flip over to the New Testament. To John chapter 10). In John 10:11, he says,

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.”

And, just like Micah, Jesus rebukes the leaders of the day. The privileged and powerful. Who were meant to be shepherds who CARED for the sheep. A few verses earlier he says, John 10 v1

1 “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is A THIEF AND A ROBBER. 2 The man who ENTERS BY THE GATE is THE SHEPHERD OF HIS SHEEP. 3 The watchman opens the gate for him, and THE SHEEP LISTEN TO HIS VOICE. He calls his own sheep by name and LEADS THEM OUT. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on AHEAD OF THEM, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.

Jesus is echoing what GOD promised to do in Micah 2. To be the shepherd king for his sheep. To go in through the gate. And lead out his people, who know his voice and follow him.

Jesus is calling ISRAEL to listen to his voice and FOLLOW him. Calling them back to God’s commands to live out justice and mercy and compassion and generosity. To live out God’s KINGDOM on earth.

A few verses further on, down in v9 he says

9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

He’s calling whoever will listen to be SAVED. To be part of that faithful remnant. And it’s a call to WHOEVER. Not just to Israel THEN, but down through history to ANY who’ll listen to his voice. He says down in v16 that he’s got other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. And that’s US!

And Jesus’ promise for us is that when we FOLLOW HIS VOICE, we’re SAVED from God’s judgment. And we FIND PASTURE. We have LIFE. Life that’s ABUNDANT.

But that’s not all. Micah would remind us that it’s not just an INDIVIDUAL abundance Jesus promises. As we listen to Jesus’ voice, we’ll follow our Shepherd King who protects and lays down his life for his sheep. We’ll look after the WEAK. We’ll protect the VULNERABLE. We’ll share our abundance with the POOR. We’ll speak up for those who don’t have a voice.

This Australia Day we’ve got the opportunity, for example, to think about how we’ve treated INDIGENOUS Australians. Common Grace is a Christian organisation encouraging us to pursue JUSTICE. And they’ve organised a prayer service, called Change the Heart, led by our Aboriginal brothers and sisters. It’s on Monday evening at 7.30pm. And you can watch it on TV, or online. Or listen on radio.

As we follow our Good Shepherd King, we’ll pray that God’s kingdom would come ON EARTH as it is in heaven. We’ll point those who don’t know his voice to King JESUS, the only one who lays down his life and saves them. The only one who brings life to the full.

 

Colossians 3:22-4:6; Micah 6: The Good Worker

How GRATEFUL you are depends on THE SIZE OF THE GIFT. Imagine you got back from a holiday, and your friend, who’d been collecting your mail, said, “There was a bill that needed paying. So I paid it for you.” If it was a $40 phone bill, you’d be GRATEFUL. And if it was a $1000 car insurance bill, you’d be REALLY grateful. But imagine if it was your annual mortgage statement, with $500,000 still owing. And he’d paid THAT. You’d be SO grateful, words alone wouldn’t be enough. You’d want to show it with ACTIONS. With some sort of grand gesture that was fitting for a gift as big as THAT. The bigger the GIFT, the greater the THANKS.

A great gift

Today we’re thinking about the Christian at WORK. And there’s lots of PRACTICAL DETAILS. About our attitudes, and actions, and words, and priorities. And we can get lost in all the detail. And it can become another TO DO list. Another list of laws to keep. And we can end up feeling beaten up and guilty. As if it’s all about what WE NEED TO DO. So I want to start by reminding us who we’re working for. And what he’s DONE for us. God’s CREATED us. And he’s king over EVERYTHING. He’s CHOSEN us, and given us JESUS. He’s SAVED us, and made us his CHILDREN, and given us ETERNAL LIFE. A great gift! And that gift deserves the BIGGEST RESPONSE we can GIVE. A response of everything we’ve got/ in every part of our lives. INCLUDING at work.

And both our Bible passages –Micah and Colossians –BEGIN WITH GOD.  In Colossians, we started reading from Ch 3 v 22. But the section begins back in v1. Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Think about what God’s done. And think about who you now are. We’ve been raised to LIFE, and given a new identity. And then it continues, with all the practical details of how we RESPOND. V5 – put to death therefore whatever belongs to the earthly nature.

Or v12 “Therefore, as God’s CHOSEN PEOPLE, HOLY AND DEARLY LOVED, clothe yourselves with COMPASSION” etc. In other words, begin with WHO YOU ARE according to God, and then RESPOND to him APPROPRIATELY.

Or v17 And WHATEVER you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the NAME OF THE LORD JESUS, GIVING THANKS to God the Father through him.

In other words, Do the things that PROMOTE the name of the Lord Jesus, and that further his cause and his kingdom. And do them because you’re THANKFUL TO GOD.

And that INCLUDES the verses we read earlier. About slaves and masters. And about praying, and being wise with outsiders, and taking opportunities to talk about Jesus. All of which we’ll think about later in the context of WORK.

Then there’s the Micah 6 passage. It begins with God, too. So put your finger in Colossians 3, and flip over to Micah. God’s angry with his people Judah. He’s brought them into the Promised Land, but they’ve disobeyed him. And so he’s bringing charges against them (v1-2).

But before he gets to the charges, he reminds them of everything he’s done for them. V3. “My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me.  4 I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam. 5 My people, remember what Balak king of Moab counselled and what Balaam son of Beor answered

He SAVED them from Egypt. He GUIDED them with leaders. He’s PROTECTED them from curses. They owe him their LIVES. V5, he calls them to REMEMBER. Remember from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the LORD.” Remember. Set your MINDS on what God’s done for you. And then you’ll know his RIGHTEOUS ACTS.

And “righteous acts” mean more than just good works. “Righteous” means acting according to his contractual obligations – doing what he’s PROMISED to do. God made a COVENANT with Israel. He promised to be the God, and they’d be his people. He promised to RESCUE them. And LEAD them. And PROTECT them. And FORGIVE their SIN. And PROVIDE for them.  And he KEPT HIS WORD. 100%. Always acted according to what he’d PROMISED to do. So those are his righteous acts, because he acted according to the contract.

A grateful response

That’s the GIFT we’re to be grateful for. That’s the GOD who’s done EVERYTHING for us. So the question is how do you show your gratitude in a ways that’s FITTING? What can you OFFER a God like that? In verses 6 and 7, we hear from one of the accused. “How can we respond to a gift like THAT? What’s the best we can offer?” 6 With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil?

Or perhaps even the ULTIMATE sacrifice. Shall I offer MY FIRSTBORN for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

Sacrificing his oldest CHILD! Even though God’s FORBIDDEN it. But even THAT won’t satisfy God’s demands. So what’s the ANSWER? In v8 Micah responds. You don’t need to GUESS. V8. He has SHOWED you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

When God made a covenant with his people. There were TWO SIDES to the agreement. God would do certain things. And he’d expect certain things of his PEOPLE. God kept HIS side – that’s the righteous acts of the LORD, in v5. And he expects his people to keep THEIR side. It’s their RESPONSE to his good gifts.

And what does he expect? Firstly, ACT JUSTLY. Justice gives to everyone EQUALLY. A level playing field. There’s no advantage in being attractive, or educated, or rich. Sexual orientation, or language background, or disability, or race, or age won’t stop you treating someone fairly. And God wants ACTION, not just WORDS or THOUGHTS. And that’s where your colours will REALLY show. Because it’s easy to SAY you’ll treat someone a certain way. But DOING can be a lot harder. And cost a lot more, not just in money, but in time and complications and emotions.

Secondly, God expects us to LOVE MERCY. It’s the Hebrew word HESED, or “loving-kindness”, or “covenant faithfulness”. God wants to see a society where people are COMMITTED to one another. We’re they’re genuine, and consistent, and true. Where honesty and reliability and trustworthiness are VALUED. God’s shown US kindness, or covenant faithfulness. And he expects us to show the SAME. And we’re to LOVE it. VALUE it. ENCOURAGE it. MODEL it. CELEBRATE it.

And as we look back through the history books, we see that, time and again, it’s CHRISTIANS who lead the way in these two qualities in our society. In ACTING JUSTLY. And LOVING MERCY. It’s been Christians who are first to look after, and defend the sick, and the aged, and the handicapped, and the poor, the imprisoned, the foreigner, and the children. Because THEY TOO are made in God’s image, and valuable. Justice treats them EQUALLY. And MERCY is committed to their well-being and flourishing, whether they can contribute or reciprocate, or not.

The THIRD response is to WALK HUMBLY WITH YOUR GOD. Which means to go through life listening to God, rather than yourself or the world around you. It’s trusting HIS WAY, instead of yours. His guidance, his correction, his priorities. He’s your God, and you’re his child. In other words, live within your covenant relationship with God. Live it out as you walk through life. Humility is the ATTITUDE TO GOD/ that will SHOW ITSELF in the ACTIONS TO OTHERS of acting justly and loving mercy.

That sort of response is for ALL of your life. But you can see it’s PARTICULARLY applicable in your WORK LIFE. Because that’s what God focusses on in v9-12. His people WEREN’T acting justly, or loving mercy, or walking humbly before God in their business practices. V10.

10 Am I still to forget, O wicked house, your ILL-GOTTEN TREASURES and the SHORT EPHAH, which is accursed?  11 Shall I acquit a man with DISHONEST SCALES, with a bag of FALSE WEIGHTS?  12 Her rich men are VIOLENT; her people are LIARS and their tongues speak deceitfully.

God cares about how we work. He cares about short-changing people. Or charging more billable hours than you work. Or arriving late, or leaving early. Or being too creative in describing the benefits of a product. Or quoting high for a job because you know there’s no competition. Or quoting low to get the contract, then making up the difference with “unexpected” additions. Or putting pressure on clients or competitors with heavy-handed bullying tactics.

God hasn’t treated YOU that way. So don’t treat OTHERS like that. Respond to him by acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly before him. THOSE are the religious offerings God wants to see before he sees religious offerings like sacrifices or church attendance or donations or prayers. Fulfil your contractual requirements in business as God fulfils his to you. Let YOUR righteous acts reflect GOD’S righteous acts.

That’s MICAH. Flip back to Colossians, and we’ll spend a few moments thinking about work in THAT world – specifically, SLAVES.

It’s probably helpful to say a few words about SLAVERY. Slavery in the Roman world was quite different from slavery in America. It’s estimated that up to a third of people in Italy were slaves. They worked in households, but also in businesses and shops, as teachers and doctors, in mines and on farms. Many of them CHOSE to enter slavery to pay off debts. In lots of ways it wasn’t THAT different from working life TODAY.

So it’s people like THIS who are commanded (v22) Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 23 WHATEVER you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men,

God is WATCHING. Even when masters AREN’T. And he wants to see CONSISTENT service. In EVERYTHING – the yucky parts of the job as well as the enjoyable parts. Obey at the END of the day just as much as the START of the day. And be RELIABLE. TRUSTWORTHY. KEEP working, even when the boss isn’t checking up on you. Or even if HE’S gone home early. And be SINCERE. CONSISTENT. Don’t be ONE thing when people are watching, and ANOTHER when NO ONE’S watching. Sincerity of heart is about being the same thing INSIDE as you are OUTSIDE.

You see MOTIVATION is important. (The REASON you work hard). Don’t do it to win the BOSS’S favour, or for promotion or a pay rise. Do it with REVERENCE TO THE LORD. In RESPONSE to him. In GRATITUDE for who he is, and what he’s done for you, and for who you are.

It’s the same motivation if you’re a BOSS. Ch 4 v1 says Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.

You value God’s fair treatment of YOU, and so you REFLECT that in how you treat those UNDER you.

And it’s a BIG response, because he’s a big GOD. He wants EVERYTHING. So, v23, WHATEVER you do, work at it with all your heart. The little things and the big things. The things that nobody notices, as well as the things that get you noticed. Because GOD notices. “With all your heart” is more literally translated “from your soul”. Be INTERNALLY motivated, rather than EXTERNALLY motivated. Don’t be motivated by competition, or performance review, or fear of missing out or retrenchment. Work hard, in reverence for the Lord, because YOU’VE BEEN RAISED with Christ. You have a new HEART, and a new SPIRIT, and a new PURPOSE and a new MASTER.

And even though you get a wage at the end of the week. There’s a far GREATER reward that’s coming. A far better remuneration. V24. since you know that you will receive an INHERITANCE from the Lord as a REWARD. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

The WAGES for being a Christian aren’t great. But the retirement benefits are OUT OF THIS WORLD. Our future inheritance. It’s how the chapter began. With a reminder of what God’s promised us in the future. 3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and YOUR LIFE IS NOW HIDDEN WITH CHRIST IN GOD. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then YOU ALSO WILL APPEAR WITH HIM IN GLORY.

That’s the inheritance we’re working for NOW.

V25 adds another future motivation for our work now. REWARD is certain, and so is JUDGMENT. 25 Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism. That certainty works in TWO WAYS for the slave. It encourages him to work to PLEASE God, who’ll hold him accountable for his OWN actions. But it will also helps him deal with injustices at work. To trust that the unjust oppressor will ALSO receive judgment. We can REST in God’s justice. Romans 12:19 says Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

It’s a temptation for the Christian worker to behave dishonestly, because the BOSS is treating him badly. But NO, we’re to work honestly, because we’re not, ultimately, working for our employer, we’re working for GOD.

It doesn’t mean the Christian shouldn’t seek equity and fairness in wages or conditions. Just that we’re not to take personal revenge. Use the right means of seeking justice. It might bring equity, or it may NOT. But after doing what WE can, we should leave the ULTIMATE justice to God, who’ll audit EVERY set of accounts in the end. And that gives us comfort and hope. And motivates us to just keep working HONESTLY. To act justly and to love mercy.

Prayer and proclamation

In v2 of ch 4, it seems like we move onto a different topic. But I reckon it’s still relevant to this topic of work. V2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

Great attitudes to have every day at work. Devoted to PRAYER. Seeking God’s guidance and strength for each decision you make. It’s what walking humbling before God LOOKS LIKE. And be WATCHFUL AND THANKFUL. Watchful for opportunities to show justice and mercy. Watchful for God’s leading. And thankful for him. For everything he’s GIVEN you, and GIVES you each day. If more of us took those attitudes to work, we’d be a lot HAPPIER, and we’d get a lot more SATISFACTION from our work.

In v3-4, Paul wants prayer for HIS work, TOO. That God would open a door for his message. And, v4, that he’d be CLEAR in how he SPOKE the message. And that should be OUR prayer as well – whatever job we do. (Open doors, and clear speaking). V5, we should be WISE in the way we act toward outsiders. It’s literally, “WALK IN WISDOM”. A whole series of wise decisions as you walk through the day, in your conversations and priorities and tasks. And as you deal with colleagues, or supervisors, or those under you, or with clients or customers.

And IN PARTICULAR, be wise in how you use your TIME. “Make the most of every opportunity”. In particular, the opportunities of CONVERSATIONS. V6. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Work is a great opportunity to MEET people. And to TALK to people. You spend more time with your work colleagues than you do with your own family! Those conversations can be an open door for the message about Jesus. Or they can CLOSE doors, and HARDEN people to him.

So your words need to be FULL OF GRACE. There’s no point winning an argument, but you’re such a bully that there’s no chance for MORE conversations. Better to LOSE the ARGUMENT, and be GRACIOUS. But it’s not about just agreeing with everyone, and not standing up for what you believe in. To make the MOST of opportunities, we have to SAY SOMETHING. Gracious YES, but also FULL OF SALT. Which is the idea of being DIFFERENT, and FLAVOURSOME, and INTERESTING.

And if we’re WISE, and GRACIOUS – if we LISTEN to people, and add value with our words, then we’ll have someone helpful to say to EACH ONE. It’s not “everyone” in a GENERAL sense. It’s EACH INDIVIDUAL one. Because every person’s DIFFERENT. And what’s wise to say to ONE person won’t suit ANOTHER person. Which is where being devoted to prayer, and being WATCHFUL comes in. Because it’s GOD who gives opportunities, and wisdom and grace and answers.

And it’s GOD we’re working for. In RESPONSE to his gracious gifts to us. And it’s in the name of Jesus that we’re DOING it all. So that HIS kingdom will grow. For HIS glory.