Religious inventions

Judges 17:13 “Then Micah said, ‘Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, because I have a Levite as priest.’”

Why do people who are not Christians go to church? Why do they give their hard-earned money to religious purposes when their “religion” is not legitimate in the eyes of God? Well, why do people do anything?  Typically, is it not because they believe some good will come of it?  That’s the view of some people, apparently, for that was the attitude of the man Micah in the account above. 

Earlier in Judges 17 we are told that Micah was a thief. He had stolen 1,100 pieces of silver from his own mother. When she uttered a curse about her misfortune, apparently Micah was either moved by guilt – or superstition – to confess what he had done to his mother.  She then blesses her son for his confession, but her expression of thanks is done to a false god, as she takes some of that same silver and fashions an idol which Micah then put in his house. Later, Micah befriends a wandering Levite (whose wandering, in and of itself, was not according to God’s will), and offers to pay him and take care of him if he will be his personal priest.  None of this was legitimate, mind you, for God had never authorized such things in His Law.  Nevertheless, Micah thinks his religion will result in God blessing him with personal prosperity, for he had a Levite as his priest (as opposed to a non-Levite, which would have been a further violation of the Law of God).  It was a very twisted logic. It was based on ideas that Micah had created in his own mind, yet he was fully convinced that he was on the right track. He was so sure that God would bless him for the religious things he had done. 

This reminds me of a statement that I heard Warren Buffett, the well-known investor, say on TV some years ago.  Warren Buffett is one of the wealthiest men on the face of the earth.  He has a net worth of over $85 billion.  He is well-known for his wise investments.  He is also well-known for his philanthropy. What he said went along these lines: “My philanthropy is a wonderful way to earn my way into heaven.”  Apparently, that’s one of his great motivations.  He is motivated to give, in part, because he thinks he will be rewarded for his generosity with eternal life in heaven.  What he fails to realize, however, is that God doesn’t view things that way. While there is certainly nothing wrong with philanthropy, the practice of giving, in and of itself, has nothing to do with earning favor with God.  The Bible tells us that “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). 

Well, you might say, isn’t Warren Buffett showing love by his actions?  Perhaps. But the question is, love for whom?  You see, the Pharisees, who hated Jesus, were known for their giving. They made sure they were known for it.  About this kind of giving, Jesus had this to say: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:1-4). 

Giving that we trumpet before others has a self-serving rather than a God-serving motive. It’s a worship of our self.  It’s the opposite of giving glory to God and showing love toward Him. It’s like Micah in the account from Judges 17. Although he was religious, his religion had little to do with honoring the true God.  If he really loved God, he would have been fastidious about following the law of God.  He wouldn’t have flagrantly violated God’s law on the one hand, then picked and chose portions of the Law that suited him to follow on the other.  It’s a self-deception of many, who, like Micah, are following their own ways rather than God’s.  It’s the act of practicing some religion because we think it will be better for us than if we don’t, yet never asking ourselves if that practice is truly honoring God.  It’s a common trap, something that God has warned us about in His Word over and over again.

May the Lord help us to “examine (ourselves) to see whether (we) are in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5).  May He keep us from the self-deception of living our lives as “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:4-5). It was this ungodly way of life that was common in the time of Micah and it’s a way of life that will only become more and more common at the end of the age. 

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