We have in verse 3 one of those scriptures which can be easily distorted into soul-damning heresy. “To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.” Any of a huge number of sects and cults might point to that and say, “The way you live your life is more important to God than the offering of blood sacrifices.” Perhaps they might siggest that Christ’s death was a general sacrifice for the human race. But the really IMPORTANT thing for personal salvation, these false teachers say, is the maintenance of the law – “justice and judgment.”
How can we answer that man who says such things? Of course, we could turn to the New Testament and point to those scriptures which condemn the idea of works-based salvation. And we could quote scripture after scripture which glorify and magnify the sacrifice of Christ Jesus as the only way to forgiveness and peace with God. But what do we do with verses like this one? And this is not an isolated scripture. There are others which say similar things. There is Samuel’s rebuke of King Saul when he usurped the office of the priests in I Samuel 15 – “Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” And there is God’s rebuke of Israel in Hosea 6:6 – “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and (I desire) the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” There is a long passage at the beginning of Isaiah and another in Jeremiah 7 which say the same sort of thing.
How should we reply to the man who uses this verse to justify his works for salvation?
First, we remind him that Solomon is not talking about salvation.
This verse isn’t found in Romans or Ephesians. It doesn’t come from the lips of the Lord Jesus as He preached to the Pharisees. This isn’t a part of the gospel message; no Apostle ever referred to it as he was preaching. This is from the very practical book of Proverbs – a book primarily geared towards godly living. It is from a book found right in the middle of the Old Testament. In fact, all of the verses to which I have referred have come from the Old Testament. The only hint of a similar thought in the New Testament comes from the lips of a lost man. This verse is NOT about how to be saved. This is a scripture for you and me as Christians, and that is why I’m addressing it tonight rather than on Sunday morning.
In Mark 12 the Lord Jesus was teaching when a group of Jews, both Sadducees and Pharisees, came to Him. Eventually “one of the scribes … asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he: And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” The Lord liked his reply and said, “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.” I hope that man was one day born again, but at this point, he was still under the condemnation of his sins.
Using Jesus’ answer, what single word, when properly applied, summarizes God’s law? The so-called “first table” of the Ten Commandments might be summarized with the words, “love God.” And a summary of the “second table” would be “love thy neighbor.” “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God … Thou shalt love thy neighbour…”
“Love” may summarize God’s law, but what is the character of that law? When Paul was describing the law in Romans 7:12, he used three words – “holy, just and good.” “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.”
What does this have to do with Solomon’s statement? “To do justice and judgment” is to deal with our fellow man with love – “righteously and honestly.” Solomon’s word for “justice” is rendered eight times more often “righteous” than it is justice.” His “judgment” is talking about rendering honest treatment of others. We might paraphrase this verse – “To do righteousness and honesty is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.” As Paul described the law, he said it was “holy, just and good,” basically agreeing with Solomon. And the Lord Jesus’ summary agrees with Solomon as well – “To love your neighbor is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.”
But this still doesn’t explain why the philanthropist isn’t in Heaven because of his generosity. Just because the judge renders good decisions doesn’t make him righteous in God’s sight. The answer to the question isn’t found in the words “acceptable” or “sacrifice” either. This “sacrifice” is the common word found throughout the Old Testament. And “acceptable” means to study a matter and to make a proper assessment of it. God always does that. “To love our neighbor is more highly approved by the Lord than to offer Him blood sacrifices.”
How should this verse be applied? How does it apply to us in particular?
Have you ever met a professing “Christian” who didn’t care how he lived, claiming he was under the blood of Jesus’ sacrifice so it didn’t matter if he sinned or not? Perhaps you never have met a person who said that, but you probably have met people who lived that way.
Sunday I mentioned a mega-church preacher who was a drug addict and eventually a drug mule. That was apparently was okay because he was trusting the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. Earlier, he had an affair, bringing shame to his wife, his church and his god. His messages and everyday conversations were laced with the worst forms of profanity. BUT he was under the blood, so all this was it was acceptable – at least to him. Cruelty, theft, deception, immorality, just about every sin in God’s book are freely practiced by various kinds of “Christians,” because the sacrifice of Christ has paid the penalty for those transgressions.
The mafia god-father may kill and still feel peace because of the lies of his religion. And millions of Protestants and even Baptists commit their sins, justifying themselves in the name of Christ Jesus, their sacrifice. Foolishness, says the Lord. The sacrifice of Christ for sin cannot be used to justify our personal sins. In Romans 6, after explaining free grace, Paul asked– “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid.” The Lord says, “Don’t talk to me about your faith in my sacrifice, while you live denying righteousness and perverting justice.”
Please turn to Isaiah 1:10 – “Hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.” Actually, Isaiah was preaching to Israel – a very degraded Israel. The term’s “Sodom” and “Gomorrah” apply equally to Israel and the United States of America. “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats” Verse 13 – “Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me…” Verse 16 – “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.”
Israel was using their system of sacrifices to buy dispensations for their sins. They were thinking, “Because we burn incense and regularly sacrifice lambs, our idolatry and debauchery are acceptable.” The word “dispensation” in this sense applies to exemptions. Dispensations have been a wicked part of organized Catholicism in the past. But evangelicals have them as well – we just don’t organize them or openly talk about them. And it is in this way that Solomon’s scripture applies to US. That we have been born again – that we are children of God – does not give us a pass when it comes to they way we live from day to day.
Jeremiah 7:21-23 – “Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Put your burnt offerings unto your sacrifices, and eat flesh. For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices: But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you.” Solomon says in Proverbs 15:8 – “The sacrifice of the WICKED is an abomination to the Lord.” Christians may not be wicked in God’s sight, because they are “in Christ,” but they can still wickedly do wicked things. And when they do, there is no sacrifice that isn’t an abomination to the Lord – except the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart.
I believe that Solomon’s point in Proverbs 21:3 is that God expects us to “DO justice and judgment” and not look simply to our salvation or the sacrifice of Christ while we live wickedly. “Back in 1972 I asked Jesus to come into my heart.” “When I was twelve I was baptized in the creek behind the church.” “Jesus died for my sins, so now, because they are under Jesus’ blood, I can sin like a drunken sailor.” Not on your life.
To paraphrase James, “One man may say, I trust the sacrifice of Christ for forgiveness from sin. But I do justice and judgment. Show me thy salvation from the midst of your sinfulness, if you think you can. But I will show thee my salvation by my love of the Lord and by my godly treatment of others.” Jehovah, our Saviour, wants us to “love the Lord (our) God with all (our) heart, and with all (our) soul, and with all (our) mind, and with all (our) strength….(and to) love (our) neighbours as (if they were ourselves.)” This is not in order to eventually be saved from our sins, but because we have been saved by His grace.