Jeremiah 7:21-26 (ESV)

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices, and eat the flesh. [22] For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. [23] But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’ [24] But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward. [25] From the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt to this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day. [26] Yet they did not listen to me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck. They did worse than their fathers.

When God released the children of Israel out of Egyptian slavery He had one requirement: obedience to all that He said. Among the commandments that God would eventually give them were the laws about worship and sacrifice. When God says to Jeremiah that He did not speak to the Israelites about burnt offerings and sacrifices what He meant was that the general rule was obedience to all that He would say.

What the Israelites did was take one set of laws – those regarding animal sacrifices, and reasoned that if they went through the forms of the ceremonies connected to the worship of God in them, then that was all that mattered. In other words, their hearts were not focussed on obedience to all that God said. They were focussed on the external observance of forms and rituals and confusing that with real obedience.

So while they are sacrificing their animals in worship they are also abusing the poor and the fatherless. They are cheating one another at the markets. They are disregarding all that God said about marriage and divorce and adultery. They are worshipping idols. And they do all this and more while going to the temple to sacrifice, confident that all is well between them and God because they have thought that all that mattered to God was the forms of worship. Keep those things and then do as you please.

Well, the more things change the more they stay the same. People have not changed at all in the 3500 years since God led the Israelites out of Egypt and the 2600 hundred since He spoke to Jeremiah. Churches split over music style while not flinching at the gossip and worldliness in the church. Whole church schisms erupt over whether one should take the elements of the Eucharist standing up or kneeling. Get the forms right and nothing else matters. The forms are important. But they are not of prime importance. The obedience that springs from faith is.

Have you become satisfied with your Christian testimony because you worship regularly or give to the poor or have found a church that sings the way you think singing should take place, or use the right version of the Bible or allow any version of the Bible or dress right or take pride in the fact that you don’t dress right? Such things are not the commitment that God is looking for. He searches the heart. His goal for you is conformity to the image of Christ. Satisfaction at conformity to the forms of religion is a far far cry from that.

Worship God in the beauty of holiness. Pursue God with your heart. Love Him and love your neighbour. Be careful how you build (I Cor. 3:10).

God is always concerned about motive and heart (I Thessalonians 2:3-6). We must never allow form, ritual, activity to become more important than the reason we do them. If we do, we have replaced obedience, faithfulness and grace with a works righteousness that He simply finds insulting and which for us is damning. It is easy to do and we need to be constantly examining our hearts and motives to make sure that we do not go there. He is with His children to help us.

He is loving and patient and directs those who truly honour Him from the heart. Let us worship Him in spirit and in truth.