Words and Actions – Amos 5

I’ve told you before about my friend Paul. We went to school together. We played sport for the same teams. We sat in the same lessons at school and we went to the same University. It was Paul who introduced me to Crusaders and Church and without his friendship and his witness I wouldn’t be a Christian today.

But when it came to living the Christian life we went very different ways. At school I would be busy arranging Christian activities and speaking in Christian Union meetings and even assemblies. After school Paul worked in a home for folk with learning difficulties. At university I was busy with Bible studies and prayer meetings and running the College Christian Union. Holidays were filled with Crusader Camps and Holiday Clubs. Instead Paul filled his spare moments with helping people. Doing decorating and household chores for single parent families. Gardening old ladies. Working with disabled children. And we would sometimes discuss, which was more important? “Spiritual” activities or practical Christian service?

Looking back now with the benefit of hindsight and rather more understanding of the Bible I have no doubt at all that the prophet Amos would have sided with Paul and against me!

Amos 5:21 ¶ “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. 22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. 23 Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. 24 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

It was God who had commanded these religious feasts and assemblies. It was God who had set up the whole system of offerings and sacrifices. It was God who commanded worship in music and songs. So why was God so angry with His chosen people Israel?

God was angry because all Israel’s feasts and sacrifices and worship were an abomination to Him, if they weren’t offered by a holy nation living holy lives. The Israelites believed that as longs as they did their worship right, and kept up to date with their sacrifices, God would be pleased with them. But God has another agenda altogether!
24 Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Three weeks ago in Amos chapter 1 we saw Amos prophesying that God’s judgement was going to fall on the pagan nations around Israel. We saw that ignorance of God’s Law is no excuse! Both Leaders and People will be subject to judgement. God is angry about offences against basic human rights. Brutality. Slavery. Treachery. Revenge. Genocide. Sacrilege. Sins against people, against innocents, against even the unborn and the dead. So many examples of man’s inhumanity to man in the time of Amos and just as much today!

Then two weeks ago in Amos chapter 2 we saw how the nation of Israel specifically is condemned for rejecting God’s Law. In the time of Amos the nation is sinking in the swamps of injustice, immorality and corruption, and they are even throwing away their heritage and rejecting spiritual things altogether. These themes occur time and again in Amos’s preaching. We find them again in Amos chapter 5.

There’s INJUSTICE.

5:7 You who turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground 8 (he who made the Pleiades and Orion, who turns blackness into dawn and darkens day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the land- the LORD is his name- 9 he flashes destruction on the stronghold and brings the fortified city to ruin), 10 you hate the one who reproves in court and despise him who tells the truth.

There was EXPLOITATION

5:11 You trample on the poor and force him to give you grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine.

Israel was exploiting the poor and needy – trampling the poor and denying justice to the oppressed.

8:4 ¶ Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land, 5 saying, “When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?”- skimping the measure, boosting the price and heating with dishonest scales, 6 buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals,
selling even the sweepings with the wheat. 7 The LORD has sworn by the Pride of Jacob: “I will never forget anything they have done.

There was CORRUPTION

5:12 For I know how many are your offences and how great your sins. You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts. 13 Therefore the prudent man keeps quiet in such times, for the times are evil. 14 Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. 15 Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the LORD God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph.

We still see corruption in many places today, in politics, in big business, in the justice systems of many countries, even corruption in the church. Corruption, Injustice, exploitation, immorality, these things all make God angry!!

And all that sinning completely spoiled any worship or sacrifices that the Israelites were bringing to God.
21 ¶ “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. 22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. 23 Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.
There are important lessons we need to learn from this passage.
1. God expects us to live a CONSISTENT Christian life

The Jewish sacrificial system was given by God to help people cope with the terrible problem “I am doing my very best to be holy but I still sin. How can I be forgiven?”
God’s answer was the provision of sacrifices for sin. But instead the Jews in Amos’s time had turned that system on its head. They weren’t trying to live holy lives any more. They didn’t care about righteousness and justice. As long as they always went and offered praise and made sacrifices they thought they could live any way they liked the rest of the week.

Some Christians think like that. They think that as long as they keep up with their Christian activities they can do what they like the rest of the week. But that’s not the way it works!

Lots of people are scared of standing up as a Christian in their workplace or in their school. But many people aren’t scared because they think they might face prejudice or persecution. Many people are scared to let other people know they are Christians because they know that their life during the week is a contradiction of the faith they sing about on Sundays.

I saw a challenging cartoon of a businessman juggling phones making life or death decisions:
“We’ll send them to Taiwan Frank, they don’t bother with safety regulations.”
“That’s no problem Ted – if they make a fuss we’ll just put them into liquidation.”
“Ok Jerry so the product is lousy, but that’s hardly going to bother an advertising agency is it!”
“Barbara, will you phone my wife and remind her that we’re hosting the golfer’s prayer fellowship tonight.”
2. God expects us to BE INVOLVED in issues of righteousness and justice.

24 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

For many decades of the 20th century the Christian Church was split into two halves. There were those Christians who devoted themselves to preaching the gospel of salvation. And there were other Christians who spent their lives working for social justice. There were times when the two sides would debate which was the more important mission of the church – evangelism or social action? Saving souls or feeding the poor?

There was a time when evangelical Christians like us were suspicious of Christians who were involved in social and political action. But of course BOTH are part of the mission that Jesus sends His church to continue. Nowadays people see the importance of integral mission – mission which integrates words and actions. I hope the time has now come when all Christians are committed to getting involved in issues of justice and righteousness – seeing the gospel in action on behalf of the poor and oppressed and exploited peoples of the world.

3. God expects US to care for people

James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

God doesn’t just expect Christians to preach and campaign about social action. God expects us to help people! Of course, if we love people we will want to tell them about Jesus and about how much God loves them. But we will also want to offer them help in all kinds of practical ways.

James 2:14 ¶ What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
21 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. … 24 a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. … 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

The great discovery of the Reformation was that we are not saved by doing good works. We are saved by faith alone. But the corresponding truth is that saving faith is NEVER alone!! True saving faith is always expressed in acts of love and compassion, in foot-washing and sacrificial service.

Some Christians really deserve the criticism that they are “too heavenly minded to be of any earthly use!” Too busy going to prayer meetings and Bible Studies to help their neighbours! Which is more important – believing or doing? Which holds the keys to heaven? Faith or compassionate service? The answer is BOTH! We need both! Jesus makes this very clear in His parable of the sheep and the goats.

Matthew 25: 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, `I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
So they received their inheritance – the Kingdom prepared for them since the creation of the world.

Jesus’s teaching in His parable is very clear. What counts is seeing Jesus in other people and helping them in practical ways. Being the good Samaritan! Loving your neighbour as yourself! “If that were Christ would you give HIM your blanket?”

Going to church every week isn’t enough. Going to Bible Study isn’t enough. Singing all the latest songs isn’t enough. My friend Paul got it right and I had got it wrong. God expects us to love people!!

Gavin Reid – Anglican Bishop and Archbishop’s advisor on evangelism

“My world was a cheerful busy world of Christian activity into which world and major social issues rarely impinged. There were, after all, sermons to prepare, the youth fellowship to run, holiday conferences to plan, family holidays to arrange, meetings to address, prayers to say, reading (theological) to ponder over, a wife to embrace, children to play with, letters on the office desk to answer, over-long pseudo-intellectual conversations on the state of the Church to engage in and much else. All was well with
my little world and I was hardly aware that any other world existed. My old happiness therefore, depended on my living out an unreal life in-an unreal world.

Christians in the West, and in particular those of my own Bible-believing evangelical variety, have managed to surround themselves with their own unreal culture. We
have our own entertainers in the popular speakers, preachers, platform personalities and gospel musicians. We are writing our own Christian musicals and raising up our own
Christian poets and writers. None of these things, when viewed individually, is in any sense undesirable. But what happens when all these human ingredients and their
outputs are brought together is that we have the mixture for a pie of pure escapism.

The same dynamics which make Christian communication inward rather than outgoing can be seen in popular big-congregation preaching on the one hand and the incessant round of conferences and conventions on the other. These can so easily be diversions, time-consumers and escape routes for Christian activity. They need not be; they should not be; they often are. Once again the acid test of their worth is whether they help us to face up to the harsh world outside or whether they encourage us to avoid it.

We can have too many Christian activities – we run the danger of organising ourselves out of being citizens of the same world as our neighbours!”

James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

1. God expects us to live a CONSISTENT Christian life
2. God expects us to BE INVOLVED in issues of righteousness and justice.
3. God expects US to care for people

Amos 3:8 The lion has roared- who will not fear? The Sovereign LORD has spoken- who can but prophesy?

This entry was posted in Amos.

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