The Lord has some questions for us to answer. What made you decide to come to services this morning? Why were you singing the songs that the song leader chose? Why did you partake of the Lord’s supper? Why did you participate in the prayers that were offered? In short, what are you doing here? Why are you here today? I hope the answer comes to your mind quickly. But more importantly, I hope that the answer you have is the answer that the Lord wants to hear from our lips. The correct answer, of course, is because I want to offer my praise and devotion to God because He is worthy of my adoration. However, there are a multitude of reasons why you may have come here this morning. While we may be able to say in our minds that we are here to worship God, this may not be the true motive of our hearts. These very questions were being asked by the Lord through the prophet Zechariah to the people of Israel. In Zechariah 7 the people of the Israel had a question to ask the priests. In verse 3 we see the question is: should we continue to keep the fasts and times of mourning that they have kept for the last seventy years? To understand this question, we need to know a little background information. Ever since the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., the Israelite captives in Babylon were keeping four separate fasts to commemorate the breach of the walls of Jerusalem, the siege against Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple, and the death of Gedaliah. Now that the captives had returned from Babylon, the people wanted to know if they should still keep these fasts and periods of mourning. God’s questions to Israel found in verses 4-7 strike at the heart of the problem.
Self-Pleasing Worship Condemned (7:4-7)
Worship for personal benefit
The people were fasting and mourning during these periods of time that were to be a remembrance for what had happened to their city, temple, and people. Once those days of mourning were completed, the people would return to their eating, drinking, and feasting. The Lord points out that these things were not done to be pleasing to God. God had not asked the people to keep these days for remembrance. Further, even though the people remembered these days, the point of the worship was not for the glory of God. Instead the purpose was for their own benefit and a wallowing in their own self-pity for what had happened to them. God is telling the people that there is no value to worship if the honor is done for our own self-pleasing benefits and not for the adoration of God, the one who is to be revered. While we may be amazed at how the remnant of Israel would be keeping these fasts for their own benefit, we must recognize that we may be doing the same thing in our worship today.
Evidences of self-pleasing worship
Selfishness. Sometimes people come to worship the Lord only for what benefits they can derive from it. Worship is always approached with the attitude of what am I going to get out of it. When this person walks away from worship, they may say they got nothing out of it, so they are not going to put in the effort to worship. If the sermon topic or Bible class is covering something that the person has already studied, he or she will not show up because they already think they know all that there is to know on the subject. Therefore, Bible classes are missed on Sunday morning and Wednesday night because they do not see the reason why they must study. They do not see any tangible benefit from coming an hour earlier for study. We must see that this attitude is self-pleasing worship. We are not concerned about what we are giving to God, but are concerned with what we are getting out of it. As much as edification is necessary from coming together, what we receive from worship has nothing to do with what we are doing. Worship, by definition, is about what we are giving to God. If we come to worship to see what we are going to get out of it, then we are coming for ourselves.
Unwillingness. There are also those who are simply unwilling to worship. Yes, they certainly show up, but coming to worship is not from a great desire or love, but merely from routine, habit, and many times having nothing else to do. The unwilling heart shows up when worship may be inconvenient. The person does not come because it is not a good time. There are other things that need to be done. This is also seen in repeated tardiness to worship. We have other things that need to be done and when those things are done, then we will show up to services to worship. Effort is not made to be sure to fully participate in all that is being done in service to God. “I will get there when I get there” is the common mentality. How poor we present ourselves before God when we are unwilling to come to services with any regularity! How poor we present ourselves to God when we are unwilling to make sure that we be timely! We show that we are worshipping for ourselves and not for giving to God.
Lethargy. There are those who come to services and are the old “bumps on a log.” Yes, they have come to services, will shake some hands, and will be friendly, but there is no interest in excelling in the worship to God. There is no effort to sing from the heart and sing with love. There is no effort to focus their minds upon the lessons that are presented. The person simply stares off into space. The mind and the heart have not been activated in the worship. Worship is more a matter of putting one’s time in and being done for the week. We must be warned against this kind of worship because this is as contagious as all the other self-pleasing acts of worship. When people come to worship tired and on low energy, the whole worship to God becomes tired and lack energy. If I were to speak to you without any energy or zeal, I would put you to sleep immediately. If I may make a side point here to our worship leaders: you must have energy and zeal from the heart in what you are leading us in, otherwise the audience will be lethargic. We must remember that we are worship leaders. We are not song starters or scripture readers. If there is lethargy in the congregation, change the pace, stop the song, call for attention, do something to break us from the self-pleasing worship that we are engaging ourselves in. What we give in worship is too important for us to allow ourselves to simply get by with giving a few prayers and songs. We must focus, practice, and work to excel in leading the group. We all will have off moments and bad days. But this cannot be a rule in worship, only the very rare exception. We must be trying to please God, not just simply going through the motions. Have you ever sang a song and not even consider the words that are being sung? I believe we have all done that from time to time. But those words are to be focus upon and come out of our hearts, as Ephesians 5:19 speaks of plucking the strings of our hearts in song. Lethargic worship is not giving of our first fruits to God.
Guilt-clearing. For this person, the only reason he or she comes to services is because that person feels that entering the building and hearing a lesson will some how cleanse them from the wickedness of the week. Worship is not about what one can give to God, but about clearing a guilty conscience for another week and feeling sanctified for an hour. The person believes that by attending or being a member here, God has put His stamp of approval upon their lives no matter how wretched it is. I am amazed at how many people who claim to be Christians think that everything is okay spiritually as long as they can get through the doors of the building. Somehow and someway that is going to cover the multitude of sins. That is also not the worship that God is asking of us. This is also worship to please ourselves and to make us feel better. Besides, there is no sanctification in sitting in this building. Sanctification will only come through heeding the word of the Lord and obeying Him out of love.
Hypocritical Worship Condemned (7:8-10)
God’s worship demands
Zechariah goes on to point out how hypocritical we are when we engage in self-pleasing worship. In verses 9-10 Zechariah describes what God wants from His people. “Administer true justice, show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.” This is the only heart that can come to God in worship. Notice carefully again some of the things God is looking for in us.
Showing of mercy and compassion. How much mercy do we show our brother or our sister when we find a flaw in them? How much compassion do we give to those who are struggling in the vat of sin? We must consider that compassion is not simply to be show to those who lose loved ones. That seems to be the only time our compassion comes out. We must be full of compassion and mercy. Before we get ready to jump down another’s throat, let us first consider mercy and compassion. This does not mean that we are not in need of rebuking and correction. But compassion is the motive behind our correction. Compassion is not “shooting first and asking questions later.” Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:3, “If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” Before we act, let us think of the mercy and compassion that our Lord has bestowed upon us through Jesus Christ. Then, with this in mind, let us act.
Do not think evil of one another. Again, God is looking at our hearts when we come before Him. The Lord does not tell us not to say evil of one another. That is certainly commanded. But we are not to even think evil of one another. We must immediately wipe those kind of thoughts out of our minds. Too many times we find great pleasure in the sin of speaking evil of others. Let us be warned that we are hypocrites and our worship is rejected.
The vanity of hypocritical worship
When our worship is self-pleasing, our worship is done in vain. Let me state it bluntly for each of us: if we find any of these characteristics in our hearts or as our motives for worship, we are wasting our time here. Our time here is worthless, useless, and is of no profit to ourselves and certainly not to God. I was telling someone the other day that I have more respect for someone who lives wickedly and puts on no appearances of morality and virtue, than the person who lives wickedly, yet claims to love God and goes to services. At least one person is living a real life and is not playing the hypocrite. I believe this was the thrust of Jesus’ words to the church in Laodicea when He says, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Of course, God is not saying that He would rather have cold people. But He is pointing how useless the hypocritical life is and will come to same end result as those who are cold. We are not fooling God.
False Worship Is Judged (7:11-14)
This is the reminder that Zechariah gives to the people. Judgment is coming upon those who worship God with self-interests and not God’s interests. Zechariah recalls some historical lessons in verses 11-14. They were scattered with a whirlwind among the nations and their land was left desolate. The Lord Almighty was very angry with them. The lessons of the past are very clear for these people and for us as well. When God’s people do not put God first and are not seeking to give to God all they have, then they will be judged. God judged Israel for this in the wilderness. God judged Israel for this heart by bring Assyria and Babylon against them. God judged them against in the first century with the destruction of Jerusalem. God judges His people and will not show us mercy when we anger Him with heartless worship.
True character of such worshippers
Notice the true character of these people and ourselves when we do not offer our hearts:
“They refused to pay attention” (vs. 11)
“They stubbornly turned their back and stopped up their ears” (vs. 11)
“They made their hearts hard as flint” (vs. 12)
“They would not listen to the law or to
the words of the Lord” (vs. 12)
These are the characteristics of those who offer self-pleasing, hypocritical worship. Now, we say to ourselves that we are not doing these things. First, we need to double check ourselves. God has commanded us to sacrifice our whole lives, and to love the Lord with our heart, soul, mind, and strength. If we have not done so, then we are being stubborn, hardhearted, rebellious people. But this is also the direction our heart will go if we continue to worship in such a manner. Our hearts will grow cold and callous toward God, so that our worship will be mere routine. Our hearts will be come hard as flint such that it will not be plucked by the word of God. We may say to ourselves, what is the big deal. But the big deal is that we have placed ourselves on a path where we will grow further and further away from God. Brethren, let us make sure that we are not drifting away.
God is jealous for our hearts (8:2)
What can we do about this if we find ourselves slipping? First, God tells us that He is jealous for our hearts. Let us not continue to fool ourselves into believing that the course we are on is acceptable to God. God is unwilling to share our hearts with anyone or anything else. God does not tolerate second place. God burns with jealousy for His people. God is grieved when we give Him our leftovers. God is angry when He is placed behind our schedules that we make so important to ourselves. This is a very important lesson that our children must learn. God does not take second place. Our example must show them that this is the truth, otherwise they will see our hypocrisy and reject the Lord. Dead worship does not show our children the excitement that can be found in serving God. The first step must be open our hearts up to God. Giving God our tired leftovers also means that we will not enjoy our service to God either. How fun is it to try to read or pray when you wait till exhaustion and weariness set in? Nothing is enjoyable at that point. While I am not declaring myself as the rule of God, I personally have chosen to not willfully stay up late on Saturday so I can be prepared and fresh for the Lord on Sunday. I believe this is a reasonable choice. There are many decisions that we will willfully make that will determine where our heart will be with the Lord. Putting God first in the simple things will make it easier in the more difficult things. Consider every decision you make and ask if this is putting God first.
God will be faithful and righteous to us (8:8, 12-13)
When we put God first, God has promised that He will be faithful and righteous to us. These are the words found in Zechariah 8:8, “They will be my people, and I will be faithful and righteous to them as their God.” Jesus also said in Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you.” Unfortunately these words have become cliché in many ways because we hear them so many times. But God says that He can and will take care of the rest of the things in this life if we will simply trust Him by giving it all too Him. I know that it is against everything that our mind and body scream to our souls. It seems risky to surrender to God, but when we surrender, God has promised to take care of the rest. Let go of your will and let God’s will become your purpose in life.
So why are you here today? Did you come to give to the Lord, or have their been other reasons? Have you given your heart to the Lord or have you kept it back, simply going through the motions of Christianity? God is jealous for our hearts and it is not too late to give them to Him.