Justice and Worship: A Brief Reflection

A lot of the Old Testament is rather alien to the modern Christian. But it shouldn’t be. Even though much of the narrative is out of our comprehension, or in some cases despicable to our ears, it is the same God at work as the one that died and rose in the body of Jesus Christ, and the same Spirit that drives us today.

Amos is one of the little-known minor prophets in the Old Testament. It is very likely that you may never have read his book, or heard a sermon on this. But this passage – preached on recently at my home church (and thus listened to by me online) is stunning. Amos 5:18-27. It’s about two of our great concerns as Christians. Justice. And Worship. Read…

Let Justice Roll Down

Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! Why would you have the day of the LORD? It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. Is not the day of the LORD darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it? “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. “Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? You shall take up Sikkuth your king, and Kiyyun your star-god—your images that you made for yourselves, and I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,” says the LORD, whose name is the God of hosts’.

Now, it is clear that there is a huge amount of content here. Lots to think about. A wide range of things, including clear historical context. But I believe there are some great lessons and challenges to us as Christians.

The first concerns worship. Now, the modern church loves to worship, and the younger generation loves a particular musical form of it especially. Worship can be divisive. Worship can be loud or quiet, ancient or modern, joyful or thoughtful. But whatever it is, whether you sing the oldest hymns in a crumbling chapel or belt out the latest from Tim Hughes to a five piece band in a purpose built warehouse, it must be authentic. Look at the passage. God can hate our worship. Those under judgement here had feasts and solemn assemblies – this could be a parish mass or prayer and praise. If it is not done to please God, it is not worship. The Israelites here were following a false God – Kiygun – and this is a trap. We can too easily worship the God of music, emotion, or professionalism, rather than the Living God of reality and the Bible.

Secondly, the startling challenge of verse 24; ‘but let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream‘. This is an amazing image. And a brilliant challenge. Too often, Christians get stuck between seeking after righteousness (the legitimate and worthy process of working out ones own salvation and seeking to actively let the Spirit make us more like Christ) in the name of justice. Or to let social justice become more important than righteousness. This is wrong. God looks at both. Because justice for God is a huge thing, and righteousness is a gift. Does our worship reflect a desire for justice like rolling waters, and an ever-flowing stream of righteousness?

This is an Old Testament passage. But it is applicable to us. Because God does not change. His heart for Justice and Righteousness does not change.

God is still ‘the LORD, whose name is the God of Hosts‘.

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