Can you imagine getting drunk Saturday night and then going to church the next morning? Can you imagine rolling out of a bed you share with your live-in lover, getting dressed, and going to church? Can you imagine attending a Sunday night service with beer on your breath? Can you imagine refusing to pay a bill you owe and then trying to worship with the person to whom you owe it?
As a pastor, I’ve had church members do these things. Each time I was left to wonder about the mentality that could create such a situation. I’m sure that Ananias and Sapphira would have some thoughts on this subject. They lied about their level of commitment to the Lord and were struck dead after bringing their offering to the apostles (Acts 5:1-11). Nadab and Abihu would have some thoughts too. They were devoured in flames as they attempted to perform their priestly duties while under the influence of alcohol (Leviticus 10:1-11).
The hard, cold truth is that if God still imposed such high standards for worship, we’d be seeing a lot of funerals in our churches. The current status quo reminds me of the worshippers of Amos’ day. Even though the northern kingdom of Israel was wicked to the core, the people still faithfully attended their worship services at Bethel and Gilgal. Amos sarcastically mocked these “worship” services by saying, “Come to Bethel and transgress. At Gilgal, multiply transgression” (Amos 4:4).
Far too many Christians seem to have the idea that sprinkling church attendance onto their sins makes those sins more acceptable. A rotten egg is still a rotten egg no matter how much sugar you pour on it. Oh, sure, going to church might ease your conscience and make you feel better about yourself. But God isn’t impressed or amused. Honestly, you can attend a hundred different services in a hundred different churches, but you won’t do any real business with God until you repent of those sins that characterize your life Monday through Saturday.
1 Samuel chapter 15 will preach. God spoke through Samuel and commanded King Saul to utterly destroy the Amalekites. That meant every man, woman, child, ox, sheep, camel, and donkey. But Saul didn’t do that. Instead he took Amalek’s king as a prisoner of war and spared the best of the sheep, oxen, fatlings, and lambs.
When Samuel came out to see Saul, Saul said, “I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” With words dripping of sarcasm, Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of oxen which I hear?” Saul answered that he planned to offer them as sacrifices to God. But Samuel told him, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than to sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.”
Samuel was teaching Saul that no amount of “worship” can make up for rank disobedience. You can “play church” all you want, but God will never ignore the fact that He hears the bleating of sheep and the lowing of oxen in your life. As Saul described the spectacular sacrifices he was going to offer up as “worship,” Samuel might as well have said to him, “I’m sorry, I can’t hear you because the fruits of your disobedience are drowning out your voice.”
1 Peter 4:17 says: “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God…” Peter wrote those God-inspired words sometime between A.D. 63-65. That is over nineteen centuries ago! If he could truthfully make that statement in his day, how much more so can we make it today?
Maybe it’s the pastor coming out in me, but I’m tired of Christians who live like hell through the week and then sing the joys of heaven on Sunday. I’m tired of them coming to church to learn more Bible when they flatly ignore the book’s most basic commandments and moral principles. And I’m definitely tired of having to explain the wrongness of the situation to them. If I have to tell you what the problem is, THAT’S part of the problem!
Our churches have become infected with “sloppy grace.” We’re so scared that somebody will quit, or that somebody else will think poorly of us for letting them quit, that we just wink at all kinds of blatant sin. This, of course, kills our testimony and credibility with outsiders. You see, when personal holiness became optional in the lives of church members, we lost our power. Lost people don’t need another club or organization to join, even if it’s a religious one. They need for the church to be different. They need for it to be what it’s supposed to be. They need for it to be holy ground. And as things stand now, it isn’t. We’ve got far too much bleating of sheep and lowing of oxen for that.