A man was robbing a train and came to the seat of a preacher. The robber shoved his gun into the preacher’s chest and said, “Gimme your money.” The preacher said, “But you wouldn’t rob a preacher, would you?” The robber replied, “Oh, you’re a preacher? What denomination are you?” With great pride the preacher answered, “I’m a Baptist.” At that the robber switched his gun to his left hand, extended his right hand to shake the preacher’s hand, and said, “Put ‘er there, preacher, I’m a Baptist too.”
Consider the following verses:
1. 1 Samuel 15:22: So Samuel said: “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 sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.”
2. Proverbs 15:8: The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is His delight.
3. Proverbs 21:3: To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.
You’ll note that each of these Old Testament verses speaks of sacrifices. To understand this, you must understand that the Old Testament Jews lived their lives under that body of law that God had given to them through Moses. Sacrifices were a fundamental, foundational part of that law. The law laid out incredibly precise rituals for the offering up of: burnt offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, trespass offerings, freewill offerings, and heave offerings. These categories of offerings all involved the sacrificing of animals. Also, the law laid out precise rituals for grain offerings and drink offerings. Israel even had an entire tribe (the tribe of Levi) that served as its priesthood, and those priests, dressed in their priestly garments, faithfully offered up all these offerings at the tabernacle (later on, the temple).
You see, when a Jew brought an offering to a priest for it to be offered up, that was nothing less than an Old Testament worship scene. They didn’t have churches or synagogues. They had the tabernacle (the temple) and the law-prescribed sacrifices. That was how they publicly and corporately worshiped the Lord.
So do you see the teaching? Let’s use the Proverbs 21:3 verse as an example. If it was being written to the Christian realm today, it could read something like this:
To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable than going to church, praying, reading your Bible, dropping money in an offering plate, or giving to missions.
The point is that God really isn’t all that impressed with your attempts to worship Him when you spend the vast majority of your life doing sinful things. What you call “worship” doesn’t fix, excuse, or legitimize a lifestyle of habitual sin. If you lay drunk all week and then come to church on Sunday, that’s a problem. If you smoke pot or do other kinds of drugs Monday through Saturday and then come to church on Sunday, that’s a problem. If you roll out of bed with a person to whom you aren’t married and then drive to church, that’s a problem. If you won’t pay your bills, but you drop $10 in the offering plate every Sunday, that’s a problem. If you engage in dishonest business practices but you say the blessing before every meal, that’s a problem. If you treat people like dirt but you read your Bible every night, that’s a problem.
There’s an old story that supposedly comes from the life of Mark Twain, and it sums up what I’m trying to say here. So I’ll close with it. A man once said to Twain, “I’m going to take a trip to Israel. When I get there I’m going to hike to the top of Mount Sinai, and then I’m going to shout down the ten commandments.” Twain looked at the fellow and said, “I’ve got a better idea. Why don’t you stay home and keep them?” That was a good comeback then, and today’s church-goers and professing Christians could still learn something from it.