The Simple Gospel

God Desires Mercy Rather Than Sacrifice

Ralph E. Price

Editor's note: You may or may not agree with the conclusions of this article. In either case, please respond to it, if you are of such a mind. Respond to the author by postal mail at Ralph E. Price; P. O. Box 3174; Beckley, WV 25801. For the record, I believe that it is not a congregation's expectation that matters, but, rather, it is God who demands of all of His children that we serve Him to the very best of our ability, and that ability includes choices that each one has the capacity to make.

Larry H. Fain

Consider the following text in Matthew 9:9-13, "And as Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man, called Matthew, sitting in the tax office; and He said to him, 'Follow Me!' And he rose, and followed Him. And it happened that as He was reclining at the table in the house, behold many tax-gatherers and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, 'Why is your Teacher eating with the tax-gatherers and sinners?' But when He heard this, He said, 'It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means, "I desire compassion, and not sacrifice," for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'" (NASB)

These five verses reveal for us an important truth about what God expects from men and women, and it is clear that Jesus wanted all to understand this truth. He commanded the Pharisees, "But go and learn what this means..." (Matthew 9:13). Then He quoted a passage from Hosea 6:6, "For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings."

Before proceeding in this study, it may be of benefit to examine the sect of the Pharisees to more fully appreciate what it was that Jesus commanded them to learn.

According to the editors of the Thompson Chain Reference Bible, the Pharisees were "A party among the Jews that laid great stress upon the observance of rites and ceremonies. They made a pretense of superior piety and separated themselves from the common people."

It was these characteristics of the Pharisees which Jesus desired them to recognize as flaws in their thinking and behavior. Therefore, Jesus said, "...I desire compassion, and not sacrifice..." (Matthew 9:13; NASB) The NASB translates the passage which Jesus quoted as follows: "For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings." (Hosea 6:6; NASB)

As the Pharisees pursued the observance of rites and ceremonies, they missed what God really wants from people. Jesus pronounced a woe upon them in Luke 11:42; "But woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others." (NASB) It was not that God did not want sacrifices. He had commanded them, but He wanted something else more.

The sacrifices which were offered under the Old Testament could have been offered without giving God what He most desired; namely man's heart. God intended to decrease this problem with the establishment of the New Testament. Hebrews 8:10, "For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel After those days, says the Lord : I will put My laws into their minds , And I will write them upon their hearts . And I will be their God , And they shall be My people." (NASB) It is not possible to be acceptable to God if we only engage in behaviors which only seem pious from an external vantage point. Such people are still the servants of sin if their obedience is only external. Paul explained this to the saints at Rome with these words: Romans 6:17-18, "But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness." (NASB) It was only when the people's hearts became involved that they became acceptable to God.

Albert Barnes explains, "I prefer mercy to sacrifice; or, I am more pleased with acts of benevolence and kindness than with a mere external compliance with the duties of religion."

God wants the hearts and minds of men and women to be loyal to Him and His will. He desires that people love Him with all their heart, soul and mind (Matthew 22:37). God has always desired this (Deuteronomy 6:5).

The Pharisees of Jesus' time, as well as many people today, emphasize the "political" aspects of religion, that is, they do all of the external things which are seen by others that would suggest that they are pious, when, in reality, they have no heart to spiritual matters. These people often do or say things in a private context which they would emphatically deny if their deeds or words were revealed. Many there are who could be cited who have had the reputation of being "very faithful Christians" based on the regularity of their attendance at every service of the local church. Beyond their attendance record, their involvement in other "special" works in the Lord's cause are widely known. Yet, these same individuals have pursued behaviors clearly condemned in God's word when the privacy of their actions was virtually assured or the credibility of any accuser could be questioned so as to not bring any pressure to bear upon disclosure.

Regardless of how perfect one's attendance at the services of the local church may be, God still desires mercy (compassion, loyalty, knowledge...Matthew 9:13 and Hosea 6:6). Regardless of how popular or widely known a person may be among the brotherhood, God still desires that individual's behavior to be based on love (Matthew 22:37-39), even if the circumstances are not YET widely known. Paul told Timothy, "The sins of some men are quite evident, going before them to judgment; for others, their sins follow after. Likewise also, deeds that are good are quite evident, and those which are otherwise cannot be concealed." (1 Timothy 5:24-25; NASB)

The very fact that all of us are subject to these realities should cause each of us to be humble (Proverbs 16:18), attentive to one's self (2 Corinthians 13:5), and cautious against judging according to appearance (John 7:24).

Now, let's make application of some of these thoughts in a more "concrete" way than we have thus far; namely consider a congregation's expectation that every member be present at every service of the church. While certainly a good case could be made to advocate such a position (Psalm 122:1; Hebrews 10:24-25; 1 Corinthians 15:58; Galatians 6:10, etc.), do these scriptures allow a binding of such a position? Those whose circumstances permit attending more than another person should be careful in judging their brother. He may or may not be just as acceptable to God. However, one may need to change to permit some attendance (1 Corinthians 11:24-25; Acts 20:7).

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