I just read about Saul, who disobeyed God’s command regarding the destruction of all the plunder from the Amalekites. Saul keeps the best of the plunder and then says, “But it was all going to be for a sacrifice to Yahweh. That’s why I kept it!”
Samuel responds by saying,
“Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the LORD?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the LORD,
he has rejected you as king” (1 Samuel 15:22-23).
Sometimes we cover up our disobedience with sacrifice, and think that makes it okay. We are materialistic, driven by our consumer culture to the point that if the cushions in our pews are uncomfortable, or the sanctuary is not cool enough on Sunday, we are willing to spend thousands of dollars to fix it, but ignore the needs of the poor and unreached in our community–let alone the body of Christ around the world. “But my gift was still for the Lord’s work,” we say.
Or to avoid the messiness and time it would take to actually get involved in trying to serve the homeless by going weekly to a shelter, we give a once off donation at Christmas. “My money goes further than my time ever could,” we argue to ourselves.
We forget that God tells us over and over again, he doesn’t want our sacrifices. He wants our obedience. We can’t disobey and expect our sacrifices to make up for it. Worse, we shouldn’t use our sacrifices as excuses for disobedience.
Here’s what God says about what he wants:
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Isaiah 56: 6-8)
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)
Does this mean there is never a time to spend money or time on yourself, or that we shouldn’t look for ways to strategically give our time and money to other organizations that can do more than we could individually? No.
But it does mean that giving to a charity doesn’t cancel out God’s commands for us to personally love, serve and give to those society refuses to notice.