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Lesson 9: "Trust Not in Deceptive Words": The Prophets and Worship *

Introduction: Many years ago, I was in the Michigan area to meet with a group of teachers who had religious objections to supporting the teachers' union. Most of the teachers were very anxious to have me help them because they were convinced that it was displeasing to God to remain in a union which opposed Godly principles. One teacher was concerned about his obligations to God, but he was also concerned about his union-connected car insurance. He wanted to know whether, if he resigned from the union, he would be able to continue to insure his car through the union. When I told him, "No," non-members did not have the right to continue with union-sponsored insurance, he replied that it would be too expensive for him to raise a religious objection. As we left the meeting, I noticed that he was driving a brand new Cadillac. His faith could be valued by the amount he saved with union insurance. What about us? Does our faith make a difference in our life? Should it? Or, does righteousness by faith relieve us of such concerns? Let's dive into our study of the Bible and learn about faith that makes a difference!

  1. God's People, God's Church

    1. Read Jeremiah 7:1-2. Who did God have in mind as the audience for His message? (His people. He wanted those who entered into worship to hear this message.)

    2. Read Jeremiah 7:3-4. God says "You need to make changes in your life." Some of the people respond with a note about geography: "This is the temple of the Lord." What are the people really saying? (They worship in the right church.)

      1. Notice that the people repeat their response three times. Why? (Repeating something twice is a common way in the Bible to say that something is important. Perhaps they said it the third time to convince themselves.)

      2. The text suggests that "This is the temple of the Lord" is a phrase that the people routinely use. God calls the phrase "deceptive words." What about it is misleading? (A church identity is not what saves you.)

        1. Notice that these people not only had the right "church," they were entering into the correct form of worship. Even more important, they were worshiping the correct God. Can the right form of worship before the correct God be deceptive?

    3. Read Jeremiah 7:5. What is God calling on His people to do? (Change their "ways." The Hebrew is a reference to a "road," so this means the direction of their life, their attitude. God wants an attitude change.)

      1. Let's stop a minute and consider this. These people had the right church, the right God, and the right worship, but God called them deceivers. What does this teach us about worship? (That it does not end when we exit the church.)

  2. Living Worship

    1. Read Jeremiah 7:6-7. What do the alien, the fatherless and the widow all have in common? (They lack power in the community.)

      1. Would you oppress them by not helping them? (There are other Bible texts that discuss helping the needy, but this is not one of them. The Hebrew for "oppress" refers to "defrauding" or "violating." These people are actively taking advantage of the powerless.)

      2. Aside from harming the powerless, what else are these people doing? (They are killing the innocent.)

      3. How would you describe the general attitude of these people of God? (They misuse their power.)

      4. In the United States, the government pays people who are poor and who do not work, and it imposes extra taxes on people who work hard and succeed. In a democracy, we decide things by a vote, and we have more potential poor voters than potential rich voters. Can the poor misuse their power, or is this only a sin of the rich?

    2. Read Jeremiah 7:7-8. Will God bless those who abuse their power? (They cannot rely on God, for God says they are deceiving themselves. God tells them that He will take away their home and their land.)

    3. Read Jeremiah 7:9-11. Are we properly worshiping God if we abuse our power? (No! God says these people are harming others in very serious ways. Plus, they give allegiance to other gods.)

      1. What does this say about righteousness by faith? (I don't think righteousness by faith is at issue here, for these people are putting their faith in Baal, even though they are attending the right church. Wrong actions simply demonstrate that they do not have an attitude of obedience towards God.)

      2. Notice that God says that He is watching them. Is He watching us?

        1. If you say, "yes," let me ask you a personal question. Do your actions vary based on whether other people are watching you? Would you watch the same television programs, view the same Internet sites, or listen to the same music if your local religious leader was with you?

          1. If you would not, then why would you be involved in these things when God is watching?

          2. Is our behavior before God (who says He is watching all the time) a worship issue? (Worship is honoring God and showing Him our allegiance. In that sense, obedience is worship.)

  3. Honest Followers

    1. Read Isaiah 58:1. Is God upset about the sins of the people?

      1. What does God call their sins? (Rebellion.)

        1. This is a very interesting word. I believe in righteousness by faith. It is the only means to eternal life. But, let's examine the sin problem. How does God view sin, and what does that say about righteousness by faith? (Sin is rebellion against God. It is a rejection of His kingdom. Faith and works cannot logically be separated, for our actions flow from our attitudes. Sin results from an attitude of rebellion against God.)

    2. Read Isaiah 58:2. Do these people seem rebellious to you?

    3. Read Isaiah 58:3. Let's look at the first part of this verse. Are these people denying self?

    4. Read Isaiah 58:3-4 and Romans 7:14-15. Is Isaiah addressing a bunch of people who are just like the apostle Paul (and, if truth be told, just like you and me)?

      1. What is the goal of the fasting and "humbling ourselves" that the people say they are doing? (Self-denial.)

      2. Why would you "exploit ... workers" or start "striking each other with ... fists?" (They prefer themselves over their workers. They insist on enforcing their views over their fellow church members. This is just the opposite of self-denial!)

    5. Read Isaiah 58:6-7. What is God calling for in our fasting? (Consistency! Self-analysis. How can we say that we are denying our self, if we are oppressing others for our own benefit? God tells us to open our eyes and see things as He does.)

    6. Let's jump back up to the beginning of this discussion. Read again Isaiah 58:2. In light of what is going on, how do we explain these people? (Have you ever had someone ask for your opinion, and it seemed that they had no interest in your opinion - unless you agreed with them? These people are not asking because they are serious about being willing to change. They are looking for official approval of their selfish actions!)

      1. How serious are you about seeking and following God's opinion?

    7. Read Micah 6:6-8. The burnt offerings, the rams, the oil are all examples of Jesus' coming sacrifice on our behalf. What does this teach us about true righteousness by faith? True worship? (Offering the sacrifice, invoking Jesus' name, no matter how often we do it, does not save us. These are not like a magical phrase, or the ultimate password. Instead, true worship, true sacrifice, true righteousness by faith involves an attitude that is reflected in our daily life: mercy, justice, seeking to stay in step with God.)

    8. Friend, have you examined your life? Is your worship superficial? Is your daily attitude in tune with your attitude in church? Do you inquire of God, but don't really want to know His answer? Are you always selfish, taking advantage of others? Ask the Holy Spirit, right now, to covert your heart and your attitude, so that you will "walk humbly with your God."

  4. Next week: Worship - From Exile to Restoration.
* Copr. 2011, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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