Much heartache comes from compromising our faithfulness. A hard lesson taught many times in the Bible is that incomplete obedience is complete disobedience. The subtle seduction of compromising fidelity to God’s word places us on a downward spiral. Some sin may seem small, but just a small amount is enough to compromise our judgment and bring about greater temptation.
Micah apparently had stolen 1,100 pieces of silver from his mother, for which she had placed a curse upon him. So the son returned the silver to the mother, who quickly forgave him, saying, “Blessed be my son by the Lord” (Judges 17:2).
What happens next should not be missed. The mother said, “I dedicate the silver to the Lord from my hand for my son, to make a carved image and a metal image. Now therefore I will restore it to you” (v. 3).
Consider that statement. The mother declared the money would be for the Lord—the very God who had declared in Exodus 20:4, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image”—and promptly used it to commission a carved image. Claiming her actions were meant to honor God, she broke his word and sinned against him.
Micah participated in this perversion of true religion, as well. A whole shrine was set up in his house for the idolatrous image, and then he “ordained one of his sons, who became his priest” (v. 5). Priests were to be Levites, from the line of Aaron, and were called to public service to God. Micah disregarded God’s requirements by making his own son a priest for himself.
What is obvious to us probably was not so obvious to Micah and his household. We see the blatant violation of the Lord’s law. They thought they were just trying to worship the Lord. Of course they knew they were not following the law. Of course they understood their practice was not exactly what had been done by the generations before them. But they did not think it was an issue.
Does God really care whether we go to a tabernacle to make sacrifices or set up our personal altars in our homes? Does it really matter to God that the priest be of particular descent and perform his function in specific ways? Must we really do everything God commands us to do in the way he says to do it?
Yes, we do. Because partial obedience is complete disobedience.
What are some of the ways we compromise our faithfulness and commit the sin of partial obedience? Now that we are not under the Old Testament laws, identifying compromise is much more difficult. We don’t have the regulations of the Mosaic sacrificial system, dietary laws and Levitical priesthood.
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Jesus continually pointed his followers away from the letter of the law to the spirit of the law. He focused more upon the heart, teaching actions are a fruit produced by our attitudes and affections.
The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians we should not be compelled to give or feel reluctant about our offers because “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). So when I begrudgingly drop my check in the offering place, I’m not following God’s word.
We also are told that when we meet together, we should be “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Ephesians 5:19). How many times do we stand within the congregation merely muttering the lyrics of a song while our hearts are completely disengaged and our minds are busy with the grocery list or work assignments? This worship is not worthy of our Lord.
Peter wrote that when we use our spiritual gifts, we should be serving others for God’s glory (1 Peter 4:10-11). So if I preach a sermon in order to tickle ears, or if I accept leadership of some ministry in order to look spiritually mature, or if I always wash the dishes during the potluck because I don’t really want to have to talk to other people—then I’m misusing my God-given gifts.
In all these examples, the path of Micah and his mother is taken. You may think I’m overstating the case here. How can not being a cheerful giver or not staying focused in worship or not wanting to rub elbows with others be equated to making an idol, building a shrine and ordaining a false priest?
There’s a phrase that comes up again and again in the Book of Judges, and it first appears in today’s passage. “In those days, there was no king in Israel. Everyone did was what right in his own eyes” (17:6). This verse is placed right after the account of what Micah and his mother did, as if providing an explanation.
They worshipped as they saw fit, not how the Lord commanded. The statement that there was no king has a double meaning. Israel did not have an earthly king, but they shouldn’t have had to have one. The Lord was to be king over Israel (1 Samuel 8:7).
When the Lord is our king, we want to obey him fully, we rejoice in his reign, and we delight in his protection and provision. Even when we have other things we’d like to spend our money one, we are grateful to have a God who promises to provide. So we are cheerful givers. When we come together to worship, we seek to honor our king. When we recognize our gifting, we serve as he has commanded.
Either God is acknowledged as our king, or we do what is right in our own eyes. We can’t have it both ways. To obey the king only partially is to disavow his authority by our actions, to assert we know better or have the right to do things our own way.
By grace, as we follow his will, Jesus develops within us the attitudes and affections that should accompany obedience. Heartfelt obedience begins with submission to our loving Lord.
We have a king, so we are delivered from the burden of doing what is right in our own lives and freed to live in the abundance that comes from following God’s ways.