Thursday, September 20, 2007

Futility of ostentatious piety

Rev. Peter Akinola

September 15, 2007

The scriptures in general and Old Testament Prophets like Amos, Micah and Isaiah in particular spoke repeatedly on the futility of ostentatious piety.

In the second half of the eighth century BC, the wealthy and powerful people of Samaria were prosperous but were also greedy and brutally unjust. They were indifferent to the plight of the poor whom they treated with disdain and cruelty. But they had a form of religion and observed all the external rules. The worship of God was a mere formality as it had no bearing on the day-to day living. Outwardly religious, yes; but they regularly accepted bribes; enslaved the poor, committed adultery, stole, were totally unthankful and had caused the innocent to sin. What is more, worship of Baal though idolatrous and sinful was more attractive to these ungrateful people who had experienced the salvation wrought by God.

The prophets showed clearly that the people had abandoned the faith of their fathers and that they were only pretentiously religious. They were carrying on nominal religious performances instead of having spiritual integrity and practising heartfelt obedience to the commandments of God. Superficial involvement and participation in religious ceremonies and rituals clearly falls short of God’s expectation of his chosen people. The Lord God wants simple trust in Him, not showy empty external actions. No one can use religion to cover up unfaithfulness to God. We need not settle for the vain effort of impressing others with external rituals when God wants heartfelt obedience and commitment. If you love me, says Jesus, obey what I command. (John 14.15)

In the early part of his ministry, (1-39) Isaiah denounced Judah and Israel for their sins. Judah had a form of godliness, but in their hearts, they were corrupt. The prophet insisted that God was fed up with their sacrifices which were offered without any sorrow for sins 1:11-14; because of this he would refuse to see their outstretched hands or hear their pious words during prayer time 1:15. Israel’s worship service was like a mechanical rehearsal of a memorised formality, (29:13).

Many of the conditions in Israel nearly three thousand years ago and during the time of Amos and Isaiah are glaringly evident in our society. In the name of ‘development’, church leadership like the Pharisees of old often impose unbearable hardship on the congregations. Exploitation of the weak has not abated, (Luke11. 46)

In contrast to all the false piety men find so easy to display, Christ expects his own to be truthful and honest declaring that God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship him in spirit and in truth. We must recognize the futility of ostentatious piety and turn to God with all our hearts and worship him in spirit and truth. It is not quantity and time spent that counts most but quality and dedication.

As I conclude, I ask

Have we grown complacent? Have other concerns taken God’s place in our lives? Do we ignore those in need and oppress the poor? Under the guise of religiosity, do we exploit and oppress those working for us and with us? Is our prophetic ministry sharp and productive? Are we engaged in vain exhibition of ostentatious piety? Are we presumptuous in our relationship with God? Are you one of those who think they can use religion to cover up their evil ways?

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