It is a Saturday afternoon. The kids are playing innocently enough. You are enjoying some coffee while watching them. All of the sudden, things start to get a little out of hand. One of your kids gets frustrated and pushes your other kid down. As a parent you intervene to ask what exactly happened. After hearing the back and forth you ask them to apologize to each other. Through either eye rolls, looking down, or mumbling they reluctantly say, “I’m sorry.” What do you (or did your parents to you) do in that moment? Are you satisfied that they merely and technically followed your directions? Absolutely not! The response by the parent is something along the lines of, “No, look each other in the eye and say it like you mean it!” Why do parents do this? Did the kids not follow the instructions set forth? While the kids may have done what was asked, the parent is more concerned about the heart and attitude behind the obedience than just sheer obedience.
In the Old Testament, there is an instance where something similar happens. In order to understand the event, we should do a quick historical recap of what happened leading up to the event. After the Jewish people enter the Promised Land, they built the temple. The temple was a spectacle. In fact, it is considered by many to be one of the wonders of the ancient world. Whenever modern Christians teach on the temple, they often compare it to a church building. However, it was much more than a church building. The temple was the very place that God put His presence in a particular way during that time. Not only was it the house of worship, but it quite literally was the house of God! If you can put yourself in their shoes, it is easy to imagine why the temple was such a big deal.
Fast forward a bit and the unimaginable happened. For years the prophets told the people that if they did not repent from their evil ways and turn back to God, they would be punished through an exile. Well the people did not repent, and God sent the Babylonians, who destroyed the temple. In honor of the temple, the people started fasting in remembrance. This fast would happen in their fifth month of the year and it became a regular part of the Jewish calendar.
After 70 years of exile the Israelites were able to return home. One of the first things they did was rebuild the temple. After the Israelites returned from exile and the temple was built, there were some prophets who gave God’s word to the people with more warnings and promises. One of these prophets was Zechariah. In chapter 7 we find an interesting back and forth conversation. In 7:3, when the temple is almost complete, we find the people ask the Lord, “Should I weep and abstain in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?” That seems like a completely reasonable and logical question.
God’s response is interesting. In 7:5-6 God says, “Say to all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted? And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves?” Wow! Is God really giving the people an “I don’t care” answer? Many of us want to feel like we are accomplishing something. When something does not have a point, most likely we will not want to do it and may even refuse to do it. The Israelites are showing that attitude. “Hey God, we did this awesome thing, but now it seems pointless, so what should we do?” God gives a clear answer that if we are not doing it for Him or for others, then it, quite literally, is of no concern to Him. They may have made it look like they were doing it for God, but God knew their heart and that it was for themselves. God continues later in chapter 7 by showing how His people truly honor Him in verse 9-10, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.”
God cares about our motive. And God gives His people the proper motivation they ought to have: love for God and love for people.
The question for us is this: What is our motivation for any of the things we do? Do we go to church to check a box? Do we tune in because we simply want a message that will give us a few pointers to make us better people? Do we go to Bible study or small group because it simply is the right thing to do? Is our time and money used for us? Do we downplay commands that God gives because we do not want to make people feel uncomfortable or judged? God cares about our motive. And God gives His people the proper motivation they ought to have: love for God and love for people (see Deuteronomy 6:4-6, Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:35-40, Mark 12:28-34, and Luke 10:27). You could flip through every law in the Old Testament and categorize them into one or both of those. After that you could do the same thing with every command in the New Testament. We are more like the Israelites than we like to admit. When we look at Zechariah 7, it is clear that we often have faulty motivations. While God cares about our actions, His first and foremost care is our motivation for those actions. This means we hold His Word and commands above all other authority. If it is outside of the bounds of Scripture, we say no and stand firm. On the other hand, we also deeply love and serve people. We invite people to our home, we go to other’s home, and we serve and provide for people. In Jesus’ day, that meant being with prostitutes, tax collectors, and the unclean. Who does that mean for us? Are there certain types of people, specific people, or places you will not go out of concern for comfort, safety, morals, or deep disagreements? Jesus wants us to enter into those spaces because that is what He did for us. When we do both of those we can know that we have proper motivations and are doing what is pleasing to God.
Love God. Love people.