“The good news is that we can seek God and know God and enjoy God everywhere and every day.”
I wonder if you ever feel a disconnect between Sunday morning and Monday morning? On Sunday you join God’s people in praising Him for who He is and what He’s done. Brilliant. But then Monday brings traffic jams, relentless emails, grumpy colleagues, dirty diapers. The worship of God feels like a distant memory.
Amos 5 addresses just this kind of disconnect. The chapter opens with Amos taking up a lament for Israel (1-3). The nation is going to be decisively defeated. The land will be deserted. It ends with these words, “‘Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,’ says the Lord, whose name is God Almighty.” (27)
Damascus was the capital city of the Assyrian Empire, the superpower of the day. Assyria is going to defeat Israel and Israel will go so deep into exile that she’ll never come out. At this point Israel had split into two kingdoms – ten northern tribes and two southern tribes. Amos is talking to the northern tribes and what he says came true. They were defeated by the Assyrians and carried away into exile – never to return.
So what was their crime? Elsewhere the focus is on other things. But here Amos’ focus is on injustice and corruption. Three times he says, “There are those who …”
Verse 7: “...turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground …” verse 10: “...hate the one who upholds justice in court and detest the one who tells the truth.” and verse 12: “...oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.”
Amos says the day of the LORD is coming. God will intervene to stop injustice. The problem is that when He comes, He will come knocking on your door and my door.
But Amos also has good news for us. Amos 5 has three invitations to find life: Verse 4: “This is what the Lord says to Israel: ‘Seek me and live.’” verse 6: “Seek the Lord and live …” and verse 14: “Seek good, not evil, that you may live.” It’s the offer of life – eternal life. If you seek God, what you find is life.
But Amos’ invitation comes with a warning. Don’t confuse religion with God. Don’t think that because you’re religious, you’re right with God. In verses 4-5 Amos says: “This is what the Lord says to Israel: ‘Seek me and live; do not seek Bethel, do not go to Gilgal, do not journey to Beersheba. For Gilgal will surely go into exile, and Bethel will be reduced to nothing.’”
Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba were the leading shrines in Israel. Just because you go to church, Amos is saying, doesn’t mean you know God. Or look at what God says in verses 21-24: “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
These people thought of themselves as good, religious people. Four times God describes what the people do: they attend religious festivals, they bring offerings, they bring choice offerings, they sing songs of praise. It could describe many people today. But there was a disconnect. They went home to their corruption and injustice. So four times God rejects their religion: it stinks (21). I will not accept (22), look (22), or listen (23). Here are people who do and say all the right religious things, but it never touches their hearts and lives. The evidence of this is the corruption at the city gate.
The key phrase is: Seek me: “Seek me and live; do not seek Bethel.” (4) God doesn’t want our religion. He wants us. He wants our hearts. God wants a relationship.
But there is another side to this warning. It’s good news. The good news is that we can seek God and know God and enjoy God everywhere and every day. We can seek him at the shrine of Gilgal and at the city gate.
Think about those three invitations to seek: “Seek me, seek the LORD, seek good” (4, 6, 14). Can you see how seeking God and seeking good are lined up together? Every time we seek good can be an act of seeking God. Every time we choose good can be an act of choosing God. When you do good you can enjoy a sense of God’s pleasure.
Sometimes when we gather on a Sunday we talk about coming into the presence of God (and there is something special about the gathering of God’s people), but we can enjoy God’s presence everywhere and every day. Every act can be an act of worship. Consider again verse 24. God hates their religious festivals. Instead, he says, “Let justice roll on like a river.” We worship God by loving our neighbors.
The lovely thing is that this elevates everything we do. Everything is an opportunity for worship. Monday morning is as sacred as Sunday morning. Your home, your workplace, your neighborhood are as sacred as any cathedral.
What we do on a Sunday is a kind of re-tune for our hearts. We call one another back to Christ. We sing, we pray, we hear God’s word so that our hearts are captured afresh. Then we go out to continue worshiping God.
Our churches should be communities which are known for fairness and honesty. We gather on a Sunday to be filled afresh with the truth of God’s patience, the glory of Christ, the joy of the gospel. Then as we go out into our neighborhoods righteousness flows with us and through us like a never-failing stream. Think of us spilling out of the door into your town as a wave of God’s goodness. We spread righteousness throughout the area through our actions and our words. We spread the glory of Christ.
Tim Chester is the pastor of Grace Church, Boroughbridge, North Yorkshire, England, the author of over 30 books including "You Can Change", "A Meal with Jesus", and "Gospel Centered Work."
To hear his radio interview for "The One True Story", please visit our website and search through Interviews with Adam.