Micah: 3) The Lord's Spirit

3) The Lord’s Spirit

Text: Micah 3:1-12

 

How is Christianity different from religion? Most people wouldn’t understand the distinction between Christianity and religion, aren’t they the same thing, isn’t Christianity just another religion? But that distinction between religion and what it really means to have a relationship with God pretty much lies at the heart of what the Bible is about, and what Micah is about as well. This morning we’re going to look at how it’s the Lord’s Spirit that makes the difference between cold meaningless religion, and a personal dynamic relationship with our Creator God. This is the third sermon in our series: Who Is Like the Lord! And this morning we’re going to see that it’s only by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit that like Micah we can proclaim ‘Who is like the Lord!’

 

1) Life without the Spirit

But the truth is that most of Micah chapter 3 is about what life looks like without the Spirit. Micah describes unspiritual leadership, unspiritual teaching and unspiritual religion. So let’s take a look at each one of those in turn.

a) Unspiritual Leadership (v1-4)

Let’s start with unspiritual leadership. Our text starts, ‘1 Then I said, “Listen, you leaders of Jacob, you rulers of the house of Israel. (Mic 3:1a)’ Micah starts by talking to the leaders and the rulers of God’s people. These are the people who make the decisions. If God was talking to our church, which he is, he’d be talking to the elders here. If God was talking to families, he’d be talking to the parents. If he was talking to our nation, he’d be talking to the politicians that we just elected. Micah confronts the leadership. And he confronts them with the fact that their leadership is unspiritual, and it’s unspiritual based on their actions.

i) Do not know justice

The first thing that Micah accuses these leaders of is not knowing justice. Micah asks, ‘1 …Should you not know justice?’ (Mic 3:1b)’ Above everyone else the leaders ought to know how to be just. And Micah’s point is not just that they should know the law, but that they ought to be living with the law in their hearts. They are meant to understand God’s heart for justice. Micah’s contemporary, the Prophet Isaiah writes, ‘17 learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. (Isa 1:17)’ Those whom God had established as leaders were expected to know what it meant to lead, to seek justice – encourage the oppressed, defend the cause of the fatherless, and plead the case of the widow. The Apostle James puts it like this, ‘27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (Jam 1:27)’ These leaders had proven their leadership was unspiritual by the fact that they didn’t know God’s heart for justice. Our sense of justice is also a litmus test of our Christian faith. Do we have a heart for justice? Do we care about the things that God cares about? Do the things that move God’s heart move ours? The truth is that without the Spirit of Jesus living within our hearts, our faith will be as dry as these leaders in Micah’s day. Without justice it’s just religion. Without the Spirit there’s not much of God in it.

ii) Hate good & love evil

The second thing that Micah accuses these leaders of is that they hate good and love evil. In verse 2 he refers to them as, ‘2 you who hate good and love evil… (Mic 3:2a)’ Of course these leaders wouldn’t have agreed with him, they didn’t think of their actions in those terms, but that’s exactly what their actions were saying. Micah certainly knew how to get people’s attention: everything that is good you hate and instead you love evil. Micah’s probably thinking of some of the stuff he mentioned in the previous chapter, about how these people were stealing poor people’s homes and fields. But before you start thinking that this doesn’t apply to us, we don’t hate good and love evil! The truth is that the world subtly twists what God considers right and wrong. The world says that it’s bad for women to submit to their husbands. The world says it’s okay for their husbands to look at pornography. The world says that it’s okay for women to abort their babies. The world says it’s bad to expect people to live in a monogamous relationship. The world says it’s okay for people to gamble as long as we use a tiny percent for community projects. All around us our world is growing in its love for what God calls wrong and its hatred of what God calls right. And even in the church those distinctions are becoming more and more clouded. Like James said earlier, religion that God accepts as pure is to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. I wonder how much we think like the world thinks and love what the world loves? I wonder how much we consider good what God considers evil? Without the Spirit our view of good and evil starts to warp.

iii) Abuse God’s people

The third thing Micah accuses these leaders of is abusing God’s people. According to the rest of verse 2 these leaders, ‘2 …tear the skin from my people and the flesh from their bones; 3 [they] eat my people’s flesh, strip off their skin and break their bones in pieces; [they] chop them up like meat for the pan, like flesh for the pot? (Mic 3:2b-3)’ Micah employs the gruesome metaphor of cannibalism to depict the severity of the injustice these leaders were perpetrating. You see what we tend to do with sin is minimalise it. We try and tell ourselves it’s not that bad, it’s not really evil, it’s not hurting anyone. But Micah wants us to see the exact opposite – in God’s eyes, it is that bad, it’s revolting, it’s horrendous, it’s evil. And God’s people knew how God felt about their sin. All they had to do was go up to the temple and watch the daily sacrifices. A priest would take a lamb without blemish and cut its throat until it bled to death, then they’d dismember it, and then they’d burn it on the altar. You couldn’t get a more graphic illustration of how seriously God takes sin. Jesus puts it like this, ‘2 It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. (Lk 17:2)’ God takes sin seriously, especially the abuse of those weaker than ourselves. Without the Spirit we minimize our sin.

iv) Will be rejected by God

Finally, Micah proclaims how God will respond to their lack of justice, their love of evil and their abuse of God’s people – they will be rejected by God. Verse 4, ‘4 Then they will cry out to the Lord, but he will not answer them. At that time he will hide his face from them because of the evil they have done. (Mic 3:4)’ Micah talks about this rejection in two different ways.

1. God will not answer them

Firstly, according to Micah God will not answer them. According to the Bible God loves to answer the prayers of his people. Psalm 107:6 celebrates God’s readiness to answer our prayers, ‘6 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. (Ps 107:6)’ And Jesus compares our heavenly Father with our earthly fathers and says ‘11 …how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Mt 7:11b)’ God loves to answer our prayers. But according to Micah God won’t answer the prayers of these people. And the reason is because of their sin. Their sin has separated them from God. The Prophet Malachi gives an example from marriage. He says, ‘14 You ask, “Why [doesn’t God answer our prayers]?” It is because the Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. (Mal 2:14)’ God wouldn’t answer their prayers because of their marital unfaithfulness. The Apostle Peter writes, ‘7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives… so that nothing will hinder your prayers. (1 Pet 3:7)’ The Proverbs applies this same principle generally, ‘13 If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered. (Prov 21:13)’ If God isn’t answering our prayers one of the reasons may be because of unrepentant sin. If you want God to answer your prayers you need to repent of your sins.

2. God will hide his face from them.

Secondly according to Micah God will hide his face from them. The greatest blessing we can receive is found in Numbers 6, ‘24 The Lord bless you and keep you; 25 the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; 26 the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. (Num 6:24-26)’ The greatest blessing is that God would look on us with favour. But because of their sin God says he will turn his face away from them. Worse even than God’s anger is God’s absence. In fact, God’s eternal absence is known as hell, an existence without love, or grace, or hope, or peace. If God seems distant, or even absent in your life maybe you need to examine your life – what sins are you accommodating, in what ways have you been unfaithful to God? In what ways are we preoccupied with our own well-being that we neglect the well-being of others? How have we turned our faces away from the needy? In what ways have we abused our role as leaders in our family, or our workplace, or even the church? In what ways have we neglected justice, and loved evil instead of good? The truth is, without the Spirit our decisions will be unspiritual

b) Unspiritual Teaching

Secondly, Micah tells us to be aware of unspiritual teaching. Micah turns from the leaders, or rulers, to the prophets, those who taught God’s word. If God was talking to our church, he’d be talking primarily to me, as the Pastor. So what exactly were these false prophets, these unspiritual teachers, doing?

i) Lead people astray

According to verse 5 they were leading God’s people astray. They weren’t encouraging God’s people to worship pagan idols. They weren’t telling them to reject the Law. Rather Micah says, ‘5 …if one feeds them, they proclaim ‘peace’; if he does not, they prepare to wage war against him. (Mic 3:5b)’ What they were doing was manipulating God’s message for their personal gain. Instead of preaching God’s anger against injustice they were supporting those who were exploiting the poor. They preached a message that tolerated sin. They proclaimed ‘peace,’ that people were in a right relationship with God, when in fact they weren’t. And if you didn’t feed these guys they would declare war against you. Instead of being motivated by a passion for God’s glory they were motivated by their own desires. What came out of their mouths depended on what was put into it. The truth is whenever a preacher becomes more concerned with their pay check, or their popularity, or the people in the pew, instead of the word of God, the word of God will suffer.

ii) They will be rejected by God

So what will happen to these unspiritual teachers? Micah writes, ‘6 Therefore night will come over you, without visions, and darkness, without divination. The sun will set for the prophets, and the day will go dark for them. 7 The seers will be ashamed and the diviners disgraced. They will all cover their faces because there is no answer from God. (Mic 3:6-7)’ Because they were proclaiming false messages God promises that they would no longer receive any messages at all. Like God rejected the unspiritual leaders, so God will reject these unspiritual teachers. They will no longer receive visions. Instead of seeing God’s glory revealed, they will see only darkness. Instead of receiving God’s word they will receive disgrace and shame. Like God would refuse to answer the prayers of the unspiritual leaders, so he will refuse to answer the prayers of these unspiritual teachers.

So how do we apply this for us today? Firstly, as a follower of Jesus you need to be able to recognize false teaching. You need to know God’s word well enough to know when I’m off track. And if you’re listening to other preachers on podcasts, or in different churches you need to know when they’re off track. Secondly, you need to insist that I teach the whole counsel of God from the Scriptures. That’s why it’s helpful to preach through books of the Bible, rather than just letting me ride my favourite hobby horses. Thirdly, according to Moses God allows false teachers because, ‘3 …The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Dt 13:3b)’ How discerning are you when it comes to unspiritual teaching? Without the Spirit people just nod and smile at the unspiritual rubbish that gets fed to them.

c) Unspiritual Religion

Thirdly, Micah turns to unspiritual religion. In verse 9 and 10 Micah repeats his condemnation of unspiritual leaders, but in verse 11 he says, ‘11 Her leaders judge for a bribe, her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money. Yet they lean upon the Lord and say, “Is not the Lord among us? No disaster will come upon us.” (Mic 3:11)’ The leaders are unspiritual, the priests are unspiritual, the prophets are unspiritual, and yet they lean upon the Lord. In one sense it is good to lean upon the Lord. To lean upon the Lord means you place your confidence in God, you rely on him to save you, you are counting on God’s grace. The Prophet Isaiah calls us to ‘20 …rely (or lean) on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel. (Isa 10:20b)’ And again, ‘10 …trust in the name of the Lord and rely on [or lean on your] God. (Isa 50:10b)’ The problem isn’t with their doctrine, but the fact that what they believe doesn’t match how they’re living. Instead of trusting in God’s grace they were presuming on God’s grace. Paul puts it like this, ‘16 They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. (Tit 1:16a)’ If you are unrepentant about lust, or bitterness, or greed, or anxiety, or any sin, you are presuming on God’s grace. Those who sin without repenting of their sin, demonstrate the fact that God’s grace hasn’t really reached into the core of their hearts. God’s grace doesn’t just free us from sin, it frees us from the love of sin. That’s why we no longer live in sin, because we are dead to sin, by God’s grace we hate sin. There are four ways that the people in Micah’s day and people today presume on God’s grace.

i) Unspiritual religion presumes on God’s power

Firstly, unspiritual religion presumes on God’s power. We presume that because we’re Christians God will do whatever we ask of him. Our religion becomes about what God can do for us rather than the things we are called to do for God. God becomes a celestial vending machine. Instea do fbowign our knee before God as our Lord and Master, we want God to bless what we’re doing and what we want to do. Unspiritual religion is all about our desire to control God instead of gladly submitting ourselves to his control.

ii) Unspiritual religion presumes on God’s promises

Secondly, unspiritual religion presumes on God’s promises. God has promised to be with us, and because God is with us who can be against us (Rom 8:31)? Don’t we love to quote that verse! But Micah is warning us that it might be God who is against us. Instead of living in obedient faith we rely on the fact that we’ve been baptized, or that we’re a member of the church, or we’re part of a Small Group, or we uphold the right traditions. The problem is that we forget that God also promises to punish those who reject him, who ignore his word and his will.

iii) Unspiritual religion presumes on God’s patience

Thirdly, unspiritual religion presumes on God’s patience, that there is plenty of time to get right with God, or that God will always give us one more chance. But God’s patience isn’t without limits. The same gospel that promises grace to those who believe also warns of judgment against those who put off repentance and faith. The writer to the Hebrews says, ‘3 how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? (Heb 2:3a)’ We never know which instance of unbelief will finally harden our hearts, or which breathe will be our last, or which moment Jesus will return. Our God is patient, but to presume on God’s patience isn’t smart.

iv) Unspiritual religion leads to God’s judgment

In fact, unspiritual religion leads to God’s judgment. Verse 12, ‘12 Therefore because of you, Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets. (Mic 3:12)’ Like we saw a few weeks back unspiritual religion ends up as just a pile of rocks. Faith without the Spirit is nothing but rubble. But note it’s not the Spirit’s fault. Micah says, it’s ‘because of you.’ It’s our fault. If you presume on God’s power, or his promises, or his patience, it’s your presumption that leads to your downfall. It wasn’t God’s fault that Jerusalem fell, even though it was the result of his judgment, rather it was the fault of those who worshipped God with their lips but denied him by their lifestyle.

Micah’s point is that religion without the Spirit is pointless. Firstly, it leads to unspiritual leadership, people who don’t know justice, people who love evil and hate good, people who abuse others. God won’t listen to the prayers of unspiritual people. Secondly, it leads to unspiritual teaching, teaching that is about what people want to hear, that feeds the needs of the teacher rather than speaks to the spiritual needs of the listener. Thirdly, it leads to unspiritual religion, people who presume on God’s power, and God’s promises, and God’s patience, people who think that because they’re Christians they can live however they want. Unspiritual leaders will be ignored by God, unspiritual teachers will be shamed by God, and the lives of those who practise unspiritual religion will amount to nothing but rubble.

 

2) Life with the Spirit

So if religion without the Spirit is empty and hollow than what we need is the Holy Spirit. And in the middle of this chapter, in verse 8 Micah talks exactly about what it looks like to have the Spirit. According to Mich, ‘The leaders are unspiritual, the prophets are unspiritual, your religion is unspiritual, ‘8 But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression, to Israel his sin. (Mic 3:8)’ Their lives are marked by a lack of the Spirit, whereas Micah is filled with the Spirit of the Lord.

a) Filled with Power

While their lives are filled with sin, Micah is filled with the power of God. And that’s exactly what Jesus promised his followers. He says, ‘8 …you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you… (Acts 1:8a)’ And later Paul writes, ‘7 For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power… (2 Tim 1:7a)’ The Spirit makes all the difference. Christianity isn’t just another man-made, man-motivated religion, rather it is divinely inspired, and divinely empowered. The Spirit empowers us to live the life that in and of ourselves we would be unable to live. Peter writes, ‘11 …If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides… (1 Pet 4:11b)’ And Paul writes, ‘10 …be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. (Eph 6:10a)’ Without the Spirit our leadership is weak, our teaching is weak, our religion is weak, but with the Spirit we lead by the power of God, we teach by the power of God, we step out in life by the power of God. In ourselves we are weak, but the Spirit makes us strong.

b) A Heart for Justice

Secondly, while unspiritual people don’t know justice, those who are filled with the Spirit have a heart for justice. This is exactly Jesus’ problem with the Pharisees, He says, ‘42 Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. (Lk 11:42)’ The Pharisees were very religious, but they neglected justice, their religion was unspiritual. But people who are filled with the Spirit are like Jesus about whom God said, ‘18 …I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. (Mt 12:18b)’ People filled with the Spirit care about justice, they care about those who are being oppressed, they care about the poor and needy, they fight for the downtrodden. People filled with the Spirit can’t just sit back and watch, they have to do something. People filled with the Spirit are passionate about justice, about what’s right and wrong.

c) Confronting sin

Thirdly, while unspiritual people minimize sin, those who are filled with the Spirit confront sin. Everyone else is telling people ‘Don’t worry about it, God doesn’t care,’ but the Spirit of the Lord in Micah is incensed, it’s not okay, it’s evil, it’s wrong, it has to stop. The Spirit convicts us of our sin, it calls us to repentance, and it confirms God’s grace towards us in Jesus Christ. People who are filled with the Spirit are sickened by sin. They hate the sin in their lives. They grieve over the effects of sin in the lives of others. They fight against the sin at work in the world.

 

Our society doesn’t like all this stuff about sin, but the truth is that our sin is what stands between us and salvation, it’s what stands between us and a holy God. The truth is that sin is so serious that God sent his own Son, Jesus Christ, into our world to pay the penalty for our sins. Jesus died so that our sins could be washed away, and Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit so that we could live a new life. Not an unspiritual life, where we don’t know justice, where we love evil and hate good, where we abuse others, not a life where we follow false teaching, not a life presuming on God, but a life lived in the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit. Who is like our God, who gives us himself, who gives us His Spirit that we might no longer live for ourselves, that we might no longer live in sin, but instead that we might live for him. Amen.

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