by Frank Luke
What are the social responsibilities of the Children of God in bringing the love of God to the poor, the oppressed, and the widows?
Without question, the first responsibility of the Christian is to spread the Gospel. But that Gospel—centered on Christ’s life, death, and resurrection—instructs us on social responsibilities as well.
Isaiah 58:1-5 “Cry loudly, do not hold back; Raise your voice like a trumpet, And declare to My people their transgression And to the house of Jacob their sins. 2 “Yet they seek Me day by day and delight to know My ways, As a nation that has done righteousness And has not forsaken the ordinance of their God. They ask Me for just decisions, They delight in the nearness of God. 3 ‘Why have we fasted and You do not see? Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?’ Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire, And drive hard all your workers. 4 “Behold, you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist. You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high. 5 “Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it for bowing one’s head like a reed And for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed? Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the LORD?
We must stop our religious pretensions (58:1-2). God called the prophet Isaiah to cry out loudly against religious hypocrites and phonies. They followed the Law outwardly in their worship, but they were phony as a three dollar bill inside. These phonies had to be drug out into the street because they hurt others’ lives also. They claimed five things about themselves which we can see from the rest of their actions was quite false. They felt they had correct habits because they sought God daily. They claimed to have correct doctrines because they were eager to know God’s ways. They thought they lived with correct practices because they were a nation that had done righteousness and had not forsaken the ordinance of their God. They thought they had correct wishes because they asked God for just decisions. And they thought they had correct worship because they wanted God to come near. Or so they said. Yet, from the way they treated others, we know their thoughts of themselves were off. They observed the outward trappings of religion but missed the inner change that God made in people.
God only set one fast day in the Scripture. That was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:29). These others had been added. Probably as a way to say, “Look how great we are God! Look how much we give up for you!” Certainly God must have been impressed to have such great worshipers. But God was not impressed. God wanted actions to other people instead of just actions to himself. Until you have given to others what God has given to you, you don’t have it.
We must allow God to expose our shallowness (3-5). They wanted to know 2 things: Why hadn’t God seen their fasts and why had God not noticed their humbleness? God was supposed to be grateful for their devotion! What went wrong?
What went wrong was their attitudes and state of the heart had been exposed. God knew they weren’t serious in their devotion. They had let their minds wander during service. They had been grouchy on days that they were supposed to be thankful to God for what He had done. In their fasts, instead of concentrating on Him, they had been thinking of ways to make more money at other people’s expense. Their actions were not what God wanted and not what their neighbors needed either.
God could see that they walked around with their head bent. He could see them wearing sackcloth and laying in ashes. But it was all for show! God could see into their hearts and asked them “is this what you call a fast?, a day acceptable to the Lord?”
The lack of purity in their hearts and lack of concern for others polluted all their efforts at serving and worshiping God. The link between fasting and helping others is that it means going without. It means restricting ourselves from what we want for the sake of others. But it was easier for Isaiah’s people to limit their going without to self-imposed fast days than to reach out to others who needed help.
We must respond to our Lord’s redirecting of our service (6-14). Isaiah’s people insisted that fasting was the way to show their devotion to God. So God showed them the appropriate way to fast. It was a fast involving self-denial but showed love for fellow man. 1) Loosen the chains of injustice; 2) untie the cords of the yoke; 3) set the captives free; and 4) break every yoke.
God calls for a rearrangement of priorities. These 4 verbs all call for setting people free from hard bargains, perverted judgments, and treachery. Yet there is more. We are to give from what we have. We are to 1) share our bread; 2) shelter the homeless; 3) clothe the needy; and 4) assist our needy relatives. These all call for us to deprive ourselves of our wants and needs to help those who do not have enough to fill their needs. This giving begins close to home and goes outward. It is often easier to give for the person who is far away on skid row. But how often do our own relatives get left behind?
Those who follow these commands are given a surprising assortment of blessings. 1) Our light will break forth like dawn. God’s love is light. 2) Their gloomiest time are like the midday of those who do not believe. A quiet life of peace and cheer is preferred over the turbulence of life’s entanglements. God will heal those who are sick of the hustle and bustle of life. 3) God will shelter our advance and be our rear guard. As he often does, Isaiah uses the imagery of the Exodus event to make His point. He especially does this when discussing the promises of renewal. The new times will be like the old times but better.
The fourth promise is most amazing. God will hear the prayers of the righteous! It is rightly taught that when God calls us, we are to say “here am I.” Here, God says that when we call, He will say “here am I.” He says, “did you call out to me? I am ready to help right now!”
But before he tells us the other promises, Isaiah reminds us that there are conditions. There are things we must do and not do. We must break the yoke of oppression from the back of the poor. Secondly, we are to stop the finger pointing and malicious talking. This means watch who you make the butt of jokes and snide contrasts. They too are made in the image of God and deserve our respect, love, and help.
The third condition is put in a positive form: “we must spend ourselves for the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed.” This passage calls for action away from self and to others. Fasting is great but what have you done with it? These are people who fast because they have no choice.
Then Isaiah returns to the 3 remaining promises. He reminds us that our light will rise in the darkness. The darkness and adversities will give way to the glorious light of God in our lives. Sixth, God promises to rejuvenate us and invigorate all the days of our lives. How can it be less, for God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.
The seventh promise assures rebuilding and restoration of the deserted ruins. Even our bones, which have trembled and shaken because of the sorrows and guilt will now be strengthened. God’s grace is greater than our sin. He alone can restore the years that the locusts have eaten up. But what is needed is obedience to and love for God.
- A religion that has self-gratification at the center is false and vain.It will not bring glory to God nor will it meet our needs to be filled and happy.
- What pleases God is not our own pleasure but our obedience.We live not by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
- The church cannot remain silent on the case of the poor.Nor can we determine that it is the responsibility of the government and we are off the hook. If we have taken this route, we might see that is why we find so little guidance personally or corporately.
- This is not a social gospel.There is only 1 Gospel. This is our social responsibilities as we live in and live out that Gospel.
- Our social responsibilities are large, but the same God who called us to do them will enable us to fulfill them.
Please visit Frank Luke’s Blog where this sermon is also posted.