There is something refreshing and delightful that occurs in your soul when you receive the excellence you expect from someone. You have a respect for them and a degree of trust is given to them when they perform well. You also discover how they esteem you. When someone offers their least effort to you, the disrespect burdens your soul. It feels like a heavy weight.
I was a student leader in college every year as a sophomore until I graduated. I attended Oral Roberts University, a Christian liberal arts college not a dental school. I assumed that as God-fearing young adults, self-discipline was a reasonable expectation for the young women I led as Resident Advisor or RA. Instead I discovered that young adults can be as mature as a hangry two-year old. At the end of the year, Resident Advisors checked students out of their dorm room. Rooms had to be spotless and any damages had to be noted. The Hall Director would then walk through the rooms. Any room that wasn’t spotless had to be cleaned again by the RA. It behooves the RA to be a tyrant, but I was the non-assertive leader who hated confrontation. As you have rightly guessed, I had to re-clean a quarter of the rooms. You would be shocked to see the filth a female college student can leave behind their dresser. I found pieces of somebody’s weave in a drawer and margarita mixers in a trash can. (Yes, alcohol was not permitted on campus, and yes, somebody succeeded in getting one over me.) How I appreciated the students who had cleaned their room well! Who hadn’t left pieces of their weave for me to find or traces of their rule breaking. How frustrating it was to not receive a student’s excellence. Then their responsibility became my burden.
1 Samuel 2 tells the story of High Priest Eli’s sons Hophni and Phineas, solid names, character not so much. In addition to sexing the ladies in the church foyer, they would take the best parts of the animal sacrifices that were devoted to the Lord. They were eating filet mignon and sirloin steak, while God had to deal with the burning odor of the left-over parts, parts we use to make hot dogs. Verse 29 God rebukes Eli and tells him,
“Why then do you scorn my sacrifices and my offerings that I commanded for my dwelling, and honor your sons above me by fattening yourselves on the choicest parts of every offering of my people Israel?”
Because of Hophni and Phineas’ disregard for the Lord, God passed judgement on them. They would both die and on the same day.
God is very specific and clear about what He requires. God doesn’t want your “almost” or your “intentions”. He wants the best and the most excellent of what we offer to Him. Harsh and demanding? Not really. You don’t want your spouse to be “almost” faithful, or to tell you they didn’t “intend” to have an affair. In 2 Samuel 6, Israel is turning up like no tomorrow. They are bringing the Ark of the Covenant back to the Tent of Meeting. They’re playing their harps and cymbals; they’ve even busted out their tambourines. Their getting turnt as only ancient Israel can. They’ve got the Ark on a brand spanking new cart pulled by oxen. The problem is that God had given very specific instructions to Israel concerning the transportation of the Ark, which we read in Numbers 4:5-6 & 7:9. The Levites were to carry the Ark on poles on their shoulders. But King David thought it would acceptable to put the Ark on a cart. The oxen couldn’t handle the excitement (I’m assuming), because they stumbled and a man named Uzzah grabs the Ark to keep it from falling off the cart. Verse 7 says that God’s anger was “kindled” against Uzzah and He struck the dude dead, like right there in the street. King David’s decision to “almost” follow God’s instructions led to someone’s death.
Genesis also tells us the story of an offering gone sour involving two brothers, Cain and Abel. Cain is a farmer and Abel is shepherd. They both bring an offering to the Lord, but only Abel’s offering is acceptable to God. Only Abel’s offering is excellent. There are different interpretations as to why Abel got the A for accepted and Cain got an F for fail. But if we let the Scriptures explain themselves, we find the answer in Hebrews chapter 11 verse 4.
“By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.”
It was faith! Because Abel’s gift was offered by faith, God considered him righteous and his offering was accepted. Abel gave an excellent offering unlike Hophni and Phineas who gave the Lord the least of their offering, or King David who gave “almost” what God desired of him. That is the only thing God requires of us, wants from us, and expects from us. You cannot offer anything to God unless you offer it by faith. The gift of my obedience, the gift of my worship, the gift of my time, my talents, and resources all have to be given to God by faith.
Under the Law, the purpose of the perpetual burnt offerings and sacrifices was to keep Israel in right relationship with God, that is righteous. But what the Law could not do, Christ has accomplished for all time (Romans 8:3-4, 3:21-22). We are made righteous by looking to Christ. Faith looks to God. Religion looks to self. God is very specific and clear. He has made only one way for righteousness and that is by faith in His Son. There is nothing we can accomplish on our own that can please God. The person whose intention and desire to is to please God by trying harder is no more pleasing than the one who has no concern for God because both offer their gift in unbelief. God is righteousness and to attempt to please God by my own (like King David) is to place myself above God. Can the creature be more than the Creator? Christ is the excellent One!
An excellent offering isn’t something that is done for the Lord. An excellent offering is by faith in Christ and His work in me. James 2:26 reads,
“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”
This isn’t meant to be understood that works sustain my faith, any more than the existence of the body guarantees the existence of my spirit. In no way can the body sustain the life of the spirit. When the body dies the spirit continues. Rather it is the spirit that gives life to the body. Without the spirit there can be no life in the body.
In the same manner, it is by faith in Christ that I have good works. My works are the result of my faith in God. Without faith there can be no works. I don’t work for Christ; He works in me so that I am made more like Him. An excellent offering is given by faith in Jesus, what is offered by faith in self (or anything else) is religious.
Both Cain and Abel brought an offering. But it wasn’t the offerings that pleased God, it was Abel’s faith. Acts of worship and service don’t please God. Can’t please God. Raising my hands to the Lord and shouting praises with a loud voice doesn’t please Him. Neither does kneeling prostrate before Him. Donating a large amount of money, doesn’t please God. Giving my time to serve in the soup kitchen doesn’t please God. Can’t please God. That is all just works, something that is given religiously. But rather when my faith is in Christ and I trust that I am righteous by Him, that I have all that I need in Him, that I am able to do all things because of His power I naturally respond with a shout of praise or I give my thoughtful worship, and I give to others my time and my resources. Giving him praise and worship simply because I have been pumped to do so and without any faith in Him is displeasing to God. Serving others so that I can been seen by God is also displeasing to Him.
Don’t ask yourself, “What can I do for God?” Remind yourself, “It is what He has already done for me!” When my faith in God is alive in me, it produces within me the desire and the ability to offer to God an excellent sacrifice. So begin with your faith in God and obedience to God will naturally follow.