“To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.” (Proverbs 21:3)
Making sacrifices for the Lord can be good, but you know what’s even better? Obedience. This may be a confusing statement, as you may be wondering what the difference is. Let’s break it down a little.
When you look up the meaning of the original Hebrew for the word “sacrifice” used here (zebach), you’ll see that it’s referring to the communal or ritualistic sacrifices that were required of the Israelites, whether they were voluntary or mandatory. Each of them served a unique purpose, and each of them were carried out in different ways.
Since we don’t do those Old Testament sacrifices anymore, you can draw a loose analogy of those sacrifices to things Christians do today to express “worship”, such as going to church or church events, giving financial tithes and offerings, serving in ministry and community service, reading the Bible, etc. The problem with these sacrifices is that you can easily do them flippantly with the wrong motivation or with an insincere or even ungodly attitude. And when we do that, they mean nothing to the Lord- they are simply religious activities.
How many of us have seen people go to church on Sundays, but act like the devil Monday through Saturday? How many of us have seen people give tons of money to a church or a good cause, but live an absolutely wicked life at the same time? How many of us have seen someone preach from the pulpit or teach a Sunday school class, but then do the opposite of what they just taught?
We also see Jesus call the Pharisees out on how they pray, fast, and serve the needy openly in order to bring attention, honor, and glory to themselves. This stems from the same heart issue, and to that Jesus says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 6:1).
The act of doing religious activities with the improper motive behind them is self-serving and self-seeking. This is exactly what God is speaking against whenever we see this concept of “obedience is better than sacrifice” that we see many times in both the Old and New Testaments. Read about Saul in 1 Samuel 15. It is against God’s will for us, it’s hypocritical, and it’s spiritually worthless. They are empty acts and are the works that will ultimately be burned up by God’s revealing fire (1 Cor. 3:13).
God desires your heart, mind, and spirit, more than He desires your time, talent, and treasure. While offering sacrifices may be acceptable to the Lord, what is more acceptable to Him is to do righteousness and justice according to His Word and in harmony with His Spirit.