17This is what YHWH, your redeemer says, the Holy One of Israel.
I am YHWH your God.
I teach you for your benefit,
and lead you in the way you should go. — Isaiah 48:17
I have heard over and over that it’s all about God. Whether it is worship, ministry, our daily lives, our vocations, our education, or even our recreation, it’s all about God. Now the nice and pious thing to say is yes, indeed, it is all about God. And there is indeed considerable truth to that statement. If we could focus more on God, we would certainly find ourselves in less conflict with our brothers and sisters.
But the interesting thing that I find in scripture is that for God, it’s all about people. In fact, God very much reflects the principle that we should not look out for our own well being, but rather the well being of others (Philippians 2:4). While we are supposed to put our focus on God, God is interested in us.
Why should we do the right thing? One standard answer is because it pleases God. But if you keep on reading scripture, you’ll find that the reason it pleases God is that, in the long term, it’s good for us.
In Isaiah 48, from which I took our text, God is giving instruction, rebuke, and encouragement to the Israelites who are in exile in Babylon. What went wrong that they had to go into exile? What do they need to do about it. I suggest reading the whole chapter and especially the verses after the one I quoted.
The key thing that God is telling them, however, is simply this: You rebelled against my commands, but what you were really doing was hurting yourself.
On the one hand God’s law looks very difficult, and the standard so high, that it is a schoolmaster, as Paul said, drawing us to Christ so we can receive grace. On the other hand, it’s holy, just, and good, and most specifically it’s good for us! God, the maker of the universe, knows how best one should live in it.
How should this change our actions? I would suggest that it is a wonderful demonstration of God’s grace that he cares about us. Those who worshiped idols and false gods give offerings and worship hoping to persuade their gods to do something for them. An excellent picture of the futility of this worship is the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18). They prayed and yelled and screamed all day, and they even cut themselves. But nothing happened.
God, on the other hand, wanted to respond and do good things for his children. It didn’t take that much to get his attention and bring about the desired result. Yes, your worship, from your side, is all about God, but you are worshiping a God who wants you to feel and to know his presence. When you give all to God you receive back from God as much as you can receive.
He’s teaching you for your benefit. What a wonderful thought! God isn’t a controlling parent or teacher who has a personal agenda that is not in your best interest. He’s on your side. What’s more, he knows you so well that he’s more on your side than you are.
For God, it’s all about you.