Psalm 50 opens with an image of God riding through the heavens, calling for his people to assemble before him. “He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people,” and around him is blazing fire and storm clouds, reminiscent of the scene that took place at mount Sinai where the Israelites were so afraid they didn’t even want God to speak to them and had Moses go forward in their place.
If God is coming in that kind of terrible power for judgment, it makes sense that his people must have done something wrong. The mount Sinai scene was for the sake of proving his power and presence so that his people would listen to his law. For him to be showing up again like that seems to say that they have forgotten those laws. Perhaps they’ve started worshiping the idols of the nations around them, or have failed to keep the Sabbath holy, or have ceased to offer the proper sacrifices that they were commanded to make.
That’s what I expect in reading this Psalm, but as you move through the text we find out that’s not the problem at all. God declares “your burnt offerings are continually before me.” God’s people haven’t ceased to do what he commanded them to, so what’s the problem? In verse 12 God is clear. “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness is mine.” Somewhere along the way the Israelites seem to have gotten the idea that God needed them and what they were doing and God wants his people to be clear. He doesn’t need sacrifices. He doesn’t need the help of his people. The Israelites are rebuked for doing exactly what God had commanded them, but from the wrong motives.
Much of the time we’re standing in the same position, with God summoning us before him because we have inverted the order of things. We think that we are necessary and that if we don’t do enough our family, ministry, or marriage is going to fall apart. Our tendency is to live as if the work we do for God proves that we are his people. We sacrifice time, energy, and money to prove our love. “See God? I’ve read my Bible every day this week. I talked with two people about Jesus. I served at my church. That proves I love you!”
When our performance becomes the measure of our love for God, we need to hear the words spoken to Israel in Psalm 50 ; “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving…the one who offers thanksgiving in his sacrifice glorifies me”. What God demands first and foremost from his people is gratitude, not labor. Our thanksgiving glorifies him more than all of our hard work and sacrifice.
My friends, be aware of this danger. If we are to live as Christ’s people thanksgiving and gratefulness must to be the tone of our lives. Not busyness or hard work; thanksgiving. When we become a grateful people it transforms the world around us. We realize that everything we have is a gift and complaining fades away. How generous our king! Then out from that gratefulness flows the life of service and labor that Christ has commanded.
A life that begins with labor is not the Christian life; it is a life of religious legalism. A life that begins with thanksgiving to God for his free gift of salvation and overflows in joyful sacrifice is the life that glorifies Christ. What God demands first of us isn’t more work, it’s gratefulness.