"It is Vain to Serve God"
The vain worship of idols is a common theme among many O.T. prophets. God demonstrates through the prophet Isaiah the utter foolishness of doing so in 44.19: “No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, ‘Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?’” God makes it abundantly clear through His word that the worship of inanimate objects profits nothing to the worshipper; rather than profit it results in loss and condemnation.
Therefore, it may come as a surprise that the sentence used as the title of this article is found within the Bible also. Unless one is familiar with the specific reference and its context, one is likely to assume that this statement came from a Gentile, perhaps from one of the nations that Israel defeated during the Canaanite conquest or maybe from a Gentile invader like the Rabshakeh of 2 Kings 18. However, the great tragedy of the sentence “It is vain to serve God.” is that it issued from Jewish lips.
The nation of Israel, the chosen people of God, reached a point of such moral and spiritual decay in the years following their return to Judah that God in Malachi 3.13-15 says Israel uttered these words. Sadly, that wasn’t all they were saying about the LORD: “You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the LORD of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’” Take a moment and look over what they said about the LORD again and let the gravity of those words sink in.
“It is vain to serve God.”?!?!?!? It is in vain to serve a God who brought the Israelites out of Egypt, through the wilderness, into the Promised Land despite their repeated demonstrations of faithlessness? How could serving this God be in vain: “You shall serve the LORD your God, and he will bless your bread and your water, and I will take away sickness from among you. None shall miscarry or be barren in your land; I will fulfill the number of your days.” (Exodus 23.25-26)??? The people of God, who have been the closest witnesses and beneficiaries of God’s boundless power and providence, are the very ones now willing to profess fiction rather than facts.
What is the profit of keeping His charge or of mourning before Him? What an astounding, mind-boggling thing to say about Jehovah God! These people need to “consider what great things He has done for you” (1 Sam. 12.24b). Even the heathen Gentiles who occupied the city of Nineveh in the days of Jonah understood the incalculable profit of bowing down in mourning before the Father. “Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” (Jonah 3.9) The heart of Israel has been squeezed by their avarice and their pride into diamonds, and in their arrogance declare homage to Almighty God to be pointless and profitless.
“Evildoers not only prosper, but they put God to the test and they escape.” This statement might be the most chilling of them all. Israel is declaring that the One God, the LORD OF HOSTS, is powerless (or at the very least, faithless) in judging those who do evil. Israel has forgotten about Cain, about Babel, about the Flood, about every single instance in the Old Law where God’s hammer of Judgment falls upon individuals and nations alike, utterly destroying them for their sins. They have become the wicked of Psalm 10.13: “Why does the wicked renounce God and say in his heart, ‘You will not call to account’?”. God Himself after this statement in Malachi 3.15 follows up with a solemn promise in 3.18: “Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.”
It is easy to look down our nose at the Israelites of old and believe in our hearts that surely, we would never wind up like those people. This is exactly the point that we must peer deeply into the mirror of the scriptures and take an honest spiritual inventory.
If you are not faithfully serving the LORD, there is some part of your thinking process that has decided God’s service is not as “profitable” as some other pursuit. While we may never say aloud that God’s work and calling are profitless, when we choose to engage in other pursuits than His, what other conclusion can be drawn? When a person decides to pursue their own goals and desires rather than those of the Father, they declare that His reward, His blessings, His salvation are not as valuable as the reward they seek instead. The manifestations of this are manifold, but the source is singular: we forget that the LORD God “is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” (Heb. 11.6b KJV)
Will you allow your decisions and actions to say, “It is vain to serve God.”? Will you let your refusal to repent and turn to the LORD say, “What is the profit of keeping His charge or of walking as in mourning before the LORD of hosts?”? Will you continue to live a live of sin and defiance towards the Father and His word because you believe down deep in your heart that “Evildoers not only prosper, but they put God to the test and they escape.”?
Or will you remember the LORD, repent, and return to Him?
“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”
And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15.17-24)