You never know what your kids are going to do with the things they hear you say. We had not been at our church in Tulsa Oklahoma very long when we pulled up to a convenience store, and Cheryl saw where they had those little bundles of wood that they sell for $5, and we had just moved in to our new house, and had a fireplace for the first time, so Cheryl said, “Hey, maybe we should get some of that wood!” I said, “No, that is really expensive; we can get a lot better deal on it somewhere else.” And Cheryl jokingly said, “Oh, you’re just neglecting your family!”
Well, the next Sunday our son David’s Sunday School teacher came to us chuckling. She said that their lesson that day had been on confession of sin, and she had asked the kids to think about if they needed to tell God they were sorry for something. David, pre-conversion, never believed that he had ever done anything wrong and said he had nothing to say he was sorry for! The teacher said, “Well, David, isn’t there ANYTHING you need to apologize for, maybe something at home?” He said, “Well yeah, my Dad does. Mom said the other day he’s neglecting his family!”
Truly, neglecting your family would indeed be a great sin. But there is an greater sin: and this is to neglect GOD. And that is exactly one of the charges that God lays at the feet of His people here in our passage in Zephaniah 1.
Let me give you just a little bit of CONTEXT to help us understand this passage better:
— Zephaniah is one of the last twelve books of the Old Testament that we traditionally call “The Minor Prophets.” In fact, in Hebrew, these are considered ONE book, and they would call them “The Twelve.” I had a church member ask me one time why we call them the “Minor Prophets,” and I told her it is because they are “minor” in their length, NOT because they are minor in importance. Most of these books are very short, 2 or 3 or 4 chapters, while the “Major Prophets” like Isaiah and Jeremiah have 66 chapters, and 52 chapters. So they are short. But in what they actually have to say, we find some of the most important messages in all the word of God.
— When we turn to this Book of Zephaniah, we find the introduction in :1, which tells us that “the word of the Lord” “came to Zephaniah the son of Cushi,” — and then he jumps right in the message; and :2-4 show us that it is a message of God’s judgment. God says in :2, “I will completely remove all things from the face of the earth …” in :4 He says that He will stretch out His hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
And THEN in :4-6 He talks about WHY this judgment is coming. This is important. When you punish someone, you want them to learn something from it. So if you’re a good parent, you don’t just “react” and spank or punish your child; if you want them to really learn from this situation, you make sure and ask them: “Now, do you know WHY you are being punished?” And hopefully they can say, “Yes, it’s because I went into that room when you told me not to” or whatever. They need to know WHY the punishment is being given, so they can learn not to do it again.
That is what God does here. In :4-6 He tells them WHY His judgment was coming — and then He lists a number of kinds of sins they were involved in, which were bringing about His punishment. If we are wise, we will pay attention to these, because God is the same, yesterday, today, and forever, so the things that angered Him against Judah and Jerusalem back then, are still offensive to Him today.
The different categories of sin we see here are definitely very revealing; there is a variety here:
— He says in :4, “I will cut off the remnant of Baal from this place” (Baal was the name of the false god that many of the Israelites were worshiping) “and the names of the Idolatrous priests” — so many even of God’s priests were involved in this idolatry with Baal! We see it again in :5, “Those who bow down on the housetops to the host of heaven.” So idolatry — worshiping other gods — was one of the sins they were being judged for.
— But then notice the second part of :5. It says: “AND those who bow down and swear to the LORD and yet swear by Milcom”. Now here’s a slightly different type of sin. God says, there are some of you who ARE worshiping Me — He says, “you bow down and swear to the LORD (Yahweh)” — “AND YET swear by Milcom.” “Milcom” was another false god. SO He says there are some of you who are trying to have it both ways: you want to worship YHWH AND the other gods of the nations around you as well. But God says He’s not having any of it. It’s like the husband who says to his wife: I want to be married to you, but I also want to run around with other women. No self-respecting woman will allow that to happen. She’s gonna say, no, you choose ONE of us! And that is how God is too. He says “I YHWH your God am a jealous God.” And His first commandment is that we are to have NO other gods before His face. God says, if you are going to worship Him, then you are going to worship Him ALONE — not Him “plus” anyone or anything else. You can’t have it both ways. And of course, this speaks to a lot of us today, who are trying to “sit on the fence” and live half your life for God, and half your life for the world. You can’t do that. You can’t have it both ways. Like Joshua told the people of Israel: “CHOOSE you this day whom you will serve.” You can’t serve God and anything else.
So to those both then and now who are trying to “have it both ways” God says, that is not acceptable, and I am going to judge those who try to do that.
BUT THEN NOTICE :6 — and this is really where I want us to focus our attention for a few minutes this morning. Another kind of person God says He will judge is: “Those who have turned back from following the LORD, and those who have NOT sought the LORD or inquired of Him.”
Here we find a different kind of sin. It was not the sin of “committing” anything; but rather the sin of “omitting” the worship of God. He says:
— You have “turned back” from following Me
— You have NOT sought Me
— You have NOT inquired of Me
This is a very convicting word from God. Because lot of times we think of “sin” as particular acts we “commit”: murder, adultery, stealing, cheating, lying, lusting, drinking, gambling, and so on. And those things ARE sins. But James 4 reminds us that there is also another category of sin: not just things that we “commit,” but also things that we “OMIT.” James 4:17 says, “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does NOT do it, to him it is sin.” James says it is NOT just sins of “commission” that offend God, but sins of “OMISSION” — the things that we do NOT do that we should be doing.
There are many “sins of omission” that we could be convicted of: of NOT doing good things that we should have done:
— NOT caring about people and helping them. Maybe you didn’t hurt someone — but you didn’t help them either. Like the priest and the Levite on the Jericho Road. They didn’t beat that guy up and rob him — but they didn’t HELP him either — and that was also a sin.
— NOT being faithful in your ministry
— NOT giving what you should have
— NOT going on mission or witnessing when you should.
All these kinds of things are “sins of omission”, and we need to think about these things when we confess our sins every day. In reality, some of the worst sins we commit, are not things we’ve DONE, but things that we HAVEN’T done: “sins of omission.”
And it stands to reason that the WORST sins of omission, would be in regard to the most important commandment, right? So what IS the most important commandment? According to Jesus in Matthew 22:37, THE Great Commandment is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment.” Jesus says, LOVE GOD! That is THE great commandment — and this is repeated in several different ways in several different places in the New Testament. Most people know that: the Great Commandment is to love God.
So if that is the greatest Commandment, then what would be the greatest sin? Some people might say: “Oh the greatest sin would be murder.” Someone else might say, “killing an unborn child in its mother’s womb; abortion would be the greatest sin.” Others might say adultery; breaking the marriage vow would be the greatest sin — look at all the destruction and devastation we read about that King David’s adultery caused; and so many grievous things come from it in our day too; surely adultery is the greatest sin. Others might point to Romans 1 and what it teaches about homosexuality, and say THAT is surely the greatest sin — and so on. And all of these things ARE indeed serious sins.
But think about it: the greatest sin is breaking the greatest commandment, right? That just makes sense. If there was one Commandment that God says is more important than all the others, then the worst thing you could do, would be to break that most important Command.
And what is that most important Command? We just talked about it: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart.” That tells us that it’s not any of the “sins of commission” that is the greatest sin, but a “sin of omission” that is the greatest: NOT LOVING GOD with all your heart, is the greatest sin that you could commit.
Honestly, I don’t think many of us really realize that. I think probably a lot of Christians might say “Why would God be upset with me? I haven’t done anything!” But that is exactly God’s problem with them. It’s so much what they’ve done, as what they haven’t done. We have to realize that we aren’t “good with God” just because we “don’t smoke, don’t chew, and don’t run with those who do.” And for some years, people seemed to think that just “not doing” certain things was what Christianity was all about (NOT smoking, NOT drinking, NOT dancing, and so on). But that’s not the heart of Christianity. The heart of Christianity is what you ARE to do. You are to LOVE GOD with all your heart.
See, God created us to know Him and love Him. Jesus said in John 17:3, “This is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.” But even though God made us to know Him, we turned our back on Him and walked away from Him — and that is what sin is — neglecting our relationship with God. But God still loved us, and came to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ; He died on the cross to pay for our sins so that we could be forgiven, and come back TO HIM, to that relationship that He always wanted us to have with Him. THAT is what Christianity is. It’s not just about avoiding a list of “vices;” it’s about this relationship that we’ve been brought into with God through Jesus Christ.
So if we neglect the relationship with God that Jesus died to bring us into, we are missing the one thing that our faith is really all about. NOT paying attention to the Glorious God and Majestic King of the Universe, who humbled Himself to come to earth to die for us so that we could know Him, is no small sin. It is the greatest sin there is: neglecting God!
I want you to think this morning, about whether you might be guilty of neglecting God. There are a number of different ways we can do that:
— First of all, some people are guilty of neglecting God’s gift of salvation and the relationship He wants to have with us. There are some people who say, “Hey, I’m a good person; I just don’t believe in God.” Listen, if someone purposefully ignores God, that is not a “good person.” Romans 1 says they can see the evidence for God all around them, but they choose not to recognize it because they want to do what they want to do instead of submitting themselves to God’s Law. They think more of their own pleasures than of God’s word, and they are purposefully neglecting God! They don’t care that God humbled Himself to become a man — a greater humiliation than if one of us became a vile insect — and then DIED on the cross bearing our sins, so that we could be saved. But they turn their back on that and reject His amazing grace? Like Hebrews says, they’ve trampled underfoot the Son of God! Don’t be surprised that you’re judged when you’ve neglected God like that; there is no greater sin.
But others of us would say, I have accepted Jesus; I DO have a relationship with Him. But there are still many ways we can neglect Him:
— NOT THANKING GOD! Rom. 1:21 says the problem with many who deny God is that “They did not honor Him as God or GIVE THANKS”!
But many of us do the same thing, too. We go through whole lengths of time and don’t THANK GOD for the good things He has given us.
I think of the 10 lepers that Jesus healed in Luke 17, and only one came back to give thanks. Jesus asked, where are the other 9? They “neglected” to give thanks. But how often are we just like that — we regularly neglect to thank God. We spend all our time whining about not having something we think we need, or complaining about what we do have — so many of us are miserable, and one of the big reasons for it is that we have neglected to give thanks. THANK GOD! Over and over the Bible commands us to give thanks; it is life-changing when we do. But so many of us neglect it. Not giving thanks is one of the biggest ways we “neglect God.”
— We can also neglect God by NOT spending time with Him every day.
As we saw a moment ago, Jesus didn’t just die to give us “heaven,” but so that we could enter back into the relationship God wants us to have with Him. Having been given the privilege of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, how could we now neglect that, and not spend time with Him every day? How could we not make that the first thing that we do each morning? How could we go a day without singing to Him? How could we neglect to hear what He has to tell us in His word?
I loved Amber’s testimony last Sunday morning, about how she was anxious the night before school started, and she turned to her Daily Bible reading and read Romans 15:13, where it says: “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” And she said that was JUST what she needed to hear that night before she began class with a brand new grade. She got a word, right from GOD for her! How could we NOT want to get that kind of word from God every day? How could we neglect that time?
Our commitment needs to be like David’s in Psalm 5:3, “In the morning O LORD, You WILL hear my voice.” Don’t miss meeting Him in the morning and neglect God.
— NOT worshiping Him corporately
Hebrews 10:25 says we are “NOT (to be) forsaking your assembling together, as is the habit of some.” The Bible says NOT coming together to worship God with others is a sin. You are neglecting to give God the praise that He deserves.
I’ve noticed several times in our services in recent days that when we were singing, I could hear the voices of our people just really “catch on” and sing out with conviction. It HONORS God when we sing like that. Our God is the awesome God; He deserves for the “roof to be raised” in this place every week when we come together! But when we don’t come, and our numbers are smaller, and our voices aren’t as loud, then God is not worshiped the way He deserves. We need first of all to BE HERE — unless we are providentially hindered — we need to be here so that His name is worshiped the way it should be. And then when we are here, we need to participate with our whole hearts, so that we give God the worship He deserves. NOT worshiping Him with others with our whole hearts is neglecting God.
— NOT seeking Him when we make decisions is another way we can neglect God.
Part of God’s judgment in :6 here was directed towards “those who have not sought the Lord or inquired of Him.” NOT seeking God; NOT asking Him, and getting His leadership, is a neglectful sin.
It reminds me of what we read in Joshua a few weeks ago, when Israel had come into the Promised Land, and they made a covenant with the Gibeonites but it says “they did not seek the mouth of the Lord.” They didn’t ask God first, and it cost them. How many times do we do that same thing: we just decide to do “whatever” seems good to us — but we neglect to really seek God first. And just like Israel, it always costs us when we neglect God.
— NOT “praying without ceasing” is another way we often neglect God. Even if you have a quiet time in the morning, do you then go for long stretches through the day when you don’t talk to God?
I know one of the things I hate in my own life, is when I will look back on my day, and suddenly think: “I went all afternoon without praying! Where in there did I pray? When did I sing a song to God? When did I turn my mind to Him?” I HATE when that happens; there is nothing worse I could have done — I have neglected God!
Someone may say, “Well, I don’t think that’s a really big sin — just ‘not praying’!” But think about it: what a great insult it is, for us NOT to pray:
— If some great person came into your office, and sat down there, you would acknowledge them; you would greet them; NOT to do so would be a great insult. Well let me tell you: there IS a great Person sitting in your office; there IS a great Person there at your school; there IS a great Person who has come into your home — and it is a great insult for you not to speak to Him!
And it is very brash for us to go for any period of time and not call on God for help. We can’t breathe a breath without Him; our hearts will literally not beat again without Him. Hebrews 1 says “He upholds all things by the word of His power.” And yet you and I think we can go hour after hour without calling upon Him and asking Him for help?! We need to be singing and praying all the time that great new song: “Lord I need You, O I need You; every hour I need You;” we need to be singing all the time that great old Hymn: “I need Thee every hour.” Not to recognize our need for Him and continually call out for His help is to neglect God!
— We can also “neglect God” by not considering the impact of what we are doing, on God and His church and His reputation and glory.
We read a few days ago that when King David committed adultery with Bathsheba, Nathan the prophet, speaking for God, told David, “You have despised Me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.” It wasn’t just the adultery that was the sin here; it was that he first “despised God.” And the adultery resulted after he “despised God” first.
And then Nathan the prophet said to David: “By this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme.” The problem was, David wasn’t thinking about that; all he thought of was what HE wanted. He didn’t think about the impact it would have on God and His kingdom and His reputation — and that was right at the heart of his sin: adultery was a sin, yes. But at the heart of it was that he “neglected God.”
That same kind of neglect of God is at the heart of many of our sins. We just do “whatever seems right in our own eyes” and we don’t even think about God: How is this going to impact His reputation in our church, our community? We didn’t even think about God.
Really, this “neglect;” this NOT thinking about God or giving Him consideration, is a serious sin.
One of the reasons God gives us spouses is to help give us insights about our relationship with Him. Remember Paul said in Ephesians 5, “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and two shall be as one flesh.” He’s talking about marriage there, of course. But then he adds, “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and to the Church.” He’s saying, marriage is a picture of the relationship that God has with His people. And we can learn so much about our relationship with God, from our relationship with our spouse.
Among them being, that if you are going to have a good relationship, you must spend time with that other person. That is true for your marriage, and it is true for your relationship with God.
Cheryl & I sometimes tease that since our kids have all moved out of the house and we have an “empty nest,” she’ll often go to her craft room and work up there, and I’ll go to my office downstairs and read there — and one time after we’d been doing that for a few hours, Cheryl said, “We could stay married for a long time this way; there’s nothing to fight about!” But of course that IS just a joke. One of the most important elements in a successful marriage is spending time together. And Cheryl & I are committed to do that: when we’ve been reading and crafting for a while, we’ll get together and eat, and watch an Agatha Christie mystery, or a football game; we walk 2 miles together each morning and talk the whole time; every Friday we set aside to spend time together as our “Family Day.” It is vital for us that we have that time, and not neglect our time together. I have said before, that I have never talked with a couple that was having problems in their marriage who said that they were spending time together each week on date, or had a scheduled time to do something together. Neglecting each other is one of the worst things you can do in a marriage.
I don’t remember all the details of the occasion I am going to share with you, but Cheryl’s response I remember most vividly! Whatever my transgression was, when she pointed it out to me, I remember I said “It wasn’t that big of a deal; I just didn’t think.” (Being a man, somehow I thought this was a good defense …) But Cheryl said, “THAT IS EXACTLY THE PROBLEM! You didn’t think! You didn’t think about ME!” She said, “That’s almost worse than if you had done it on purpose. Instead, you didn’t even think about me. That was the whole problem!” And she was right. I’ve thought about that many times since. NOT thinking about someone, is one of the worst sins we can commit against them. Someone has said that the opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s apathy. It’s just not caring about them at all; to neglect them.
To neglect your wife is a sad thing; to neglect your child is a horrific thing. To neglect some person you know who has a need, is a tragic sin. But the greatest neglect you could have, is to neglect of the Greatest Person there is. The greatest sin, is to break the greatest Commandment: not to love God, but to neglect Him. Every one of us needs to ask ourselves today: “Am I guilty of doing this? Is there any way in my life, that I am neglecting God?”