The Law of two Altars

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Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed. (2 Timothy 2:15)

Presenting oneself to God principally involves the motivational aspect of service as its foundation. The intentional action of one’s heart is just as important as the development of the ministerial task that a person exercises.

Christian service is not only a matter of doing something. Whom we serve is just as relevant as what we do in our service. It is vital to focus on the discipline the motivation of our ministerial development in pleasing God before we begin to serve men.

This is a matter of foundations. Visible growth is founded upon that which no one can see because it is buried under the ground. This is an important law of edification. Whenever we think about foundations, we understand that it is necessary to grow down before growing up. This work in our foundations points to the work of God in our motivations. Without this foundation, whatever it is that we are doing for God will be compromised.

God evaluates the intention of each of one of our efforts in our service to him. He sees beyond the external impression that we cause in people. Obviously, he knows our most intimate of intentions.

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

This was a warning given to a prophet that had a deep sensitivity to the voice of God and a highly developed ability of discernment. Even the prophet Samuel allowed himself to be deceived by appearances.

This however is a mistake that God never makes. The truth is that it is just as easy to deceive people, as it is impossible to deceive God. He sees and discerns our deepest intentions.

It is in this way that we testify to God of our moral failure and our emotional sickness. A corrupt motivation condemns a work even before it has begun. It is a house without a foundation or with too small of a foundation. On one hand things happen, but on the other hand they become more and more unstable and vulnerable.

If our motivation is wrong, the time will arrive when the fragile resistance of the foundation will be crushed underneath the weight of its own work thus exhibiting its lack of strength. This is a mathematical matter. The truth is that in spite of the fact that things in the spiritual world do not work immediately, they work with extreme precision.

Whenever a construction collapses many people die or get hurt. In the same way, every ministerial investment made through impure and hidden motives is suicide, since it can involve the destruction of many people.

Our motivation is crucial with respect to being qualified as Christian workers. Whatever inspires our actions and motivates our service is just as relevant as the service itself. The truth is that every inner effort that is motivated to impress men disqualifies us before God.

Whenever we value human opinion above divine approval, we exhibit a highly corrupt spiritual motivation, which compromises our service.

The law of two altars

In various occasions in the Bible, we see the need of building two types of altars: a hidden or inner altar and a public or testimonial altar, the former for God and the later for people. The first altar speaks with respect to the testimony that God gives of us and the second speaks with respect to the testimony that we give of God.

There is however an important sequence to be obeyed. The inner or hidden altar always precedes the public altar of testimony. This is the law of two altars. In other words, before being presented to man, we must present ourselves to God.

The affirmation of man does not mean very much when we do not have divine approval. An inner, hidden life with God always precedes a public life before men. Whenever we invert this sequence we sin against this law. Here, we understand why so many people who in the same way that are lifted up in a highly visible and impressive public manner, suddenly “disappear”.

Without an intimate life with God, we end up fostering a lack of consistency that will sooner or later, make us victims of public life and of the public image that we have worked so hard to establish. This was King Saul’s problem. His transgression disqualified him from being king. Even after disobeying God, he continued to be more worried about his public image than about his relationship with God:

Then he said, “I have sinned; yet honor me now, please, before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may worship the Lord your God.” (1 Samuel 15:30)

The Bible warns us that we cannot base our lives on appearances devoid of a consistent godly character. Superficial impressions that convince public opinion don’t last very long. In the long run, you cannot avoid the inevitable destruction of the visible. It is like the dry grass and the fading flower under the caustic heat of the “sun of righteousness”:

For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits. (James 1:11)

Will we choose what is apparent or what is permanent? This is the great motivational dilemma. The recipe for spiritual consistency is a personal, intimate and constant commitment to the revealed will of God:

And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:17)

Motivations and principles

When we offer sacrifices on the hidden altar we reveal our motivations and when we offer sacrifices on the visible and public altar we express our values and our principles. By nature, motivations are can be concealed, while our values and principles are much more observable and behavioral.

In the same way that it is easy to perceive values and principles of an action, it can be extremely difficult to discover the motivation behind it.

Consistency of personality and spiritual integrity depends on the synergistic adjustments between the sanctified motivation of the heart and the divine principles practiced.

No matter how correct our motivations may be, if the principle is wrong, the result will be death. In the same way, no matter how much we act in the correct principle, if the motivation is wrong and corrupted, the results will also be death.

David had correct motivation in returning the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem; however, he acted in the wrong principle when he used an ox-cart to transport the ark instead of transporting it on the shoulders of the priests in the Biblically prescribed manner.

This principle teaches that the priests carry the weight of responsibility of directing the presence of God. This principle was broken. The first time that an ox stumbled, Uzzah stretch out his hand and steadied the ark so that it did not fall. He was just trying to help. Again we see someone very well-intentioned, however, breaking a principle. He wasn’t authorized to touch the ark. No matter how good the intentions of these men were, God struck down Uzzah.

In another example, Ananias and Sapphira gave a large offering from the proceeds of a piece of land that they had sold. They were practicing the correct principle of giving. However, they were not giving with the correct motivation. They wanted public recognition for offering the entire amount at the same time that they lacked the generosity that they were attempting to demonstrate. They wanted to impress others so much that they failed to honestly confess that they needed part of the money. They claimed that they were giving everything, when in truth they kept back part of the price. They lied not only to men, but also the Holy Spirit. Both of them died. How many brothers and sisters like this couple have already died or are dying within our churches?

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