Lecture 01: Worship (Part 1)
Lecture: Worship (Part 1)
I. Worship is something we do both individually and in community
When we think about worship, we need to think in terms of pairs. These are pairs of terms in regards to my first three points. The first pair includes individual and congregational worship. When we speak about worship, sometimes we need to distinguish between an individual or as a congregation. Another term for my second point; sometimes in talking about worship, we are talking about the habitual duty of worship and privilege of worship. This is part of our life as in being twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week. Sometimes we speak about worship as being intentional acts of worship. This can also be true of prayer as we have a life is prayer and then we designate intentional acts of prayer. The third pairing includes terms like revelation and response. All worship, in some way or another, involves revelation and response.
II. Worship is both habitual and intentional. What is more important?
Think about individual and congregational worship being habitual and intentional. There isn’t an exact correspondence here, but ordinarily we would link habitual worship in terms of what I am doing with my life all the time. We would usually link intentional worship to congregational gatherings. Both are important and critical. Which is more important in the sight of God? In Romans 12:9, Paul says that this is as spiritual as it gets, when you offer your bodies as a spiritual sacrifice.
A. Scripture Texts
By the way, Romans 12:1 is actually a reference to all of these points if you think about it. It is speaking to individuals in a sense and it is also clearly speaking to the church. So, it applies to the individual level and he is clearly speaking about the habitual lifestyle of worship. It is also a great verse to look at in terms of revelation and response. What he does in Romans 12, he is turning the corner in this letter. For eleven chapters, it has been about theology in building this argument about God dealing with Jews and with gentiles and the profound mysteries of God’s election. Then he says, therefore, in view of God’s mercy and revelation present your bodies as a living sacrifice, and therefore respond. Then everything else that follows 12 – 16 is really response. In light of God’s mercy, this is what you ought to be doing and how you should live in response to him as you love God and love one another. One of the things that we are going to talk about, especially in regards to North American churches; we are reforming worshipers primarily in our churches today as individuals. There is so much in the culture already today that is radically individualistic. I believe that most of our worship practices just reinforce this point. The most obvious example is the songs that we sing which consists of the first-person pronoun. It is all ‘I’ this and ‘I’ that. In a culture that is already radically ‘I’ centered, we need to think about the bigger picture which is much larger than ourselves. Let’s consider the habitual verses intentional acts; whether we think in terms individually or community. What has the higher priority biblically in regards to specific acts that are worship oriented acts? What would involve intentional acts of worship? Well, coming together on Sunday morning to listen to the Word of God, praising the Lord through song, having prayer and the Lord’s supper. Yes, this is sort of what I mean by intentional acts of worship. This is compared to the ongoing presentation of our bodies of our whole being as living sacrifices to God. Which would have a higher priority in the Scriptures? Both are equal but in considering this, it would be biblical rational for this in Matthew 9:13.
Jesus quotes this from Hosea 6:6. Matthew 9:13 is a place where Jesus is being assaulted by the religious people of his day. They are people who are very concerned about religious action. They are always coming against Jesus over religious action and the lack of it by him and his disciples. Here, they see that he is hanging out with sinners; he is having a meal in a tax collector’s home. They just don’t understand it. And so, he says, those who are well don’t need a doctor, it is those who are sick. I didn’t come to call the righteous but to call the sinners. He tells them to go and study the Bible more. I desire mercy not sacrifice. He quotes Hosea 6:6 here. In Micah 6:8, another passage that we would add to this. In the passage, it specifically asks what God wants from us in regards to worship. So, what is acceptable worship? He goes through a litany of possibilities such as burn offerings, rivers of oil, etc. or should we do what the pagans do and offer up our children? Do justice and love mercy, he said. While the intentional acts of worship are beautiful, desirable and acceptable; they are only this way if they are characteristic of a lifestyle of worship. If they are not this, they are far from beautiful and acceptable and desirable to God.
B. Intentional Acts are from a Lifestyle of habitual Worship
In Isaiah 1:10-18, Judah and Jerusalem are being addressed here but they are being called Sodom and Gomorrah. The Lord is addressing Judah and Jerusalem calling them by another name because of a disconnect between habitual and intentional. There is no evidence from this passage that they were failing to gather together when they were supposed to gather or offer what they were supposed to offer. The point was that there was a disconnect between these religious acts and their daily life. They had reduced worship to the intentional and neglected the habitual. This is a powerful and devastating passage in regards to God, who himself has commanded the holy assembling. He has commanded the festivals and the sacrifices along with the prayers. Now, he is rejecting it, saying that I will no longer accept them. It was because their hands were full of blood. They had misunderstood what it was all about. The same idea is clearly made in Amos 5:21-24. It is now the northern kingdom that is being addressed by the prophet Amos. Of course, it is the same Spirit and it is a disconnect. The language is even stronger here in a sense, saying, I hate and despise your religious feasts. We know that part
of worship is singing, but here God says that he rejects their singing. He says that he hates it. What a fearful picture where we have people singing their praises to God with God not listening. God is desiring something more here, specifically in terms of justice and righteousness.
C. What the Lord requires of us
In Micah 6:6-8, how shall I worship? This is a question specifically about worship here. What do you want me to bring to you in worship Lord? There are things that we would identify as religious offerings of worship, especially in regards to Jewish offerings. He also mentions pagan worship offerings. What God requires is this three-fold response: do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God. Let’s suppose that doing justice, doing mercy and walking humble with your God are basic requirements. This is what God requires of people. Does this remind you of any other passages in the Scriptures in terms of basic requirements like the great commandments? Doing justly and love mercy is really focused on the love of neighbor. You love your neighbor by doing what is right, doing justly toward your neighbor. This one goes both ways; it speaks about obedience to God and part of our commitment to justice. We follow the laws of God, but this is done out of love for neighbor. At the same time, I commit myself to love mercy and walking humbly with God. It parallels the concept that above and beyond everything else that God requires of people; this is the fundamental basic stuff that God requires. That we love the Lord with all our hearts, mind and strength and we love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus picks this up in the New Testament and takes these two concepts from Deuteronomy 6:5 to love the Lord your God and to love your neighbor as yourself in Leviticus 19:18. On more than one occasion Jesus says that this is what it is all about. I don’t think it is wise for us to say that Jesus is speaking something particularly Jewish before the resurrection and that he is going to change his way. This is not a dispensational understanding. This is the sum and substance of what God requires, that we love him and that we
love our neighbors as ourselves. This is what Micah 6:6-8 has in mind also.
You are to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God. In all three of these instances, we find that there is something that God desires and requires above sacrifice. God wants something more than sacrifice. Doing justly reminds me of the need for obedience. We hear the laws of God and we obey them. We also submit ourselves to the authority of God; this is more important to the Lord than sacrifice. Consider 1st Samuel 15:22 where we have the story of King Saul. God has commanded Saul who began well as a king but is now stumbling badly and becoming worse and worse. God has commanded Saul through the prophet Samuel to destroy the Amalekites. It was the judgment of God upon that nation because of their sins. This was clear to Saul. Saul goes and wins the war but he doesn’t destroy everything. He spares the king so that he has a trophy and then he spares the best of the cattle. In verse 9 of 1st Samuel 15, they kept the best of the sheep and the cattle, everything that was good. But everything that was despised and weak, they totally destroyed. There weren’t just being compassionate here; they were more than happy to destroy the worst of the livestock. But God then says that I am grieved that I made Saul king. Samuel gets up early in verse 12 and goes to see Saul as he sets up a monument in his own honor. Saul was doing this because of his great victory. Saul says that he had done what the Lord told him to do, but Samuel replies, really? What are these cattle and sheep that I hear? So, in this, Saul begins his descent. Saul explains that the soldier brought them; they spared the best so that they can sacrifice them to the Lord. His defense is worship; this is for disobedience.
Samuel says to him in verse 22; does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as obeying the voice of the Lord. To obey is better than sacrifice and to heed is better than the fat of rams. Rebellion is like the sin of divination and arrogance is like the sin of idolatry. So, obedience to the laws, ways and standards of God is more important than sacrifice. In terms of doing justly, let suppose a contemporary setting where someone is in business; he understands the laws and the way he is supposed to treat his employees and his clients. He understands the way he is suppose to respond to the tax codes and things like that. However, he rationalizes in his mind trying to cut corners, not paying all the taxes doing things somewhat unethically, I could make a lot more profit. It’s okay because I could give a lot more to the Lord. This would be a similar kind of thinking. God wants obedience to his standards and his commands; particularly to the laws of justice and mercy, more than he wants sacrifice. To obey is better than sacrifice. The next one that mentioned in this Micah 6:8 passage is mercy with the Hebrew word be hesed. This is kind of untranslatable word; there is no English word that fully translates from this word. This is like faithful love, covenant love, faithfulness and mercy and loving-kindness. God wants hesed more than sacrifices. This is the one that is quoted in Hosea 6:6. So, this is more important than sacrifice. Our religious nature makes us think about religious action and think those actions will appease God. But God isn’t ultimately concerned about our religious acts unless they are the overflow of our living.
The way I put these two thoughts together really comes down to a love of your neighbor in a wonderful way. On the one hand, love of God and love of neighbor; I am to walk my life in obedience to the commands of God and try to live a righteous life and according to his standards. On the other
hand, when people around me, fail in regards to those standards or suffer because the world doesn’t keep those standards, when people sin or under the weight of sin, how I relate to them is not through judgment, but through mercy. We need to bring these two together. Justice and mercy, obedience
and mercy, walk together beautifully and Jesus is a great model of this. We could think of countless stories on how Jesus stood for righteousness and justice and at the same time, he stood for mercy. He was able to bring these things together when so many others couldn’t. The story of the woman
taken in adultery is a great example. He doesn’t condemn her; there is mercy, but he doesn’t condone her either. Go, and sin no more; there is righteousness and obedience.
The third word is a humble walk with God. The concept of humility is also more important than sacrifice. In Psalm 51:16-17, a familiar passage from the prayers of David. Traditionally, it is linked to David’s confession, after his sin with Bathsheba. Again, this is something more important than sacrifice. In Old Testament language, sacrifice for us is what we mean by intentional acts of worship. They are beautiful and God commands them. They are only acceptable if they come from the heart and that heart is really on display in the way we live our lives. The principle would very much apply in the New Testament; that whatever our sacrifices may be, whether offerings of our money or time and energy in church-related work. All of these things are only acceptable to God when they are an overflow of a life of worship. How diligent we do our quiet-time, how often we pray; all of these religious acts need to be from an overflow of a lifestyle of worship.
D. Intentionality and habituality are both required
I don’t think that it is an either/or; it is a both/and. Matthew 23:23 is where Jesus launches into a lengthy repute of the Pharisees. There were good Pharisees also, but here the religious leaders of the day came. He said, woe to you teachers of the law and pharisees and hypocrites. You give a tenth of your spices, mint, dill, and cumin, but you have neglected the more important things of the law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter without neglected the former. So, it isn’t an either/or; God wants both. But if one is to be ultimately prioritized, it is the lifestyle of worship that God is looking for. We will see this later in John 4 where we read, God, who is Spirit is seeking worshipers who will understand that God is Spirit and therefore will worship him in every place and any time. The God who is Spirit, fills the universe and inhabits eternity. He is looking for worshipers who will understand that. That everywhere I go, I am in the presence of God and therefore everywhere I go, I have to be worshipping the Lord. In this passage, the last point seems to be more of a check against another problem. You could almost build an argument in the world today, that some of our non-Christian friends are more obedient to God than we are in terms of justice and mercy. They are more concerned about feeding the poor and caring for those who have been trodden down by the world. Perhaps they score higher on mercy, maybe they even score higher on the justice scale. However, God’s requirements go beyond justice and mercy to a humble walk before God. That is also a requirement of God; in fact, Jesus only quoted half of Hosea 6:6 in Matthew 9. But there is more; God says, I require mercy not sacrifices and I require an acknowledgment of God. So, the other core requirement from Hosea 6:6 is the humble acknowledgment of God. If a person is walking through the world and doing things in the name of justice and mercy, but has a stiff neck (being rebellious) before God, that too is unacceptable.
Now we find ourselves in the realm of Isaiah’s filthy rags, that all of our righteousness is filthy rags if it isn’t combined with a contrite heart before the Lord. There are a host of other Scriptures that says we are to be humble to one another. Are many people moving under this concept of worship, that worship is really a lifestyle? By nature, I think that we tend to reduce it to just something I can do on occasion. This is a fundamental misconception of worship. This is the misconception that the woman is laboring under in John 4. Where shall I go to worship God, Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim?
III. Worship always involves both revelation and response
A. Isaiah 6:1-8
Whether we are speaking of intentional acts of worship or the habitual lifestyle of worship, worship involves revelation and response. Just to initially illustrate this, I want to look at Isaiah chapter 6, verses 1-8. This is a great passage to illustrate a worship encounter in the Scriptures. It marvelously displays this revelation and response idea. In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted. The train of his robe filled the temple and above him was seraphs, each with six wings. With two wings, they covered their faces and with two they covered their feet and with two, they were flying. They were calling to one another, holy, holy, holy is the Lord almighty. The whole earth is full of his glory. At the sound of their voices, the doorpost and threshold shook. The temple was filled with smoke. Woe to me, I cried; I am ruined; for I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips. My eyes have seen the king, the Lord Almighty. Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hands which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it, it touched my mouth and see this has touched your lips. Your guilt is taken away; your sin is atoned for. Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying whom shall I send and who will go for us. I said, here am I, send me.
What is the first point of revelation in this passage? We can call this the holiness of God or the loftiness of God; a God who is high and exalted, pure and undefiled. God is set apart, holy. Isaiah’s response is woe is me. If that is who God is, then I am in trouble. I am undone, for I am a sinful man and I live amongst a sinful people. I am a person of unclean lips. This is the perfect response. God graciously reveals more; the second revelation involves mercy in action. God acts on behalf of the sinner. This is not a static kind of mercy; God acts on behalf of the sinner. He initiates again, through this act of kindness. He sends an angel who takes a coal from the fire and touches Isaiah’s lips taking away his guilt and his sin was atoned for. God reveals holiness and his mercy by acting in mercy. Isaiah’s response isn’t written explicitly in the text, but I want to mention it. I think his proper response here is that he humbly receives the mercy of God. He accepts the kindness and favor of God. This isn’t automatic as people sometimes stumble overhearing the Gospel. They think that it’s too easy for them. I think of Peter when Jesus wanted to wash his feet and he says no Lord, you will never wash my feet. So, Isaiah humbly accepts; he receives the cleansing of God. This is the appropriate response. Further revelation, God reveals his will or his purposes or his tasks or commission. God wants his new redeemed man to do something. Isaiah’s response, here am I, send me.
This is a great picture of this idea of revelation and response and we see this kind of thing happening where God reveals and Isaiah responds and God reveals more. This isn’t a law as such, one way or another. It is up to God and his divine prerogative even when we have done everything that we know, even when heaven seems silent to us. But in this passage, we see revelation that is received by an appropriate response. We may also see the designs of our worship experiences. On the one hand, we have revelation of his character and we have revelation about his action and then his will for his people. So, there is God’s holiness, Isaiah’s response; God’s mercy and again, Isaiah’s response; God’s will and Isaiah’s response. Ultimately, when we get to this passage; we are back at Romans 12:1. This is Roman’s 12:1 in action; therefore, in view of God’s mercy, present your bodies as a living sacrifice. That is exactly what Isaiah has done; in view of the mercies of God, here am I. I think that this is the picture of the ultimate picture of a worshipper. It is someone who says, here am I, I am yours. This also reminds me of Luke 1:38 when Gabriel shows up and tells Mary that she has an assignment. Mary’s response is, I am the Lord’s humble maid, may it be to me according to your word. The church can be full of people who look like Mary and Isaiah, but we are not. The church isn’t full of people with this attitude. This is perhaps because we don’t fully understand the mercy of God. We don’t have a clear understanding of the mercy of God. If we understood the depths of his mercy, perhaps we would be more likely to say, here am I send me. Why is it that we don’t understand this? It is because we don’t fully understand the depths of our sin and we don’t understand this because we don’t fully understand his holiness.
When the revelation isn’t clear, the response will be unclear. In a lot of our churches today in singing about only the love of God, do we fully understand what we are singing? If we don’t have songs or revelation through the teaching and preaching and Scripture readings and things that magnify the holiness of God and the righteousness of God, then his love and mercy mean less and less to us. Again, this is because we don’t understand the depths of our sins. We have this tendency to think that we deserve everything; I’m okay, your okay.
B. Jesus as a Buddy
Is this an appropriate concept? We call Jesus a friend. When does he let the disciples use this language? It was the night before he was betrayed. This is in John 13; you call me teacher and Lord, rightly so. In John 15, I no longer call you servants but I call you friends. Even in the relationship between Jesus and the disciples, there was a progress toward this friend relationship. We have people in church who relate to God in a very casual way as our worship does also. Perhaps in some churches this isn’t so; God is understood as always being holy and lofty. He is never accessible. I’m reminded of the Lutheran practice of always balancing law and Gospel. In Martin Luther’s theology, to do it right, there must always be a balance between law and Gospel. The law knocks people over and bruises them and the Gospel heals them. If you find someone who is already beaten and downtrodden by the world from devastation of sin and its effects in the world, you don’t need to hammer them with the law, you lift them up with the Gospel. But for those who think everything is just fine and cool, you need to beat them up a little with the law and then lift them up with the Gospel. Perhaps we can say now because the Spirit of God is spread abroad and poured out in our hearts, we have an intimacy offered to us that is somehow different than the past. But even if this is so, everything about the teaching of the New Testament reminds us continually of what we were. There are eleven chapters in Romans, for example, devoted to the fact that we were all under the judgment of sin. Paul never lets us lose sight of this. So, somehow, in our church worship where the emphasis is on accessibility, friendliness, and warmth, perhaps there is a missing dimension.
C. Key Concepts
I think this idea of revelation and response is key throughout the Scriptures. In Deuteronomy 6:4-5 presented as the Shuma of Israel. This is Israel’s most famous and fundamental sayings; Hear O Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord is one. This is revelation followed by response in verse 5; therefore, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul, and with all your strength. Since God is one and Yahweh is God and he is alone God; therefore, everything you have is for him. This concept is also at the very beginning of the Ten Commandments. We have this in the commandments before we get to the requirements of God. There is a statement of covenant blessing and love. I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the House of Bondage’, therefore, you shall have no other gods before me. Romans 12:1 picks up the same thing as a sort of summary expression in the New Testament. We will even see this later in John 4:24, another key verse on worship. God is Spirit and this is revelation and those who worship him therefore must worship in Spirit and in Truth. There is also 1st John 4:7-8 which is the same; God is love, therefore we must love one another. This is a principle that carries on throughout the Scripture. God is both the subject and the object of our worship. He is the one who calls us to worship; he initiates and reveals it to us and invites us in. He is also the object being the one who we direct our response. All of our praises and thanksgiving are to him.