How is your worship?

20 Jan

There are different ways we can worship God.

One way we worship God is by gathering together with other believers and engaging in singing, studying God’s Word, fellowship. A second way we worship God is by actively seeking to love our neighbor and obeying God’s commands in our relationships with the people around us. Still a third way we worship God is through faith, worship of the heart, worshiping in the Spirit.

Of these three, obviously the third is the absolutely most important.

You take out faith and you stop truly worshiping God. Going to church or doing good without trust in God and specifically in Jesus Christ is idolatry and is not truly good at all. It is worship, but worship of the wrong person, it is worship of self instead of God.

But what about the other two?

Worshiping God through the external religious activity or worshiping God through loving one’s neighbor, through mercy, compassion and all of that?

In other words, worshiping God by listening to a sermon on Sunday or worshiping God by serving your wife? Worshiping God through meekness, gentleness, living humbly, compassionately with others all week along or worshiping God through public prayer, attending religious meetings, engaging in theological debates?

Which is more important?

To me that sounds like kind of a funny question and honestly maybe not even the best question to ask because both are required and if you stopped either, that would be a problem. Whatever you do, you must not speak in a way that minimizes the importance of either. We need to shout out, both are vitally important!

But still, if we stop and think about it, Jesus does kind of answer this question actually.

Because there were a group of people who were super good at the externals in his day.

These people were the kind who would never “miss a church service” if you know what I mean. They were called the Pharisees.

Yet, Jesus confronts them time and time again and sometimes when he does confront them he says some very shocking things.

Take the time that Jesus told the Pharisees that God desires mercy not sacrifice.

Matthew 12.

“If you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.”

Which if you think about it, is a seriously surprising thing to say.

Because of course God desired sacrifice.

He’s the one who instituted it. He’s the one who wrote books of the Bible about it.

So what does Jesus mean?

He means that if you think you can truly worship God through external acts of worship alone without a heart of compassion and mercy, you are missing the point, because of these two, Scripture places even more of a priority on worshiping God through mercy and compassion than simply showing up at church left to itself.

Now there’s a couple important things to notice in that last statement.

It’s not that worshiping God through external acts like public worship is not a priority. It is a big priority. And it’s not that we are talking about simply doing acts of compassion and mercy. We are talking about worshiping God, deliberately showing mercy and love because of a desire that wants to honor God. Not trying to earn favor with God, but obeying God’s commands out of faith. Both acts of compassion and acts of public religious activity are necessary and required, but here’s the deal, the former is even more abundantly insisted on in the Word of God.

At least that’s what Jonathan Edwards says.

He puts it like this:

“Moral duties towards men— such as being chaste and temperate and meek in our behavior, observing trust between man and man, showing mercy to others when acts of mercy towards ’em are required, and living honestly and charitably, and behaving ourselves humbly and contentedly amongst men, avoiding contempt among or coveting what is our neighbor’s— such duties as these are of greater importance in religion than going to public or private meetings, attending outward acts of prayer or the ordinances of worship. For though no duty is to be made light of— no one is to be neglected; when we do some we ought not to leave others undone, but our obedience should be universal; and he that offends on one point is guilty of all; and every sin as committed against God deserves eternal death— and though neither one duty nor the other is of any value in the sight God unless performed in sincerity, yet that don’t hinder but that there are some matters that are weightier matters of the law than others, as most certainly there are by Christ’s own testimony in the twenty-third [chapter] of Matthew, v. Matthew 23:23. There are three things that are there mentioned as weightier matters of the law: judgment, mercy and faith. The two first are moral duties towards men, viz. judgment and mercy, or, in other words, acts of justice and charity.”

He actually preaches a whole sermon about this and in it gives six biblical proofs that this is true:

1. Moral duties towards men are more insisted on in the Old And New Testament than the other.

2. Where these two kinds of duties are spoken of together moral duties toward men are plainly preferred before external acts of worship.

Isaiah 1:12-15,17
Amos 5:21,24
Micah 6:7-8
Isaiah 58:6,7
Jeremiah 7:2-7

3. Sometimes professing people abound in external worship when they are living corrupt lives and that corruption is evidence not by a failure to show up at worship, but instead a failure to abound in duties of righteous and charity towards their neighbor.

4. Hypocrites and self righteous persons do much more commonly abound in outwards acts of God than they do in the duties of righteousness and mercy towards their neighbor.

5. When the Scripture direct us to show our faith by our works, it usually is talking about works of love and mercy towards one’s neighbor.

6. When we are told in the Scripture that we shall be judged on the last day, Scripture often talks about the way we relate towards others. See Matthew 25.

Perhaps one of the reason the Bible puts it this way, comparing and contrasting the two ways of worshiping God, putting an emphasis on one even over the other, is because of the audience to which these passages were addressed. For the most part Jesus wasn’t talking to people who had stopped caring about external religious activity, but who were satisfied with religious activity alone.

Unfortunately, that problem hasn’t changed all that much.

There are definitely people out there who say they love Jesus but have no interest in his church and that deserves a whole other post! How can you love Jesus without loving His body and certainly if we love Jesus we are going to be serious about obeying His commands in relationship to His church?

On the other hand however, isn’t it true that there are many people who are much more concerned about external religious activity than they are about compassion, love, mercy and justice in their daily relationships? They would feel terrible if they ever missed a church service and that’s fine, but they don’t mind engaging in gossip all week along and they do not see the disconnect. They feel like their church is really great at worship because they are great at theological debate, but they aren’t concerned that people aren’t concerned about the hurting world around them and that, I believe according to Jesus, is a serious problem.

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