THE VANITY OF WORSHIP

“In vain do they worship me – their teachings are merely human rules”  (Jesus’ words in Mark 7:6—7 of the church leaders who opposed him.)

Such manifest vanities are today practised and displayed daily by millions of church goers. Jesus could well say of today : they worship me after their own traditions instead of obeying my words.

Consider : Jesus never asked his disciples to worship him!

Imagine this absurd scenario:  The first disciples come together to worship Jesus. So they put him up on a throne and lift up their hands or they prostrate themselves! They say they love him, adore him, bowing down and singing before him, sure that their devotion, their religious acts will please him. They devise a form of service and trot it out ….. and they ignore his expressed words in the gospels.

Or, just imagine the first disciples post-Pentecost composing or going through a liturgy or holding services or dedicating buildings to Jesus! Of course, such scenarios do not fit. Human constructs.

Instead they show the worth of Jesus by obeying his Holy Spirit, sharing goods, experiencing apostolic teaching, eating together, praying, receiving the Holy Spirit.

Are we using “worship” as a substitute for plain obedience to Jesus? Faithfulness unto Jesus means we  follow him to the end.

Many ignore his commands to believe, to pray, to persevere, to go make disciples, to teach all peoples all his commands, to receive the Holy Spirit, to bear witness to him.

He has unequivocally and expressly stated that his disciples are to put his movement, his kingdom, before their interests and agendas, to put him first, to seek the Father’s will and heart, to sit at his feet, to abide in him, his words abide in them, to love one another as he has loved them.

Have we forgotten he asks us to lose our lives for his sake, to be fishers of men, to give freely, to rejoice in suffering ….. ?

Did Jesus start “worship” classes? Did he teach about how to do “services of worship”? Did he appoint worship leaders? The whole idea is absurd. So many human inventions.

“Do whatever he tells you said Mary, his mother to the servants at the wedding (John 2)—the best advice ever given. The last recorded words of Mary. How spot on! “Do whatever he tells you.

Now that’s worship: Do whatever he tells you.

Listen as he teaches us in the Lord’s Prayer: Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. His Father’s will not just listened to, but actually done.

The writings of the whole Bible are all about pleasing God, doing his will, living under his wonderful rule (that’s worth-ship—acknowledging God’s amazing and eternal worth). Isn’t that what Jesus’ parables are all about? The house built on the rock is the person who not only hears but does the will of God.

Following Jesus is to worship him, obey him, doing whatever he says. It’s obedience to God, not sacrifice that counts, declared the prophets.

Where is worship in the Letter to the Hebrews, that most Jewish of all the New Testament writings? It’s being provocative, “stirring up one another to love and good works”.  It’s drawing near to God with faith, it’s seriously listening to your leaders, it’s enduring suffering. It is in rendering a sacrifice of praise by our lips which bear witness to his name—that is, being a witness to Jesus. It’s being mature and teaching others.

Prayer is worship. A notable example is in Acts 4 prayer with shouts of praise to God in the context of persecution.  Study of scriptures is worship.

Worship is not just a sing-song.

Worship in Acts? What about Paul and Silas in that Philippi jail in the most uncomfortable circumstances; or with Lydda at place of prayer.  Pauls’ teaching and arguing, and urging, writing letters, always on the go. Frequently imprisoned. Always acknowledging Jesus’ worth.

For Paul the apostle “acceptable worship” is service to others and witness to Jesus (Romans 12).

In 1 Corinthians 12-14 it’s building one another up when you meet together with the gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit—that’s worth-ship of Jesus.

In Ephesians 5 it’s “speaking to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” … to one another! Edification of the brothers and sisters is worth-ship along with making melody in the heart to the Lord.

Entertainments are common in many churches today and they call it worship! More like having an indulgent fun time—a substitute for the solid joys of doing what he asks.

The heart of God is the saving of the lost, that’s worship. Reaching outsiders.

What did Peter teach? What did John teach? James? And the others? It’s all about serving one another and doing the work of the Lord, being lights in a dark world. Worship in spirit and in truth.

Though the Israel cultus is gone, yet people feel the need to be religious, to offer up something other than “ourselves, our souls, our bodies as a living sacrifice”.

The Father “seeks those who will worship in spirit and in truth”.

10 responses to “THE VANITY OF WORSHIP

  1. Nicole Hargreaves

    Jesus didn’t ask them to worship him perhaps – but they did it anyway (Luke 24:52.) I completely agree that obedience is number one; but worship – yes, I mean a sing-song, and yes, in a corporate group – is indeed one other biblical and entirely appropriate expression of love for him. So let’s talk about the hypocrisy of singing one thing and doing another – not to stop the singing, but to get the “doing obedience” happening!

    • Thanks Nicole for your comment. I love it.
      Yes, they worshipped him anyway. Worshipping Jesus is absolutely appropriate! But it is significant that Jesus never once expected people to worship him, but to follow him, which meant obeying and imitating him.
      The word “worship” is a shortened form of the old English word “worthship”, to acknowledge worth. In many old-fashioned marriage services, the groom says to his betrothed “with my body I thee worship”.
      Yes, it is most appropriate for us to be “filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (Eph 5:18-19). Notice, “speaking to one another”.
      Regarding sing-songs or what some call the “praise service” as worship, means for many, that’s it, “that’s my worship”. But in the New Testament “worship” is expressed in terms of loving and caring action in service to others for example, “I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, your spiritual worship” (Greek “latraein”). This most significant statement is then followed by about 30 declarations of what is meant by “spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1-21). Now that’s really showing the Father’s worth in spirit and in truth (John 4:23).

  2. It is one of the most well thought through pieces I have read in a long time. At a recent Beach Mission I challenged about 40 young people as to the validity of their long-held traditional view that ‘worship’ was simply the hour long group devotion we had each morning. They then went out all day and beautifully spoke the Gospel to kids on the beach, in games, skits and stories. I met one girl who came to Christ because of her experience on the same beach 15 years before.

    They found it difficult to accept that all throughout the day, in presenting the Gospel to young kids who may never again hear about Jesus, they were worshiping God much more than singing a few songs every morning.

    • Thank you Michael. I loved the way you took the opportunity that you did. Even our young people are seeing through churchy-coloured glasses when it comes to “worship”. I pray these will throw away those glasses and begin to look afresh at what the Scripture really says.

  3. Daniel Lindahl

    Ian,

    I get that you have been given the job of challenging us all to move out of complacency and mediocrity. To express our love in action, not just in mouthing words. I commend your obedience in daring to be ”a voice in the wilderness”.

    Allow me to in turn challenge you to not, like Mischal, scorn human expressions of their love for the Lord in songs and dance as worship. In this age of marketing and commercialism its easy to dismiss it all as entertainment. When that is all it is, then it’s bland and uninspired and easily forgotten. I agree that that has no place in our lives.

    But much of it is truly inspired by God and ministers to us as we give voice to it in our expressions of love. Sometimes God speaks to me, even in the middle of the night, by bringing back to me the words of songs I heard and sang 40 years ago. This happened last night with these words going through my mind:

    Create in me a clean heart oh God
    and renew a right spirit within me.
    Cast me not away from your presence
    and take not your Holy Spirit from me
    Restore to me the joy of my salvation
    and renew a right spirit within me.

    The weapons of our warfare are not carnal
    but they are mighty
    for the breaking down of strongholds.
    The Spirit of the Lord encamps around His men
    and He saves them, and delivers them
    Taste and see that the Lord is good
    Blessed is the man who trusts in Him

    To obey is better than sacrifice
    I don’t need your money, I want your lives
    but if you can’t come to me every day
    then don’t bother coming at all

    But then that is the essence of your message as well Ian, thank you for challenging us all.

    • Thanks Daniel for your comments. I assure you we are on the same page here. I certainly did not intend to scorn human expressions of love for the Lord in songs and dance. And I am thrilled that you said that “sometimes God speaks to me ….. by bringing back to me the words of songs I heard and sang 40 years ago.” I can honestly say I experience the same – even this very day. Song, music and dance are part of my experience. Sadly, in the gatherings I am often part of, such expressions are rare and I long for more of such inspired by the Holy Spirit. Bring ‘em on!

  4. Hi Ian,
    I was not going to comment, but this topic has actually been on my heart for the last little while…
    Mary worshipped (Mary and Martha story in Luke 10), and understood the importance of really listening to what Jesus wanted to convey. I totally agree with you that it is not about ‘slick entertainment’, or hyped up music. However, there is a place for personal devotion of God, where one invests time in just ‘sitting at His feet’, hears His voice and as you say, then goes on to obey exactly what God is asking us to do.
    Many years ago I used to sit at the piano and simply sing to God, sometimes for hours. I don’t have a voice, nor am I a musician as such, but what came out of my spirit was very personal just between myself and God. I ended up, through some miraculous connections, creating a music tape of these little songs. I neither played nor sang on the tape, but I believe God helped me direct the product. One day during one of these sessions with God as I was singing at the piano, my husband said, that perhaps we should ask God to give me a better voice. Well, very quietly I closed the piano lid and just stopped right there.
    What occured the next morning blew me away. I had a phone call from a friend, who knew nothing whatsover about what had transpired. I still remember the morning well, I was in my bedroom getting ready to go to work. He said he was a little embarrased but felt strongly that God wanted to say something to me. He said “I love your voice, Don’t stop singing to Me, your tears are like jewels, When you feel lonely or sad I will wrap my arms around you. I love you, I love your voice. Don’t stop singing to me.” Both my husband I were absolutely floored by this.
    I became very aware of God’s desire for that intimacy with Him. We can be so busy doing (even caring for others) that we neglect this core relationship with the lover of our soul, who longs for relationship with us.
    That to me is worship, and some can come into that place during church singing. But without the obedience in the rest of our lives, it ends up being empty.
    Did I continue singing? On and off over the years, but overall, no! How tragic. The reason I write this, is that just over the last 2 weeks, God has strongly brought me back into that place where He wants me. I am coming back.
    Just another worshipper in the Bible is the woman with the alabaster bottle. Radical worship! And of course, we will be joining the elders and the saints at the throne one day.

    • Thanks Ruth for this beautiful story of God’s value of you and his value of intimacy for all of us. Your examples are indicative of those the Father seeks to worship him in spirit and truth. My post was about corporate worship of course, but what you say is spot on for each of us who aspire to serve him as his disciples.

  5. Jeffrey Lamparde

    I am beginning to unerstand the tragic and sinfull nature of the “church”
    We have over the years have seen the similarity between the High priests of the tabernacle who compremised the laws and ordenances given by God on how things were to done in the temple .Well the same thing has been happening in the church , They now don’t worship in spirit and in truth.

    • Thank you Jeffrey for your comment. However we can rejoice that all over the world the Spirit of God is moving and many are abandoning human traditional ways and seeking to live in obedience and faith. Check out the many international and Oz resources and reports at oikos.org.au. Let us have hope in the kingship of Jesus and what he began 2000 years ago which has never ended!

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