Monday, January 26, 2009

Love of God as Worship (Ex 20, Dt 6, Mk 12)

Love of God as Worship
Exodus 20:1-6; Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Mark 12:28-31
January 25, 2009
Sermon by: Robert Austell

download (click, then choose "save to disk" for playback on computer or iPod, or play sermon live in this window below)

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Love of God is worship of God. We have looked at three key principles of worship in past weeks: serving, obeying, and yielding. Today we look at a fourth – loving God.

We began in the Garden of Eden, where God created Adam to serve and obey through his work in the Garden within the bounds God established. Each week we have also read from the Ten Commandments, and have noted that the second commandment contains these four worship principles I have named.

What we will also see today is that the meaning of worship continues to be re-affirmed, but also expanded, as we move through the Bible. The second commandment simply lists “love” as one way to render worship to God. But then we will look at the “Shema” in Deuteronomy 6 as it provides an in-depth explanation for what “love of God” means. Then we’ll turn to the New Testament to see how Jesus connects that love of God to love of neighbor, for a complete understanding of worshiping through the love of God.

The Second Commandment (Exodus 20:6)

I’ll simply remind you of the second commandment. It is the prohibition against making and worshiping idols or false gods. It uses two worship words to say what not to do: do not yield your life to or serve false gods. Then, in describing worship God seeks, it speaks of God’s blessing on those who love God and obey Him. Hebrew writers use repetition to emphasize important points, so the use of four different words for worship underscores the importance of worship to God alone. Likewise, English readers would want to make four discrete ideas from the four worship words, but there is significant overlap. Keeping God’s commandments is one way to love God, just as serving God is one way to keep the commandments. And all of these are worship. And yet, there is more that can be said explicitly about what “love of God” is.

Did you know the Ten Commandments appear twice in Scripture? The first time is here in Exodus 20. And then they are repeated, for a new generation, in Deuteronomy 5. And it is right after their appearance in Deuteronomy 5 that there is a fuller explanation of what “loving God” means. Deuteronomy 6 contains the “Shema” – which Jews and Christians alike came to understand as the Great Commandment – a kind of summary and explanation of the Ten that preceded. If you were watching the Inauguration last Tuesday and listening carefully to Rick Warren’s opening prayer, you heard a reference to the Shema, which is the first Hebrew word in these verses, meaning, “Listen!” or “Hear!” And it is a command.

The Shema – commanded to love (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

The Shema begins, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” That’s the part Rick Warren quoted. It is a reaffirmation of what the Ten Commandments teach: worship is only to be directed to the one God. And then, for any Jew or Christian, it should bring to mind the words that follow:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
How are we to worship through love of God? The Shema gives us a fuller explanation. The Hebrew people used words in a different way than English (or even later Greek) readers, but the use of the multiple terms ends up covering the full range of meaning and application, even if the particular concepts get scrambled a bit. Let me explain…

Love the Lord your God with all your Heart

The ancient Israelite understood heart as the source of volition, of decision-making (what we would call the ‘mind’ or ‘will’). And so you read in Scripture of Pharaoh having a “hard heart.” This meant that he set his mind against Moses and against God. He could not be persuaded. There is a beautiful passage in Ezekiel (11:19) where God promises His Spirit, which will take the hearts of stone of His people and give them hearts of flesh, meaning that they will soften towards the Lord and will yield to His will and commandments. Last week when we talked about yielding, this Hebrew concept of “heart” is what was in view. In the Shema, to love God with all your heart means to submit your plans, decisions, and dreams to God’s control and purpose.

This is a good time to mention the New Testament quote of this passage. Jesus adds “mind” to the original three terms, which helps Greek readers and English readers unpack more completely the Hebrew notion of “heart.” Again, it is the seat of the will, which we tend to assign more to our brain, or “mind.”

Love the Lord your God with all your Soul

Now to get really confusing, the Hebrew concept of “soul” was one’s life or essence. Ironically, it is what in English we might call the ‘heart’ – e.g., “I love you with all my heart” – that is, with my very being. Loving God with all our “soul” means placing our feelings and desires at God’s service and in conformity with God’s will. I don’t want to over-emphasize the romantic component here, but when we sing songs like “I Love You Lord” we are verbalizing the soul-love of God. Deep human love, like that between husband and wife, is the closest analogy we have to this kind of love of God. More completely, loving God with the soul is loving with the entire being… the part of me that makes the “me” – that is my soul.

Love the Lord your God with all your Might (Strength)

Might is much more straight-forward for us to understand, because the concept hasn’t changed across cultures. It does not mean with my muscles, though I’ve heard more than one sports devotion appeal to this verse. It literally means ‘muchness,’ ‘exceedingness,’ or ‘intensity.’ The final phrase, “all your might,” adds emphasis to the all-encompassing obedience and devotion already claimed by “heart and soul.” In contemporary English, I might translate it “with all you’ve got.”

The most important thing to take away from these verses is not the correct understanding of each Hebrew word, but the thorough and all-encompassing description of the love of God that it contains. However Hebrew, then Greek, then English readers understood the concept of the will, the emotions, self-awareness, and complete devotion, what really matters is that all of those be contained in our understanding of loving God.

I would summarize the Shema in everyday language by saying, “Love the Lord with all you are, all you have, and all you’ve got!”

However you remember it, what is important is to receive it and live it out – to love God. This is the Great Commandment!

But Wait, There’s More! (Mark 12:28-31)

I mentioned not only the continuity of what worship is from cover to cover in the Bible, but also the expansion of its meaning, as God revealed more and more of Himself and His will to His people. Just as the Ten Commandments expanded on the basic commandments of the Garden, and just as the Shema fleshed out the meaning of loving God as worship of God, so Jesus offers a fuller explanation of the Great Commandment in his response to the scribe in Mark 12.

When the scribe asked Jesus what commandment was greatest (or “foremost) of all, Jesus responded by quoting the Shema, but also by adding a commandment from Leviticus 19:18 to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus didn’t take anything away from the description of loving God as worship as presented in the Shema. (He actually expanded from the three terms to four, as was common in the Greek translation of that passage.) But he appended to the Shema the concept of loving neighbor.

There is much that could be said about that commandment, for Jesus taught frequently on it, defining and illustrating who our neighbor is. But to stay focused on today’s topic, Jesus saw an integral connection between love of God and love of neighbor, so much so that it is fair to say that loving our neighbor is part of the spiritual worship we offer to the Lord.

If that seems hard to understand, consider the oft-repeated (and good) advice I have heard that one way to show my children that I love them is to love their mother well. Likewise, if God’s heart is for my neighbor, then I will show my allegiance and devotion to Him by loving those He loves.

One caution: we must always be careful not to separate out love of neighbor from love of God, particularly if we are linking it to worship. Just doing something kind and loving to another person doesn’t make me a Christian or make that an act of worship. But, if I truly worship God – and love Him – I will also love my neighbor. That’s Jesus’ point here, and his commandment.

That is one reason we focus not only on being a lighthouse church, where the heat and light of our worship-love of God draw people to God; but we also focus on being a searchlight church, where the outward expression of our Christian love joins with God’s heart for those living in darkness, and His expressed intent to seek and save the lost.

Love of God as Worship

How do you worship God? If worship were just praying a prayer or singing a song, anybody could do it. It would be like purchasing groceries or depositing a check. You show up, go through some motions, and there – you’ve done it.

These biblical definitions of worship are more challenging than that. They require real commitment and action on our part. Ultimately, they require faith put into action. We’ve talked about worship as serving, obeying, yielding, and now loving God.

How can you love God if you just don’t “feel” it? Isn’t love a touchy-feely thing?

The Shema and Jesus’ expansion on it help answer that question. If loving God were just a matter of emotion, then we would have to look for experiences and feelings in order to worship. But remember, love of God is rooted in our will – it is something we can choose to do or not do. It does engage our intellect and our emotions, but is not defined by or limited by those things. And it is something we do tend to get out what we put in – our “strength” or commitment level is a factor. Finally, love of God is something to be shared. It is not, finally, personal and private, but something done in community – in and out of the faith-community.

Let me leave you with an illustration. When I was a kid, I was very tentative about swimming. For a long time, swimming was sitting on the sidelines with my mom, dipping my toe into the pool, walking in the baby pool, or just sitting at the steps to the big pool. That’s how many of us approach worship, particularly as love of God. The Bible describes love of God as worship differently, though. It is jumping in to the crowded, exciting, pool. It’s where the action is. There are fears, of course – I know every one. What if I drown? What if I can’t swim? But listen… picture the pool and all the people in it… and the lifeguards. It’s all there. Worship is in community, with safeguards, instruction, company, and excitement.

Do you hear an overlap between worship and basic faith and salvation? Sure, there is! That’s because both can be described in terms of a loving faith-commitment to God through Jesus Christ. Worship is the ongoing expression of saving faith, offered daily to God. Worship is the saved person living life as a Christian. It’s joining the pool AND swimming in it. And that’s what God desires for each person. That’s what God desires for you! Amen.

No comments: