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Monday, January 12, 2009

Obedience as Worship (Genesis 2, Exodus 20, John 12, Matthew 28)

January 11, 2009
Sermon by: Robert Austell
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Last week we began a series on worship. I noted that worship may be the single most important activity in which human beings engage. It is also one of the richest and most frequent terms in the Bible. Over the course of eight weeks we are going to look at eight core principles for worship to help us understand better what worship is and how we are to engage in it.

Last week we looked at worship as a work of service rendered to the Lord. We were challenged to see our own work – what we do when we are not sleeping – as an opportunity to worship the Lord. This has the potential to transform our work, whether that is work in an office, going to school, raising a family, or how we spend our time in retirement.

I left you with two questions to ask as you rise in the morning:

How can my work today be an act of service, and therefore worship, to God?


What differences will believing in and following Jesus have on my work today?

Today we are going to look at a second worship principle, and one that also originates in God’s purposes with Adam in the Garden of Eden, as did the worship principle of service we looked at last week. This week we look at worship as obedience.

Keeping (Gen 2)

Last week and this week we read in Genesis 2:15 that God created Adam and put him in the Garden of Eden to “cultivate and keep” God’s garden.

The word ‘keep’ is a translation of the Hebrew word SAMAR. Far from meaning “have possession of,” it means ‘obey’ throughout the Old Testament. Here, in reference to the Garden, it means that Adam will obey and honor God’s command by tending diligently to the garden. As used throughout the Old Testament, it is another worship word, describing obedience to God’s Word.

So in the very first instance of God entrusting humanity with something [the Garden], we find that it belongs entirely to God, and humanity’s purpose was to serve and obey God through its use. That is the essence of stewardship, and it is essentially an act of worship to God.

But does that describe everything in our lives? Are there things that do not and cannot serve God? Are there things that we want to keep for ourselves?

It should be no wonder that the story turns there next:

The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” (vv. 16-17)

As you know, this was the very thing that the first human beings grasped for. This was the first illicit property, grasped against the explicit will and Word of God. It was the first violation of the stewardship of the Garden. God had entrusted them with the Garden and said, “Here you have all you need; cultivate and keep this for me.” But then God marked off the Tree and said, “This is not for you; this is death; stay away from this.”

It is in our fallen nature to grasp after that which we do not have. But it is in our image-of-God and redeemed nature to be entrusted with that which belongs to God. Worship (and stewardship) is serving God and obeying God’s will and Word with all that we are and all that we have, and turning away from sin and all that we would grasp after.

Commanded to Keep

Last week we saw that the word for ‘cultivate’ or ‘serve’ showed up in the Second Commandment, “You shall not worship or SERVE [idols].” (Exodus 20:5) That commandment ends with a positive description of those whom God will bless – those who “love me and KEEP my commandments.” (v. 6) That word ‘keep’ is SAMAR again, found in proximity here to ‘serve’ just as in the Garden.

Keeping God’s commandments or Word in Scripture is set up in contrast to worshiping or serving false idols. As in Genesis, obeying God’s Word means blessing and life; disobeying God’s Word means death and destruction. What we worship, who we worship, and how we worship are more than good guidelines for Christians. Worship has a direct bearing on our health, happiness, and livelihood.

We are commanded to keep the commandments. ‘Keep’ means obey. Hear God’s Word and keep it. Do what God says… SAMAR.

Perfect Obedience (John 12, 14)

It may not be immediately obvious why I chose these verses from John to go with this sermon. Jesus says, “I did not speak on my own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent me has given me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told me.”

There are two things to point out here. The first is the connection to the Genesis passage and the dynamic of the Garden. Just as God’s Word and commandment in the Garden was for life and disobedience was death, so Jesus affirms here that God’s Word or commandment is eternal life. It is, therefore, a joyful obedience for the Son to “worship” or obey the Father.

Secondly, this is the first indication we are getting of something we will explore in more depth in coming weeks. Jesus is our perfect worship leader. Because of his perfect faithfulness, he offers to the Father a perfect obedience that is also perfect worship. We will see, particularly when we get to the book of Hebrews, that it is only because of Jesus’ perfect worship – obedience and other aspects – that we are able to engage in worship at all. Without Jesus, our worship would fall flat, because of our imperfection, sin, and disobedience. In terms of life and eternity, this is why we are doomed to death and eternal separation from God apart from Jesus. In terms of worship, this is why all true worship is rooted in Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit – because Jesus offers perfect worship on our behalf and invites us “in” with what he is doing.

Worship is our Mission! (Matthew 28:18-20)

It is becoming in vogue to focus on the mission of the church over the worship of the church. Indeed, I continue to urge us “out there” as searchlight Christians, bearing the light of Christ into the world. But worship and mission are not two disparate or unconnected concepts. In fact, as we discover the riches of biblical worship, I believe it will become evident that part of the mission to which we are sent involves worshiping God not just “in here” but “out there.” Worship is not in an hour long service on Sunday morning, it is a life-long service out in the world!

Listen for a key worship word as I read the “Great Commission” to you once again:

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe [or KEEP!] all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age.”

Not only are we to keep this commandment to go – that is our worship-obedience; but we are also to teach new disciples to keep Jesus’ commandments. We’ve talked about taking our plays and music “on the road” – this is the ultimate worship-on-the-road. Sharing the importance of God’s Word and obedience – both teaching it and living it out – is an act of worship that we are to engage in “out there” in the world as we fulfill the Great Commission.

Some Practical Questions

I don’t know if I’ll have key take-away questions every week, but here are some to ponder this week.

Worship as obedience means “keeping” what God has entrusted to me through His Word and letting go of those things I have grasped after that God has not entrusted to me. In light of that and the Great Commission, here are two questions to mull over and repeat throughout the days this week.

Question 1: How shall I KEEP God’s Word (and therefore worship) and what do I need to release from my grasp?

Question 2: How can I make worship-obedience part of my searchlight mission “out there?”

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