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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Yielding as Worship (Exodus 20, Luke 4, John 4)

January 18, 2009
Sermon by: Robert Austell
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We are continuing an eight-week study on worship. There are several important features to this study to note. First, worship is a rich, rich concept in the Bible, encompassing a number of actions and attitudes. Each of the eight weeks we will study a different principle of worship to better understand the whole concept and put it into practice. Second, worship is not just what we do in here on Sunday morning, it is our whole life lived before God. Just as marital love is not limited to cooking or doing the dishes, but is the whole of the marriage itself; so worship is not singing this hymn or that song, but all of life. What we do in this hour is, in some ways, practice for all the rest, though this counts as well!

So far we have looked at two worship principles: service and obedience. These were the first two worship principles, established when God put Adam in the Garden and told him to “cultivate and keep” it. Adam was there to serve God with his work and obey or keep God’s commandments. We have seen that these worship principles were upheld in the second commandment and carried on into Jesus’ own teaching and that of the other New Testament writers.

Today we look at a third biblical worship principle: yielding. Vocabulary-wise, this may be the worship word that occurs most in the Bible – more than serving, more than obeying, and even more than praising. There is a Hebrew word for it (chavah) in the Old Testament and a Greek word for it (proskuneo) in the New Testament. In both cases, the word literally means “bow down.” And this is not just a nod of the head, but bowing down LOW. It is an act of submission, reverence, and respect. In a word, it is yielding one’s self to God.

I’d like to look with you at two examples of false worship and raise the question of how we might misdirect our own worship. Then I’d like to look at Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 for a positive understanding and example of yielding as worship.

The Second Commandment… still (Exodus 20)

This is the third week we’ve looked at the Second Commandment. And we’ll have one more week yet. That’s because there are no less than four different words and worship principles contained in this foundational commandment. Let’s look at it again and I’ll identify all four. Starting in Exodus 20:4…

You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.

Now in v. 5, here are the first two…

You shall not WORSHIP them or SERVE them…

The third and fourth are at the end of v. 6…

…[God is] showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who LOVE me and KEEP my commandments.

WORSHIP, SERVE, LOVE, AND KEEP (OBEY). We’ve talked about #2 and 4 so far. Today we are looking at the first, which is the word for “bow down low.” Verse 5 translates literally as, “You shall not bow down low [to idols] or render to them acts of service.”

So the specific prohibition of the Second Commandment is to not bow down low to idols or false gods. Keep that in mind as we turn to the New Testament, to Luke 4.

The Commandments – ever relevant! (Luke 4)

Luke 4 describes Jesus’ temptation in the Judean wilderness. He fasted and prayed and wandered the wilderness for 40 days in preparation for his public ministry. Luke tells us that at the end of that period the devil came to him and tempted him in three ways. I will just focus on one of these, relevant to our consideration of yielding or bowing down low as worship.

In the second temptation, starting in v. 6, the devil says, “I will give you all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore if you worship before me, it shall all be yours.” There, that word “worship” is “bow down low.” The devil offered Jesus anything and everything the world had to offer – riches, power, kingdoms. This worship is that significant, that the devil would trade everything he had to offer for it.

Jesus answered by quoting from Deuteronomy and paraphrasing the Second Commandment, “You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.” There’s the word for “bow down low” again – and it is reserved only for God.

“Looking Up for a Moment”

The Second Commandment and the temptation of Jesus challenge us to take a look at our lives. Let me ask you three questions.

1. Are you bowing down to something or someone other than God

Bob Dylan sang a song, “You gotta serve somebody.” Though “serve” is not the particular worship word we are looking at today, his point is well taken. Human beings were made to worship. It’s in our design. Dylan sang, “…it might be the Devil or it might be the Lord.” Dylan goes through a whole list of “you might be’s.” Ambassador or rock star – you worship something or someone. Is it money? Is it a legacy and a name? Is it other people’s expectations or the culture’s definition of beauty? Is it the idea of finding a mate?

With the image of worship as bowing down low, take a moment to “look up and look around” – to what or whom are you bowing low?

2. Is something other than God “master” of your life?

The previous question implies conscious yielding of the will, a choice to give your life or dreams to something or someone. Sometimes, though, we are “mastered” by something or someone against our will or without our conscious acknowledgement. Are you bowed low because something or someone has mastered you? Is it an addiction? Is it depression or another health situation? Is it a person who has claimed control over you? Even in the most dire of situations, look up and call out to God. Part of the power of worship is that it cannot be controlled by external circumstances. You can be forced physically to bend the knee, but not to bow the heart. If you are trapped, chained, or in trouble, call out to God and seek help.

3. Is your life unyielded?

If you had trouble answering the first two questions and cannot clearly answer that your life is yielded to God, perhaps your life is unyielded. This is a bit corny, but it may help you remember something important: I is the beginning of idolatry. One of the most pernicious forms of idolatry and false worship is making self into god. In that case, God’s Word does not call you to look up and take stock, but to bow down low in humility, repentance, and submission through a yielded heart and a yielded life. This week, as every week, we will have an opportunity following the sermon to pray a prayer of confession in response to God’s Word. If you need to yield yourself to God, for the first time or for the thousandth time, I invite you to do so. That yielding is worship.

It’s Not Where, but How and to Whom… (John 4)

In the Second Commandment and the story of Jesus’ temptation, we are taught what NOT TO DO – bow down to any false god (or to remain unyielded to God). In John 4 we are taught what TO DO – worship in spirit and truth.

The story in John 4 is one of the more famous stories of Jesus. But it’s well-known because Jesus stopped to speak to a triple-outcast – a many times divorced woman of Samaria. He seems to know everything about her, offers her living water, and she serves as a witness to the Messiah for a whole town. But there are five key verses on the meaning of worship tucked into that story and personal encounter. Almost as an aside or perhaps as a distraction to move the conversation from her own personal affairs, she brings up one of the big religious differences between Jews and Samaritans of that day. Jews worshiped in Jerusalem and Samaritans worshiped on Mount Gerazim.

Jesus responds to her and says that an hour is coming, and now is, when the place of worship won’t matter, but how and whom is worshiped. He speaks of worship that God the Father seeks and he describes what true worship will be like. The word used for worship throughout this conversation (by both of them) is “bow down low.”

It is unclear whether the word “spirit” refers to the human spirit, the Holy Spirit, or both, since the Holy Spirit lives in the believer. As a description of “bowing down” it is clear that worship in spirit is not so much about ritual and external behavior as internal bowing down or yielding to the Holy Spirit, who serves as counselor, keeper, convictor, and present God. Likewise, “truth” is a comprehensive term, including God’s Word and Spirit, which is the Holy Spirit of Truth. (So, you get the Holy Spirit any way you slice it!) As a description of “bowing down” it is clear that worship in truth means submission to God’s Word and will, as revealed in Scripture through the Holy Spirit.

Bowing Down Low

Here are two applications: one for “in here” and one for “out there.”

For in here: bowing down is one of those things that can be accomplished literally without the accompanying internal attitude. This side steps the real meaning and purpose of this worship-word. We might say it this way, “Don’t just give God lip-service.” While there is importance and meaning in physical gestures, it is only so when the exterior matches an internal commitment.

We might fool each other, but we won’t fool God. And more importantly, we won’t be worshiping God. To use an example from a church service, I remember a time when I was so tired (or bored) that I couldn’t wait for the long pastoral prayer in the service. I knew I shouldn’t close my eyes during the sermon, but once that prayer came, boy I could get a nice little nap in. “Amen” was my alarm clock, and I convinced myself that I looked as spiritual and prayerful as the next person. If I’m describing you, don’t take it personally; well, take it personally and wake up, but don’t be offended – I’m in that same boat right with you!

To use perhaps a deeper but hopefully familiar example: worshiping God and being a Christian isn’t primarily about being a member of a church or even attending a church. Of course, if you are a Christian you should belong to a church, but it’s a consequence rather than the definition. Belonging to or even coming to church is an external act of “bowing down” – but what really matters is what’s going on inside, in your heart.

Why are you here? Is it an opportunity to yield yourself once again to the great God? Is it a formalized, ritualized representation of what you do every day of the week? It should be! It’s like school – every kid goes to school but only some go to learn. Anybody can go to church, but it takes a yielded heart, will, and mind to worship God.

Here’s what I think is some great news: you don’t have to have any special knowledge, training, or abilities to worship God. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know how to sing or pray, or even how to listen to a sermon. Those things are helpful, but you’ll pick them up. What it takes to worship God are basic human qualities like love, respect, obedience, and devotion. They are qualities that we often warp and twist away from God and in more destructive directions, but with God’s help we can offer them to God.

For out there: precisely because bowing down happens fundamentally in our hearts and minds, it is something we do throughout the week in every aspect of our lives. We don’t have to excuse ourselves from work or school several times a day to bow towards the Middle East and say prayers. We can say prayers in the privacy of our own minds. Whether we are making decisions at work, interacting on the playground at school, choosing what words to speak to our children (or parents), or any other activity, we have the option of worshiping God through yielding those decisions and actions to His authority and Word. Will I parent under God’s authority? Will I conduct business under God’s Spirit and Truth? Will I study to be approved by God first? This is yielding ourselves in worship to God.

Worship is bowing down low, yielding one’s self inside and outside to God, under the authority of God’s Word and Spirit, and in humility before the King of Creation. Amen!

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