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

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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.

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!

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

=and=

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?”

Monday, January 5, 2009

Service (Work) as Worship (Genesis 2, Exodus 20, John 6, 12)

January 4, 2009
Sermon by: Robert Austell
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Today as we begin a new year together, I am beginning an eight week series on what I believe to be the single most important activity of the Christian life – our worship of God. I can think of nothing more central and crucial to life than a solid understanding, grounding, and practice of worship to shape us into the kind of people God wants us to be. In fact, I would be so bold as to say that until we really understand what worship is, we have missed understanding what Christian faith and life are about.

This is not a new subject for us – in fact, it is one of the subjects dearest to my heart. But it is something that we can never master or exhaust, and the discipline and experience of true worship overflows into all of life. Indeed, one of the first things we will see is that worship is not an hour-long program in a church building; rather, it is all of life expressed through faith and obedience before God. If anything, what we do here reveals, equips, and informs our fuller and broader worship through all of life. Not unlike school, we must prepare to come here, give God our focus, time, and attention, and take what we do here with us when we leave. Like school, the church service is not something Christians do to pass the time, but one central activity intended to engage, transform, and represent all of life.

One of the compelling features of a biblical study of worship is that there are key qualities and features of worship from the beginning of creation through this present age to the fulfillment of eternity. Unlike musical tastes or other cultural accessories, deep principles of worship run consistently through all of Scripture and should inform both our specific Sunday worship and our whole-life worship. There are at least eight of these deep principles that I hope to highlight over the next eight weeks, and I invite you to give God’s Word your full energy and attention as we try to apply these principles to our own worship and life.

Two of these deep principles of worship appear immediately in scripture, at the dawn of creation, as God creates the first human being and sets him in the Garden. There, the task God gives Adam is worship, in two different ways. The first of these is “service” or “work,’ which is what we will look at today.

In the Beginning, Worship (Genesis 2:15-17)

We’ll begin in Genesis, chapter two. Do you know the first thing God did after he made the world and rested? He put Adam to work. What was Adam’s work? It’s there in verse 15:

The Lord God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.

That verse contains the first two worship principles, translated “cultivate” and “keep.” Today we will focus only on the first one. The word translated here as “cultivate” is the Hebrew word ABAD. You won’t be tested on that, but it’s worth knowing that it is one of the most frequently used words in the Bible. It is one of several words regularly translated as “worship.” It means worshiping God through our work of service to God.

In the Garden of Eden, Adam’s primary worship was to cultivate or work the Garden because that’s what God made him to do and told him to do. It wasn’t Adam’s garden; it was God’s garden. Adam was put there to serve the Lord God through his careful work. At this point in the young history of the world, there was no Sunday morning worship service; there was only faithfully obeying and serving the Lord through work. Though other forms of worship will be added to this, it is important to know that this is the first form of worship revealed in the Bible and it is one that continues to be important for us today.

What Adam was doing in the Garden was tending the ground, but in doing so, he was rendering an act of service to God. Serving God is at the heart of worshiping God. Adam’s work in the Garden was really worship in the Garden, because it served God’s will and purpose in the young world. Likewise, our work and our service is to be an act of worship to God, serving his will and purpose in the world. That we might earn a livelihood from our work is a blessing and by-product of work. Indeed, ‘serve’ isn’t the only form of this word ABAD. The noun form, ‘servant’ (ABODAH), is used to describe those who worship and serve God with their lives.

This verse is the heart of biblical stewardship. For though much time has passed and we no longer live in paradise, the earth is the Lord’s and all it contains. Though we built or paid for our homes and the land they are on, are they not the Lord’s? Though we work and produce goods and services, are they not the Lord’s?

Commanded to Worship (Exodus 20:5)

Well, the Garden of Eden was a unique place and Adam was uniquely special. If this were the only time ‘work’ was used in this way, we might be cautious to extend Adam’s work in the Garden to apply to our day-to-day work. But that is not the last time we read of ABAD – worshiping God through our work of service. The same word is used again in the Ten Commandments, in commandment #2. With this and usage in the New Testament, the Bible makes a compelling case that our work is to be seen as an act of service and worship to the Lord!

The second commandment is found in Exodus 20:4-5 and prohibits making or worshiping idols. Verse 5 specifically notes, “You shall not worship them [idols] or serve them…” Moving from the broad word “worship” there is a specific commandment against ABAD, serving false gods or idols. It’s the same word used in Genesis. In other words, the godly work of service Adam rendered to God is precisely what Israel was not to offer to foreign or false gods!

This raises an important question for Christians today. When we work it is important to consider whom we serve. Certainly we have earthly supervisors and bosses. Certainly we have families to feed and bills to pay. But the Bible provides a framework for those matters within the greater framework of serving God. Not only are we to consider how our work serves God, we must consider how our work might please or displease God, and whether our work is ultimately serving God or someone or something else. Those are important and weighty questions!

Those questions bear both on the content of our work – is the whole business and my part in it legal, helpful rather than harmful, and otherwise ethical? And we must consider our own behavior and witness to our faith: Am I patient? Hard-working? God-honoring?

This does not mean that you have to have praise music playing in your cubicle or have Bible tracts stuffed in your briefcase when you travel. It also doesn’t limit our ability to worship to any type of profession or work. You might be a white-collar professional, administrative staff, student, stay-at-home parent, or artist. The point of today’s worship principle is that part of being human is to work and serve and we are to consider how to do it unto God.

What this worship principle does challenge each of us to do is examine our work and try to see how it might be rendered unto God in a way that honors His name and character. That also means that worship is no longer one of 168 hours in a week, but potentially as much as a third or more of what you do each week.

The Work of the Heart and Mind (John 6, 12)

Just after the miraculous feeding of the 5000, recorded in John 6, Jesus teaches those gathered around that work is not just about making a living. He says in John 6:27, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life.” He is calling upon this same concept of “work” or “service” and highlighting that it has more than a simple earthly purpose. We do work for food, for family, for money; but don’t think that’s all we work for. Our work has a much deeper purpose – it offers us the opportunity to serve God with our hands and hearts!

When the crowd then asks, “What shall we do to work the works of God?” Jesus answered, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (6:29) Later, in John 12:26, Jesus says, “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there my servant will be also; if anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” Jesus uses these worship terms, “serve” and “servant” to describe worship as work. The deeper purpose of our work is to believe and follow God’s will, specifically through Jesus.

Another way to say this is that Jesus points out that work is more than an exterior activity. We aren’t just earning a living or producing a product. We engage work with our hearts and minds and those belong to God just as much as our hands. Again we must ask about our attitude and witness, about our interior attitude towards our work, and to whom we ultimately direct our service.

Some Practical Questions

Most of our time is divided among sleeping, eating, working, and playing. Recognizing that “work” includes school, child-rearing, and some hobbies, this first biblical principle of worship easily addresses a third or more of our lives.

I’d like to conclude with two practical questions to help keep this first biblical principle of worship in your mind as you go about that significant portion of life.

Question 1: How can my work today be an act of service, and therefore worship, to God?

Question 2: What differences will believing in and following Jesus have on my work today?