Nature of Authentic Worship
Moving Ahead Together, Part 9
Matt 15:8-9 8 "’These people honor me with their lips, but their heart are far from me. 9 They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’"
The text tells us that the early church praised God together so today I want us to look at worship together. Worship is very serious activity. How we worship is very serious. God is described as seeking worshippers in John 4. God will go to great lengths to cause people to worship him. If they won’t the stones cry out in worship. That is how serious worship is. The intense seriousness God takes is demonstrated by him wielding the universe in such a way over history to get the Magi to worship the toddler Jesus. When Jesus was born God wielded the solar systems of the universe so that a star would guide the Magi to Jesus. God created the universe orchestrated the movement of the stars and then these Magi to converge all those events together to worship his son. That is an awesome thought.
So to look at worship, I want us to turn to Matthew 15:8-9. In this passage Jesus exposes the root problem with Pharisees way of life. They were very religious and worshipful but their religion was in vain. It was an affront to God; it was evil and he despised it. Proverbs 15:8 The LORD detests the sacrifice of the wicked, but the prayer of the upright pleases him.
The essence of Worship is Honoring God.
The first point I want to make is that the essence of all worship (broad and narrow) is an honoring of God. Look at these two phrases in these verses: these people honor me; they worship me. There is a parallel here and Jesus’ point is that worship is recognizing and valuing his worth, feeling the worth of it and ascribing to him his worth in all the ways consistent with his character and being. Worship is a reflecting back to him what emanates and flows from his being. It starts with who he is; his character and we just reflect that back to him. It is like the rays of the sun that flow from the existence of the sun and a mirror reflecting back toward the sun its own rays.
Worship is more than Actions
The second point is that worship can’t be thought of as purely actions or words performed in obedience to biblical commands or traditions. Worship includes expression but all that can be done when the heart is far from God. We all have experienced this in life. You hurt someone and you say sorry but in your heat you do not mean it. You are only saying it because you are obligated to do it. Someone gives you a gift you absolutely hate and you say thank you only out of politeness.
Jesus is saying that you can worship (in narrow sense) by singing, praying, kneeling, raising hands, reading scripture together, even dancing or (in a broad sense) visit someone in prison, love your spouse, teach Sunday school and it all be in vain. Jesus is saying that if we worship in this way with our hearts far from God it is not authentic, it is not real, and it is in vain. The only authentic worship is that which is an affair of the heart. If it does not include the heart, it is in vain. Listen to the startling verses:
NIV Amos 5:20 Will not the day of the LORD be darkness, not light-- pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness? 21 "I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. 22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. 23 Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. 24 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! 25 "Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings forty years in the desert, O house of Israel?
He says he would rather you not worship than worship if your hearts are far from me. He hates it because it is a sham, it is a scam. It is not genuine because their lives were a sham. If your life Monday through Saturday is not consistent with what you do on Sundays it is a sham. I all too often hear of Christians who are the worst business people in Homer. That is a tragedy.
Worship is an affair of the heart
So worship is more than actions and worship is never an act of mere will power. You can choose to do something by an act of the will but still have our hearts far from God. Again, we see this in everyday life. How many of us have done something even though your heart is not in it. You have chosen to hug your spouse even though you did not do it with your heart. You have followed directions of your employer even though you did not want to. I.e. Ralph.