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July 10, 2016
Does It Matter How I Worship?
A church’s sign promises a “traditional” service at 8:00 a.m., a “distinctive” service at 9:30, and a “contemporary” service at 11:00. It’s not an uncommon sight these days. Many churches offer multiple Sunday worship assemblies, each with a different format and style.
What’s behind this trend? Simply put, a growing number of church-goers have developed a consumer mentality about worship. They have come to view worship as mostly a matter of personal preference—like what kind of car you drive, or which radio station you listen to. God should be the focus, most would say, but the rest is up to our individual (or congregational) tastes. And if that is so, then why not have multiple formats to appeal to people’s varied appetites? The prevailing attitude is that as long as I call it worship to God, the “how” is of no consequence.
But what does the Bible say? If God has spoken about what we should do in worship to Him, does He care if we follow His directions? Does the “how” matter?
Ask Cain if it matters (Genesis 4). When he and his brother Abel offered sacrifices, Abel’s worship was accepted by God; Cain’s was not. Why? It was not personal favoritism on God’s part (see Acts 10:34). No, the Lord admonished Cain, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door” (Genesis 4:7, NIV). Since sin is a breach of Divine law (see Romans 5:13b), we can only conclude that something about Cain’s offering was not in keeping with God’s instructions. Was it what he offered, or how he offered it, or perhaps his attitude? We may not know precisely, but we know this much: “his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous” (1John 3:12). The “how” certainly mattered in Cain’s case.
Ask Nadab and Abihu if it matters (Leviticus 10). When Aaron and his sons were consecrated as priests, they offered sacrifices in accordance with God’s directions. God sent fire which consumed the offerings as a show of His approval (Leviticus 9:24). But then, “Nadab and Abihu … offered strange fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died” (Leviticus 10:1-2). God rejected (and punished) the worship of Aaron’s sons. Why? Because they presented “unauthorized fire … which He had not commanded them to do” (HCSB). Whatever their motivation was (the text doesn’t tell us), they offered worship in a way that was without Divine authority. In doing so, God explained, they failed to honor Him as holy (verse 3). The “how” of worship mattered a great deal in their case.
Ask King Jeroboam if it matters (1Kings 12). When Israel divided into two kingdoms, Jeroboam became the first king in the north. Right away he set about making changes to God’s order of things (verses 28-32). In the cities of Dan and Bethel he set up golden calves and altars for worship. He instituted a new religious feast day. He appointed a new priesthood. Supposedly it was still Jehovah who was being worshiped, but Jeroboam had changed where, when, and how—and none of it was what God’s law specified. What was the Lord’s evaluation? “This thing became a sin” (verse 30). God even sent a prophet to condemn Jeroboam’s innovations (chapter 13). The “how” mattered.
Ask King Uzziah if it matters (2Chronicles 26:16f). In the midst of his prosperous reign, Judah’s king Uzziah “entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense.” But the high priest Azariah opposed him, reminding Uzziah that it was not his place to burn incense to the Lord; that duty was for the priests. “You have been unfaithful,” he said, “and will have no honor from the Lord God” (verse 18). The Bible explains that Uzziah’s heart “was so proud that he acted corruptly.” In his case, arrogance and disregard for Divine authority went hand in hand. As punishment for his unauthorized action, Uzziah was stricken with leprosy until the day he died. The “how” mattered.
Ask the Jews of Malachi’s day if it matters (Malachi 1:6-14). The prophet Malachi complained that the priests of Judah were presenting defiled sacrifices on God’s altar. They offered animals that were blind, lame, or sick—a direct violation of God’s law. What’s more, they had come to view the sacrifices as a tiresome chore. God’s response to them? “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire on My altar!” (verse 10). Their careless, contemptuous worship despised and profaned God’s name, and He would not accept it. The “how” mattered.
Ask the disciples at Corinth if it matters (1Corinthians 11:17f). Their assemblies were doing “more harm than good” (verse 17, NIV). Why? Because they weren’t doing what they were supposed to be doing! Specifically, the Corinthians’ observance of the Lord’s Supper was out of line. They were eating to satisfy hunger, not to commemorate Christ’s death together. In doing so, they disregarded both their fellow saints and the purpose of their gathering. Paul warned that such assemblies would result in condemnation, not glory (verses 27,29,34). Merely calling it “worship” or “the Lord’s Supper” didn’t make it so. The “how” mattered.
Look again at these examples. Why was God displeased with the worship of these people? Because in each case, He said to do one thing, but the worshipers chose to do something else. Some clearly acted out of arrogance or willful contempt for God’s instructions. Others may have been sincere, but thoughtless or misguided. But regardless of what was going on in their hearts and minds, the result was the same: the Lord did not accept worship that did not follow His revealed standard. The “how” mattered.
Does it matter how I worship? These examples say yes. And Jesus says yes. “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Worship is not about my personal preferences, because I am not the object of worship. God is! Worship is about what He desires. Acceptable worship requires both a pure heart and right actions. For Christians, that means following the pattern revealed in the New Testament. If we want to truly praise and honor God, then we will want to do it in the way He has instructed. The “how” matters.
— Jeff Himmel