Last Sunday evening we dedicated ourselves to better understanding God's concept of worship. These were the points I asked you to think about:
  1. What we call the Old Testament (the New Testament called those writings "scripture") is the foundation of God's perspectives. The Old Testament predicts what the New Testament confirms regarding God's love, salvation, faithfulness, and godliness.
  2. Christianity did not "invent" the concept of worship. If Christians of today are to grasp the biblical concept of worship, we must understand the intent and purpose of worship in the Old Testament.
  3. With Cain and Abel, God provided us our first introduction to worship.
  4. Genesis 4 and the worship incident regarding Cain is not about "obedience" or doing things the "correct way."
  5. Genesis 4 and the incidents surrounding Cain confirm the first reality of worshipping God the Creator: worship always begins with the heart of the person.

In tonight's study, I want to use scripture to illustrate the core point of the first lesson. The core point: worshipping God always begins in the heart of the person. An individual does not worship because he/she is physically in the place where worship occurs. He/she may be surrounded by people who are worshipping and not be a worshipper. No matter what is occurring around the person, no matter what is occurring as an act of worship, if he/she does not seek to involve himself or herself in honoring God, he or she is not worshipping. More than physical presence is required.

  1. To illustrate this fact from scripture, let's read together Isaiah 1:1-20.
    The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz concerning Judah and Jerusalem, which he saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Listen, O heavens, and hear, O earth; For the Lord speaks, "Sons I have reared and brought up, But they have revolted against Me. "An ox knows its owner, And a donkey its master's manger, But Israel does not know, My people do not understand." Alas, sinful nation, People weighed down with iniquity, Offspring of evildoers, Sons who act corruptly! They have abandoned the Lord, They have despised the Holy One of Israel, They have turned away from Him. Where will you be stricken again, As you continue in your rebellion? The whole head is sick And the whole heart is faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head There is nothing sound in it, Only bruises, welts and raw wounds, Not pressed out or bandaged, Nor softened with oil. Your land is desolate, Your cities are burned with fire, Your fields--strangers are devouring them in your presence; It is desolation, as overthrown by strangers. The daughter of Zion is left like a shelter in a vineyard, Like a watchman's hut in a cucumber field, like a besieged city. Unless the Lord of hosts Had left us a few survivors, We would be like Sodom, We would be like Gomorrah. Hear the word of the Lord, You rulers of Sodom; Give ear to the instruction of our God, You people of Gomorrah. "What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?" Says the Lord. "I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fed cattle; And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats. "When you come to appear before Me, Who requires of you this trampling of My courts? "Bring your worthless offerings no longer, Incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and Sabbath, the calling of assemblies--I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. "I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, They have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them. "So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. "Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow. "Come now, and let us reason together," Says the Lord, "Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool. "If you consent and obey, You will eat the best of the land; "But if you refuse and rebel, You will be devoured by the sword." Truly, the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
    1. Lets begin by noting the obvious:
      1. First, God is genuinely upset at these people who are supposed to be His people (Judah).
      2. Second, the people [spiritually] are genuinely sick.
      3. Third, their worship disgusts God.
      4. Fourth, they desperately need to repent--who they are and how they behave is anything but godly.
      5. Fifth, if the situation was to change [and it could!], major changes in the way the way the behave must occur.
      6. Sixth, God wants them to change, and will cleanse them if they do, but they must want to change--what happens depended on their desire.
    2. Now I want you to focus on their worship.
      1. Their worship stands as a symbol of their entire spiritual problem.
        1. Worship clearly illustrated God was genuinely angry with them.
        2. Worship clearly illustrated the fact that they were truly sick.
        3. Worship clearly illustrated God's disgust with them.
        4. Worship clearly illustrated their desperate need to repent.
        5. Worship clearly illustrated their lives needed to change.
        6. Worship clearly illustrated that what happened hinged on their desires.
      2. "What was wrong with their worship?"
        1. Technically, nothing was wrong with it.
          1. They were doing what they were commanded to do.
          2. They were doing it at the right place.
          3. Nothing was condemned about the "forms" they follow--their "forms" were not the problem.
        2. Yet, it is quite clear that God was insulted by their worship.
          1. God viewed their "correct acts" as a disrespectful trampling in His courts.
          2. He regarded their sacrifices as worthless.
          3. He regarded their offering of incense as the height of godlessness.
          4. He regarded their worship assemblies as a declaration of their commitment to evil--and hated those assemblies!
          5. Their acts of worship are described as a burden to Him that exhaust Him! Fascinating--forgiving the penitent does not exhaust Him, but the worship of His people who live ungodly lives exhausts Him!
          6. So He will not listen to their prayers.
          7. So He will not pay any attention to them.
          8. The way they live make their worship an insult to Him!
      3. For their worship to cease being an insult to God, two things must happen.
        1. They must repent--that means they must turn their lives around.
        2. In their behavior, they must begin to obey God instead of rebelling against God.

  2. "What was it in their worship that so offended God?"
    1. "Where they not doing precisely what God commanded them to do?"
      1. They absolutely were!
      2. Everything mentioned about their worship that offended God was commanded by God.
    2. Consider:
      1. Leviticus chapters 1-6 give specific instructions from God about what is to be offered, when it is to be offered, and what parts of the animals belong to God.
      2. The offering of incense was commanded in the special annual day of atonement [in the Most Holy Place] in Leviticus 16:12, 13 and was commonly offered on the altar of incense in the Holy Place (Exodus 30:1-10; 2 Chronicles 26:19).
      3. The worship at new moons, Sabbaths, and appointed festival days was commanded (Numbers 28:9-15; 1 Chronicles 23:30,31).
      4. All the men of the nation were to attend the commanded national festival occasions of worship (Deuteronomy 16:16).
    3. "Then what was the problem?"
      1. The very fact that this question is asked by many Christians illustrates the "why" of the problem.
        1. A common concept of worship that a definite segment of Christians not only endorse but accept as the essence of worship is this: "if Christians do the right things, acceptable worship occurs."
        2. It is a small step from that conclusion to this conclusion: "if a Christian is physically present where the right things occur, he/she worships."
      2. The end result is distressful.
        1. We substitute "did you go to church today" for being a Christian--"going to church is the important evidence that you are a Christian.
          1. If you go to church, it is assumed that you worshipped.
          2. If you go to church, it is assumed that you believe.
        2. There may be people all over the building doing anything but worshipping, but from their perspective that is okay because they were at church.
          1. Thus "church" becomes a place, a building, an address.
          2. "Church" ceases to be what it was in the first century--a people, a community, a fellowship [not a place, not an address, and certainly not a building].
        3. Christians come for only one activity--they take communion because that is all that is important.
          1. That conclusion is a complete misunderstanding of the biblical worship of God.
          2. Certainly, communion done with God's focus is worship that flows as life to all other expressions of worship.
          3. As important as communion is, it is not the entirety of worship.
        4. "Let's come as late as we can and leave as quick as we can--we did church, we do not need association with people."
    4. Worship occurs when hearts gratefully glorify God--and if hearts have no desire to glorify God, worship does not occur--not matter how "right" the things are that occur.
      1. There is a thin line that separates insulting God and worshipping God.
      2. That thin line is drawn by the motives of the hearts that are present.
      3. The objective must be much more than getting people in a church building.
      4. The objective can be nothing less than causing people to believe, and in believing to honor God for what He has done for us.

  3. Consider a New Testament example that is familiar to the majority of Bible students.
    1. Read with me Luke 18:9-14.
      And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: 'God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!' I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."
      1. I want you to look at "the big picture" instead of the details. [Much of the time we consider only the details.]
        1. Were both of them at the right place? Yes! They were in the temple court yard.
        2. Were both of them involved in a worshipful act? Yes! Both were praying. Remember Solomon's prayer when he dedicated the temple in 1 Kings 8:22-53.
        3. Were either of them condemned because they violated the form of acceptable prayer? No!
      2. Then what was the primary difference? Hearts!
      3. Because of hearts:
        1. The recognized religious man was not heard, thus he did not worship.
        2. The sinner was forgiven (justified)--he worshipped.
      4. And what was the difference? Hearts!
    2. If anyone should understand the importance of hearts to worship, we should!

Worship occurs only when the heart of the worshipper is moved to glorify God. If our hearts are not correctly involved, there is no worship.

Because that is true, we as Christians must be as concerned about touching hearts in worship as we are concerned about doing the proper things.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 11 January 2004
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