The contemporary use of the word “worship” often refers exclusively to the time of singing during the corporate gathering of the church. The emotions that the words and music provoke cause the person participating to feel like they have worshiped. However, the question is whether that is really worship as defined in Scripture. Worship is properly considered not primarily from man’s perspective but from God’s. Our opinions about what we have done are far less significant than God’s. The question for the validity of worship should be approached around whether God would recognize what we are doing as worship.
Worship, rather than a feeling we get through music, is a humble serving of God in all of life. In worship, a person defers to the Lord and ascribes glory to him. This deference is seen in Abraham going to Mt. Mariah with Isaac to offer him as a sacrifice at the Lord’s command. Worship is an external expression by the creature of the glory, majesty, and rightful dominion of the Creator. It is a joyful rehearsal of his covenant promise of redemption. It is a recognition of the insignificance of our desires and a training ground in which we are conformed by the Spirit to the image of Christ. And it is not only reserved for the hour of corporate worship at your church. Worship is for all of life: work, home and church.
So how is worship expressed at work? In Romans 12:1-2 the apostle Paul commands the brothers to present their bodies as a living sacrifice, which is their spiritual act of worship. This act of worship involves a lack of conformity to the world, and a transformation of the mind to know the will of God.
In its simplest paraphrase, Romans 12:1-2 commands the surrender of all we do to God by discerning and implementing his will through Spirit renewed minds. In other words, to worship at work is to live according to the first commandment. There are to be no other gods before the Lord in the Christian’s workplace. What the Christian does at work is what God, in his providence, called him to do. Behavior at work should be determined by the extent to which it honors God. According to God’s Moral Law, summarized in the 10 Commandments, workplace behavior should include:
- Honoring authorities and treating subordinates with respect and fairness.
- Refraining from sinful anger and hostility toward anyone at work.
- Promoting proper propriety between those of the opposite sex.
- Dealing with complete honesty with clients, employees, bosses, or suppliers.
- Speaking the truth about our products, services and actions we have taken.
- Being content with what God has provided and rejoice at the blessings given to others.
God says these things honor him. So if they are carried out in a spirit of love toward God and gratitude over the salvation he has purchased, then these will truly show the love of the Christ and be seen by God as a spiritual act of worship.
What is worship? We have many arguments in the church over what worship should look like, but what is worship actually? For many in contemporary evangelicalism, it seems that worship has become the time during the church service when we sing together. From my conversations with people across a broad spectrum of Christian churches, it seems to me people now associate worship with an emotional experience brought on as they are moved by the music and/or words of a song. But does this recent conception of worship accurately reflect what the Bible says about worship? To find the answer let us look at Scripture together.
The first instance of the word “worship” in the ESV translation of the Bible is found in Genesis 22:5 where Abraham takes Isaac to Mt. Moriah at God’s command in order to offer him as a sacrifice. He tells his servants to wait for him at a certain location while he and Isaac go further to worship. In this particular instance it seems unlikely the servants were expecting Abraham to walk a little further and sing some songs with Isaac and return refreshed after an emotional encounter. In fact, the whole trip was based around sacrifice. This is why Isaac asks about the details of the sacrifice in v. 7. So worship is at least not exclusively singing during church services.
Though 22:5 is the first instance where the English word for worship is recorded in the ESV, the Hebrew word translated as such is used much earlier. In Genesis 18 and 19 the Lord appears to Abraham and Lot accompanied by two angels. Both men meet these messengers by bowing before them (Cf. Gen. 18:2; 19:1). The Hebrew word translated “bowed” in the ESV is the same word translated “worship” in Gen. 22:5. Certainly Abraham and Lot were not singing a moving song to the angels in their tents. Instead, this act of deference was intended by these men to honor their guests. So worship is an expression of humility in the presence of God.
God was careful to define the exclusivity of worship to the people of Israel. He commanded his people to destroy the idols of the land of Canaan when they took possession of it. He does so because he requires worship to be show to him alone (Cf. Ex. 34:14). Worship is then described as sacrifice in the following verses. Sacrifice was an acknowledgment of the deity’s power over his worshipers. It had nothing to do with singing, or an emotional response.
So what is worship? The apostle Paul clarifies this term for us in Romans 12:1-2. There he commands the brothers to present their bodies as a living sacrifice, which is their spiritual act of worship. Unless you are always singing, worship cannot be exclusively viewed as our corporate singing at church. Worship, rather, is a humble serving the Lord in all of life because he is the only one deserving of honor. The worshiper defers to the Lord and ascribes glory to him. Worship, then, is not primarily about the person but about the Lord. This word should not be reserved only for singing during our services, but should be applied in all of life. We will worship the Lord at work, in our homes, and in our churches.
In the next few weeks we want to consider how worship in each of those domains is properly expressed.
“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.” Psalm 24:1-2 (ESV).
There is a reason the Bible begins with creation. Genesis 1:1 tells us that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” God is the creator of our world. Everything we see in nature has been created by God. More than that, from Colossians 1:16 we know God’s creative work extends beyond the visible into the realms of the invisible too. In short, God made all things and continues to hold them together. Because God is the creator and sustainer of all things, all things belong to him and are obligated to him. Understanding this to be true about God, there are several observations we can make about how we should then relate to our Creator with our time, treasure and talents:
- Time. So often we treat time as a commodity to be distributed as we please. However, in our work environments we do not behave this way. We do not check into work and decide to have some “me-time” in the middle of the board meeting or construction project. Our bosses ensure we accomplish our tasks for the good of the company. However, the doctrine of vocation stemming from the protestant reformation teaches that all our work should be done with God in view. Our time should not be spent with a horizontal orientation, thinking primarily about men. Rather, our time should be spent with a vertical orientation, thinking primarily about God. He made us and our work. So we ought to honor God with our time.
- Treasure. Since God made all things he is the owner of all things. Whatever we have we received from God’s hand. We live in a materialistic culture and our tendency can be to treat the blessings of this life as ours and to enjoy them exclusively for our own benefits. Yet Proverbs 3:9 charges us to honor God with our wealth. The question is not what we would want to do with our treasure, but what God would have us do with his treasure. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus charges us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. That should be our orientation in the use of our money as well.
- Talent. Talents do not only describe the people who are gifted singers and musicians. Talents of all stripes are needed to strengthen the church. All church members have a talent which can be used to strengthen her. Some will be talented in ways completely conspicuous to others. Some have been given gifts to be used in very public ways. The talent given is less significant than the way it is used. We should use our talents wisely, to the glory of the One who gave them: our Creator.
God as creator is a significant theological truth. Our Creator is not our peer, but he is Lord of the universe. Since we also are part of his creation, we must recognize our obligation to him. He has given us time, treasure and talents to be used joyfully as we serve him. Yet our joy is not the primary objective in our living. Our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. That statement, my dear friends, is not a suggestion. As his creatures, it is our obligation.
“A man is given to covetousness when he overloads himself with worldly business…(H)e has scarce time to eat his meat, but no time to pray.” (Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments, 176)
Ouch! Thomas Watson sure knows how to make it hurt! But just because it hurts doesn’t mean it is not worth considering. Watson’s statement is one that could be applied to all of us on some days. We are all covetous by nature. Like book-ends in God’s Moral Law, both the 1st and 10th commandments confront us with our motivations and loves. Because of their nature, these two commandments summarize our disobedience to the other eight. When we take the name of the Lord in vain we elevate our own desires over the Lord’s thereby setting other gods before him. Or when we steal, the seed form has already long been growing within us: covetousness. We covet when we want something we do not have. So, are you covetous? Are you leading your children toward covetousness?
In this article we will deal with our hearts. In the quote above, Watson makes a distinction between a man’s valuation of his appetites versus his fellowship with God in prayer. It is a sobering assessment, to be sure. I am not seeking to quibble about the kinds of work does and their corresponding demands. I think the Christian street sweeper is as engaged in glorifying God as a pastor and I know this work can be demanding. My questions are designed instead to help us see if we are drifting into sin in our pursuit of our worldly work. We are prone to covet the world’s power, wealth, popularity and success. Certain decisions will reveal our heart’s desire to have taken on a sinful, covetous turn.
The first and tenth commandments remind us we may worship no other gods and should be content with what God has given. So when we find ourselves neglecting God in prayer, we have forgotten these commandments. I cannot give definitive answer on the “when” and “how much” of our private worship, but I can definitively say we should. If only we would apply the same level of intensity to our pursuit of God as we apply to our attempts to win a promotion or raise at work. This very issue is on Watson’s mind when he describes the man who does not consider any amount of hours spent satisfying his appetites to be enough, but does not even begin praying. This inconsistency shows there is a war of loves being waged in our hearts and the good side is losing. We direct our most intense efforts toward that which means the most to us. What will we love more? The flesh or our Lord?
Overloading ourselves with worldly business can also be recognized when we miss corporate worship to take care of our regular employment. God commands one day in seven be given him for the activities relating to his worship. Absenting ourselves from corporate worship should flash a huge red flag in our minds. This decision indicates we want the world’s recognition so badly, we are willing to take from God’s time and apply it to our businesses or jobs so we might gain it. When we begin to make these kinds of choices we are demonstrating a priority: we want the things God has not given us and will pursue them at all costs.
Certainly we must repent of our own covetousness, but we also should guard ourselves against teaching our children to do the same. More on that next time.