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Worship (4): Directed

M Sweetnam, Dublin

God cares about the worship of His people. The elaborate directions for the Tabernacle, the offerings and the feasts, given in the opening books of Scripture, are an ample testament to this fact. Nor do the change of dispensations and the dawning of the day of grace alter this fact. God still cares about worship, and it is still His desire that it be offered as He instructs. His directions address every aspect of our worship, but most fundamentally of all, God’s Word makes it clear who the objects of our worship ought to be.

Mis-directed Worship

Worship is always towards someone or something. Who or what we worship says a great deal about us. It ought to go without saying that the music and sports stars that provide the unsaved with their idols ought not to draw out any veneration from those who have known the "only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom…(He) sent" (Jn 17.3). The material objects that occupy our materialistic, possession-obsessed society should hold scant charm for those who have seen "the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor 4.6). Likewise, the worship of the body that has become the major religion in western society, at least, can hardly seem other than "vanity and vexation of spirit" (Eccl 1.14) to those who realise that it is "the things which are not seen (that) are eternal" (2 Cor 4.18).

What is, and what ought to be, are sometimes at variance, and we need to guard against succumbing to the lure of world-worship. We need, also, to be alert to the more insidious forms of mis-directed worship. Peter disclaimed the worship of Cornelius with the words, "Stand up; I myself also am a man" (Acts 10.24-26), and John was rebuked for worshipping a servant of God – even an angelic one (Rev 22.9). The brazen serpent was manufactured by divine command, and had been used of God in blessing His people. In spite of that, Hezekiah is commended for destroying it, and putting a stop to the idolatrous worship that was being offered to it (2 Kings 18.3-4). Gideon’s ephod may well have been the fruit of a spiritual impulse, but it was nonetheless "a snare unto Gideon, and to his house", and the object of idolatry as "all Israel went thither a whoring after it" (Judg 8.27). Even in spiritual things - especially in spiritual things - we need to be watchful lest our worship be diverted from the greater to
the lesser.

God-directed Worship

Worship belongs exclusively to God. The opening words of the first table of the Law leave little room for confusion. "I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God" (Ex 20.2-5).

The Lord Jesus Himself echoed these words when Satan promised Him the kingdoms of the earth in exchange for His worship (Mt 4.10; Lk 4.8).

Christ-directed Worship

As God, the Lord Jesus, too, should be the object of our worship. Scripture records that He received worship from the wise men (Mt 2.2,11), a leper (Mt 8.2), Jairus (Mt 9.18), the women of Canaan (Mt 15.25), the mother of James and John (Mt 20.20), the blind man (Jn 9.38), His disciples (Mt 14.33; 28.9,17; Lk 24.52), angels (Heb 1.6; Rev 5.11), the elders and the beasts (Rev 4.9-11; Rev 5.11-12). In a coming day He will receive it from "every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them" (Rev 5.13) as "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And...every tongue (shall) confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil 2.10-11).

There is, of course, no conflict between these incidents and the commandments. Jesus Christ, the Lord, is worthy of worship because He is divine. He is "the brightness of (God’s) glory, and the express image of his person" (Heb 1.3), the One who is the eternal Word (Jn 1.1-14) who declares the Father (Jn 1.18). As such, we see in Him every attribute of deity perfectly displayed, and must, inevitably, respond with worship.

Spirit-directed Worship?

We worship the Father and the Son. But what of the Holy Spirit? He too is divine, part of the eternal Trinity. Are we not therefore to worship Him? A quick survey of much of the self-proclaimed worship in the world of contemporary evangelicalism would suggest that He is a major object of worship. By contrast, Scripture does not record a single incident where worship is directed to the Holy Spirit. This is not to deny His personality or His deity – both are clearly taught in God’s Word. Rather, it reflects the self-effacing – though vital – nature of His ministry. Speaking of the Comforter whom the Father would send, the Lord Jesus foretold that "He shall testify of me" (Jn 15.26). A little later, the Saviour expanded on the Spirit’s ministry. In relation to the unregenerate "He will reprove the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment" (Jn 16.8). In relation to the believer the Saviour promised, "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you" (Jn 16.13-15).

It is the role of the Spirit, therefore, to glorify Christ. Like Abraham’s servant, who so beautifully depicts the ministry of the Spirit in the present age (Gen 24), He does not speak of Himself, but of the bridegroom. We cannot do without His ministry, and far too often we are impoverished in our understanding and appreciation of what He does for, in, and through us. We should thank God far more than we do for this Comforter who is with us and in us. In spite of that, we should be very cautious about doing what Scripture neither mandates not records.

Worship that is not directed to God is idolatry. It is the ultimate debasement, a misappropriation of a capacity designed by God for God alone. The history of Israel demonstrates both the insidiousness of the allure of idolatry and its serious implications for the people of God. May God give us grace, in our day, to keep more faithfully the instruction of Moses: "Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God; him shalt thou serve, and to him shalt thou cleave" (Deut 10.20).

To be continued.

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