When Worship Is Wrong?

Intro: This year is a year for anniversaries. I mentioned Wednesday that 2017 is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation Movement (Martin Luther’s 95 Thesis on the door of the church at Wittenberg). You may not have known that it is also the 40th anniversary of the shrine of Jesus of the Tortilla. Four decades ago, a New Mexico woman, who was frying Tortillas for her family, noticed that the skillet burns on one of the tortillas resembled the face of Jesus. She showed it to her husband, and the neighbors. They agreed that it looked like Jesus, so they took it to the priest and had it blessed. She testified that her life has been changed by the tortilla. She put it in a glass case with some cotton balls to make it look like it was floating on clouds, and opened a little shrine to visitors. Within a few months 8,000 people came to the shrine of Jesus of the Tortilla. Over the years over 35,000 people paid homage to the image on the tortilla. It finally fell apart and the shrine was taken down. Does this sound incredible to you? Dare we critique this attempt to worship Jesus? Is it possible for worship to be wrong, and on what basis can it be judged to be wrong?

I. When Worship is Wrong: It seems unthinkable and distasteful to our modern religious society to declare anyone’s worship as wrong (even those who worship tortillas). Last week we began by referencing the prevalence of worship in the narrative of the scriptures. The Bible begins and ends in worship (from Abel’s sacrifice to the angels around the throne). Throughout this continual thread of man worshiping God, there is no indication that God accepted unregulated or self-designed worship. In fact there is clear instances of God’s displeasure and judgment against those who assumed they could worship Him in their own way.

A. The Gold Calf – In a time when every Israelite should have been focused on the majesty and power of the True God, they retreated to the pagan & powerless religion of Egypt and erected an idol. Ex 32:7-8 –And the Lord said to Moses, “Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. 8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molded calf, and worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!'” God’s anger was somewhat stilled by the intercession of Moses, and only a few thousand perished.

B. Nadab & Abihu – Aaron’s sons were uniquely chosen by God to be priests in His tabernacle. They were the right servants in the right place surrounded by the right things. But on the day of their ordination they chose to offer “strange fire”. They did not do what was specifically prescribed for priests as those who lead the people in worship. Fire went out from the Lord and devoured them. Notice Ex. 10:3 “By those who come near to me I must be regarded as holy; And before all people I must be glorified.” What a sad day. After all that preparation, they forfeited it all with one false move.

C. King Saul – The king was guilty of a similar act in 1 Sam. 13:8-14 – Unwilling to wait for Samuel, Saul usurped the authority of the priest. It cost his descendants the throne of Israel.

II. We Can See 4 Kinds of Unacceptable Worship:

A. The Worship of False Gods: Rom. 1:21 indicts all those who refuse to worship the true God, and turn their worship towards what they see & touch. We are prone to look to the things around us, and materialize the spiritual. Idolatry is wrong worship.

B. The Worship of the True God in a Wrong Form: This more accurately describes what the Israelites did at Sinai. They claimed to be worshiping the true God (the one that brought them out of Egypt). But they had reduced Him to an image. God did not reveal Himself in any visible form to the Jews because He knew our tendency to materialize the spiritual. Why? The idolater seeks an image so he can manipulate his god. It becomes an image of himself.

C. The Worship of the True God in a Self-Styled Manner: Nadab & Abihu,, Saul, Jeroboam & others were guilty of choosing their way over God’s way. God has revealed the activities of worship that please Him. To substitute the traditions of men is to make void our worship. Matt 15:8-9These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. 9 And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'”

1. Can you find the N.T. church worshiping as you do? (N.T. church never played an instrument, counted a rosary, celebrated a religious holiday, or called on the Lord to baptize them in the Holy Spirit – all those are substitutes and self-styled) In Col 2:23 Paul warned against the appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion.

D. The Worship of the True God, in the Right Manner, But With a Wrong Attitude. After Israel returned from the captivity of Babylon, they had gotten rid of the false gods, the images of Jehovah, and even shunned the self-styled religion of their neighbors. But there was an even more insidious problem with their worship; Their heart was not in it. They were giving – just not the best. This was not a new problem for Israel. It was seen by the early prophets in Israel’s history:

1. Amos 5:21-25 “I hate, I despise your feast days, and I do not savor your sacred assemblies. Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them, nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings. And later on Isaiah spoke to the problem:

2. Isaiah 1:11-15 “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?” Says the LORD. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs or goats. “When you come to appear before Me, who has required this from your hand, to trample My courts? Bring no more futile sacrifices…

3. And finally even after the captivity, the sin remained: Mal. 1:7-10 “You offer defiled food on My altar. But say, `In what way have we defiled You?’ By saying, `The table of the LORD is contemptible.’ And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably?” Says the LORD of hosts. “But now entreat God’s favor, that He may be gracious to us. While this is being done by your hands, will He accept you favorably?” Says the LORD of hosts. “Who is there even among you who would shut the doors, so that you would not kindle fire on My altar in vain? I have no pleasure in you,” says the LORD of hosts, “Nor will I accept an offering from your hands.

4. The most critical words of Jesus were reserved for those who claimed to be religious and worshipers, but were inwardly evil and apathetic. God desires to kindle within us a worshipful spirit that arise as a sweet aroma before his throne. But we must have a close association with His word to learn how to worship. The proper object: The one true God, The proper manner: according to revealed truth, and the proper attitude: with thanksgiving and adoration.

III. How did the N.T. Church Worship God? (We are not able to consider all that is relevant from the Bible on this question). Worship involves more than what we do in an assembly. In fact, many of the commandments concerning how we worship are not directed to the assembled church as such, but rather to individuals. (praying, singing, teaching) But we will focus specifically on our obligation to assemble for the purpose of worshiping God. We also note that simply participating in these certain activities does not guarantee that we are pleasing God. It must be in spirit, as well as truth.

A. The Lord’s church assembled on the first day of the week. Acts 20:7 – 7 Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight. This is not just an incidental mentioning of the day. The first day of the week was significant to Christians:

1. The first assembly of the Lord’s church on Pentecost was on the first day of the week.

2. Jesus arose from the dead on the first day of the week (John 20:1)

3. When we compare Paul’s instructions in 1 Cor. 11:20-24, we recognize that the Christians were commanded to come together for the specific purpose of taking the Lord ’s Supper. (vs. 20Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others… He reprimands them because they are not doing this – implies responsibility).

4. In Paul’s instructions concerning the collecting of money, he tells them to lay aside something on the “every first day of every week” (NASB). This implies that they were meeting on each Sunday (no gatherings) There are two acts of worship that are specifically connected to this day:

B. The Lord’s Supper: The previous passage in Acts 20:7 establishes that the early church was commemorating the Lord’s death in the supper.

1. This supper consisted of eating the unleavened bread and drinking the fruit of the vine as it appeared on the Passover table. On the night of His betrayal Jesus gave these two elements of the Passover feast specific and prophetic significance. He took bread, broke it, and said, “eat this in memory of my body.” He gave them a cup of the fruit of the vine, and said, “divide this among yourselves and drink it, this is [i.e., represents] my blood.”

2. The Lord ’s Supper is a memorial, not a sacrament. There is no indication that this was for the purpose of dispensing grace to the Christian. 3. Is that what your church family does? Does it meet each Lord’s day for the purpose of observing the communion?

C. Giving: (taking up a collection): 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 – Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: 2 On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.

1. There are several important elements in this context:

a. First, this giving is a serious responsibility. The term “order” denotes a command; not optional. But despite the obligation, it is to be done cheerfully, not grudgingly. – 2 Cor. 9:7 (“free will offering”) as it is an activity of the heart. Generosity is a vital characteristic of being a Christian.

b. Christians were expected to give “as he may prosper,” or “according to his ability” (Acts 11:29). This is proportional giving. Amazingly, some in the early church gave even beyond their ability (2 Cor. 8:3). Again the focus is on the heart, as the widow who gave all that she had, yet it was less in amount than many others.

D. Prayer – The Lord taught his disciples to pray and how to pray. The first church was dedicated to the practice of prayer. Acts 2:42 – 42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Prayer was the church’s response to persecution and the efforts of Satan to destroy them. Acts 12:5Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.

1. Prayer was always directed to God, never to Mary, or one of the saints. Prayer was not ritual (Matt. 6) and did not need the assistance of mechanical devices, such as prayer wheels, or rosary beads. All of these are the inventions of men.

2. Prayer was offered to God without fear or doubting, by those whose lives were holy – 1 Tim 2:8I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting;

E. Preaching the Word – As we noticed in Acts 20:7, Paul taught the brethren, and continued his preaching for a considerable time. The saints continued in the apostle’s doctrine mentioned in Acts 2:42. The words of the apostles defined the teaching of the early church both in its content and purpose. Acts 5:42And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

1. Is teaching worship? Paul viewed his preaching ministry as a form of religious devotion comparable to priestly service in the temple. In Romans 15:16 …ministering the gospel of God, that the offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

2. The content of our teaching must be the Scriptures. It alone has the power to equip the Christian: 2 Timothy 3:16-1716 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. “We do not need discourses on America’s foreign trade policy, poverty, the tax crisis, or the election of a president. The godly teacher will bring the sacred Scriptures into contact with the minds of his audience; he will let Heaven’s power do its work (Rom. 1:16).

F. Singing: God also specifically commands Christians to worship in song. Ephesians 5:18-1918 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord Colossians 3:1616 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

1. Notice some important elements here as well:

a. Christians “speak to one another” and “teach and admonish one another” in song. This underscores the corporate nature of the musical portion of church worship. Singing is an expression of praise for every Christian, not just a few.

b. The songs that are utilized are spiritual songs (hymns, psalms); not secular songs. The words matter, it is not a matter of music alone.

c. Is it wrong to worship God with a musical instrument? How could I know? We will consider that question in more detail in a future lesson.

Conclusion: As the church of Christ worshiping God is our highest priority. It is sobering to recognize that we could do it wrong. It is thrilling to know that we can do it so that it is a sweet smelling aroma before Him. We need to look carefully at the words of the N.T. and make sure we have authority for all that we do in worship. We need to learn to engage our heart and mind in every activity of worship. We need to worship right.