When it comes to worship, I don't want you to think inside the box! Instead, I want you to think outside the box and beyond the box because... Jesus did! Come along for a little journey with me that I hope will lead us both to the presence of our incredible, gracious, and glorious God.
Statement One — from Scripture:
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our "God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:28-29 NIV).
Statement Two — from a children's song:
Tiptoe, tiptoe in God's house.
Tiptoe, tiptoe in God's house.
Tiptoe very softly.
Statement Three — song lyrics adapted from Scripture for a song:
Let all the earth keep silence before Him.
Keep silence. Keep silence.
Keep silence before Him.
Statement Four — something many of us have heard:
Statement Five — something heard recently around church:
One of these five statements written above doesn't quite go with the others! Guess! Which one? It's the first one: the one taken directly from Scripture! The passage at the end of Hebrews 12 isn't talking about how we act "in church" (meaning at a church worship assembly or as we will call here, worship in "The Big Box"), but it is talking about how we worship in daily life. Let me explain.
The chapter and verse divisions were added centuries after the original text was written. If you take the chapter and verse references away and keep reading, you realize that the Holy Spirit inspired the writer of Hebrews to explain how to "worship God acceptably with reverence and awe" in the verses that follow!
In fact, the writer shows us that there is a whole block of teaching regarding worship, reverence, and offering acceptable sacrifices to God that begins with our verses and continues well into what we call chapter 13. He does this with a common rhetorical device his original audience would have recognized. This device is inclusio. A cornbread English way of saying that the Holy Spirit gave us bookends that say a similar thing — in this case, teaching about worship. This is how he does it:
- Call to worship with reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28-29).
- Call to offer proper sacrifices to God, the fruit of lips and good deeds to those in need (Hebrews 13:15-16).
So what falls in between those calls to worship is how we are to worship "acceptably, with reverence and awe." Notice what is said:
- Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters (Hebrews 13:1).
- Don't forget to show hospitality to strangers (Hebrews 13:2).
- Remember those in prison and those who are mistreated (Hebrews 13:3).
- Marriage, and the sexual relationship of a husband and wife, should be honored and kept pure (Hebrews 13:4).
- Be content with what you have and don't be greedy or covetous, God is going to take care of you (Hebrews 13:5-6).
- Respect your leaders and follow their life of faith because they show you the unchangeable character of Jesus (Hebrews 13:7).
- Don't get carried away with teachings that sound very spiritual because of their added restrictions, but trust in God's grace (Hebrews 13:9-11)
- Be willing to follow Jesus, even if it leads you to disgrace and ostracism, because we have a special and lasting community that is coming (Hebrews 13:12-14).
Like so many before us, modern Christians get all hung up and focused on what they do in "The Big Box" on Sunday. In fact, many of us choose our church because of what happens there and whether or not we like it — do they sing my kind of songs, are they my kind of people, do I feel uplifted when I leave... and on and on we go with the operative word being "I"!
In fact, most of the folks who get torqued about something — that get their nose out of joint about what is happening "at church" — are nearly always mad about what happens in "The Big Box" on Sunday. For us, worship is about what happens in "The Big Box"! But this is nothing new! Jesus quotes Isaiah about folks getting the songs and words right, but their hearts and lives being far away from God (Matthew 15:8; Isaiah 29:13). This has always been a major problem with worship — "right rites while not living right" (Isaiah 1:10-17).
Now the Christian assembly was important to early followers of Jesus. From the very beginning, they gathered in a big group in the Temple courts to meet together (Acts 2:38-47 — and they also met in each other's homes daily). From Paul's teaching to the Corinthians, the Christian assembly was quite important (1 Corinthians chapters 11-14 talk about conduct during the worship assembly). The book of Hebrews emphasizes the same basic principles we see in these earliest followers of Jesus — daily encouragement meetings with a few believers (Hebrews 3:12-13) and other gatherings of the larger church family (Hebrews 10:19-25).
Yet when we begin to look at the purpose of these gatherings, something interesting shows up in every situation: while worship was clearly part of the larger church gatherings, the purpose was to build each other up and encourage each other to live a life of worship for Jesus! (If you doubt this, look carefully at the purpose of the gatherings in Hebrews 10:25 and the repeated use of the phrases "build-up" or "encourage" or "edify" in 1 Corinthian 14.)
So what's the point?
The biggest problem God's people have always had is that they mistake getting worship in "The Big Box" right for worshiping God "acceptably with reverence and awe"! Of course, we want to honor God when we come together. But what does God want for us out of these gatherings? The Father wants us to celebrate having lived a life of worship the previous week, and God wants us to motivate each other to live a life of worship in the coming week — "the fruit of lips" and "doing good to others" emphasized in Hebrews (Hebrews 13:15-16).
Jesus' teaching on worship was simple and clear: it is not about place, but about being filled with the Spirit and worshiping from lifestyles that are true to the character and compassion of God (John 4:19-23). Paul reminds us that true worship is the daily sacrifice of ourselves, offering all of our lives to God — not just "The Big Box" worship on Sunday (Romans 12:1-2).
"So boil it down and make it simple, please!"
These last several weeks, we've looked at the things of "first importance" and "the greatest commands." We have been trying to listen for What is Core for our walk with Jesus. Recognizing that Jesus died for our sins and was buried and raised from the dead puts us in the middle of what we must believe and use to build our lives in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:3-5). Jesus taught us that our basic response to all the good things that God has done for us is really about loving God and loving our neighbors (Matthew 22:34-40). And what we've seen in Scripture about worship plugs right into these two core truths.
We worship God out of response to his incredible gift of Jesus that cleanses our sins and defeats the power of death in our lives. Our worship is a response to that great gift. And our worship focuses on loving God and loving others. We are going to praise and thank God in ways that honor him — "acceptably with reverence and awe" (Hebrews 12:28) focusing on two things:
- Worshiping with our words, songs, and emotions — "a sacrifice of praise — the fruit of lips that openly profess his name" (Hebrews 13:15).
- Worshiping with the character and compassion lived out in our daily lives — "to do good and to share with others" (Hebrews 13:16).
When you look at this a minute or two, you realize that worship is loving God and loving others because of what the Father has done for us in Jesus! Yep, that is definitely What is Core!
So let's get worship out of "The Big Box" and into our daily lives! Let's make sure our worship words and our daily witness match each other! And when we do, we will come to realize that while "The Big Box" may be important, the reason it is important is because it motivates us to worship every day, in the real world, in our daily lives.
That's worship with reverence and awe!
Articles in our series entitled: What is CORE?