Thursday, April 10, 2014

What is Worship Anyway? - Part One

Just a quick news flash – Last week, in the intro to this series, I told you the second entry would be in two weeks, but I changed my mind. This will be a weekly series until it’s done. 
[edit! we're way way way behind on this series, but I am still working on it, so keep clicking those links at the bottom of these as long as they are there]
We’re talking about worship here, and, as with any subject which has been plagued with misunderstanding and misinformation over a long period of time, we’re going to need to start at the beginning.

In Genesis, the Book of Beginnings, we find the earliest reference to the term worship. Now, it’s important for you, faithful reader, to know that the very first time an important topic is mentioned in the Bible is usually very significant, and indicates an unchanging pattern concerning that thing in God's mind, and therefore in reality. Theologians call it the Law of First Mention. Examples of this are:
  • Love – the first time love is mentioned is Genesis 22, where it describes Isaac as Abraham’s “only son whom he loves.”
  • Only son – Incidentally, Genesis 22 is also the first place we find the phrase “only son.” This is in reference to Abraham’s son Isaac, who would soon be offered up to God as an act of…
  • Worship – You guessed it! The first time we find “worship” is also in that same portion of Scripture in Genesis 22.


I’m going to frequently ask you, as we go through this series, to click the Scripture references (or look it up in the print or digital Bible version of your choice) and review passages which are pertinent to my points. If you can recite it from memory maybe you can skip this step, but otherwise, it will be very helpful for you to do this.

Genesis 22:1-10: Asking myself the question, “what does the term worship mean in this story?” I believe I boiled down to its essence. Worship, to Abraham, meant two things: obedience and sacrifice – Abraham’s act of worship was to obey God even when it didn't make any logical sense to do so, and to sacrifice his son Isaac, whom he loved possibly more than anything else in the world.

Notice in verse 5 that Abraham told his servants that both he and Isaac were going to worship. In light of this I again asked myself what worship means in this passage, but to Isaac. Again, I got obedience and sacrifice. Isaac, being a young man (not a young boy like the Sunday School flannelgraph stories imply) was likely strong enough to overpower the aging patriarch, but instead he allowed himself to be bound to the altar, as stunning an act of obedience as any. And his obedience, as far as he could tell, was going to include the ultimate sacrifice anyone can offer – his very life. Like Jesus, Isaac had to be willing to die at the hands of his father.

This is worship.

According to the Law of First Mention, we must view worship throughout the rest of the Bible, and time, through this lens. It’s a much different picture of worship than we are used to, in an age when worship is primarily a spectator activity, and almost without exception necessarily includes a band, or at least a singer/songwriter type worship leader guy in skinny jeans, a Mr. Rogers sweater, and a worn pair of Toms, sitting on a stool and bleeding emotion from his mouth. Originally, worship could mean bleeding actual blood, but times have changed.

Please don’t misunderstand my point here. There’s nothing innately wrong with using music as a venue, or an outlet, through which a heart filled with wonder and love for one’s Savior expresses these sentiments. Remember, I am a worship leader, so I've got three fingers pointing back at me if this is judgment. I’m just drawing your attention to the original usage for the term, in hopes that we will all begin to reform our thinking in this area.

So, what was God’s intent in this situation, knowing that Christians thousands of years later would discover the Law of First Mention and would use this incident to help them understand what God desires from them as worship?

What God really wanted was for Abraham to put Him above Isaac. The essence of this story is that God wanted Abraham to see God Himself as more important than God’s blessings. The Lord had already promised Abraham that through Isaac his lineage would be continued, and God already knew that Abraham would choose to obey Him. This “test” from the Lord was for Abraham. He needed to consciously recognize the preeminence of His God above all the blessings and promises that are from God.

I will leave you this week with a comment from Matthew Henry.

“God, by his word, calls us to part with all for Christ, - all our sins, though they have been as a right hand, or a right eye, or an Isaac – all those things that are competitors and rivals with Christ for the sovereignty of the heart (Luke 14:26); and we must cheerfully let them all go. God, by his providence, which is truly the voice of God, calls us to part with an Isaac sometimes, and we must do it with a cheerful resignation and submission to his holy will, 1 Samuel 3:18.”

Come back next week for the conclusion of Abraham and Isaac’s story from Genesis 22 and what it means for us. And please leave a share this with someone who might need or appreciate it, and comment should you feel so inclined. You can find me on facebook and twitter by clicking the cool hyperlinked words.

For more on Genesis 22 and the prophetic significance of this story, please read my earlier entry, Behold the Lamb

And, to continue this series, What is Worship Anyway? Part Two, click the link.



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