worship

The Way of Worship

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There’s a story in the New Testament where Paul visits the great city of Athens. Like Oxford or Cambridge or Boston, Athens was a famous intellectual city, renowned for its history, its learning, and its contribution to culture. Athens was said to be the glory of Greece. And yet have you ever noticed Paul’s reaction when residing in this world-class city? Was Paul impressed with its intellect? Did he fall in love with its architecture? Was he amazed by their food?

Acts records that “his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols” (17:16). Later he says to Athenians, in effect, “Look, I can see you are very religious. You have temples and rituals and statues all over the place. You are really into worship. But I’m telling you: you’re going about it in the wrong way” (see Acts 17:22–23). That’s why Paul was provoked in his spirit. He could see that no matter how spiritual or how smart or how sincere they may have been, they were worshiping God in a way that did not please him.

If the first of the ten commandments is against worshiping the wrong God, the second commandment is against worshiping God in the wrong way. The people in Athens were guilty of both. They were ignorant of the God who raised Jesus from the dead, and their approach to religion was not what the true God had prescribed.

Self-Willed Worship

Most generally, the second commandment forbids self-willed worship—worshiping God as we choose rather than as he demands. In particular, the second commandment makes two prohibitions: 1) We are not to make images to represent God in any form, and 2) We are not to worship images of any kind.

The second commandment does not intend to outlaw art or painting or aesthetic considerations. The tabernacle displayed angels and palm trees, the ark will have cherubim, and God himself gave the Spirit to Bezalel and Oholiab that they might be skilled artists and craftsmen. God is not against beauty. What he prohibits is infusing any object with spiritual efficacy, as if man-made artifacts can bring us closer to God, represent God, or establish communion with God.

The Old Testament is full of examples of God’s people using man-made artifacts for self-willed worship. The golden calf is the most famous example. Remember, Aaron proclaimed a feast to Yahweh, and the people declared that these were the gods who brought them up out of Egypt (Ex. 32:4–5). The Israelites weren’t worshiping Baal. They were trying to worship the Lord their God, but they were doing it in the wrong way. They were violating the second commandment.

At other times, the Israelites treated their religious symbols as though they had real religious powers. This too was a violation of the second commandment, turning the ark into some kind of talisman (1 Sam. 4:1–11) or treating the temple like a good luck charm (Jer. 7:1–15). We can do the same with church buildings or pulpits or the cross around our neck.

Like most of the Decalogue, the second commandment is not hard to understand. The what is fairly straightforward. The why and how take some more explanation. To that end, I want to give five reasons for the prohibitions in the second commandment.

No One Like Him

First, God is free. Once you have something to represent God or worship as if it were God, you undermine God’s freedom. We start to think we can bring God with us by carrying around a statue. Or we think we can manage God with the right rituals. Or we think he’ll be our benefactor if we simply pray in a certain direction or make an offering before a graven image. Anytime we make something in order to see God, or see something that stands in for God, we are undermining his freedom. God is Spirit, and he doesn’t have a body (John 4:24). It is not for us to make the invisible God visible.

Second, God is jealous. No image will capture God’s glory. Every man-made representation of the Divine will be so far less than God as to incite his jealousy. Think about it: the more chaste and pure a husband, the more his jealousy is aroused by an adulterous wife. God is supremely pure, and he cannot bear to share his glory with another, even if the other is a sincere attempt to represent (and not replace) the one true God. God is a being unto himself. In fact, he is being. His glory cannot be captured in a picture or an image or a form. That’s why even in Revelation when we have a vision of the One on the throne, he is “shown” to us in visual metaphors: lightning, rainbow, colors, sea, re, lamps, thrones, etc.

The world of the ancient Near East divinized everything. The Israelites divinized nothing—not Father Time or Mother Earth or the sun or the moon or the stars. The separation between God and his creation is one of the defining characteristics of biblical Christianity. Any human attempt to bridge that chasm is not only an attempt at the impossible but an affront to the unparalleled majesty of God.

Third, believing sight comes by sound. In the Bible, especially on this side of heaven, we see by hearing. As Deuteronomy later made clear, the Sinai experience was a paradigm for God’s self-revelation. When the Lord appeared to the people on the mountain out of the midst of re, Moses reminded them, “You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice” (Deut. 4:12). And because they saw no form, the Israelites were commanded not to corrupt themselves by making visible images (4:15ff.).

We make no apology for being Word-centered and words-centered. Faith comes by hearing (Rom. 10:17). That’s how God designed it because that’s how he has chosen to reveal himself. Christian worship is meant to be wordy and not a breathtaking visual display. If God wanted us to see him in worship, he would have presented himself differently in the Sinai theophany. The way God “showed up” to give the Ten Commandments says something about how we are to keep the Ten Commandments.

Fourth, God provides his own mediators. At their best, God’s people have employed images and icons not because they thought God could be housed in a marble bust, but in order to provide more intimate access to God. If God is in heaven, it makes sense that we would want a little portal for him here on earth.

But God’s people should know better. The saints in the Old Testament did not need to fashion an intermediary for themselves; God had already promised mediators through the prophets, priests, and kings. God had his own way to draw near to his people, culminating in a final Mediator who would embrace all three offices at once and pitch his tent among us (John 1:14).

Fifth, we don’t need to create images of God because he has already created them. The implications of Genesis 1:26–27 are staggering. We are the divinely chosen statues meant to show what God is like, created in his image and after his likeness. Idolatry diminishes God and diminishes us.

In Ezekiel 18:11–13, right in the middle of a host of horizontal, neighborly sins, is the mention of idolatry. Why? Because mistreating other people and worshiping idols have the same root: a violation of the divine image. In one case, we are looking for God’s image where it doesn’t exist (idolatry), and in the other case we are ignoring God’s image where it does exist (sins against our neighbors).

We are God’s statues in the world, marking out the planet as his and his alone. He does not need our help in making more images; he asks for our witness.


Content taken from The 10 Commandments: What They Mean, Why They Matter, and Why We Should Obey Them by Kevin DeYoung, ©2018. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.

Kevin DeYoung (MDiv, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He serves as board chairman of the Gospel Coalition and blogs at DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed. He is assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte) and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Leicester. He is the author of several books, including Just Do Something; Crazy Busy; and The Biggest Story. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children.

Mission as an Act of Worship

Please enjoy a free excerpt from our next book from Ben Connelly, A Pastor's Guide to Everyday Mission: Navigating the Paradox of Leading God’s People and Pursuing God’s Mission. Releasing at the start of June.

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John Piper famously begins Let the Nations Be Glad with:

Missions is not the ultimate purpose of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is the fuel and goal in missions. It’s the goal of missions because in missions we simply aim to bring the nations into the white-hot enjoyment of God’s glory. The goal of missions is the gladness of the peoples in the greatness of God… But worship is also the fuel of missions. Passion for God in worship precedes the offer of God in preaching. You can’t commend what you don’t cherish. Missionaries will never call out, “Let the nations be glad!” who cannot say from the heart, “I rejoice in the Lord… I will be glad and exult in thee, I will sing praise to thy name, O Most High.” Missions begins and ends in worship.

Participating in God’s mission is an act of worship.

“Missions exists because worship doesn’t”

But our participation in his mission is not a man-made response, as if in an attempt to pay a debt to God, a counsel of Christians considered multiple options and landed on missions. Instead, like every other act of worship, this was always part of God’s design. These words are on the last page of Let the Nations Be Glad:

The ultimate goal of God in all of history is to uphold and display his glory for the enjoyment of the redeemed from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. …The church is bound to engage with the Lord of glory in his cause. It is our unspeakable privilege to be caught up with him in the greatest movement in history—the ingathering of the elect from every tribe and language and people and nation.

From Genesis to Revelation, we see God unfolding his story of redemption. And at least from Genesis 12, when God tells Abraham he’ll be blessed in order that “you will be a blessing” (v.1), God involves his people—as inadequate, unskilled, and disobedient as we are—to fulfill that mission. This continues through both Testaments, as God calls both his Old and New Covenant people his “nation of priests.”

Jesus, of course, is the climax of God’s mission. As the ultimate Sent One of the Father, Jesus entered the darkness of this world and pursued the people God sent him to. As the most well-known verse in all the Bible says,

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. – John 3:16–17

And when he returns to the right hand of the Father, the Son promises his followers that the Spirit will come and empower them to continue the same mission he started during his time on earth.

God wants missionaries at the ends of the earth and at the end of the cornfield.

If this is new for you, here are just a few of the clearest biblical passages that display God’s design for his people to serve as his missionaries; to make disciples of those around us:

[God] through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. – 2 Corinthians 5:18–20

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. – 1 Peter 2:9

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me [i.e., Jesus]. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18–20

“I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” – John 17:15–18

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” – Romans 10:14–15

Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! – Psalm 96:2–3

Ministers, we cannot ignore God’s mission, nor abdicate our pursuit of it, obedience to it, and position in it! Mission is commanded by God. Mission is at the heart of God. Mission is why Jesus came to earth from the right hand of God. Mission is an act of worship to God.

GOD CALLS ALL HIS PEOPLE MISSIONARIES

To be clear, none of the verses above were written exclusively to “paid” ministers. They’re written to every Christ-follower—because God’s call to mission goes far deeper than just those of us who are paid by Christian ministries. On one hand, this is a relief. We’re not in it alone! On the other hand, the fact that God’s mission is shared among his people makes it an even more vital part of our lives. We’re not missionaries because we’re ministers; we’re missionaries because we’re Christians!

MISSION FOR NON-MINISTERS

For the people we lead, their role in life—student, lawyer, mother, teacher, or friend—pales in comparison to the identity that God has given them in the gospel. For example, because of who God is and what he does, every follower of Jesus is a son or daughter and an heir of God; every Christian is also simultaneously a sinner and saint. Non-ministers (in the sense I’m using the term) don’t get to reject those identities when they enter the classroom or courtroom, because their identities are deeper than their roles. In the same way, missionary is part of every Christian’s God-given identity. In Christ, God gives us “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18); thus, all Christians are part of reconciling the world to God. In 2 Corinthians, God calls us all his “ambassadors” (those sent to a foreign land, representing a dignitary) and, in 1 Peter, “priests” (mediators between God and others). In Acts 2, Jesus sends his people out as his “witnesses.” In Matthew 5, he calls us “salt of the earth” and “light of the world.” Over and over, the Bible shows that God has gloriously woven mission into our very identity in Christ. It goes far deeper than the other roles we may play. Anyone who calls himself or herself a Christian, God calls his missionary.

MISSION FOR MINISTERS

But let’s pull our chairs together, lower our voices, and make sure no one’s listening as we talk honestly. For paid ministers, the hard part of living in the both-and of ministry and mission is this: It’s easy to call on the doctors, lawyers, EMT’s, and pizza deliverers in our ministries to live for God in their careers, but we think we already do, all day everyday day! While it’s easy to call students and retirees to sacrifice and lay down their lives for God, we get paid to do exactly that! The roles that we play are already saturated with Jesus-y things; the tasks we complete involve talking about and modeling godliness. In fact, if we happen to find time for mission in the midst of our consistently-crammed calendars, we may feel that we’re actually stealing time from someone in our ministry. “And those are the people who I should prioritize, right? While mission sounds good biblically, it’s so darn hard. My board’s already breathing down my neck. My people are just so needy.” We couldn’t possibly leave our flock of 99, in pursuit of one lowly lost sheep…could we?

GOD CALLS MINISTERS TO LEAD HIS PEOPLE WHERE THEY SHOULD GO

We’ve all heard the phrase “as goes the leader, so goes the organization.” In more biblical terms, Peter calls ministers to be “among” our people as “examples to the flock” (1 Pt 5:2), and Paul’s leadership involved calling others to “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). As leaders, we’re called to model for our people, the life we’re calling them to. So here’s the reality for those of us in leadership in Christian groups: as a ministry leader, you must also serve as its lead missionary. If you’re a leader in a church, then you need to lead your people into mission unless you’re content with your church’s growth being primarily by transfer.

If you lead a parachurch organization, then you need to lead your people into mission unless you want to find yourself surrounded with already-Christians. If you’re a leader in any other type of ministry, then you need to lead your people into mission unless you want to wake up one day and realize how insulated your world has become.

Honestly, the few of God’s people he’s entrusted to my inadequate oversight and stewardship are far more likely to go somewhere if I lead them there. Sheep need shepherds; ministries need leaders. And if we’ve taken up the mantle of serving others by leading God’s people, then it’s up to us to lead them where they need to go. Whatever other titles, roles, and duties we may have, if we believe that all Christians are called to “go and make disciples,” we must first embrace that part of the gospel DNA that runs through our own God-given blood: We are missionaries. Then, as leaders of other gospel-formed missionaries, we must step into the title, role, and duties of being lead missionaries of our organizations.

IT’S NOT AS HARD AS YOU THINK

Next, we dive into the deep end of this issue, lay a biblical foundation, and will be awakened to the reasons many ministers neglect a life of mission. This truth may leave some of you feeling godly conviction. It may, however, leave you feeling guilty or shameful and unsure of what to do.

Any feeling of inadequacy, guilt, or weakness is simply a glimpse of the biblical reality for every minister. So if you feel regret for your lack of pursuit of God’s mission, the gospel encourages you. The Apostle Paul—arguably the greatest missionary ever—says:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. … Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. – 2 Corinthians 12:9; 3:5–6

If you’re feeling unsure of what to do or the next step to take, then know that the rest of the book is devoted to helping you. In the remainder of this guide, you will consider biblical principles, heart postures, and practical ideas to weave God’s call to mission into the chaotic tapestry of vocational ministry. But it’s not as hard as you may think.

You likely know someone whom God has given the gift of evangelism—he’s the one who can make friends with a Buckingham Palace guard; she’s the one whose very presence seems to make people fall to their knees and declare their need for Jesus. Praise God for giving that gift to some of his people—but it’s not required to be a missionary. To some of his people, God has given the gift of evangelism, but to all of his people, he’s given the mission of making disciples. As the lead missionary in your ministry, you don’t have to be “that guy” or “that gal” to lead others to make disciples. There are no specific traits, Myers-Briggs types, or DISC profile necessary to lead your organization to live out our missionary identity in Christ. It’s not as hard as you may think.

In fact, the first requirement for being a lead missionary is the first requirement for most of a life of following Jesus: love.

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Ben Connelly, his wife Jess, and their daughters Charlotte and Maggie live in Fort Worth, TX. He started and now co-pastors The City Church, part of the Acts29 network and Soma family of churches. Ben is also co-author of A Field Guide for Everyday Mission (Moody Publishers, 2014). With degrees from Baylor University and Dallas Theological Seminary, Ben teaches public speaking at TCU, writes for various publications, trains folks across the country, and blogs in spurts at benconnelly.net. Twitter: @connellyben.