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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Worship That Pleases God

What kind of worship pleases the Lord? God went to great lengths in the Law to describe for His people precisely how He wanted to be worshiped. Perhaps the most tedious reading in the Bible is the portions of Scripture devoted to the sacrificial system in the Pentateuch.

Painstakingly detailed instructions for the building of the tabernacle stretch from Exodus 25:1 to 31:17, and cover everything from the precise measurements of the ark of the covenant, to the color of yarns to be used in the ten curtains, to the placement of certain precious stones on the ephod of the high priest, to the specific toes and fingers of the priests that were to be consecrated with ram’s blood. The book of Leviticus outlines the 5 major offerings, when they were to be offered, how they were to be offered, and why they were to be offered (1:1-8:38). The Sabbath and Holy Feasts are similarly explained in exquisite detail, leaving nothing to chance or interpretation (23:1-44).

God was very specific in his instructions. The seriousness of these instructions is demonstrated in Leviticus 10, where Nadab and Abihu, two sons of Aaron, presumed to worship the Lord in a way that He had not prescribed. The Lord incinerated them. Afterward Moses reminded Aaron, "This is what the LORD has said, 'Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified'" (10:3). God demands to be regarded as holy.

But when we think about worship that pleases the Lord, we must be very careful to guard against thinking that the external trappings of our worship are what determine its validity to God. The external things are to be indicative of an internal devotion, obedience, and love for God Almighty. It was not simply outward motions of worship that the Lord required of Israel. Moses told the Israelites in Deuteronomy 10:12-13 "And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?” Outward obedience is to be evidence of an internal reality of worship.

How does God feel about external worship – however accurate it may be in its execution – that is not an expression of true, internal love and devotion for Him? The first chapter of Isaiah tells us. Israel’s sacrifices, their external worship, were an abomination to Him because they were done while the nation was living in wanton, unrepentant sin:

Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations-- I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them (Isa 1:13-14).

I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. When we approach the Lord in worship, the external must match the internal. In Isaiah 29:13, the Lord refers to the Israelites as those who “draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me.” They said the right things, but their hearts did not reflect it.

Of course, today we approach the throne of grace by the blood of Jesus Christ, having been reconciled to God. But this does not mean that our worship is always pleasing to the Lord. He still requires us to approach Him without unrepentant sin in our lives. We must have no broken relationships (Matt 5:23-24). We must be looking out for the lowly and keeping ourselves free from the stain of the world (James 1:27). Husbands must be honoring their wives (1 Pet 3:7). We must not take the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner (1 Cor 11:27-31).

At PBF, we pay close attention to the words of the songs we sing. We pay close attention to the words we say in worship. We strive to be as biblical as possible and to honor and please the Lord in everything we do corporately. But if we come together to worship while cherishing sin in our lives or harboring bitterness against another in the body or having unresolved conflict in our marriages, all of our outwardly theologically correct worship will be nothing but noise to the Lord. We will be people who draw near with our mouths and honor Him with our lips while our hearts are far from Him.

Our worship as the New Testament church is to sacrifice ourselves for the purpose of holy living, conformed to Christ rather than to the world. (Rom 12:1-2).

Let me encourage you to prepare your hearts to worship the Lord this Sunday. Examine yourselves. See if there is unconfessed sin that needs to be dealt with. See if there are relationships that need to be reconciled. See if you are not free from the stain of the world. Let’s take care of these things so that we may approach the Lord with a clear conscience and worship Him in such a way that there is nothing hindering His taking pleasure in our singing, reading, preaching, praying, and fellowship.

See you Sunday.

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