Thursday, September 28, 2006

Worship With Lips Only

I strongly believe that humans have an innate inclination towards worship (even athiests). We are simply wired that way. Mankind has always been very religious. Perhaps one may not worship the God of the Bible, but everyone is worshiping something or someone. Bob Dylan put it quite poetically:

"You may be a construction worker working on a home,
You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome,
You might own guns and you might even own tanks,
You might be somebody's landlord, you might even own banks

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody."

Due to the inclination towards worship that is innate, a heart that is void of worship of God will gravitate toward worshiping something or someone else. Sometimes that will be evident in very obvious pagan idolatry. However, I think most of the time it isn't that simple. Since we are surrounded in Christian culture, we as humans like to let our hearts run to worship other things while appearing to give homeage to God. Scripture anticipated that, not merely because of a prophetic sense, but also because this 'worship of lips only' which hides idolatry was very prevelant in the Bible times.

In Matthew 15:8-9, we find the strong words of Jesus when he rebukes the Pharisees by quoting from Isaiah: "This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.

I think there are at least several things packed into that short statemet:

1. "This people" points to a special community, not just anyone. The prophet Isaiah says of this people "Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity". But they are not token pagans, they were given a very special opportunity to know God through His revelation to them. And because of this unique status, there is an expectation and knowledge of true worship.

2. Honor is given, and in many respects this lips-only honor is probably indistinguishable from true honor and worship.

3. What is outside doesn't necessarily accurately reflect what is inside the heart.

4. The following verse (v9) says "In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men", which is considerably less optimistic towards hypocrates than the "they have their reward" assesment of Matthew 6. This implies that worshiping with lips only is useless before God.

5. The hearts spoken of here are not absent of worship, but are rather busy worshiping something other than God.

I think the fundamental concept here, in regard to the status of the heart, is that Jesus is indicating that the ones he speaks of are dominated by desires (or 'affections' in older English) which do not match their outward piety (hence speaking of their heart as being positionally 'far' from God). In other words, they participate in worship of the true God outwardly, but inwardly a different altar and a different "god" is being bowed to and longed for. That is an insult to God in the highest regard (a God whom we know as being a jealous God).

Now, here comes the tough part, application. God requires of me to both inwardly and outwardly worship Him. Psalm 29:2 - "Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness." That is what God expects of me. But how do I get there? Saying the right formula or doing the right things is one thing. But the "heart" (center of our being) is a much more complicated thing. How do we tame our hearts which have tendencies to persue anything except for God? I believe that is only possible by the working of the Spirit of God and the sanctification He works in and through believers.

Sometimes we do mundane chores and we technically "do" them, but our heart is so disinclined from them that we have no inward involvement in them. Sadly, I must admit that my worship of God is not exempt from that sort of "double minded" emptiness. Even in private it is so easy to utter a prayer with so little feeling that my heart (and maybe even part of my mind) is wandering somewhere else.

I think the centrality of worship and our human inclination to worship something should lead Christians to think very carefully about this and also examine our hearts to see whether we are worshiping God with our lips only. In conclusion I also want to say that sometimes we sit so smuggly and look at the Pharisees in almost a clinical sort of way, removing ourselves from their mindset (or at least pretending to be far removed from their mindset). It is so easy to compare everyone to the Pharisees (except ourselves that is). One Mennonite book (which I have never read) has a title that really hits hard and is refreshingly honest: "We Are The Pharisees". If I scoff at the Pharisees and turn out to be really no different in so many ways, am we being Pharisaical?

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Blogger Wayne Shih said...


I don't think we've met, but I know your brother Dennis. Good thoughts here on worship. I'll be linking to it on my blog.


10:05 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Hi Wayne,

Thanks for the link. I think I have met you. You did my brothers wedding, didn't you?

10:15 PM  
Blogger Wayne Shih said...

yeah, so I guess we did meet before.

8:29 AM  
Blogger Ad├ín said...

Great post! You make a very clear argument. The human brain is wired not just to worship, but to 'receive' as well, that is we are predisposed to experience spiritual fulfillment, try some searches, a few years ago there were several studies done on the subject and I imagine that there are still quite a few going on.

12:42 PM  

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