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Psalms

O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!  The book of Psalms forms the cornerstone of the Church’s worship, and no other book informs the Christian life more.  From the depths of the darkest woe to the heights of the highest praise, the Psalms praise the mighty Lord who is always faithful to His promises.  Join us in our march toward Zion as we begin to discuss the Lord’s hymnal.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide

Episode: 89

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Biblical Worship

From The Lutheran Hymnal to the polka mass, worship is one of the most debated topics for Christians today.  What do we make of it?  Is there a Biblical definition of worship?  Does God want us to worship in a certain way?  Join us as we discuss Biblical worship as the Lord’s action, our reaction, and the basis for unity in the Church.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide

Episode: 86

Join our Facebook group Word Fitly Posting to discuss this episode or any other topic. Follow us on Twitter: @wordfitly. Send us a message: [email protected] Subscribe to the podcast: RSS Feed, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcasting app.

Biblical Piety, Part 2: The Foundation

Part 1 of this series

Biblical piety begins and ends in knowledge.

There is a tendency to locate piety either in the emotions or in the will. It is attractive to make piety part of emotion, because of the power of human feeling. Piety is not the same as the feeling of being content in the Lord or being happy or even “being on fire for God.” If that is the case, piety becomes man-centered rather than God-centered. Human emotion is certainly part of this creation, and a feeling of contentment is a good gift of God, but we should not confuse the two. Piety can certainly exist even in trying times.

Likewise, piety is not part of the will. This too is a man-centered approach. While the will of the regenerate man is certainly engaged and desires to please God, placing piety there makes it the work of man. Man does not act so that God may react. Rather, God is the one who gives and sustains faith, so that the regenerate man responds to what God has already done.

Rather, piety is located in knowledge. For who can worship the Lord if they do not know Him to be their God? As Paul says, “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” (Romans 10:14)? Likewise Jesus said to the Samaritan woman: “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7). “And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

This knowledge is divided into two parts: (1) the knowledge of God, and (2) the knowledge of one’s condition before God. Both of these must be held together, because if one is lacking, the other is invariably skewed. To know God but to not know oneself is to walk the way of self-righteousness. To know oneself but not to know God is to walk the way of despair. But to know God and to know oneself rightly is to fear God and give him glory and to worship Him who made heaven and earth.

The knowledge of God consists in confessing what He Himself has revealed to us. Though we are but creatures who cannot comprehend God as He is, yet God has lowered Himself in love to us to proclaim clearly who He is. He is the holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is the creator and sustainer of all that is. He is almighty, all-knowing, perfect, present everywhere. The Lord is righteous, holy, faithful, just. “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it” (Numbers 23:19)? God depends on nothing, yet His creation depends wholly on Him. While this description hardly covers everything, it must be said that to deny anything which God has said about Himself is to worship something other than God. The Lord is who He says that He is, not what men presume to say about Him.

The knowledge of oneself consists in recognizing the depths of our own sin. Though Adam was created in perfection, yet he sinned. As he was our head, so the body of the human race suffers together with the head. “But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me” (Hosea 6:7). “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared” (Psalm 130:3-4). “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12).

Further, knowing our own condition rightly also points us back to the knowledge of God. To know that you are a sinner is to know that you need a Savior. And to know Jesus Christ as your Savior is to be brought out of darkness into light, out of death into life. This too is part of a right knowledge of God, because God has revealed Himself not only as our Creator and our Judge, but also as our Redeemer. “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:22-23).

Piety also ends in knowledge, because we are pressing forward to the goal of being before God in righteousness and purity forever. “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). “For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (Romans 15:8-9). “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed” (Revelation 15:3-4). “All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name” (Psalm 86:9).

Beginning with the next article, we will discuss the Biblical forms of piety and their basis. Now that the foundation is laid, we need to look at the structure of the temple, so to speak. Once that is completed, we will look at practical questions, which may be likened to the outward appearance of the building.

Haggai and the Nature of Worship

“A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God” (Isaiah 10:21).  Though Israel had gone into captivity, the Lord promised that He would bring a remnant back to the land.  Isaiah prophesied that Cyrus would be the Lord’s instrument (Isaiah 44:28).  God was indeed faithful, and a remnant of Israel returned, just as He had promised (Ezra 1).  In 538 B.C., the exiles returned to Jerusalem and began the work of rebuilding.  In the second year of their return, they began the great undertaking of rebuilding the Temple (Ezra 3:8-13).  Who could be anything except thankful for what the Lord had done for His people?

But zeal for this work flagged.  What must have been a fire for the Lord had reduced to barely smoldering ashes.  The Samaritans opposed the work after Zerubbabel rejected their offer (Ezra 4:1-5).  Those who returned began to intermarry with the people of the land, Samaritans and others (Ezra 9:1-2).  It seemed like a lot of work that would take a long time to complete.  Perhaps things were better this way.  Perhaps they would get around to finishing what they started, but they needed to settle in first.  Work on the temple ceased for many years.

This was the situation Haggai faced.  “These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord” (Haggai 1:2).  They were complacent and more interested in secular affairs.  Business needed to be done.  Families needed to be cared for.  The temple could wait.  But the Lord declared:  “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins” (Haggai 1:4)?  You are concerned for the welfare of your own houses, while the welfare of the house of God goes to ruin.  Good intentions for the temple weren’t enough.

There is an important warning from Haggai for the Church in the present, especially in the United States.  This is an age of materialism, an age which has brought forth a level of prosperity which finds virtually no parallel in history.  The great temptation is to be concerned for the things of this world, for the bread which perishes.  Wealth has a way of drawing attention to itself.

But Haggai’s warning isn’t simply one of where funding needs to be directed.  Money is one consideration, to be sure, but the material welfare of the Temple is not the main point in this passage.  After all, David desired to build the first Temple for the Lord, recognizing a disparity between his cedar house and the tent of the Tabernacle (2 Samuel 7:1-3).  But the Lord did not command him to do it.  “In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar’” (2 Samuel 7:7)?

Rather, Haggai speaks against the smoldering zeal of Israel, the mindset which is more interested in the things of the world than in the things of God.  Neglect of God’s house is one way in which this mindset shows itself.  By becoming so focused on worldly things, God is pushed out of the picture.  Woe to those who forget the Lord who gave them houses and cisterns and vineyards (Deuteronomy 6:10-12)!

But neglect is not the only way this mindset appears, as it happened in the days of Haggai.  Christians can also become worldly minded while seeming to serve the Lord.  Do we not observe Your feasts, O Lord, and give what we have to Your sanctuary?  Have we not raised a mighty house to Your name and sing Your praises with a beautiful worship service?  “Did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in Your name” (Matthew 7:22)?

In the same way that Paul speaks about the value of circumcision in Romans 3:1, a beautiful church has much to commend it.  But a beautiful sanctuary can be devoid of the Word.  Elaborate vestments can be distracting.  Some of the most magnificent liturgies in the world proclaim blatant lies.  Nor does a lack of these things mean that our worship is automatically more acceptable to God.  As Amos says, ““I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:21-24).

Rather, the Lord is worshiped in Spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).  Blessed is the one who hears the Word of God and keeps it (Luke 11:28).  As Jesus said to Judas, the son of James, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14:23).  A living faith, given and sustained by the Holy Spirit, makes our sacrifice pleasing in God’s sight (Hebrews 11:4).  Such a faith will not neglect the things of God’s house, nor will it be pleased with merely the externals in themselves.  Certainly, the beauty of the Temple and of our churches is of value in every way.  It is not by nature bad or useless.  But a Christian is one who worships inwardly and not only outwardly.