Last week, we came face-to-face with the unfortunate truth that we, as God’s people, are often guilty of reducing His Word into mere “external observances.” We were forced to admit that we are often best known for turning the Bible into some kind of “checklist,” denying its real power (2 Tim. 3:5). We have an undeniably long history of taking God’s teachings, robbing them of their rich depth, and limiting their potential to change our lives from the inside out.
In other words, we hunt for loopholes.
Like king Saul, we want to be able to claim some kind of obedience, but without all of the actual obedience (I Sam. 15).
Like Ananias and Sapphira, we want to look like “good Christians” without actually having to be good Christians (Acts 5:1-11).
Like Diotrephes, we want to be part of the Church, but only as long as it serves our interests (3 Jn. 1:9-10).
So, as we begin our series on “Loophole Hunters,” I would like to turn our attention towards a biblical subject that has certainly been the victim of this approach…
Let’s talk about WORSHIP.
For the purposes of this study, let’s take the same basic approach that Jesus took in Matthew 5 towards three commonly “hunted” areas of worship:
“You have heard that it was said…” – THE “LOOPHOLES”
1. “…that church attendance is the single most important – and possibly the only - mark of a faithful Christian; especially Sunday mornings. As long as you ‘punch your ticket’ on Sundays, you’re good. God doesn’t care what you do the rest of the week.”
2. “…that singing praises to God is all about song selection, pitch, tempo, and whether or not you think you have a good voice. You don’t actually have to sing – especially if you don’t like the song - much less make melody in your heart or engage your mind.”
3. “…that listening quietly to a couple of sermons and complimenting – or perhaps critiquing – the preacher is your only responsibility towards God’s Word. You don’t actually have to do/change anything in your life as a result of what you hear, and you can go for weeks without opening the Bible on your own and not be affected, spiritually.”
“But I say to you…” – THE TRUTH
1. Church attendance is important, but it is NOT the equivalent of true worship, much less biblical discipleship. The early Church met “day by day” (Acts 2:46, 47), with seemingly no one saying…
“Do we HAVE to come back tonight? I have a softball tournament in Galilee!”
Participation in the worship of the church should be a no-brainer for a Christian, unless unusual circumstances make it impossible to participate (notice I didn’t say “habitual and deliberately chosen circumstances”). Worship is not something that we “go to;” it is an active, participatory symbol and symptom of a life that already belongs to God. It is an opportunity to allow our love and adoration for God to pour out of our grateful, undeserving hearts! To reduce God’s clearly communicated view of Christianity and discipleship to the external observance of ‘church attendance’ is to willingly pervert its true nature and purpose; and when we do so, we join the ranks of those in Jesus’ day – and ever since - who have done the same.
a.“This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship Me…” – Mt. 15:8-9
b.“God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” – Jn. 4:24
c.“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” – Heb. 12:28-29
2. Singing praises to God is not an option for a follower of Christ. It should have nothing to do with song selection, pitch, tempo, or the perceived “quality” of a person’s voice (although these things can certainly contribute to how much we might “enjoy” worship). Nowhere in the New Testament does God place any true, spiritual value on any of these things, and neither should we. When we view singing as optional, conditional, or a purely technical exercise, we do not actually worship. When we do this, we have gone “Loophole Hunting” in an area that God has clearly intended us to understand on a much deeper – and more spiritual - level. And by the way, if we only sing praises to God during the “set times of worship,” we may have missed the point entirely.
a.“I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.” – I Cor. 14:15
b.“…addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart…” – Eph. 5:19
c.“Through Him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name.” – Heb. 13:15
3. Listening quietly to sermons is indeed important, but it should simply be the outward sign that something much deeper is happening internally; it should never be a “loophole” for neglecting our own study of God’s Word! If we depend solely on the preacher or Bible class teacher to “feed” us, spiritually, we will starve. In addition, if our approach towards God’s Word does not include proper understanding and application in our own life, we have “hunted down” another nonexistent “loophole.”
a.“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” – Js. 1:22
b.“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” – 2 Tim. 2:15
c.Why is it that a person who never misses basketball practice, overtime at work, tutoring, recitals, play practice, awards ceremonies, and everything else associated with these secular commitments suddenly has trouble figuring out what this kind of commitment means in the realm of faith and discipleship?
d.What are the implications if we do not obey these clear teachings? We WILL be “deceived,” we will NOT be “approved,” we WILL have a need to be “ashamed,” and we will NOT “rightly handle the word of truth!”
Next week on “Loophole Hunters,” we will tackle the category of “Relationships,” so make sure to tune in!