Worship as a Way of Life (Sept-Oct 1997)

By Matt Dabbs

by Jim Martin
September – October, 1997

28Several years ago a student was renting a small apartment from an older Christian man. He had lived there for about six months when two friends from out of state came to visit him. One friend was white, the other was African-American. After these friends left to return home, the student found a note placed on his front door. “You will need to find another apartment,” the note read, “you are just not working out here.” After reading the note, the student knocked on the landlord’s door and asked to speak with him about the note. The student began the conversation by asking why he had been asked to leave the apartment. “To be honest,” the gentleman answered, “you brought that black (my word, not his) man into my apartment. I won’t stand for that.” The student was stunned. “But I don’t understand! You are a Christian. How can you do this? My friend has been a student at two Christian colleges and has even preached on occasion. He is your brother in Christ.” The landlord replied, “Church is church and business is business. This is business!”

What do we do with such a situation? Both men were in assemblies each Sunday. Both claimed Jesus as Lord. Both believed that worshiping and glorifying God was a necessary response for a believer. They were probably sincere in their faith. Perhaps the problem was that for one man a gap existed between Sunday morning and the other six days. For some reason, what was proclaimed on the first day of the week did not affect this landlord’s attitude and behavior. Perhaps the reason for this gap is that people do not understand the place of worship.

God is prior to worship. His grace is prior to our response. We worship in response to God in gratitude for all that he has done for us. In worship, we declare God’s worth and respond to his love. On the first day of the week Christians come together in “assembly.” The other six days of the week are to be an extension of that worship experience. Worship is to be a way of life because God interacts with us in our everyday lives. Yet, unfortunately, many of us make such a distinction between the sacred and the secular that our faith makes no significant difference in our lives during the remainder of the week. James Davidson Hunter has observed that American religion thrives in some respects (Partisan Review, Spring 1997, pp. 187-19). After all, people are going to church, praying, and going to Bible studies. This is deceptive, however, because American religion has fallen to “privatization, fragmentation, and subjectivization.” As a result, “it (religion) persists but is hollowed out.” We affirm Jesus as Lord on Sunday, but that confession may have an empty ring to it on Monday. Consequently, we become disconnected from our faith and our lives are blown here and there by every cultural wind that comes along.

The assembly is a time each week when we come together and our life in God is nurtured. The nature of the body of Christ is to meet together. The expression “come together” is used in both 1 Corinthians 11:18 and 14:23 to refer to the assemblies of the church. The expression is used in Acts 12:12 to refer to a prayer meeting. There are numerous words used in the New Testament to refer to worship. Most of the time these words in some way also refer to the Christian life and especially one’s moral conduct and good deeds. Everett Ferguson has observed that one would have to press hard to make a major distinction between worship as assembly and one’s service to the world. Ferguson has stated:

Modern usage applies the word, “worship” to the assembly of believers gathered for corporate acts of devotion … The New Testament usage for the words for worship is much broader, including the Christian moral life and acts of service on behalf of good people. The common meaning of worship today represents a narrowing down of the New Testament meaning of worship. It selects one aspect of worship and applies the word exclusively (or almost so) to that aspect. Worship properly understood, however, covers the Christian life as well as the Christian assembly, all acts of service and devotion to God (Everett Ferguson, The Church of Christ, p. 226).

While the gathering on Sunday (“the assembly”) is a time of worship and edification, the other six days are to be an extension of that worship. Due to the formal nature of our assemblies (suits, ties, dresses), one might be led to believe that on Sunday morning, God is looking intently at each worshiper with spiritual binoculars not used at any other time. All of life, however, is an expression of worship to God. The assemblies in the New Testament were not isolated from the daily gatherings of believers. The assembly on the first day of the week was seen in continuity with all of life, both past and future.

The presentation of our lives before God on a daily basis is an act of worship (Romans 12:1). We care called to behave in such a way that our actions are shaped by the Lord Jesus rather than the powerful expectations of this culture. If we are not worshiping God during the remainder of the week, it may be because we have been seduced by the idols. In other words, the issue may not be whether we worship but what we worship. Sex? Pleasure? My money? My happiness? All of these can become seductive gods tempting us to pay attention to their claim to make us feel good. As Augustine said, “We imitate whom we adore.” Flirting with these idols will result in a life hollowed out by idolatry.

Two unmarried college students sit next to one another on a Sunday morning partaking of the Lord’s Supper as it is passed. Less than 12 hours ago they were having sex, bowing before the god of sexuality. In the same assembly, a 30-year-old mother of two who has been married for nine years, plans to leave her husband and children. No, there is no one else. She says that she needs more space and time for herself. She has bowed to the god of pleasure. Meanwhile, a business person sitting three pews in front of her is preoccupied with a business deal that should close this week. Unfortunately, he chose to lie a bit to make it work. He bowed before the god of money. The problem on this particular Sunday morning is that these people have bowed to idols during the week and are now gathered to worship the creator God on Sunday. Meanwhile, God calls for us to abandon all idols and worship him exclusively throughout the week.

The question at this point is, “How is God to be worshiped the other six days?” After all, our bodies are referred to as a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). The Spirit of God lives within us and so we are called to glorify him at all times. What does it mean to live a life of worship?

First, a life of worship has to be rooted in a life of prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:17). When Paul says “pray without ceasing” he is not advocating constant vocal prayer. To pray without ceasing is to recognize the need for a God-driven day. Such a day stands in stark contrast to a task-driven day, an employer-driven day, or a pleasure-driven day.

Second, a life of worship will result in treating our brothers and sisters in a way that brings honor to God. A life of worship means that we offer our bodies as living sacrifices, “holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1). Later, in a discussion of the weak and strong, Paul says that we are not to insist upon our rights and hurt a brother who is weak in the faith (14:13ff). We refuse to insist upon our own way, and Paul says that “anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men” (14:18). When we treat people in a selfless manner, we are presenting ourselves as a sacrifice to God. This is not becoming a martyr but a joyful presentation of ourselves to God. Without such daily worship, our deadly ego-sin will destroy the people around us as we put self-interest above all else.

Third, a life of worship will be reflected in showing love toward believers who are in need. Paul refers to the gift of money given to help his ministry as an “acceptable sacrifice” (Philippians 4:18). Not long ago, I visited with a Christian woman in her late 80s who lives in a retirement home. A former school teacher, she now has a hearing aid and suffers from dizzy spells. She lives in a complex where some persons are in a traditional nursing home setting, while others who are able to care for themselves live in apartments. On this particular day, as she rocked in her chair, she spoke of washing the clothes of one of the residents and mending the dress f another. In her view, one way that she served the Lord was by helping some of these people when she could. She concluded that it was her “duty” to the Lord to do what she could for others after all that God had done for her. Daily worship will result in serving people in ways that may seem insignificant and unimportant but are God-honoring.

Finally, a life of worship will result in ethical behavior. In telling the Corinthians that they were the temple of the Holy Spirit, Paul gives them (and Christians today) an enduring reason for avoiding fornication. Since Christians are a temple of God, we are to glorify God in our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:18-20). In other words, when a Christian says “no” to an occasion for sexual immorality, he brings honor to God. The ethical concern is addressed repeatedly in the prophets. The prophets declared that God would not accept the worship of a people whose lives reflected that they did not care about the concerns of God during the week.

I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them (Amos 5:21-22).

Why? Amos said that these people who were enjoying luxury were mistreating the poor (5:11-12). The prophet Micah addressed the same kind of situation as he told the people that the problem was not in their offering, but in their lives. Micah asks,

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgressions, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:6-8).

Jesus continued the same theme when he said that if things are not right with a brother or sister and one is offering a gift at the altar, the relationship needs to be dealt with first (Matthew 5:23-24). Our praise on Sunday can be rejected by God if we ignore his concerns the other six days. We cannot mistreat people during the week and then expect God to honor our expression of worship on Sunday.

We must put behind us the sacred/secular distinctions which too often result int he compartmentalization of our faith. The cross is to shape our lives. Does the cross make any practical difference in the way we live during the week? Does our faith affect our behavior with a person of the opposite sex? Does our relationship with God make a difference in how we spend money? Is our conduct in business different because Jesus is our Lord and Savior? We are called to be a people who are totally his. What is life about? It is about worship. Worship is to pay attention to our loving Father and to respond in gratitude every day of the week.Wineskins Magazine

Jim Martin

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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