We operate in the gray areas between "love" and "worship." We confuse the terminology and even some of the emotions associated with "love" for "worship." In part 1 of this blog, I mentioned that one key distinction between love and worship is the idea of "fear." The second and perhaps more obvious distinction is the object.
The object of worship is what separates worship from the idea of love. First of all, love is for both God and man. Jesus said this much in Luke 10:27. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” We are to love God and love our neighbor, but worship is reserved for God alone. He is the sole object of worship. It's right there in the Ten Commandments. Exodus 20:3-5 says “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them..." Worshiping anything other God is idolatry. For those of us who have grown up with this knowledge, we understand intuitively that we are to worship God alone. But many times we trade the object of our love with the object of our worship. In most cases it's not flat out, textbook level idolatry. There is no golden calf in our living room. Instead what I see more often is that what we love gradually becomes what we worship.
What happens when what what we love becomes what we worship? Let's look at the story of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah.
In Genesis 29 we find Jacob fleeing from his brother Esau after stealing Esau's inheritance. Jacob was basically looking to get out of town because his brother was out to "get him." So Jacob ran away to his uncle's place, and once he got there he stumbled upon Rachel. Rachel was beautiful and Jacob fell in love with her immediately. He was so in love that he ran to find his uncle and ask for Rachel's hand in marriage. He then offered to work seven years for Rachel, which was far above any bridal price! Jacob's uncle was a shrewd (and not very compassionate) man, and he readily agreed to Jacob's self-appointed terms for marriage. So Jacob slaved away for his uncle for seven years, unknowingly marrying Rachel's less beautiful sister Leah, and then agreed to work for seven additional years to marry Rachel.
Three things happen when what we love becomes what we worship. The first is that we lose our identity. Jacob was a kinsman of Rachel. If you are familiar with the book of Ruth, we find another kinsman by the name of Boaz. Boaz was a good and compassionate man who rescued Ruth and Naomi out of their misery. Jacob was a kinsman like Boaz and had the potential to be as good as Boaz right from the start, but he traded his identity of kinsman for the identity of a servant because what he loved, Rachel, became what he worshiped. The kinsman turned into a servant.
The second thing is that we hurt others. Everyone knew Rachel was the object of Jacob's love and worship, including Leah. Leah was hurt because she was not as loved as much her sister. So Leah tried to earn Jacob's love by bearing children. Leah and Rachel became rivals, competing with one another and trying to out do each other. Leah was hurt. Rachel was hurt. And Jacob was stuck in the middle. When what we love becomes what we worship, we hurt others.
The third thing is that we waste our time. Jacob spent fourteen years serving his uncle! Seven years in order to end up with Leah and seven more once he married Rachel. Imagine voluntarily spending fourteen years working to marry your spouse when all along you could have easily spent only a few months. It is foolish and a waste of time.
The thing is...great things can become great idols. We are not presented with the proverbial golden calf to worship here in the 21st century. Instead we are presented with great things which we should love: relationships, careers, ministry, health, wealth, friends, and family. All of these things are intrinsically great and good and that is why they can become great idols in our lives. As Christians we must make sure to watch that what we love does not become what we worship. Even something as sacred as church can become an idol if we are not careful. To those of us who have faith, when we see other people chasing after these great things, worshiping them, and sacrificing everything for them, it should sadden us. We cannot hold these people who don't know God to the same standard to those who do know Him. But we can point to a better way.
Our worship is our testimony. When we gather together on a Sunday morning, we doing so much more than just making music and listening to a speaker. When we gather, we are declaring that the object our worship is the Almighty God. Not some American Millennial Dream or an easy life of retirement. When we sing, when we pray, and when we offer ourselves as a "living sacrifice" every single day, we are showing the rest of the world that there is a better way to live. Our worship is our testimony to a world full of people chasing after great things. So we love God and love people, but we worship God. Not people.
Mother's Day is an amazing day of appreciation and love. As children, we call our moms, cook for them, and pamper them with gifts and flowers! This past week as I was preparing my sermon for Mother's Day, my mind was clouded with the idea of honoring our moms. It was somewhat frustrating, but the cloudiness brought on by Mother's Day actually helped me to see that oftentimes we operate in the gray areas between "love" and "worship."
We do so because there are many similarities between our understanding of "love" and our understanding of "worship." The way we talk about both topics are fraught with similarities. Words like "adore" and "sacrifice" can be thought of in an equally secular and sacred way. We write poetry of adoration to our loved ones. We sacrifice greatly for our loved ones and children. Parents work hard to raise their kids. The same language is used in worship. In the OT, God commanded His people to offer sacrifices of animals and grain to Him as an act of worship. The NT switches things up a little and instead calls for Christians to offer themselves as a living sacrifice. Romans 12:1 says that this living sacrifice is our true act of worship. Adoration and sacrifice are sung about in both love and worship. If you have ever listened to a worship song and wondered if it was about God or a girl, you are not alone!
While there are many ways in which "love" and "worship" overlap, there are two main differences between "love" and "worship." The first is the element of fear. Fear is seldom associated with anyone's idea of "love," but it is essential to a Christian's understanding of "worship." The fear of the Lord is mentioned throughout Scripture, we have trouble separating our understanding of our phobias (being afraid) from the fear of the Lord. I find this lack of understanding to be true for Christians both old and new. So when we talk about fear in the context of love and worship, we are not simply talking about being afraid, even though we should be most afraid of God! Matthew 10:28 says to "not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell."
The fear of the Lord is far more complex than phobias and the emotion of fear, so to help us better understand the fear of the Lord I have boiled it down to three main points: Reverence, Repentance, and Revelation.
The fear of the Lord is about reverence. Phil. 2:12 says to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling." We are to view our calling and mission with the utmost reverence. We would all behave differently in the presence of royalty and celebrity. You might be more mindful of your appearance or demeanor. You might even use different language to address this person. Whatever it is, the idea of reverence is on display in those situations. The fear of the Lord means that we have reverence when we think about and approach the Lord.
The fear of the Lord is about repentance. Prov. 3:7 tells us to "fear the Lord and shun evil." The fear of the Lord is connected to turning away from evil, meaning that as we repent of our sins and wrongdoings we are growing in our understanding of the fear of the Lord.
The fear of the Lord is also about revelation. Psalm 111:10 says that "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise." Our revelation of God (wisdom) springs from the fear of the Lord. Prov. 14:27 says "The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life,that one may turn away from the snares of death." We understand more of who God is when we fear Him.
But the fear of the Lord is especially present in the context of worship. Psalm 33:8 says "Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!" The fear of the Lord does not drive us away or cause us to flee from God's presence. Instead it causes us to stand in awe and wonder of who He is and what He has done and what He will do!
Part two: "When What We Love Becomes What We Worship"