Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Greatest Commandments as a Guide for Worship

“Worship is a lifestyle,” we in Christian circles hear often, in sermons, conference keynote addresses, chapel messages, books, blogs, and Tweets. The ubiquitous nature of the phrase renders it cliché, which is unfortunate, because when we pass over that statement and the concept behind it, we miss something important about the Christian life.

To help us rethink this concept, let us turn to an admittedly ubiquitous passage of Scripture, but hopefully, because it is Scripture, we will not be tempted to dismiss as cliché. It is a few verses from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 22, beginning at verse 36:

[A Pharisee asks Jesus] “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

These few verses serve as foundation for how to live the Christian life. And, if worship is indeed a lifestyle, then these “greatest commandments” are also a foundation for how to worship.

Practically speaking, this makes sense. Upon hearing the word “worship,” most people first think of a corporate gathering engaged in singing. I think there is a reason why this is the first mental image to appear: it follows from the first great commandment. When a local body of believers gathers in corporate worship (both in an institutional local church setting, or in a non-church setting such as a conference, school, camp, and so forth), they are directly expressing their love to God, at least with their hearts. Let all with heart and voice before His throne rejoice, the hymn says.

What about souls and minds? I propose that there are other spiritual disciplines that directly follow from those facets of the commandment. For souls, consider the disciplines of private prayer and Scripture reading. For minds, I think of hearing a sermon, participating in a Sunday school class or Bible study or small group, and other concentrated forms of developing your understanding of the Bible and theology.

Now the second great commandment Jesus mentioned, “love your neighbor as yourself.” How might that be a guide for worship?

Through a lifestyle of worship, to return to our earlier term. Both the Old Testament (e.g., Jeremiah 29:7, Micah 6:8) and the New Testament (e.g., Matthew 25:40, Romans 12) speak to loving one’s neighbor (the parallel passage to Matthew 22:36-39 in Luke 10 is the parable of the Good Samaritan, which gives the definition of “neighbor”). We would be disobedient if we stopped at the first great commandment – if we stopped worshipping when we headed to lunch after church on Sunday. Our worship must progress to the second great commandment and indeed, to the Great Commission. This second great commandment is the foundation for the relationship between worship and justice – a significant discussion for our time.

The phrase “worship is a lifestyle” may be cliché, but hopefully we will not dismiss the concept behind it, and I think Jesus’ words can provide us with a helpful guide for living a life of worship.

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