First, we looked at what (little) the bible has to say about church music styles. Then, we explored what the word “worship” means in the bible and what (little) music has to do with it. Today we answer an important worship related question I was asked recently by a minister at my own church.
“How do we know how well our church is worshiping?” (The bible’s answer has nothing to do with music.)
HOW WE MEASURE “WORSHIP”
We Americans tend to treat “worship” and “music” as synonyms. The person who oversees church music is called the “worship pastor” or “worship leader.” When someone tells me, “I loved the worship this morning!” they’re saying they liked the music.
In this culture that equates music with worship it’s logical to think a church that sings well worships well. But, as we’ve already seen together, “worship” is not a musical term in the bible. Worship is our whole-self and whole-life response to God.
In scripture, our worship isn’t measured by how loudly we sing but by how obediently and justly we live.
For thousands of years observant Jews have recited a prayer called The Shema at least twice daily. It’s found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and begins with, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”
The word “hear” is the word “shema” in Hebrew. It can also be translated “obey.” One Jewish friend explained that it should be understood as “hear and do.” Every day, observant Jews remind themselves to hear and do what God has said by dedicating to God all they are and all they have. Whole-life obedience inevitably leads us to love others as God has commanded.
There is a tendency – throughout history! – for God’s people to honor God with our rituals (eg. sacrifices, recitations, declarations, songs, fasting, prayers) while betraying and disobeying God in ways that lead us to deprive and harm others. The great tragedy of our injustice is that the character of God is misrepresented and people don’t get to see how good and trustworthy God is. God hates this.
For example, read the prophets of the 8th Century BC – Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and Micah. Throughout their writings – much of it poetry and songs! – they accused the religious and political leaders of Israel of honoring God with their lips while dishonoring God with their unjust lives: hoarding wealth, exploiting the poor, neglecting the immigrant’s basic needs, abandoning orphans and widows, shedding blood, worshiping the false gods of war and weather and fertility (ie. prosperity).
These prophets made the case again and again that our expressions of worship are “meaningless” and “false” and “despised” by God if they’re not accompanied by obedience to God that leads to loving others for God’s glory.
Justice is the principal measure of worship’s authenticity.
In Isaiah 58, for example, God says the fasting He desires is for his people to…
“…loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood…”-Isaiah 58
WHAT GOD WANTS
In Micah 2-4, the prophet accuses Israel’s political leaders of growing wealthy at the expense of the poor and calls out Israel’s “prophets” for promising God’s protection and prosperity to anyone who would pay them – they were servants and comforters of the rich and not the poor. So, God promised to destroy and exile Israel.
Micah 6:8 reminds them that God had repeatedly made very clear what He wanted from His people all along…
[God] has shown you, O mortal, what is good.-Micah 6:8
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
MORE THAN WORDS
In 1 John 3:16-18 we read that because Christ laid down his life for us we ought to now lay down our lives for each other. So, John says, “Let us not worship with words and our mouths, but with action. Be authentic.”
In the very next chapter, John says that if we claim to love God but do not love others, we are liars. And that word “liar” in the original Greek means…liar. (John 4:20)
HOW DO WE KNOW HOW WELL OUR CHURCH IS WORSHIPING GOD? By how well we’re obeying God by loving people together.