Satan: “I’ll give you all the kingdoms of the world – and the glory and authority that comes with it. All you have to do is… worship me.”
Jesus: “It is written, ‘You will worship the Lord your God, and him alone shall you serve.’”
Jesus is so good at these one-liners, knowing which Scripture to pull out to shut down temptation. This is a good one for us to put in our pockets; we are seldom tempted with “all the kingdoms of the world,” but frequently tempted to worship something other that God. In those moments, we can say, “It is written, ‘You will worship the Lord your God, and him alone shall you serve.’”
But… where does it say that?
Most likely Jesus is referring to Deuteronomy 6:13. But Deut 6:13 doesn’t go exactly how Jesus says it: “You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve him, and swear by his name.”
Um… the word “worship” isn’t in there at all.
It sounds like Jesus is mis-quoting Scripture, especially if we think of “worship” in a limited way. For many of us worship is what we attend when we come to church. But Jesus is working with a broader definition, a Biblical definition that thinks of worship as something we do. Foster, in Celebration of Discipline, explains that expanded understanding of worship:
The Bible describes worship in physical terms. The root meaning for the Hebrew word we translate worship is “to prostrate.” The word bless literally means “to kneel.” Thanksgiving refers to “an extension of the hand.” Throughout Scripture we find a variety of physical postures in connection with worship: lying prostrate, standing, kneeling, lifting the hands, clapping the hands, lifting the head, bowing the head, dancing, and wearing sackcloth and ashes. The point is that we offer God our bodies as well as the rest of our being. Worship is appropriately physical (169).
So no, Deut 6:13 doesn’t say to worship God alone… but yes, worship is serving and fearing God. Worship is not attendance; worship is action. Worship is when we serve and fear God by drawing near to God, praising God, submitting ourselves to God, and giving our whole selves to God.
We do that in a special way when we come to worship at church.
In our Sunday morning service at Andrews UMC we begin by gathering and focusing on God. We say a greeting together and an opening prayer. During a musical prelude we sit in silent prayer, trying to let go of the distractions of the week so we can pay full attention to God. This time isn’t just about waiting for the service to begin; it’s about readying ourselves for the hour ahead.
We praise God by singing. We stand up, lift our heads, and raise our voices. We say things like, “As a thirsty deer pants for water – that’s how I need you, God!” Or, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost!” Singing gives us permission to put a little more emotion behind it. We might even close our eyes and lose ourselves in the praise of God.
We submit ourselves to God by bowing our heads in prayer, a physical sign of submission. Then we sit attentively to listen to God’s Word. We listen carefully to Scripture. The Holy Spirit helps me, the preacher, elaborate on the Bible passage. The Holy Spirit also helps you, the reader/listener, receive a message.
We give our whole selves to God by giving an offering – part of our hard-earned money, turned over to be put to use for God’s kingdom. It’s an act of faith and trust when we let it go. At the very end of the service we stand for a blessing that sends us forth to work on that same kingdom.
This is worship: fearing and serving and swearing by God. It’s drawing near, praising, submitting, and giving our whole selves to God.
Notice that none of these things are passive. A worshiping congregation isn’t an audience. We don’t spectate worship; we participate in it. Worship is a thing we do.
And it’s a thing we keep doing, all week long.
The hour we spend together is an intensified version of what we’re meant to do with our whole lives. It’s kind of like how exercising 30 minutes a day can help us make healthier decisions all day long. Or saying prayers in the morning helps us keep praying all day long. Worship is like that; an intense hour one morning a week gives us strength to keep at it all week long.
And we need this intense hour, because sometimes living a life that worships God alone is hard.
We are tempted to worship people and things besides God. We can be tempted to serve money or fear power. We can be tempted to draw obsessively close to a certain person or group of people. We can be tempted to praise ourselves. We can be tempted to submit ourselves to a substance or habit. We can be tempted to give our whole selves to… only ourselves.
But Jesus reminds us: “It is written, ‘You will worship the Lord your God, and him alone shall you serve.’”
Practice that during a concentrated hour of worship. Then go live it with every minute you’ve been given.