Rightly Divided Worship
by Pastor Ricky Kurth
Did you hear about the woman who said, “My husband and I got divorced for religious reasons. He thought he was God, and I didn’t.” Of course, while her husband agreed they got divorced for religious reasons, according to him, it was because “she worshipped money, and I didn’t have any.”
I suppose everyone worships something, and those who worship God worship Him in many different ways. And “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15) causes grace believers to worship God in ways that differ from the way most other believers worship. This got the Apostle Paul into trouble in Acts 18:12,13, where we read:
“…the Jews made insurrection with one accord against Paul… Saying, This fellow persuadeth men to worship God contrary to the law.”
When Paul began preaching that “we are not under the law” (Rom. 6:15), those unsaved Jews accused him of teaching men to worship contrary to the law. And I guarantee if you start preaching that, it won’t be long before someone accuses you of that as well.
Do you know how you should respond when they do? The same way Paul did later in Acts:
“…after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets” (Acts 24:14).
Teaching that we are not under the law but under grace was called heresy even in Paul’s day. But he categorically denied being a heretic, and insisted he believed “all things which are written in the law.” He had many new revelations to share about how to worship God under grace, but he knew people would receive them more readily if he first established that his new message of the mystery agreed with the Scriptures of the prophets (cf. Acts 15:15). That’s why he opened his first New Testament epistle by stating that there as well (Rom. 1:1,2).
Is there anything you can learn from that? Before you start telling Christians about the different things you believe about the Bible, it is always best to let them know you believe many of the same things they believe. BBS founder Pastor C. R. Stam used to go on the radio and say, “We believe all the fundamentals of the faith.” And you know what? He was right, we do! Lists of the fundamentals of the faith usually include the deity of Christ, His virgin birth, His blood atonement, His bodily resurrection, and the inerrancy of the Scriptures. We agree with all those doctrines!
So if you want to share the grace message like one of the pioneers of our message, start by telling people what you believe in common with them like Pastor Stam did—and like the original pioneer of the grace message did, the Apostle Paul!
Common Ways to Worship
With that in mind, before we talk about how rightly dividing the word causes us to worship God in some new and different ways, let’s follow Paul’s lead and first establish that we worship Him in many of the same ways His people worshipped in time past.
For instance, when God told Abraham to sacrifice his son,
“Abraham said unto his young men… I and the lad will go yonder and worship…” (Gen. 22:5).
You could conclude from this that worshipping God means being willing to do whatever He asks, no matter how dearly it costs you. And if that’s the case, may I ask if that’s how you worship Him? Do you believe all things that are written in the law in that passage? Are you willing to do whatever God asks, no matter what it costs you?
Did you notice Abraham said, “I and the lad will go yonder and worship”? That means his son Isaac worshipped too! Abraham was old and Isaac was young, and he could have easily overpowered the man who wanted to worship God by sacrificing him. That means Isaac must have been willing to give his life as a sacrifice to Him. Well, if God calls that worship, what do you think He calls it when we obey Paul’s command to “present your bodies a living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1)? Do you think maybe God considers that worship as well? Isn’t that worship that you can do “believing all things which are written in the law” about Isaac?
Look how a Jewish man worshipped God under the law in Deuteronomy 26:10:
“…I have brought the firstfruits of the land… and worship before the Lord.”
When you do what he did and put God first in every area of your life, can you see how that worships Him?
When I first began pastoring and needed help fixing something in our church building, I asked one of our men to help. He replied by reciting a long list of things he had to do that day, so I was sure the next words out of his mouth would be, “So I can’t help you.” It chokes me up every time I remember that instead he said, “But the Lord comes first.”
I think he worshipped God that day, don’t you? I think he worshipped God believing all things written in the law, the law that said to give God the firstfruits.
Uncommonly Profound Worship
You might want to take your shoes off before considering our next example of how they worshipped under the law, for the ground we’re about to tread is holy. David was praying that God would spare the life of his sick baby boy (2 Sam. 12:16). When they told him the infant had died,
“David arose… and worshipped” (v. 20).
Is that what you’d do if you lost the infant child that you’d been praying would live? Do you know what Job did when he lost all his children, and all his wealth as well?
“Job… worshipped, And said… blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:20,21).
Job lost literally everything, and not only didn’t complain, he blessed God! Do you think the worship of his God after such an unfathomable loss might have caused unbelievers who saw it to be more likely to open their hearts to his God? Do you think they might be more open to God if they should see you worship Him after you lose everything? That’s a testimony that literally screams to unbelievers that you have something they don’t have.
If you say, “I don’t think I’m at the point in my spiritual life where I can worship God like that yet,” can you at least worship like the wise men did? They asked Herod,
“Where is He that is born King of the Jews? for we… are come to worship Him…. And when… they saw the young child… worshipped Him: and… presented unto Him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh” (Matt. 2:2,11).
Their worship of the Lord included giving Him gifts. That means every dollar you give to the Lord’s work is an act of worship. Hey, there’s a reason they call it an offering plate. Under the law, “worshippers” offered animals (cf. Heb. 10:2), and animals cost money! It was a financial sacrifice to offer animals to God, and it’s a sacrifice on your part to offer your finances to Him as well. And it’s another one of the ways you can worship like Paul did, believing all things written in the law.
Now that we’ve seen how a grace believer can worship God in ways like they did under the law, let’s consider a way we can worship Him in a manner that His people worshipped under the kingdom program the Lord introduced to the Jews when He was here. Do you remember how He described the worship of Israel’s unsaved rulers?
“…in vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:9).
If teaching the commandments of men worships God “in vain,” wouldn’t teaching the commandments of God constitute correct worship? I ask that because of the time a lady once asked me, “Do you worship at your church?” And you know what she meant. She wanted to know if we jumped up and down and rolled around in the aisles and engaged in all the emotionalism that passes for worship in countless churches these days. Our Lord’s words assure us that it is the absolute highest form of worship to say, “I’m not only going to obey God, I’m going to spend Sunday morning learning how to obey Him by hearing my pastor teach the commandments of God.”
God’s commandments for us include many of the things written in the law and the prophets, including nine of the ten commandments, for our apostle Paul repeats them. But while our worship mirrors that of Jews under the law in that we keep those nine commandments, our worship differs from theirs in that Paul gives a different reason to keep them.
All the More Reason to Worship
First let’s look at the motive God gave His people in Israel to worship Him by obeying the commandments. Under the law, He told them,
“I set before you this day a blessing and a curse; A blessing, if ye obey the commandments of the Lord… And a curse, if ye will not obey…” (Deut. 11:26-28).
Under the law, God told His people to obey His commandments or be cursed. But when the apostle of grace talks about the ten commandments, he doesn’t say to obey them or be cursed. He says,
“…love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:8-10).
Paul doesn’t tell us to obey the law out of fear that God will curse us if we don’t. He says we should keep the law out of love. If you love your neighbor, are you going to lie to him, steal his stuff, or covet his wife and commit adultery with her?
There’s also another kind of love that should motivate you not to sin against your neighbor, and that’s Christ’s love for you:
“…the love of Christ constraineth us, because… He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again” (2 Cor. 5:14,15).
Another reason you should want to keep the law that says not to lie or steal is that Christ loved you enough to die to save you from all your lying and stealing. Continuing to sin after God gave you a new heart would be like an alcoholic continuing to drink after receiving a new liver. Neither of those scenarios reflects the proper gratitude people should have for the gift of a new life.
A New World Order
But there were more than just 10 commandments in the law. The ancient rabbis counted 613 of them, and a lot of them are like the ones we read about in Colossians 2:21:
“Touch not; taste not; handle not…”
The law was chock-full of commandments that said things like, “Don’t eat that, it’s unclean. Don’t touch that dead body, or you’ll be unclean.” But do you know what Paul said about those commandments in the context?
“If ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not…) after the commandments and doctrines of men?” (Col. 2:20-22).
Most Christians would object that those “touch not” commandments aren’t the commandments of men, they are the commandments of God! And it’s true that they used to be the commandments of God. But now that we are not under the law, they are the commandments of men. Those “rudiments of the world” now constitute a new definition of worldliness. Do you see how rightly dividing the Word affects the way we worship Him with our obedience to His commandments?
But worshipping God by keeping His commandments involves more than just recognizing that some of the commandments of the law are no longer binding on believers today. It also involves recognizing that God gave some new commandments through Paul, as he himself said in 1 Corinthians 7:19:
“Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.”
I sometimes hear from well-meaning Christians who quote this verse to challenge our teaching that we are not under the law of the ten commandments. But we know Paul couldn’t have been speaking about the commandments of the law here, for circumcision was one of those commandments! It would make no sense to say circumcision was nothing, but the keeping of the commandments is everything—which is what he was saying there—if he meant the commandments of the law. He must have been talking about some new commandments, the ones he mentions in 1 Corinthians 14:37:
“If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.”
There are Pauline commandments (cf. 1 Thes. 4:2; 2 Thes. 3:6,12), hundreds of them. And they are now the commandments of God! If you teach them, you can avoid worshipping God in vain, for you’ll be teaching the commandments of God for this dispensation.
That’s the Spirit!
The only other time Paul talked about how he worshipped, other than the time when he insisted he worshipped God believing all things written in the law and the prophets, is found in Philippians 3:2,3:
“Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision. For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit… and have no confidence in the flesh.”
Paul’s “beware of dog” warning here reminds me of a sign I once saw that said, “Solicitors welcome. Dog food is expensive.”
But Paul was talking about spiritual dogs, of course. Under the law, Gentiles were considered dogs (Matt. 15:21-26), perhaps partly because dogs were unclean animals who would eat just about anything, just like Gentiles who weren’t bound by the diet restrictions of the law. But when Paul warned the Philippians to beware of dogs, and then added they should beware of the concision, he was saying that unsaved circumcised Jews were now dogs.
But what does he mean when he says we worship God in the spirit, in addition to worshipping Him believing all things written in the law? Well, a good example is found in what he wrote the Colossians about circumcision:
“…ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands… by the circumcision of Christ” (Col. 2:11).
Physical circumcision involved the cutting off of the foreskin, a type of the spiritual circumcision God always wants His people to have (cf. Deut. 10:16). Spiritual circumcision involves the kind of cutting off that the Lord experienced (Dan. 9:26) when He was “cut off out of the land of the living” (Isa. 53:8). In other words, it involves death. If you’re saved, you died with Christ (Rom. 6:1-5), so you are circumcised with Him spiritually.
And that’s a spiritual death you needed to be saved and cleansed from your sins. You see, you used to be so sinful even God Himself couldn’t cleanse the man you were before you were saved. All He could do is identify you with Christ in His death and burial, and raise you with Him to make you a “new man” (Col. 3:10).
And it is because we “worship God in the spirit” with our circumcision that Paul says we have “no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3). Compare that to what John the Baptist told some unsaved Jews in Matthew 3:9:
“…think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father….”
Clearly, unsaved Jews had all their confidence in their circumcised flesh. They thought no circumcised son of Abraham would ever go to hell. John was trying to convince them that God was looking for circumcision of the heart in addition to the circumcision of their flesh.
In closing, when I gave you examples of how we worship God as Paul did, believing all things written in the law, did you notice I didn’t give you any examples of how we worship God as Paul did by believing all things written in the prophets? There are a couple of examples I could give, but I’ll close with the chilling description Isaiah gives of worship in the millennial kingdom:
“…all flesh come to worship before Me, saith the Lord. And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against Me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring…” (Isa. 66:23,24).
The Lord Jesus quoted that passage when He was describing hell to His Jewish hearers in Mark 9:42-48. That means in the millennial kingdom, God’s people in Israel are going to “worship” Him by looking down into the open pit of hell to see the suffering of unsaved people.
How will that worship God, you ask? Well, let’s compare how God will be worshipped when it is declared of Him,
“…true and righteous are His judgments: for He hath judged the great whore…. And the four and twenty elders and the four beasts fell down and worshipped God… saying, Amen…” (Rev. 19:2-4).
That word “saying” there indicates that the way they worshipped God was by saying Amen to the assessment that His judgments are “true and righteous.” The word Amen indicates that they agree that God’s judgments are just and right.
And in the millennial kingdom, men will similarly worship God by agreeing that the judgment God is giving unbelievers in hell is just as righteous as the judgment He will give the great whore of Babylon. That is, they will agree with God that unsaved people are getting exactly what they have coming to them.
People sometimes ask me how they’ll enjoy heaven if they know their loved ones are in hell, and Isaiah provides us with the answer to that question. We too will worship God, believing all things written in the prophets, by changing the way we think about our loved ones to reflect how He will think about them. It is always an act of worship to agree with everything God says or does.
Don’t you want God to change how you think about everything when you get to heaven? Don’t you want to think exactly like He thinks for all eternity? For God to allow us to be selective in the changes He makes to our thinking would only mean we would be eternally unhappy as we remember our lost loved ones.
If the thought of “abhorring” your loved ones makes you uncomfortable, it should. It should make you uncomfortable enough to warn them and pray for their salvation. Why not begin today to make that a part of your rightly divided worship of God?