In His manifold dealings with mankind, God consistently has reiterated the fact that, as Sovereign of the Universe, He alone is worthy to be worshipped. When He provided the Israelites with their cherished ten commandments, for example, He reminded them in no uncertain terms:
I am Jehovah thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them; for I Jehovah thy God am a jealous God (Exodus 20:2-5).
It was not enough, however, for man merely to worship God. Through the millennia, God provided specific instructions concerning not only the fact that He was to be worshipped, but the manner in which He was to be worshipped. A straightforward reading of the Scriptures reveals that apparently these instructions were set forth very early in human history. The author of the book of Hebrews substantiated this when he commented on events that transpired shortly after Adam and Eves expulsion from the Garden of Eden and the subsequent birth of two of their children, Cain and Abel. The inspired writer observed that by faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he had witness borne to him that he was righteous, God bearing witness in respect of his gifts (Hebrews 11:4).
Whatever else might be gleaned from the Bibles statements about these two brothers, one thing is certain: Abels worship to God was acceptable; Cains was not. The conclusion, therefore, is inescapable: Abel had obeyed whatever instructions God had given the first family regarding their worship of Him, while Cain had ignored those same instructions.
These two brothers are not the only siblings from whom such a lesson can be drawn. In the Old Testament Book of Leviticus, the story is told of two of Aarons sons, Nadab, his first born, and Abihu. Leviticus 10 presents a chilling commentary on the two boys ill-fated attempt to worship God according to their own desires, and not as God had commanded.
And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took each of them his censer, and put fire therein, and laid incense thereon, and offered strange fire before Jehovah, which he had not commanded them. And there came forth fire from before Jehovah, and devoured them and they died before Jehovah (Leviticus 10:1-2).
The key to understanding the account, of course, is found in the fact that they offered strange fire that God had not commanded. Aarons two sons suffered a horrible, painful death because they ignored Jehovahs specific commands relating to how He was to be worshipped.
In referring to the Old Testament, the apostle Paul commented: For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that through patience and through comfort of the scriptures we might have hope (Romans 15:4). From the accounts of Cain and Abel, and Nadab and Abihu, we can learn a critically important lesson regarding how God views mans worship of Him. That lesson is this: God places a premium on foundational knowledge, proper understanding, correct mental attitude, contrite spirit, and reverent obedience in matters relating to worship offered to Him!
A New Testament example not only bears this out, but also brings the matter more clearly into focus. In Matthew 6:1ff., Jesus condemned the Pharisees for their public display of ritualistic religion when He said:
Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men, to be seen of them: else ye have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. When therefore thou doest alms, sound not a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have received their reward.... And when ye pray, ye shall not be as the hypocrites: for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have received their reward.... Moreover, when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have received their reward (Matthew 6:1-2,5,16).
Consider the Pharisees that Christ used as an example of how not to worship God. They gave alms; they prayed; they fasted. Under normal circumstances, would each of these acts be acceptable to God? Indeed they would. But the Pharisees performed them for the wrong reasonto be seen of men. In other words, although the act itself was correct, the purpose for which they did it, and the attitude with which they did it, were wrong. Hence, God would not accept their worship!
Consider additional New Testament passages that bear on this issue. In 2 Corinthians 9:7, Paul discussed a persons giving of his means to the Lord, and stated that each man was to do according as he hath purposed in his heart; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. The purpose of the act, as well as the understanding and attitude of the worshiper, were all critical. Further, in Luke 22:19, in speaking of the memorial supper that He was instituting, Christ commanded: this do in remembrance of me. The Scriptures make it clear, however, that it is possible to partake of the Lords supper in an incorrect way (see 1 Corinthians 11:27-29), thus making it null and void in its effects. In other words, the foundational knowledge, proper understanding, correct mental attitude, contrite spirit, and reverent obedience are all vitally important. And when they are missing, the act of worship is vain.
An additional point needs to be examined as well. Sincerity alone is not enough to make an act pleasing and acceptable to God. In 2 Samuel 6, the story is told of a man by the name of Uzzah who was accompanying the Ark of the Covenant of God as it was being moved from one place to another at the command of king David. The Ark had been placed on an ox cart, and the text says simply that the oxen stumbled (2 Samuel 6:6). Uzzahno doubt believing that the precious cargo was about to be tumble from its perch on the cart and be damaged or destroyedreached up to steady the Ark (2 Samuel 6:6). But God had commanded that the Israelites were not to touch the Ark or any other holy thing of God (Numbers 4:15). And so, the moment Uzzah touched the Ark, God struck him dead (2 Samuel 6:7).
Was Uzzah sincere in what he did? Undoubtedly. But his sincerity counted for nothing because he disobeyed. Note specifically the Bibles statement that God smote him there for his error (2 Samuel 6:7b). God does not want just sincerity; He wants obedience. Jesus Himself said: If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments (John 14:15). Furthermore, the way of the Lord is both restrictive and narrow, as Jesus made clear in His beautiful Sermon on the Mount (read specifically Matthew 7:13-14). In fact, Christ observed: Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven (Matthew 7:21). Jesus later commented on the attitude of the people of His day when He said: This people honoreth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men (Matthew 15:8-9).
These people of whom Jesus spoke did not have the foundational knowledge, proper understanding, correct mental attitude, contrite spirit, or reverent obedience God demands of those who would worship and serve Him as He has commanded. There is a valuable lesson in each of these accounts for those of us today who seek to worship and serve God. That lesson is this: we must do exactly what God has commanded, in exactly the way He has commanded that we do it. Nothing can take the place of simple obedience to the law of God. Neither sincerity nor good intentions will suffice. Only the person who reverently obeys because of adequate foundational knowledge, a proper understanding, a correct mental attitude, and a contrite spirit will be acceptable to God. That being the case, let us all strive not only to worship and serve God, but to worship and serve Him in a scriptural fashion.
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