Woship: What’s the Issue?

Perhaps my favorite part of a football game is when a defender who is totally fooled by a quarterback will come crashing through the line of scrimmage to tackle the running back only to find out he never had the ball. The quarterback had it all along. The defender has put an incredible amount of effort into his goal only to realize he totally missed the point. Those who would pour forth incredible amounts of effort into arguments over musical styles in the worship wars are much like this defender, they miss the point.

The Pharisees asked Jesus in Matthew 22 which was the greatest commandment of the law. He responded by quoting The Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4, which says, “Hear, O Israel, The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Jesus’s response to this is significant for two reasons: 1) I think he was making a statement about the Pharisees and 2) I think he was making a statement about the nature of faith, the true core of the Deuteronomic law.

First, Jesus was making a statement about the heart condition of the Pharisees. When one goes through the New Testament record of Jesus’s interaction with the Pharisees, the volume and tone of his harsh words against them are overwhelming. They were the religious crowd of the day. And they would have expected Jesus to be pleased with them. Many of them had large portions (if not all) of the first five books of the Bible memorized. Doctrinally, they would be the “supernaturalists”, the ones who believed in the resurrection and angels. As for practicing what they preached, they kept the law so exactly that they even tithed on their spice rack. Yet, it is clear from Mark 7 what Jesus thought of their ‘religion’: “And he said to them, ‘Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;’ ‘ ” Jesus was saying that ‘keeping of the law’ was more than simply doing what it said, or believing what it wanted them to believe. He summarizes toward the end of Mark 7:

And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

The condition of their hearts was of supreme importance to Christ, that is, what they loved. The Pharisees did many good deeds, but they had little love for God. They may have quoted the Shema twice a day, but they did not heed its words. They loved the recognition of men, but they loved God very little. The Pharisees missed the point.

Second, I think Jesus was making a statement about the nature of Biblical faith. Paul makes a very interesting statement in Romans 10 where he quotes Moses to be speaking of a righteousness that is based on faith. There are debates surrounding the full extent of what Paul was saying with the quote, but the point seems clear, Paul thought Moses was talking about a righteousness by faith. Throughout Deuteronomy (Deut 6:4-6, 10:12, 11:13, 30:6 for example) the heart of the matter from Moses is that the nation would “love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deut 30:6). My point is that The Shema (Deut 6:4) is not only the center of all the Old Testament law, but it is also at the center of what Jesus meant when he said “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” When Moses said love, he was saying faith (Romans 10:6). When we say faith, we should be thinking love. It is at the center of what it means to be a Christian. And the worship wars miss the point because they center their discussion on style and form rather than on what God is seeking, true worshipers (John 4:24), those who love him with all their heart, soul, and might. The point is, are you a worshipper? Do you love him, or merely act like you do?

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