"Shall I eat the flesh of bulls
Or drink the blood of male goats?
"Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving
And pay your vows to the Most High;
Call upon Me in the day of trouble;
I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me."
"He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me;
And to him who orders his way aright I shall show the salvation of God."
- Psalms 50:13-15; 23
I was visiting with a church member recently who was describing certain changes in the worship services taking place in their congregation where they lived. The church there had 3 services on Sunday mornings:
- Early Service - Traditional
- Progressive Service
- Praise Team
- Hand Clapping
- Lots of Interaction
- Women Serving Communion and Making Announcements
- Anything Goes Service - Experimenting with new ideas
This member said that the church was growing so it didn't matter if they were changing things around - maybe even a good thing? I replied that when it comes to the church, God is more interested in faithfulness than size. If anyone thinks that God is not interested in orderly devotional services, in religious ritual, in symbolism and organized public worship - they need to re-examine the Old Testament and the history of the Jews.
From the beginning of time man has been given religious practices to carry out in order to express his faith and respect toward God:
- The patriarchs built altars and offered animal sacrifices as a way of adoration and making vows. They served as priests for their families and tribes. All under the direction of God.
- When the nation of Israel was formed God instructed Moses, who taught the people how to:
- Build the place to worship.
- Prepare the furnishings for the place of worship.
- Make the special clothing for the priests.
- Select, train, and anoint the priests who would conduct the worship services.
- Explained the elaborate details of when, how, why, who, and what should be done to worship God properly.
- The nation was blessed or punished based on how meticulously they followed these instructions, and this system stayed in place for 15 centuries.
- Then in the New Testament, God, through Jesus, gave new instructions for public worship that maintained the attitude of reverence and faith but changed the externals to reflect more accurately the new realities made possible by Jesus Christ.
- II Corinthians 6:16 - We are now the temple.
- Revelation 1:6 - We are now the priests.
- Galatians 3:27 - Jesus is our clothing.
- Mark 16:16 - Priests are selected through obedience to the gospel.
- Acts 2:42-45 - The manner of worship now includes prayer, singing, teaching, giving, and the Lord's Supper.
Instructions for these things are given in the New Testament just as instructions for Old Testament style of worship were given to Moses 1500 years before Jesus.
I'm saying this to emphasize the point that public worship has always been important to God.
- He designed it.
- He commanded it.
- He explained it.
- He receives it.
- He will punish those who ignore it, change it, or participate in it with a bad attitude.
- It will always be a part of a believer's life and activity.
Because it is important and highly visible in the history of the Jews and prominent in the New Testament, we seem to think that worship is the only thing God wants from us. Some people think, "I go church to take communion on a semi-regular basis and I've given God all of what He wants from me".
I'm not saying that we are all as callous as this, but sometimes it seems that many people have a very one-dimensional spiritual life. By one-dimensional I mean that their only contact with God is in public worship, and their only satisfaction in spiritual things is the satisfaction that comes from offering public worship on a regular basis (they feel good spiritually because they went to church). But God desires more than this in His relationship with man. He desires more than the formal relationship that develops between a person and their Lord in organized public worship.
He desires the kind of relationship that two friends have. The kind of relationship that is personal, felt, productive, important, intimate, and deeply satisfying. We know this is true because God has had this kind of relationship with others in the past:
- Moses spoke with God face to face.
- David was called the "friend" of God.
- Jesus loved Lazarus, His friend, and John rested his head on Jesus' breast, and Jesus was a close friend with Mary and Martha.
- The apostle Paul was often visited and comforted by the Lord when he was in difficult situations.
Different people who lived at different times, but each had a unique and deeply personal relationship with God. I believe that they were able to experience this because they were able to get beyond the structure of organized public worship and learned what God truly desired.
Public worship is like a formal relationship with God, and like any relationship to become deeper and more intimate you have to get to know the other person and what they enjoy. Becoming a "friend" of God, cultivating a deeper relationship with Him (and the rewards that come from this) requires each of us to learn what God desires from us. Thankfully, we have the inspired writings of those who often described their feelings and the nature of their relationship with God. In Psalms 50:13-15 we are shown some of the things that God truly desires beyond the rituals of public worship. You see, we don't grow closer to God by eliminating or changing public worship - we grow closer to God by finding out what, in addition to this, He desires from us.
Three Things That God Desires
"Hear O My people, and I will speak;
O Israel, I will testify against you;
I am God, your God.
"I do not reprove you for your sacrifices,
And your burnt offerings are continually before Me.
"I shall take no young bull out of your house,
Nor male goats out of your folds.
"For every beast of the forest is Mine,
The cattle on a thousand hills.
"I know every bird of the mountains,
And everything that moves in the field is Mine.
"If I were hungry I would not tell you,
For the world is Mine, and all it contains.
- Psalms 50:7-12
In these verses God reminds the people that what the Jews were offering Him in public worship were simply things that God had already provided.
A. Their sacrifices are before Him and He doesn't reject them. That they worship according to His instructions is good. That they do everything according to His commands - this is also good, and they should continue, but they need to remember that He designed the worship style, blesses it, and gives it meaning. He also blesses them because of it. Worship begins with Him and ends with Him.
B. The animals they sacrifice are acceptable in quality and quantity, but He reminds them that all they offer belongs to Him in the first place. He is not stealing or browbeating them. All animals are His and He provides them to them for this very purpose. So in case they are getting puffed up with pride because of the beauty and preciseness of their ceremonies or the value of their animal sacrifices, God reminds them that as far as public worship is concerned, they are simply offering Him what He has already given them. It would be like a young child becoming proud in front of his brothers and sisters for giving dad a Christmas gift that dad gave him the money to buy for him in the first place.
In the next verses He tells them that if they really want to please Him, let them give Him something that is really theirs to give, something that they have that He really desires.
1. True Thanks - vs. 13-14a
Shall I eat the flesh of bulls
Or drink the blood of male goats?
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving
Something we have control over is sincerity. Nothing builds better and stronger relationships between people than sincerity, and this is true with God as well. God is an intelligent, feeling being and responds to sincerity. "Sincerity in thanksgiving" because of the nature of our relationship with God.
He is the primary giver; we are on the receiving end. Our most repeated emotion is one of thanksgiving and God wants us to be conscious and sincere in this. Again, He desires this not because He needs this, but because He knows what the benefits of true thanks can bring into our lives:
- Thanksgiving is the best way of acknowledging His influence in our lives.
- Thanksgiving keeps us close to Him in a proper style of communication. God is God and the normative and most pleasant form of communication with Him is that of praise and thanks.
- It is also good for us emotionally because it helps us avoid negativism and depression.
God desires our sincere thanks because this is the purest and most joyful kind of communication with Him while we are separated by this flesh and this world.
2. Fulfill Our Promises - vs. 14b
And pay your vows to the Host High
God always fulfills His promises, it's our promises that get abandoned or broken:
- Promises to our spouses to be faithful.
- Promises in society to do good work, to take responsibility, to uphold justice, to be a good citizen, to be a true friend.
- Promises to our families to be there for them.
- Promises to God about being faithful to Christ and to the church.
Keeping our promises demonstrates righteous living, honesty, and dependability. It reveals a person who can be counted on in this world of broken contracts and disposable relationships. Wanting to keep our promises is a hallmark of a Godly character and it says to God that, in a quest for a deeper relationship with Him, we are ready to be like Him in a very important way.
3. Trust Him - vs. 15
Call upon Me in the day of trouble;
I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me.
More than anything else, God wants us to trust Him. He wants this because trust is our most precious gift to Him. It is the most precious because it is the most difficult to give since we naturally want to trust what we see or feel and what we can count.
In times of trouble (sin trouble, physical trouble, social trouble, economic trouble, emotional trouble) He wants us to trust Him first, not ourselves or other things or people. The entire exercise between God and the Jews in the Old Testament was to get the people to trust Him, not just "in Him" (the idea of God) but in the very real person of Almighty God.
Offering God our trust is to test our relationship with Him and find out how good it is, how good and sincere a friend He is. To trust God for your life here on earth and your resurrection to eternal life is to offer Him an exclusive relationship with yourself. In the end this is what God really wants, He wants to be your only Lord, your only God to the exclusion of all others. When you've given Him this, you've given Him all you have and are able to give and He will enter a deep and eternal relationship with you.
In the final verse of the Psalm, we see that God wants the same things from all of us...
He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me;
And to him who orders his way aright I shall show the salvation of God.
- Sincere thanks.
- Keeping of promises.
- Absolute trust, because He offers the same thing to all of us - salvation.
- Forgiveness of sin.
- Resurrection from the dead.
- An eternal relationship with Him.
How is your relationship with God?
Is it stiff and formal? Hello and goodbye on Sunday and Wednesday? Or is it warm and rich and satisfying like that of a best friend and confidant?
If you want a relationship with God, it begins with faith in His Son Jesus Christ as the Son of God followed by a sincere repentance from sin and baptism to a new and faithful life.