The worship we offer to God and the subsequent life we lead upon leaving the service of worship are intimately related. Those are misguided who deny the importance of a firm adherence to the biblical pattern of worship as it relates to our broader relationship with God. History – both Biblical and otherwise – shows that, upon deviating from the authorized standard of worship disclosed by God, immorality ensues. One cannot expect to promote a life of righteousness when one’s worship does not strictly adhere to God’s standard.
A liberal approach to worship is not new but continues to prove itself increasingly attractive in the minds of many. The primary cause of this unfortunate truth is a lack of balanced Bible teaching. Paul declared to the Ephesian elders the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). This not only included positive messages of exhortation, and consolation, but messages of warning against false teaching and immorality (cf. Acts 20:29-31; Ephesians 4:17-24; 5:1-14). Paul’s preaching was heavy with concepts and applications of authority, for such is the only foundation upon which we can build (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:11; Colossians 3:17). To deviate from the standard in any way is to depart from God, for those who practice anything without authority, or law, commit sin (cf. 1 John 3:4). Thus, the one who becomes more liberal in their approach to worship will inevitably become the same in their approach to everyday life before God.
Past issues of bible authority in worship are no longer discussed with the same frequency and fervency, or they are simply addressed as matters of tradition rather than substantial matters of faith. Preaching has become less focused upon God’s word, and more focused toward stories, jokes, and other things which appeal to the emotional man instead of the spiritual. Heightened emotions in worship have become conflated with spirit worship at the expense of worship in truth, not understanding that worship in spirit and truth are inextricably related (cf. John 4:24). The product of such things is not only the displeasure of God with such worship as past transgressions are repeated, but a life which leans more toward immorality, and less toward sanctification. The attitude which leads to unauthorized and irreverent worship is the same which leads to immoral living.
Consider Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli. These priests “were corrupt; they did not know the Lord” (1 Samuel 2:12). Such a description was fit for these men because they did not heed the instructions of the Lord concerning their priestly service (cf. 1 Samuel 2:12-16). They took more than that which God allotted them. They abused their position of authority as priests, and desecrated the priestly services. “So they did in Shiloh to all the Israelites who came there”(v. 14b). It was their custom to transgress the commandments of God concerning their priestly duties. “Therefore the sin of the young men was very great before the Lord, for men abhorred the offering of the Lord” (v. 17). It is hard to imagine such irreverence before Almighty God, yet any failure to find authority for what is practiced in worship is a display of the same attitude. It is this attitude which naturally seeped beyond the parameters of worship to everyday life. Eli heard of their irreverence in worship, and disregard for the ordinances of God, “and how they lay with the women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting” (v. 22). The corruption of these priests did not stop at the altar, but permeated their entire lives. How is it that those men consecrated to the grave work of priestly service could stoop to such debased thinking? It started with an irreverent attitude toward their God which was made manifest in unauthorized worship. If they did not care to submit to God’s will in worship, why would they do so in matters of morality?
Those who suggest that small departures from God’s standard of worship, or relaxed approaches to worship are harmless do not understand God, nor how He sanctifies us in a world of immorality. To worship is to do reverence to God. It is an action which emphasizes the prostrate attitude of one toward another who is worthy of such reverence. It is our created purpose as man to “fear God and keep His commandments” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Such a life of reverence is interwoven with worship of Him. However, it is God who determines what constitutes worship. We cannot know what will please God, and what He will consider as an act of obeisance without first appealing to His will (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:11, 16).
One who suggests God is not concerned with the particulars of worship fails to realize the nature of worship before Him. Worship is an exclamation to God, and even the world that the participant recognizes fully the position of God, and of himself before Him, thus, is in absolute submission to Him. It is a submission of heart, soul, and mind expressed in praise, adoration, and full surrender of will to God’s word. Thus, worship offered to God in a way that deviates from His expressed will, or even with a lax approach is inconsistent with what we are to be proclaiming in our worship to Him. Such an attitude expressed toward God in worship will incontrovertibly translate to other periods of life. One who does not care to observe every jot and tittle of New Testament worship to God with the mindset of utmost reverence will not bother with such in everyday service before Him.
God has determined to sanctify His disciples from the world by His truth (cf. John 17:17). This is especially noted in the worship of the Lord’s church. Christians are to make all things according to the pattern (cf. Hebrews 8:5). This sets the worship of Christ’s body apart from that in the world which bears more semblance to paganism than anything else. So it is with the living sacrifices we present to God daily (cf. Romans 12:1-2). Such is sanctified by the word of truth. However, if it is not in the mind of a man to surrender himself fully to God’s will in closest proximity to Him on this side of heaven, such will certainly be missing in the everyday, seeming mundanities of life. The man who deems it a good idea to relax his approach to worship, especially to the degree of changing Divine ordinances, takes a step back from God, and toward the world. It is then only a matter of time before persistence in such thinking will manifest itself in overt, immoral ways.
“Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.” (1 Corinthians 4:1-5)
Context: Unspiritual, Carnal, Superficial, Human Judgment
The passage continues the context of addressing a specific manifestation of carnality in Corinth. The brethren were divided, following various preachers (1 Corinthians 1:12-13; 3:3-4). Their division was not a result of discerning content – truth or error (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22). Paul explained that he and Apollos were one in their work, a unity provided for by the one Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:5-8; cf. 1 Corinthians 12:4-14). Their judgment was based on ephemeral matters of human wisdom (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:17, 20-21; 2:1, 4). They divided over style, personality, rhetoric, and other human qualities, not one of which had anything to do with the saving power of the Spirit’s revelation.
We must not confuse Paul’s words concerning judgment as a blanket condemnation of the activity. His words provide a filter for our judgment, whether of self or another. They ensure righteous judgment over against a superficial kind (cf. John 7:24). Paul proceeded to write, “Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other” (1 Corinthians 4:6). The prohibition is against making judgments (thinking) “beyond what is written.” When Paul said, “He who judges me is the Lord,” it is certain that he anticipated a day of final judgment. However, the Lord disclosed to us His standard of judgment that we might be ready for the final judgment (cf. John 12:48). He later wrote, “For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:31-32). We are to judge ourselves now by God’s word that we will be equipped to stand with the righteous in the final judgment. This is not the judgment the Corinthians were administering. Their judgment led them to be “puffed up on behalf of one against the other.”Judgment by human standards results in pride. Judgment by the Divine standard results in humility (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; 3:18-23).
Therefore, Paul is unbothered by any negative judgments from the Corinthians, and unimpressed by any that are positive. He does not even estimate himself in this way, but only seeks the Lord’s standard which will judge in the end.
Thoughts for Consideration
- Paul is not suggesting that one cannot know whether they are in sin. It has been suggested that his words, “I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this,” is Paul’s implication that there was no way of knowing for sure that he was not presently guilty of sin. This is absurd. He told the Thessalonians, “You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:10). He could rightly assess his conduct and standing with God. He is emphasizing that he is not the standard – Christ is. Christ has revealed His word that we might know we have eternal life (cf. 1 John 5:13).
- Any judgments “beyond what is written” are insignificant. Many hear the convicting proof of God’s word and deceive themselves about what it revealed in them (cf. James 1:22-25). They appeal to human wisdom, and peer analysis to justify their actions, and pacify their conscience. Rather than falling in line with Scripture’s teaching concerning speech, conduct, dress, relationships, etc., they exonerate themselves from all guilt through self-deception. This will not affect the Lord’s righteous judgment in the end.
- Regardless of how compelling our reasoning is and who we have convinced, Christ’s standard will judge in the end and reveal the hidden counsels of the hearts. True fellowship with God is not the motive of carnal assessment. All such judgment is seated in worldly ambition. There are pretenders in the Lord’s church whose sins and motives will be revealed in the end (cf. 1 Timothy 5:24). We must all give time to honest introspection concerning the motivations behind our reasonings. Am I seeking the righteousness of God, or am I seeking a way to appear righteous to myself and others while enjoying the passing pleasures of sin?
There is a scarlet thread of redemption that runs through the scriptures. From Genesis to Revelation we can see God’s plan unfold before us. This plan for mankind was necessary “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). However, the world wants to focus on the scheme of redemption without acknowledging why it is needed. They focus on the cross without recognizing what was accomplished in Christ’s sacrifice. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). In a way, sin killed the Son of God. The inspired apostle also wrote, “For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin the flesh” (Romans 8:3). If there was no problem of sin, there would be no need to fix the problem by sending Jesus.
The failure to recognize the necessity of Jesus’ sacrifice leads to an improper response to sin. Instead of acknowledging the putrid nature of sin the world tends to call evil good, and good evil (cf. Isaiah 5:20). Seldom do people feel remorse for doing good. When sin is given a positive label, or perhaps a less severe label, the response to sin changes. Instead of being full of remorse, an individual in sin is unaffected. This should not be so.
In addition to failing to properly label sin some fail to recognize remorse for sin is proper. Society has influenced even some in the church by protecting wrong doers from the feeling of remorse, and regret. Instead of shaming those who practice sinful activities they praise them for doing what makes them happy. This is done in an effort to protect their feelings. Parents have ceased punishing their kids for disobedience because they do not want to make them feel bad about themselves. However, God revealed unto us, “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it”(Hebrews 12:11). Wrongdoing isn’t supposed to make us feel good! Discipline and punishment are not meant to produce joy in the present, but joy in the end when we are rewarded for our faithfulness. Repentance is necessary to please God, and it comes with remorse for sin!
David wrote, “For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me…Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:3, 5). He not only owned up to his transgression, but had the proper attitude toward it – sorrow! Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while” (2 Corinthians 7:8). Paul certainly wished he did not need to write the letter, but they had sinned and it was necessary. They needed to be filled with sorrow for what they had committed, “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted” (7:10). The first gospel sermon is not recorded with Peter telling the Jews, “What you did was wrong, but I do not want you to feel bad about it.” On the contrary, He said, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). This caused remorse for their transgression, for “they were cut to the heart” (2:37).
There is a reason we feel bad when we do bad things. God designed us that way. We should not cover up our sorrow for sin. Rather, we should mend our severed tie with God by being filled with godly sorrow, repenting of our sin, and turning to Him!
After being moved to compassion by the scene of the weary and scattered multitudes, Jesus said, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest”(9:37-38). It is then that Jesus chose twelve from among His disciples to be His apostles (cf. 10:1-4). He commissioned them to “preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (10:7). This is often referred to as the “Limited Commission,” as the apostles were told to go only “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (10:6). In the text, Jesus gave instruction, and warned His apostles of things they would experience on their journey. The expected hardships, and ways in which the apostles were to deal with them can be applied even to our discipleship today. While this “Limited Commission” was for them, we along with them are given the “Great Commission” (cf. Matthew 28:18-20). When we go into the world preaching the gospel, and stand in the gospel as faithful adherents, we can expect much of what the twelve experienced in their commission to preach to the house of Israel. As such, our mindset and resolve should be the same as what Jesus required of them.
It is imperative that we first understand there will be rejection. This we must understand to avoid discouragement and a waste time. When we bring the gospel to another, we should do so with the optimistic hope that they readily receive the truth, but also with the understanding that they may not. Jesus told the apostles, “And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust form your feet” (10:14). We must not “give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast…pearls before swine” (7:6). Rather, we should shake off the dust from our feet and move on to the next (cf. Acts 13:46, 51). Jesus also said, “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me” (10:40). The converse is true as well. Those who reject the bearers of truth reject the One who authored the truth. We should not take it personally when we are rejected for teaching the truth. Ultimately, it is the Lord who is rejected.
This rejection may come in a form which does not cause much harm to us. Yet, harm may come. Truth provokes those who wish to remain in darkness. Regardless of the messenger, the aversion to the light which some have will cause them to lash out. Jesus said, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves” (10:16). We come bringing the gospel of peace, but are often met with bared teeth. We may be opposed by governing authorities (cf. 10:18), but it could even be our own family who turns against us – “Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. You will be hated by all for My name’s sake” (10:21-22). The Devil is well practiced in his craft and is able to subdue those who should trust us the most. It is out of love we speak the truth, and even take disciplinary measures (cf. 1 Corinthians 5). However, this does not ensure immediate positive results. Jesus has prepared our minds with the possibility of great hostility between us and those closest to us. This can be a most difficult truth to face. We can take solace in the fact that even Jesus’ brothers were opposed to Him in disbelief (cf. John 7:5). We are not above this – “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master” (10:24). Fortunately, the Captain of our salvation can lead the way through these trying situations.
The proclamation of the gospel and submission to its message has never fomented strife. It has never been the cause of another’s pain. It has never produced any negativity. The cause of such trouble has always been the gospel’s antithesis, Satan’s “different gospel” (2 Corinthians 11:3-4). The peacemakers who have made it their purpose to uphold Christ’s doctrine in their practice and proclamation of it are often combatted by those who have bought into a fake good news. Its messenger, the one who “transforms himself into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14), has deceived many into thinking the truth is the enemy. Therefore, those who defend the truth are persecuted. Jesus lived a life of truth and was severely mistreated. He knew the same awaited His apostles, and those who follow Him today. Such a threat could cause one to forfeit his faith. Jesus encouraged the church of Smyrna saying, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (cf. Revelation 2:10). Our faith should be steadfast in the direst circumstances, even if the end is our own demise. Only then will we attain the promise.
This faith is not spontaneous upon the scene of adversity but is built in preparation before it ever comes. We do this by establishing a fear of God in our lives – “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (10:28). Our greatest fear should not be the reaction of man to our confession of the Christ, but the judicial wrath of God when Christ denies us before His Father because we denied Him (cf. 10:32-33). If the former does not exist due to the perceived severity of the latter, we will be able to remain faithful amid external threat.
A truly devoted disciple will keep his faith in the face of such turmoil (cf. Proverbs 24:10). His love for the Lord is overwhelming. Any relationship of love he is involved in pales in comparison to that which he has with his God. Christ is the preeminent one, and therefore has the preeminence in his heart (cf. Colossians 1:15-18). When he is set against his father, mother, children, or any in his household, the love of Christ compels Him to choose the path of righteousness. Jesus said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (10:37). We must bear the cross of shame, anguish, and reproach as we tread the path which our Savior trod, not even letting family come between us and Him. Our ways should not be dedicated to the preservation of this temporal life, but to the heaping up of treasures for the next (cf. 10:39). This is discipleship. To this we are called.
“The way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). This takes humility to accept. The world has rejected this view of life. It is considered demeaning to depend on the guidance of another. Weakness and inferiority is displayed in the pursuit of counsel. Yet, competence is not the ability to live life without guidance but understanding the need for it. An incompetent man is one molded entirely by his own preconceived notions separate from any objective truth. Satan lies about an ability to govern self – “The way of man is not in himself.” While we can be tempted to view ourselves as an exception to the rule, we must maintain perspective – everyone needs wise counsel!
The ultimate source of wise counsel is the revealed word of God. This must not be viewed as a way to justify decisions already made, but as an avenue of communication from God to us in which we can appeal to His divine wisdom. In approaching God’s word, there must be a predisposition toward it. Like the Bereans who were “more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). The response to the wisdom of God’s word should be full and immediate acceptance, as it is the best way to live. This mindset should take place before delving into the truth. For the wisdom of God cannot be filtered by the wisdom of man. Otherwise, it is no longer God’s wisdom. The Psalmist understood this when he wrote, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly…but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:1-2). No man is truly blessed separate from adherence to God’s divine word. For, the all of man is to fear God and keep His commandments (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:13).
The source of heavenly wisdom also unveils the value in seeking wise counsel from learned, and seasoned elders. Advice given from an “I’ve been there before” standpoint is highly devalued among many. Youth cling to the erroneous idea that spiritual decisions and problems change with technology and culture. Grandpa may not have had an air conditioner and a television, but his experiences while striving to live for God can be a tremendous help to his grandchild who is having to consider the same options. It is foolish to seek wisdom in experiencing mistakes. Yes, one will make mistakes, and one must learn from them – wisdom is gleaned. However, it is prudent to consider counsel from the wise, and learn from their experiences. “My son, hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother; for they will be a graceful ornament on your head, and chains about your neck” (Proverbs 1:8-9).
“That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Thus, God has provided us with a standard applicable to all times, circumstances, cultures, and peoples. We must not be presumptuous by claiming our situation is greater than the instruction God gives us in His word. We must view God’s word as the handbook of life. We cannot function properly without His continual guidance in all things. Additionally, we must understand parents, grandparents, older Christians, and elders that shepherd the flock are all sources of wisdom graciously provided by our divine Caretaker. It is folly to neglect ourselves the wisdom provided us.
“Hear, my children, the instruction of a father, and give attention to know understanding; for I give you good doctrine: Do not forsake my law. When I was my father’s son, tender and the only one in the sight of my mother, he also taught me, and said to me: ‘Let your heart retain my words; keep my commands, and live. Get wisdom! Get understanding! Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth. Do not forsake her, and she will preserve you; love her, and she will keep you. Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding. Exalt her, and she will promote you; she will bring you honor, when you embrace her. She will place on your head an ornament of grace; a crown of glory she will deliver to you’” (Proverbs 4:1-9).