Worship, according to the sermon title of T. Austin Sparks is the “Ultimate Issue of the Universe.” Worship in the Bible is an issue of cosmic proportions. In The Lost World of Genesis One Dr. John Walton says the first chapter of Genesis is the inauguration account of a cosmic temple. This means the creation is seen as the temple of God. The Book of Revelation concludes with the dwelling place of God being with men which is precisely the language used to describe a functioning temple in the Bible. This understanding of worship contrasts with a more modern take on worship which is a personal, privatised activity.
Congregational worship is sometimes a lot like enthusiasts who meet at conventions to share in their common experience and interests. The oft quoted line from David, “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go to the house of the Lord” is not an invitation soliciting for those who might be interested (Psalm 112:1.) Within the framework of the system of worship given to Israel, the call to worship was a summons and not the democratic choice to exercise freedom of religion. Worship does have personal and private value and I am by no means taking that a way. What God has done for us in our individual lives is so remarkable and it leaves a deep indelible mark on the soul. However, worship in the Bible is not built from the personal to the corporate but from the corporate to the personal.
The shift from the ancient worldview of the Bible to today’s secularized world is huge. Privatisation is a feature of secular thinking where, according to Dr Ravi Zacharias, there is a cleavage between the public and private lives of the individual. He goes on to call it a way of accommodating for the religious in the secular world meaning you can practice your faith in private but not in public so you don’t disturb those who disagree with you. This way of thinking is thoroughly entrenched in Western thought but in my part of the world that is not quite the case. However, as long as you live in a secular state, the influence of privatisation can be felt. We unwittingly superimpose this view on our understanding of worship as a private choice. Worship in the Bible must not be misconstrued as the right to worship.
Now the idea of citizenship which is a part of the modern worldview can be traced to the Greco-Roman world. It was in this context that Paul spoke to the Philippians about heavenly citizenship. Even in the midst of religious pluralism in the Greco-Roman world, along with the rest of the ancient world, worship was not a private affair. One of the words rendered worship in the Letter to the Hebrews is leitourgia. (Ironically the book of Hebrews contains the most excellent Greek in the New Testament.) This word means “public service” which was the duties an individual performs for the state religion at his own personal cost. In ancient Israel for example it was the duty of every individual to fund the vocation of the priests and the keeping of the temple. The community was organized around worship.
When Paul arrived at the Areopagus, he explained the reason for the human drive to worship is that humanity is the offspring of God. If we are the offspring of God we need to look back to Genesis at the question of worship.
And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.” To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD. – Genesis 4:25-26 ESV
After the failure in the garden and the debacle of the first family the second section of Genesis ends on an interesting note. Calling upon the name of the Lord was worship terminology in the Bible. (It did not mean mentioning the word “God” but rather invoking the presence and activity of a deity through sacrifice and offering.) Why did it end with this?
We must remember the Bible tells the big story and Genesis provides some lessons in the history of humanity. As much as Adam and Eve can be thought of as archetypes and not only as historical persons, we can also think of their offspring in those terms. Adam means earthy so he represents all humanity, so does Eve whose name reflects another common experience of all human beings, we all have mothers. They were given a job to do which was sharing in God’s responsibility over his creation in being his image bearers.
Worship in the Bible was understood as your service to God. The first couple’s duties was their worship. When they ignored God and did what they wanted they were not worshipping God and he pronounced his judgment on them. Along with this there was a prophecy which indicated through their offspring they would defeat the enemy who deceived them and would bring them back to unhindered communion with the Lord. We can see from here the seeds of the Gospel have already been sown.
Cain’s name according to the passage means ‘to gain’ a man from the Lord. In other words Eve thought Cain was the literal fulfilment of the prophecy. Even though it is not mentioned, Abel’s name means “breath.” Perhaps it serves as an ominous warning of his tragic fate. When we meet the brothers they are both attempting to offer worship to God. Cain tried to restore the holy vocation of worship to humanity but he ended up destroying it. With Abel murdered and Cain exiled the prophecy seemed to have failed and the hope of restoration was in jeopardy. Fortunately, Seth, whose name means compensation was born, and the plan was back on track. He gave birth to Enosh and at that time the human race began to seek for God. Enosh means “man” and it is no coincidence that humanity is aptly associated with worship. Worship is the project all humans must participate in.
Worship, human purpose, and the cosmos are intimately connected in the Bible. Paul in Romans brilliantly touches on these ideas. According to Paul the diagnosis of why the world is full of evil is that we are not worshipping the one true God (Romans 1.) Paul does not only have human wickedness in mind but by the eighth chapter he extends the effect of this to natural evils. When we think of worship as a private experience it is hard to fathom how one person not worshipping God can lead to tsunamis. Worship must be understood on a cosmic level.
Man is made to be the representative of God in the created order. Image bearing does not mean we are given certain features that give us intrinsic worth. What really differentiates a Lamborghini from a Volvo is not the logo. Place the “raging bull” on the bonnet of Volvo 345 and it will not transform it in to a hypercar. It is the engineering and performance that distinguishes the machines. In the same way it is our created function and purpose that gives us the intrinsic value of being the image of God.
Being image bearers within the created order means the creation is our habitation. No house is built for its own sake but for the sake of its occupants. The created order is made for man and man is made for God. Therefore, within this hierarchy, humans are representatives of God to the creation. A house becomes a home when it accommodates tenants. Humans are not thought of as the only occupants but as the managers. We are the chief tenants of the created order. We represent the interests of the owner in the home. It also means we have a solemn responsibility. We intercede for the creation before God.