The Western world is in a crisis of authority. We are skeptical of all authority except our own. It has not always been so, but the way authority has been used and abused is an age old story. A way out of the crisis exists, but it is surprising and not very easy.
Israel had followed the customs of the nations. To Elijah, they limped between two opinions. Israel could not waver; they had to choose whom they would serve.
So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto mount Carmel.
And Elijah came near unto all the people, and said, “How long go ye limping between the two sides? if YHWH be God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.”
And the people answered him not a word.
Then said Elijah unto the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of YHWH; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men. Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, and put no fire under; and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on the wood, and put no fire under. And call ye on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of YHWH; and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God.”
And all the people answered and said, “It is well spoken.”
And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, “Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first; for ye are many; and call on the name of your god, but put no fire under.”
And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, “O Baal, hear us.”
But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped about the altar which was made.
And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, “Cry aloud; for he is a god: either he is musing, or he is gone aside, or he is on a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth and must be awaked.”
And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lances, till the blood gushed out upon them. And it was so, when midday was past, that they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening oblation; but there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.
And Elijah said unto all the people, “Come near unto me;” and all the people came near unto him.
And he repaired the altar of YHWH that was thrown down. And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of YHWH came, saying, “Israel shall be thy name.”
And with the stones he built an altar in the name of YHWH; and he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed. And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid it on the wood.
And he said, “Fill four jars with water, and pour it on the burnt-offering, and on the wood.”
And he said, “Do it the second time;” and they did it the second time.
And he said, “Do it the third time;” and they did it the third time.
And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water.
And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening oblation, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, “O YHWH, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. Hear me, O YHWH, hear me, that this people may know that thou, YHWH, art God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again.”
Then the fire of YHWH fell, and consumed the burnt-offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.
And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, “YHWH, he is God; YHWH, he is God.”
And Elijah said unto them, “Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.”
And they took them; and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there (1 Kings 18:20-40).
Paul had never met the Colossian Christians; he nevertheless sought to strengthen them in their faith and assurance in Jesus. Jesus is the treasure of all knowledge and wisdom; we have no need to look elsewhere.
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church; whereof I was made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which was given me to you-ward, to fulfil the word of God, even the mystery which hath been hid for ages and generations: but now hath it been manifested to his saints, to whom God was pleased to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: whom we proclaim, admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ; whereunto I labor also, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.
For I would have you know how greatly I strive for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh; that their hearts may be comforted, they being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, that they may know the mystery of God, even Christ, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden. This I say, that no one may delude you with persuasiveness of speech. For though I am absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ.
As therefore ye received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and builded up in him, and established in your faith, even as ye were taught, abounding in thanksgiving (Colossians 1:24-2:7).
Life “under the sun” seems to be all about getting and maintaining power for one’s own benefit. The Lord Jesus insisted on the way of service and suffering to overcome the powers and principalities over this present darkness. The church has no business lusting for power; it must follow the path of its Lord.
For many, life is all about the here and now: the most recent news cycle, the belief that the present is superior to the past, and how this life is all there is to existence. The world lives by this ethic and acts accordingly. It cannot be so among the people of God.
Mary and Martha: beloved friends of Jesus. Theologically astute disciples of Christ. Not exactly how they have been remembered; the loss has been ours.
Mary Magdalene: first apostle of the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. A follower of Jesus. Few people have proven as controversial, all based more on later speculation than anything revealed in Scripture. What are we to make of Mary Magdalene?
We do well to prove all things by the Scriptures. Join us as we explore what “worship” translates in the Scriptures in comparison with modern usage.
When you think of “worship,” what comes to mind?
What practice(s) do you associate with the word “worship”?
Worship (English definition from Webster’s; derived from “worthship,” as in, “your worthship”)
1. To adore; to pay divine honors to; to reverence with supreme respect and
2. To respect; to honor; to treat with civil reverence.
3. To honor with extravagant love and extreme submission; as a lover.
4. To perform acts of adoration.
5. To perform religious service.
shahach (Hebrew definition from Brown-Driver-Briggs; e.g. Genesis 18:2, Genesis 37:7,9, Exodus 20:5, 2 Kings 5:18): to bow down, prostrate oneself
proskunein (Greek definition from Thayer’s; e.g. Matthew 8:2, Matthew 14:33, Matthew 28:9, Revelation 5:14, 11:16):
1. To kiss the hand to (towards) one, in token of reverence
2. Among the Orientals, especially the Persians, to fall upon the knees and touch
the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound reverence
2. In the NT by kneeling or prostration to do homage (to one) or make obeisance,
whether in order to express respect or to make supplication
To prostrate (English definition from Webster’s): to throw down; to overthrow; to demolish; to ruin; to prostrate one’s self, to throw one’s self down or to fall in humility or adoration; to bow in humble reverence; to sink totally; to reduce.
To render obeisance (English definition from Webster’s): A bow or courtesy; an act of reverence made by an inclination of the body or the knee.
‘abad (Hebrew definition from Brown-Driver-Briggs; e.g. Genesis 25:23, Exodus 3:12, Exodus 20:5, Numbers 4:24, Numbers 18:21): to labour, work, do work; to work for another, serve another by labour; to serve as subjects; to serve (God); to serve (with Levitical service)
latreuein [Greek definition from Thayer’s; e.g. Matthew 4:10, Luke 1:74, Acts 27:23, Romans 9:1 (noun form), Romans 12:1 (noun form), Hebrews 9:1, 6 (noun form), Hebrews 9:14, 12:28, Revelation 22:3]:
1. To serve for hire
2. To serve, minister to, either to the gods or men and used alike of slaves and
freemen; in the NT, to render religious service or homage, to worship; to
perform sacred services, to offer gifts, to worship God in the observance of the
rites instituted for his worship; of priests, to officiate, to discharge the sacred
Greek sebomai [Matthew 15:9 (Isaiah 29:13, y’irah, “fear”), Acts 13:43, 17:7, 18:7, 13, 19:27]: to revere, worship.
Greek leitourgein [Acts 13:2, Romans 15:27, Hebrews 9:21 (noun form), Hebrews 10:11]: to perform a work, including one of religious service.
Greek threskeia (Acts 26:5, Colossians 2:18, James 1:26-27): religious discipline, religion.
Greek therapeuo (Matthew 4:24, Acts 17:25): to serve, to heal.
Gods of This World: Efficiency
One of the prized values in commerce since at least the Industrial Revolution is efficiency. The drive toward efficiency, in fact, often powered the Industrial Revolution, leading to the assembly line among other innovations that has led to quicker production with fewer costs. Companies are willing to spend a lot of money to find ways to become more efficient, reducing waste and increasing productivity.
Efficiency is also a prized value when it comes to energy consumption. We have seen significant movement toward making homes, offices, and automobiles more energy-efficient. Energy efficiency is seen as a “win-win” situation: the consumer saves money by cutting down on waste, and there is correspondingly less demand for oil, gas, and electricity.
Thus there is no doubt that efficiency is valuable and has its place. In many senses, efficiency is an indication of good stewardship since it cuts down on waste (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:2).
Yet there can be a darker side to efficiency, as everyone who has ever attempted to call customer service for many products and services knows. It is more efficient for the company to have automated systems answer the call; it is hardly efficient for the consumer. The consumer is often left to feel flustered by the circumstances and more like a number than a person.
While efficiency may work wonders for processes and in mechanical terms, it poses more challenges in the realm of interpersonal relationships. Efficiency tends to be a cold, heartless master, often leading to lost jobs, inhumane conditions, and a contributor to the loss of community in many places.
Nevertheless, efficiency has become a “god of this world,” a self-evident standard that is to be accepted as good in every circumstance. Since it has worked so well, by all appearances, for industry, commerce, and business since the Industrial Revolution, it must therefore be a higher good in any situation. Few will come out and say such things; their actions and reasoning behind various actions demonstrate its fruit.
In the spiritual realm, the quest for efficiency is most evident in how assemblies are turned more into performances, the popularity of fellowship halls, and the practice of churches giving its financial resources to benevolent organizations.
Many churches want to keep to a set schedule and frown upon anything that may take longer than is expected. While it is true that everything done in the assembly should be accomplished decently and in order (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:40), there is no indication that this means that everything must be timed precisely and given the feel of a performance. The assembly is designed for the encouragement and edification of its constituents, not their entertainment or display (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:26, Hebrews 10:25).
Giving church resources to benevolent organizations and the building and use of fellowship halls became strongly popular in waves in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the heyday of the Industrial Revolution. Such practices are often justified either by an appeal to the ability to do so, or, more often, because that way more people can be fed with fewer resources.
Now, if efficiency were the standard for feeding saints and non-saints, then perhaps that would be commendable. But the point has never been to just feed as many people as possible with as few resources as necessary. It also has to do with showing love and compassion and reflecting Christ to others (cf. Romans 8:29), and systems and organizations cannot do such things.
Christians sharing meals has never been just about food. It represents an opportunity for Christians to associate with one another and be strengthened in their relationships, and God has charged individuals with the task of being hospitable (1 Peter 4:9). It is not as efficient but it will lead to stronger relationships, just as God intended!
James 1:27 is a justly famous passage regarding the need to help others. But notice what it says: pure and undefiled religion involves visiting widows and orphans in distress. It does not say to create an organization charged with the care of widows and/or orphans and for the church to fund such organizations. Instead, God intends for Christians themselves to sacrifice their time, resources, and energy to assist those in need!
There can be value in efficiency in terms of energy consumption, time management, and business practices, among other things. But the Bible never enshrines efficiency as the ultimate standard for anything, and we should never overrule what God has commanded us to do in the way God showed us to do it because, in our estimation, it is “inefficient.” It may very well be inefficient: and perhaps that is how God wants it to be. Let us not be coldly efficient in all things but willing to expend time and money to love and show care for one another and for all!
Ethan R. Longhenry