(Part of sermon
'The Holy Incense,' Exodus 30:34-38)
Pastor T. J. de Ruiter
Applying the truths of the Holy Incense
When we worshop God is looking at the spirit of our heart
The Holy Incense as described in Exodus 30:34-38 symbolizes worship and contains teaching on the essential issues and other important aspects of it. As we have seen in this sermon each ingredient contains important lessons on the essential qualities of worship. But in this closing section I will try to answer the question if outward expressions in worship are of importance to God, making our worship acceptable to Him.
I ask therefore the question if we see here in the Tora or elsewhere in the Bible, laws for- or prescriptions about the ways we, as believers in Christ, should behave, move with our bodies or perform, while we worship the Almighty God. My answer is 'no'. For the Israelites we find a few actions prescribed, e.g. the laying of the hands on the head of the sacrifical animal, or the moving of the firstfruitoffering, but we do not find prescriptions that they had to take a certain posture, dance or jump in worship. That the Israelites loved dancing, we know from historical studies of their culture. The study of other worldreligions shows however that most of them have many prescriptions for physical actions in religous duties.
We live in the time in which it is in to express whatever is felt - also in religious experiences. There is in these days much emphasis in some churches and movements on physical expression in worship. This can be viewed upon as a reaction on the poverty of physical and emotional expression in religious exercises as it has been traditional churchbehavior for centuries in many churches. But some teach now that we should be entirely free in the physical and emotional expression of our love for and worship of God. This kind of freedom however leads sometimes to what could be called 'emotional incontinence;' people loose control of emotions and the results are chaotic scenes, which are more distracting from true worship than helping to truly enter into Gods presence. The question therefore needs to be asked if God is really looking for and getting impressed when Christians do let their emotions run free while worshiping Him.
Trying to avoid misunderstanding let me make clear that it is healthy to give also expression to feelings in religious exercises. But the experienced poverty of the expression of religious feelings in the past, must not lead to an overemphasizing of them in worship. We shall aways keep in mind the essence of worship as Jesus taught in John 4:24, "God is a Spirit; and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth." So, all our worship must be evaluated by the truth that is expressed in this statement. Let's be clear about it: True incense comes from the heart and the heart is all that finally matters with God. Do we not have to learn what old prophet Samuel had to learn, when he had to choose Gods man: "Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart." Expressions of worship in physical and emotional ways are of less importance to God than the essence of it - the spiritual state and attitude of the heart.
The only purpose of worship must always be to please GOD
Let's look at what is written in Exodus 30:37,38, a very meaningful verse, also for us living in the worshipculture of these days. It says: "And the incense which you shall make according to its composition, you shall not make for yourselves; it shall be for you holy to the LORD. Whoever makes any like it to use as perfume shall be cut off from his people." For the Israelites this word was directly applicable to the holy incense; it was to be used only to please God. This scripture points at an important aspect of worship and not many are aware of its message. What is forbidden here is that form of worship that has man's own enjoyment as its purpose. I will try to actualize this teaching for us. For the Israelites the holy incense was only for the worship of God, for His pleasure. It does not need to be argued about that our worship also should have as its only purpose the pleasing of God. But is it not true, that when we examine much of the present day worship we cannot escape the impression that people are pleasing their own senses. Let's be honest: We please ourselves with the worshipmusic, the rethorics, the professional singing and the technical refinements and we presume that God must be immensely pleased with it, too. But, is He pleased with it - is my question.
Is God impressed by our very loud music? Is He really impressed with our professionalism in singing and worship performances? Is he impressed by our often expensive hi-tech equipment and technology? Again, think about it: Are we not pleasing our ears and eyes? Are we not making incense for our own enjoyment, to please our senses? Expressions of worship are of less importance to God than the essence of it - and so it should be to us, God's children. As far as I understand God from the Scriptures, He is not looking for the highest and best performances. He is more interested in the state and attitude of our heart towards Him. The holy incense is primarily and solely for God, we should not try to please ourselves with it. Worship is not for our enjoyment and not for our gain. I cannot escape making the observation that a subtle delusion is trying to creep in the church.
This having said, it cannot be ruled out that also a worshipper with professional talents may express himself with the express and pure purpose to please God only. God is the only One to be able to judge the true motives. I am not judging, I am observing and exhorting, pointing at the essential issues.
I have reached the conviction that God is not waiting for our professionalism and perfection in worship performance, Scripture is clear about it. He is closely watching the inner condition of our hearts, looking for worship in the beauty of holiness.
I pray that the Spirit may help us to worship God in spirit and in truth. And, may He undiscover superficial, unspiritual motives in our worship. May our hearts be humbled before Him. May we be genuine in holiness and godliness. May our worship be acceptable in His sight and pleasing to Him. Amen.
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