Every Sunday, congregations all over the world gather together to worship the one true, living God of the universe, and we believe He has saved us from the death of sin and moved us into a position of holiness. God is the one who has saved us through the death, burial, and resurrection of the Son, Jesus. Jesus Christ is the perfect atoning sacrifice for our sins, and without Him, we would never be able to come before our Father in Heaven to worship Him (Hebrews 4:14-16). Because of what Christ has done, we have been saved to worship our God.
When we think about the salvation of God in our lives and understand that He has saved us to worship Him, we must also understand that, just as God is the author of salvation, He is also the author of how we worship Him. We must worship Him on His terms. When we worship God the way we want, we begin to have personal preferences, which lead us to focus our hearts and minds on ourselves and not upon God.
As we read Scripture, we read of two men in Leviticus, Nadab and Abihu who did not understand that worship was not about their desires. Instead of trusting God and worshiping Him on His terms, they worshiped God on their own terms, and the consequence for their disobedience towards God was death. Leviticus 10:1-3 says, “Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censor and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace” (ESV).
My initial thought when I read this passage of Scripture is, “WHOA!” As one who plans worship weekly for the church I serve, this places so much gravity and caution into my planning the worship of God. If we are not careful, we can easily worship our worship of God, which is idolatrous and sinful. The moment we become more fascinated with a certain song, or we have to have the lights the certain way, we’re no different than Nadab and Abihu who were fascinated by their fireworks. We can become so caught up in all of the programming of the methods and means by which we worship that we miss the mark completely, which is to worship God. There are three lessons to be learned in this passage, that each of us who lead and participate in corporate worship each week should place into our hearts and minds:
1. Worship is for an Audience of One.
The fire that Nadab and Abihu offered before the Lord was unauthorized by Him. God had not commanded them to bring this fire into His presence. They believed that they were in charge of what they brought before God; however, God gave instructions as to how His people were to worship Him. As New Testament believers, we are no different. God has given us instructions as to how we are to worship Him. He has called us to worship Him in spirit and in truth. When worship planning becomes a method that pleases man, we bring worship before God that is not authorized, because our hearts are focused in the wrong direction, just as Nadab and Abihu. They had all the right elements of worship, but their motive was entirely impure. The same can be true of us in the modern church. We can have all of the right elements of worship, but who are they for?
2. Worship is not entertainment.
Nadab and Abihu were mesmerized by the fire that they offered before God. Frankly, too many in the church today want to be mesmerized by worship. Too many people leave worship today saying and believing that worship did nothing for them today. This is when we must be reminded that it was never intended for us. By making claims such as this, we are stating that we did not show up for the right reason in the first place. When we do not understand that worship is for an Audience of One, then we quickly move into the realm of entertainment, trying to please the people in the pews so that they will come back the next week. If pleasure is not found in God alone, then the worship of the church will always be focused upon trying to please man.
3. Our worship of God has eternal impact.
The words of the Lord: “Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all people I will be glorified.” If Christians do not honor God as holy, understanding that his holiness trumps any personal preference we have that conflicts His holiness, then how are we to expect the world to understand his holiness? God says that, before all people, He will be glorified. God will be glorified regardless, but as Christians, do we not desire to make His name great among all of the nations? Our worship of Him glorifies Him, and when we worship Him wrongly, He will glorify Himself, even if it means by bringing a truly majestic fire down from Heaven to consume idolaters, just as He did to Nadab and Abihu. Thankfully, Christ has offered up the perfect sacrifice in our place; however, worshiping God wrongly on our own terms effects eternity, as we are not showing the world that our God is holy and He will be glorified among all peoples, especially by the church.
Worshiping worship has always been an issue. All we must do is read the Scriptures to see this fact. Sadly, the issue is still prevalent, and we must be careful and intentional to always be sure that we seek to worship God. We must be reminded that worship was never for us. Worship has been created by God for Himself. We can never worship God apart from the atoning work of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, and this truth alone should cause us to fall on our faces and repent of our selfishness. God demands our worship of Him, and He calls us to worship in spirit and in truth. Let us all fix our eyes upon His gloriousness and bring before Him an offering of praise that is worthy of Him and Him alone.