It is a great misfortune that many evangelicals view spiritual growth in a very inorganic way. If a little boy wants to grow to be a great warrior, he needs to do three things: eat, sleep, & breathe. Many view spiritual growth in a very mechanistic way; as if to become more godly they need to add more hardware to themselves. But true growth in godliness comes through a few acts of obedience which spring from evangelical faith: read your Bible, say your prayers, and above all, worship the Triune God.
For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.
A Jealous God
We often associate jealousy with sinful attitude. What we often call jealousy would be better described as envy or covetousness. “Jealous” is one of God’s names. This text expands upon the the first commandment, warning Israel that as they enter Canaan they must resist the pull to enter into covenant with the nations which the Lord is going to drive out before them. The ultimate reason for this warning is that such loyalty to the pagan nations will entice Israel into self-willed worship, which is another way of describing idolatry.
Israel is in covenant with God. For them to break covenant provokes His jealousy. As one theologian points out regarding the sacrificial system under Moses: “The rite speaks of God’s claims on us, whereas what we too often want […] is some kind of claim on God’s mercy, bounty, or gifts.”
Shaped by the Word
The distinct aroma of the Christian’s life should be the Word of Life. We are not at liberty to live as we pleased, we have been separated unto service. You are not your own.
So in both our private & public worship we must insist upon the grooves of our habits & rituals being biblical. But this is precisely where our internalized sentimentality is rubbed the wrong way. We don’t want to conform to anything other than our own ill-defined grab bag of preferences.
But if you would serve the living God, you must leave your opinion at the door. You must put your hand over your mouth. You must bend your knee. Most Christians don’t reflect on the fact that much of the OT is a description of how God calls His people to worship Him.
Our liturgy is shaped by asking the question, how does God expect us to worship Him? When we study Scripture two things emerge in regards to how God deals with His people. First, is that God always deals with man covenantally. Meaning, this world is His and He reveals to us the terms of living in His world, and the blessings which come with living according to His ordering of things, and the curses that will come if you defy Him.
The second thing we see is that the covenant which God brings His people follows a glorious pattern of cleansing, ascending, and communing. This is seen most clearly in the ordering of the three primary levitical offerings.
The Sin Offering was followed by the Ascension Offering, and the concluding sacrifice was the Peace Offering (Cf. Lev. 9). In the Sin Offering, the caul & the kidneys were offered, and rest of the creature became a portion for the priests, but not the worshipper (Lev. 4:1-5:13). The entire creature, except for the skin, was offered entirely to the Lord in the Ascension/Burnt Offering (Lev. 1:1-17).
But after these were offered, the Peace Offering could be sacrificed. This was a shared meal: the LORD has his portion (Lev. 3:9-11), the priest/mediator received a portion (Lev. 7:31-32), and finally the worshipper partook of this offering (Lev. 7:15). A glorious pattern emerges: God calls us, cleanses us, and consecrates us in order to commune with us.
When Christ took the Passover seder and renovated it into a simple meal of bread and wine, He didn’t disconnect it from what came before. He became the final & all-encompassing sacrifice.
When we confess our sins at the beginning of our service, we are enjoying Christ as our Sin Offering, His righteousness covers our guilt. When the Word is read & preached to us, and as we lift our various thanksgivings and petitions, in Christ & by Christ our High Priest we are offered up entirely to God. The knife of His Word cuts us up, and the Holy Spirit’s fire consumes us that we might be set apart as priestly kings here upon earth.
Then we come to the Peace Offering which Christ offered on our behalf. This ensured that we might partake with the Father and the Great High Priest of that covenant meal. What Christ offered was the blood of the new testament (Mk. 14:22-24). Having been called, cleansed, consecrated, and enjoying the abundant feast of communion with God Almighty, He commissions us to go forth as ambassadors of this gracious covenant which is offered to all men everywhere.
The Word of Life
We begin our week with this ascension into God’s presence, communing with Him and all the saints both here and in Heaven. As we proceed to our various spheres, the duty is to be governed & nourished by the Word. Our worship service is saturated with Scripture, creating grooves in our way of speaking and thinking and living. This ministry of the Word & Visible Word spurs on our daily meditation on the Word which trains us to worship the Lord with skillful understanding (Ps. 47:7).
Trying to walk in accordance with the covenant which we renew here each week, without studying what the covenant calls you to is like fasting for a week before hiking a 14er. You won’t make it far. The Word is our light & our feast.
Regular Bible reading is not just a suggestion. It is mandated by Scripture itself (Deu. 6:6-9; 2 Pt. 3:14-16; Rom. 15:4). The Scriptures fill a man out (2 Tim. 3:17). It illuminates his path (Ps. 119:11, 105).
Breathing in & Breathing Out
Every Christian esteems praying, but few pray. To continue an earlier metaphor, the prayerless Christian is like a runner trying to hold her breath while running a long distance race. But evangelical prayer has been muddied in a few ways. Jesus gives a real warning about prayer marked by mindless repetition (Mt. 6:7).
Often believers develop a guilt complex about prayer. So, we can try to generate high quality prayers (“praying until we pray”). The thinking is that if you add a bit of zing & zest to your prayers they’ll get to heaven faster, and the good Lord will be obliged to answer them more quickly.
We’re also tempted to think that we need to increase the quantity of our prayers. But while it’s our duty to “pray without ceasing,” we ought to understand it rightly, not dip it into an overly sweet piety syrup. Have you ever been paralyzed with the thought that you’re not breathing enough?
So then, pray the Lord’s Prayer. Read the Psalms and let the language of them permeate your own prayers. Talk to God. All the time. Tell it all to Him. Ask Him for whatsoever. Intercede for the lost, the orphan, the widow. Breath in and breath out. Pray. Pray. Pray. But don’t be weird about it.
That Restoration Might Come
When it comes to these basic Christian duties, we should bear in mind that when God gives commands, He is commanding our blessing. He’s the lavish God. When you look at the offerings which are required, the worshipper isn’t obliged to just give a pinch of incense. It’s entire beasts. It’s large casks of wine. It’s fragrant loaves of grain. But these offerings of worship unto God are the result of God’s abundant blessings to Israel.
He increased Abraham’s flocks and herds and children. He loaded Israel with all the spoil of Egypt. He filled their barns, filled their wombs, filled their homes. He filled the tabernacle with glory. When we return to God, we find that He is already loading us up with bounty & blessings (Hos. 14). Here is a daily feast. Here is true rest in the courts of Jehovah. Here is the clear air.
Charge & Benediction
So yes, these might sound like simple chores: go to church, read your Bible, say your prayers. But think of them as eating, sleeping, and breathing. Try this, grab one of the Bible reading plans and get started (or restarted) reading the Word. Make a list of your petitions…and then as God answers them, make another list of thanksgivings. Then, next Sunday, come to church brimful with gratitude for the blessings God has loaded you down with.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and with love of God, and of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord; and the blessings of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be upon, and remain with you always. Amen.