As far as the Pharisees were concerned, Jesus was not a very good Jew. He seemed somewhat disinterested in following all of the traditions that had developed over the years, and they took offense with this. Eventually they challenged him over his disregard of their traditions and received the following in response.
He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:Mark 7:6-8 NIV
“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’
You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
Jesus here affirms what Isaiah had earlier accused the people of: giving lip service to God, but not giving him their hearts. They are also accused of ‘worship’ that was really just a waste of time, and focusing on human traditions rather than on God’s instruction to them.
Giving Lip Service to Worship
How often am I content with offering God lip service, going through the forms of worship, but not really having my heart in it? I know of no place where God directs us to spend an hour in Sunday School on Sunday morning, followed by another hour to sing a few catchy songs, listen to a sermon, take up a collection and visit among ourselves for a while. Yet I somehow seem satisfied that when I have done that. That I have fulfilled my weekly need to worship God.
And somehow I suspect that I am not the only person guilty of that. Our churches are partially filled each Sunday with folks who offer lip service, satisfied that they have fulfilled their obligation to God, all the while they are making plans for the rest of the day or week; wondering who the preacher is preaching to this week; and catching up on the latest news from our fellow worshipers.
Don’t take me wrong here. I don’t believe there is anything intrinsically wrong with our traditions for Sunday morning worship. Those traditions can provide us some structure that can enhance our ability to worship, especially those of us who are uncomfortable without that structure. But we should be careful that the observance of those human traditions do not take the place of worship.
Worship that Is Acceptable to God
So, if our tradition on Sunday morning is not enough, what worship does God find acceptable? Jesus seems to equate obedience to God’s commands with worship in the passage above. And below he shares with us what commands are most important.
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”Mark 12:29-31 NIV
I worship God when I give him my all, loving him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. And I worship him when I treat others with love, especially those who are most in need of it. Come and sing songs and hear God’s word proclaimed. But do it with love for God as well as those around you. And don’t be satisfied with an hour or two on Sunday; instead worship him in all you do. Don’t just give lip service. Give heart service as well.