Paul and Jesus on worship

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While in many churches worship is thought to be solely about heaven and spiritual reality, Paul connects worship to the mundane of earthly existence:

“Whatever you eat or drink do it for the glory of God.”

Eating and drinking have everything to do with the earth, so maybe worship isn’t really about forgetting the earth(ly)?

Let’s look at another of Paul’s passages:

“Don’t you know your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit?” (1 Cor 6:19)

What were temples meant for? Worship. Our bodies are to be instruments which worship God, “therefore honor God with your bodies” (v. 20, emphasis mine). We are to worship God with our bodies? Our physical (earthly) bodies? Hmmm…maybe Paul got it wrong. Let’s move on to Jesus.

“…if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)

This text teaches us that we worship by how we interact with people (earthly people). The problem is, too many Christians think “it’s just me and God” while Jesus said the two greatest commandments are (1) to love God with your all and (2) to love our neighbor with your all.

Worship is not just about giving to God but also has to do with how we operate in earthly relationships. Jesus said to stop giving to God (your worship, your service) and first go fix what’s been broken (mend your earthly relationships). This is holistic worship; and it’s a whole lot harder to do than lifting your hands in a worship service.

While gnostic Christianity tends to says “It’s just me and God,” Jesus is all about our worship being reflected in how we treat others; our worship is to be deeply connected to the earth and its inhabitants.

This is why Paul uses a temple analogy twice in 1 Corinthians, once to describe the Christian life as a personal walk with God (1 Cor 6:19) and once to describe it as a communal walk with God (1 Cor 3:16, where Paul notes that the Corinthian Christians together form God’s temple). A gnostic approach puts emphasis merely on an individual relationship with Christ while neglecting that we also share a communal relationship with God. What this means is that we ought to follow Christ together with those in our communities of faith. Just as the disciples themselves together followed Jesus.

Both Paul and Jesus are in full agreement that the church isn’t meant to be filled with people who are rogue, but rather with people who together in community follow God.

When Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them how to pray better, He responds with a sort of ‘guideline’ prayer. One of the lines reads “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). This means that Jesus wills His followers to both long and pray for the intersection of heaven and earth; we are to yearn for God’s kingdom (His rule and reign) to invade the earth. We’re to pray for heaven to fall on earth, not just for God’s people to be transported out of it. This intersection of heaven and earth is what made up Jesus’ ministry, as he went around proclaiming the kingdom of God (both a present and future reality) is at hand on the earth!

All you need is God?” Learning from Eden

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Genesis paints a picture of a God who does not view the ‘earthly’ as unimportant or insignificant. Rather it informs us of a God who declared all things “very good,” a God who beckons mankind to care for the earth and to oversee its wellbeing, its shalom. A God who cares that Adam is alone, not a God who tells Adam, “Be content: I’m all you need!” My point is not that we don’t need God but that God is in fact concerned with our mundane earthly existence beyond the spiritual. Jesus did in fact heal people’s physical bodies.

As noted already (in Part 1), Paul did not just give his recipients (those who received his letters) the gospel. No, he offered them helps and solutions, rebukes and encouragement. Bottom line, Paul was active in his world; a gnostic Christian is passive in his or hers.

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