Many people today believe that we can worship God on our own terms, but God’s Word gives us direction with regard to his plans for our worship.
Deuteronomy, chapters 10-12; Mark, chapter 16
Deuteronomy 12:1-11 (NLT):
These are the decrees and regulations you must be careful to obey when you live in the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. You must obey them as long as you live. When you drive out the nations that live there, you must destroy all the places where they worship their gods – high on the mountains, up on the hills, and under every green tree. Break down their altars and smash their sacred pillars. Burn their Asherah poles and cut down their carved idols. Completely erase the names of their gods!
Do not worship the Lord your God in the way these pagan peoples worship their gods. Rather, you must seek the Lord your God at the place of worship he himself will choose from among all the tribes – the place where his name will be honored. There you will bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, your sacred offerings, your offerings to fulfill a vow, your voluntary offerings, and your offerings of the firstborn animals of your herds and flocks. There you and your families will feast in the presence of the Lord your God, and you will rejoice in all you have accomplished because the Lord your God has blessed you.
Your pattern of worship will change. Today all of you are doing as you please, because you have not yet arrived at the place of rest, the land the Lord your God is giving you as your special possession. But you will soon cross the Jordan River and live in the land the Lord your God is giving you. When he gives you rest from all your enemies and you’re living safely in the land, you must bring everything I command you – your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, your sacred offerings, your tithes, your sacred offerings, and your offerings to fulfill a vow – to the designated place of worship, the place the Lord your God chooses for his name to be honored.
What does the Lord require?
The book of Deuteronomy is Moses’ “farewell address” to the Israelites. In chapter 10, he concludes his review of their history with the story of the second set of tablets. Then, in Deuteronomy 10:12-13, he says, “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? He requires only that you fear the Lord your God, and live in a way that pleases him, and love him and serve him with all your heart and soul. And you must always obey the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good.”
Chapter 11 then expands on the call to “obey the Lord’s commands and decrees” with a challenge for them to teach their children about God. He reminds them that their children didn’t see God work for them in the wilderness. That’s why they needed to teach their children! (And that’s why we need to teach our children how God has worked in our lives!)
God’s Commands for Worship
So after challenging them to obey God and live in a way that pleases him, Moses starts to explain to the people what that means. The first thing he talks to them about is worship. First, they are not to worship God “in the way these pagan peoples worship their gods” (v 4). They were to destroy the idols, shrines, and altars once they took possession of the land. Completely erase the names of their gods! (v 3).
The Lord’s Chosen Place for Worship
In the New Living Translation, chapter 12 is entitled “The Lord’s Chosen Place for Worship.” Think about it: God’s commands for worship are at the beginning of Moses’ explanation of obedience. That means that God deems this to be very important! First, Moses tells them, “you must seek the Lord your God at the place of worship he himself will choose from among all the tribes.” What a concept – that God directs where we worship, rather than us!
Moses goes on to make it clear exactly what this means: Your pattern of worship will change (v 8). At this point, the people have been worshiping at the tabernacle. That is the tent which God had directed Moses to construct. In other words, it was God’s plan for their worship. The tabernacle represented God’s presence among his people. They could see his presence. The pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire manifested God’s presence among them. But once they entered the land, that would change.
Today all of you are doing as you please, because you have not yet arrived at the place of rest…But you will soon cross the Jordan River and live in the land the Lord your God is giving you. When he gives you rest from all your enemies and you’re living safely in the land, you must bring everything I command you…to the designated place of worship… God would tell them where they were to go to worship him and bring their offerings.
Bring everything I command you
In verse 11 Moses lists all of the offerings that they were to bring to the Lord’s place of worship:
- Burnt offerings
- Sacred offerings
- Offerings to fulfill a vow
Moses also shares the reason why they needed to bring their offerings to the designated place: “Remember to include the Levites who live in your towns, for they will receive no allotment of land among you…And be careful never to neglect the Levites as long as you live in your land” (vv 12, 19). The Levites served God at the tabernacle, and they would continue to serve God as “the designated place of worship.” God’s plan for caring for his ministers involved all of his people bringing their gifts to “the designated place of worship.”
A place for worship
Two things stand out to me from this passage – probably because of their relevance to the Church and worship today. First, while we don’t have one designated place of worship, like the Temple in Jerusalem, every believer ought to have a designated place of worship. And that place of worship shouldn’t be based solely on what we want! Your pattern of worship will change. Today, all of you are doing as you please…, but that will change.
It’s surprising – and a bit discouraging – to see how many “believers” refuse to connect with a local church. Doing as you please is not really an appropriate approach in any area of our lives if we claim to be surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus. That includes worship. The New Testament clearly reflects that being part of a local body is the norm for believers. The local church provides teaching, opportunities for ministry, fellowship – and a place to bring our offerings for the work of the kingdom.
A place for offerings
That brings me to the second point. God’s plan is for his people to bring their offerings to him, not to use them for themselves. The second part of chapter 12 tells the people that they can use their own things wherever they want (verse 15). However, their offerings were to be brought to God’s house. I know that some people bridle at that thought, but if we understand that our offerings belong to God, why would we think that we should be able to use them for ourselves?
Father, we thank you for the promise of your word that you bless us when we walk in your way. Your Word confirms that you do this; our lives confirm it as well. Help us to recognize that our surrender to you means that we don’t just “do as we please”; we do as you please. Your Word shows that we need to be part of a local body for worship and for service. Satan tries to convince us that we don’t need that – but he is a liar!
Jesus told us that he would build his church. If we’re part of his church, our involvement needs to be on his terms, not ours. That includes accountability, dependability, generosity, and participation. Your Word shows that from the beginning of the Church, the believers gathered together regularly for fellowship, prayer, worship, and instruction. We need all of those things – and you have made them available for us! Help us to seek and to do your will in regard to our worship, rather than “doing as we please.” Amen.