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EXODUS 20:1-6
Series:  Armenian Evangelical Confession of Faith - Part Five
Article 9

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
November 30, 1997

This morning we’re continuing our look at our beliefs and practices as an Armenian Evangelical Church - comparing the beliefs of our Armenian Evangelical forefathers - the teaching of the Bible - and thinking through what we believe and what all this means for us today.

Today we want to focus on The Armenian Evangelical Confession of Faith, Article 9 - Article 9 says this: “We believe that, besides God, no other being is to be worshiped and adored, and that each person in the sacred Trinity is worthy of our worship, which, to be acceptable, must be offered through no other mediation than that of Jesus Christ alone; and that the use of relics, pictures, crosses, and images of any sort, in any act of worship, and of the intercession of saints, is directly contrary to the Scriptures, and highly displeasing to God; and that prayer of the dead is not authorized in the Word of God.”

To put Article 9 in a nutshell: To worship God is to put God first. What we want to consider this morning is what this means for us today: To Worship God is to Put God First.

There’s one passage of scripture that we want to focus on this morning and I invite you to turn there, Exodus 20:1-6. As you turn there you’ll probably recognize the passage as being from the 10 Commandments.

You’ll recall that the 10 Commandments were given at the foot of Mount Sinai - in a solemn moment - in which God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt is passionately remembered and God in no uncertain terms tells His people what He expects of them. Commandments 1 and 2 - that we’re going to look at - deal specifically with our relationship with God and in particular our worship of God.

Exodus 20:1-6: “And God spoke all these words, saying, ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.’”

3 points of application - Worshiping God - To put God first.

1. Our worship of God means that we have a choice (v. 3) - We choose to give preference to God - to honor Him before all others.

Neil Marten - a member of the British Parliament - was once giving a group of his constituents a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament. During the course of the visit, the group happened to meet Lord Hailsham, then the Lord Chancellor, wearing all the regalia of his office. Hailsham recognized Neil Marten among the group and cried, "Neil!" Not daring to question or disobey the "command," the entire band of visitors promptly fell to their knees!

Everyone worships - everybody - everywhere. Atheists worship - infidels worship - skeptics worship - all people worship. Worship is a universal phenomenon. The only question is what or whom do they worship? We have a choice.

Worship comes from the old English “worth-ship” which means to ascribe worth or value to something or someone. The Bible tells us that there is true worship and false worship. True worship is to attribute worth to a real Being, one who is truly there and who is truly worthy.

William Temple said this: “Worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness; the nourishment of mind with His truth; the purifying of imagination by His beauty; the opening of the heart to His love; the surrender of will to His purpose - and all of this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy for that self-centeredness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin.”

False worship - on the other hand - is to attribute worth to something or someone that isn’t worthy of that honor. Bill Gothard defines false worship as: “Trusting people, possessions or positions to do for me what only God can do.”

Recently, I read about a poll taken by a government agency dealing with American’s concerns. The purpose was to determine people’s perception of what issues the government should be addressing.

The dominant themes in the survey had to do with the war on drugs, concern for the deterioration of our cities, and the desire that the government or some other champion would remove the threat of violence from our neighborhoods. Another concern called for the medical community to deal with terrifying diseases, such as AIDS and cancer, to fight off the enemy of physical deterioration. Defense spending was considered an important issue. Americans are willing to expend an incredible amount money in return for security from atomic warfare or other sorts of attack.

So many people are insecure - we’re afraid - and we expend a tremendous amount of money in this culture to counteract the fears that guide us. We’re willing to direct our resources to obtain a measure of security from the ravages of illness, age, and deterioration. In spiritual terms, people are crying out for a protector - a provider.

Today, we don’t face the same pantheon of false gods - the way the Israelites did. But, there are rival gods out there - plenty of them - a tremendous number of voices and words coming into our minds all the time - voices that will repeatedly offer us protection and security - to deal with our fears - other philosophies - points of view - offers being made to us from other sources - that would try to convince us that God is really not worthy of our worship - we really can’t trust Him fully with our lives.

Worship is a choice of trust - to whom or to what do we trust our lives for protection and provision? To whom do we surrender our complete devotion?

So many people, have so many reasons, not to be here on Sunday - family, sports, friends, work - the list goes on - and there are some very important items on our lists. And yet, we really do have a choice of preference.

One example - We hear people say, “I work 6 days a week - on Sunday I’m exhausted. How can I come to church?” Well, whom do we trust more - the god of work - or the one true God. Ultimately, which brings true peace and security? Maybe if we were in church on Sunday, God would bless us and we would find the strength to work the other 6 days or even to work more productively in less time.

Our forefathers said, “We believe that, besides God, no other being is to be worshiped and adored...” God says - verse 3: “You shall have no other gods before me.” I am the God who is worthy of your worship - who delivered the Hebrew people from Egypt - and I offer you true deliverance - protection - salvation. Choose Me.

2. Our Worship of God is Exclusive (vv. 4-5a) - no idolatry - no graven images

Idolatry concerns our motivation for coming and worshiping God. Why do we come and worship? Is it for us or for God?

If we’re honest with ourselves - some people come because they feel they have to - or because as Armenian Evangelicals this is the place to be on Sunday morning. Others come because they enjoy the music and the singing. They like the words of the hymns or enjoy the music of the choir. Some people come because they like the preaching. None of these reasons are really wrong Most people feel they come for a good reason - otherwise we wouldn’t be here.

And there are also a wide range of expectations of what a church Service of Worship ought to be. If we tried to choose everything that every individual wanted in a service - we couldn’t do it.

Some want more ritual - and there are some people who like less formality in the service. Some like to hear the organ or piano playing - others are very glad to see a variety of instruments used. I know of one church where an elder once proposed that they have 200 banjos leading the service. Fortunately, they didn’t do that.

There are many different opinions. It sounds very much like a poem I ran across once by Sam Walter Foss on the various ways that people should pray:

"The proper way for a man to pray,"
Said Deacon Lemuel Keys,
"And the only proper attitude
Is down upon his knees."

"No, I should say the way to pray,"

Said Reverend Doctor Wise,
"Is standing straight with outstretched arms
And rapt and upturned eyes."

"Oh, no, no, no!"
said Elder Slow,
"Such posture is too proud.
A man should pray with eyes fast closed
And head contritely bowed."

"It seems to me his hands should be
Austerely clasped in front
With both thumbs pointing toward the ground,"

Said Reverend Doctor Blunt.

"Last year I fell in Hidgkin's well
Head first,"
said Cyrus Brown,
"With both my heels a-stickin' up
And my head a-pointin' down."

"And I made a prayer right then and there,
The best prayer I ever said,
The prayingest prayer I ever prayed
A-standin' on my head!"
I’m sharing this because I believe it hits the proper note of worship. Worship should arise from a deep and urgent sense of need. Deep within us all there is a cry for God. That’s what makes us worship. And too often we focus on the externals of worship - and not the motivation for worship.

When God says “no idols,” His command is not meant to stifle artistic talent but to avoid improper substitutes that would steal our hearts away from the true worship of God - He speaks to our motivations in worship.

Idolatry degrades worship - it degrades both God - who is worthy of worship - and man who is created to worship God.

When our forefathers spoke against “the use of relics, pictures, crosses, and images of any sort, in any act of worship,” it was in reaction to the use of these - as objects to be worshiped - where the form - the ritual - the objects of worship become the focus - rather than our own brokenness - our own heart attitude - our own crying out to God in worship.

Our forefathers said, “the intercession of saints - asking believers who have died to pray for us - is directly contrary to the Scriptures, and highly displeasing to God; and that prayer of the dead is not authorized in the Word of God.”

Again the emphasis is on our personal coming to God - to not hold anyone or anything in a position over our lives that God has not given to them. In 1 Timothy 2:5, God says, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” We come to God - personally - through Jesus Christ. Put anyone else between ourselves and God and it is an act of idolatry.

The Church has always been in danger of this - when we come to worship - and focus on externals - worship becomes a ritual - a performance - unfulfilling - empty - something to be criticized for not meeting our needs - a service of idolatry focused on ourselves. And certainly leaving us hungry - with our need to worship God unfilled. God says, through Jesus I’ve opened the door. Bring yourself to Me. Open yourself to Me. Worship Me alone.

3. Our Worship of God Involves His Blessing (vv. 5b-6)

Some view the 10 Commandments as a list of negatives: “Thus saith the Lord God, don’t do this and don’t do that...” But, verses five and six are a reminder that these commandments are given for our blessing.

Verse 5 is a warning - Don’t give preference to other gods - don’t worship idols: “I the Lord your God, am a jealous God.” I demand exclusive devotion.

And then these words of warning that God will punish: “the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” - those who choose to worship other gods. What the fathers do - the children will inherit - good or bad.

The blessing is in verse 6. The effects of disobedience last for some time, but the effects of loving God are far more extensive: “to a thousand generations.”

Here’s the promise: If you want your kids to grow up and experience God’s blessing and know salvation in Jesus - to live lives of fulfillment and purpose - then give preference to God - choose to give yourself totally to Him. Let Him be your protector and provider.

The citizens of Feldkirch, Austria, didn't know what to do. Napoleon's massive army was preparing to attack. Soldiers had been spotted on the heights above the little town - which was situated on the Austrian border. A council of citizens was hastily summoned to decide whether they should try to defend themselves or display the white flag of surrender.

It happened to be Easter Sunday, and the people had gathered in the local church. The pastor rose and said, "Friends, we have been counting on our own strength, and apparently that has failed. As this is the day of our Lord's resurrection, let us just ring the bells, have our services as usual, and leave the matter in His hands. We know only our weakness, and not the power of God to defend us."

The council accepted his plan and the church bells rang. The enemy, hearing the sudden peal, concluded that the Austrian army had arrived during the night to defend the town. Before the service ended, the enemy broke camp and left.