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The dangerous priority of worship

By Matthew Mason. This is part of a series of posts on 1 Samuel, supplementing messages in our preaching series this fall.

Saul’s sins in 1 Samuel 13-15 follow a progression—a sin of worship leads first to sins against his family and nation, and then to a sin in relation to the pagan nations. This follows a pattern laid down earlier in Scripture, and illustrates the principle that we become like what we worship (Psalm 115:3). Worship shapes reality. Without us even noticing, whom we worship and how we worship changes the way we live.

When God set up the world in Genesis 1-2, he established three different spheres of life. There was the Land of Eden; within the Land was the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:7, 10); beyond the Land was the rest of the world. These three spheres were each characterized by a particular relationship. The Garden was a sanctuary, a place of worship where humans met with God. The Land was the place of family and community. The world was the place where God’s people related to the rest of creation, the place of mission.

Genesis 3-6 describes the spread of sin throughout these three spheres. It started in the Garden, with a sin directly against God (Genesis 3). It spread to the Land and family, when Cain murdered his brother (Genesis 4). Then it moved further out, to the place of mission, as the “sons of God” (the believing descendents of Seth) intermarried with the “daughters of men” (unbelievers descended from Cain—Genesis 6:1-7). Sin starts at the center—the place of worship—and spreads out to infect the whole of life.

This is a repeated pattern in Scripture, and Saul’s sins follow the pattern. He starts with a sin of disobedient worship—sacrificing to God rather than waiting for Samuel to make the offering (1 Samuel 13). Next, he sins against his “brothers”—his army and his son (1 Samuel 14). Finally, he sins in relation to the nations, disobeying God’s command to put all the Amalekites under the ban of destruction (1 Samuel 15). Sin has spread from the center into every area of his life.

All Saul’s sin flows from false worship. We saw in Sunday’s sermon that Saul was obsessed with his image. He worshipped himself. In particular, he worshipped his reputation in the eyes of others. Even when he acknowledged that he had sinned, he still wanted Samuel to honor him before the people (15:30). And as David’s reputation grew, Saul was filled with jealous fury and determined to kill him (18:7-11). Saul’s worship shaped his whole life.

This is also true for us—it’s how God has made the world. What we worship shapes us for good or ill. It will drive our relationships with our family and church community. It will shape the way we live in the world—our work, our witness, our recreation.

This is why our worship service each Sunday should be the top priority in our calendars. Without faithful worship, it is impossible for us to live faithful lives; sin will spread everywhere.

As we talk increasingly about moving from thriving to overflowing, I thank God that we are re-prioritizing mission. I believe it’s exactly what God wants of us at this stage in our life together. But in turning outwards in love to the world, we must also remember the priority of stepping aside from the world to draw near to the Lord. Every week, as individuals, as families, as a community, we need to receive Jesus in Word and sacrament, offering our praise, and so being shaped to serve him for another week.

A Prayer for Today

Almighty God, whose only Son has opened for us a new and living way into your presence: give us pure hearts and steadfast wills to worship you in Spirit and in Truth; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.