COMMITMENT AND FAITHFULNESS IN WORSHIP
There are so many ways that worship can be understood, but as we look at this subject in 2021 our focus is on the truth that our worship is the relationship that we have with God – whether this is our personal relationship with Him or whether it is the relationship with Him that we share in our times of “corporate worship”.
In this session we are called to look at this relationship in the cold light of reality as we explore the need for both commitment and faithfulness in our worship relationship with Him. We are going to see that although these two terms are closely related, they are significantly different – and that BOTH are needed if we are truly to be in a worship relationship with Him. And we are going to be called to ask ourselves whether we need to come, right now, to a place of repentance in order to get back to a place of being both committed and faithful in our worship of the LORD.
UNDERSTANDING COMMITMENT AND FAITHFULNESS THROUGH MARRIAGE
The closest thing to our worship relationship with God that I know of is the marriage relationship. Indeed, the Bible, in seeking to get our understanding of this speaks of the Church being the “bride” of Jesus – the “bridegroom”. And my understanding of commitment and faithfulness in worship comes in understanding the relationship between a man and his wife.
Dr Bill Strom (a professor of media and communication with special interest in marriage) writes:
Commuting with four carpool buddies offers ample opportunity to discuss life, so one day I posed the question: what’s the difference between commitment and faithfulness? After a few rounds of debate the jury was in: commitment is our intent to stay in relationship with our wives; faithfulness is the practice of doing so.
That said, let’s admit that a committed spouse is not necessarily a faithful spouse. Men in particular succumb to the idea that they can have their Kate and Edith too. Kate is the faithful spouse with whom they raise kids, attend church, and go grey with over time. Edith represents the workplace ‘friendship’ or sexual fling. In their mind they are committed to both, but in practice, faithful to neither”.
So… “commitment” can be seen to be a DECISION that we make of how we are going to live from this time onwards – it is the PROMISE; “faithfulness” is the ACTION or outworking of this decision – it is the PRACTICE; “unfaithfulness” is when what we do undermines the commitment that we have made, or breaks this commitment, or makes this commitment a lie.
Dr Strom identifies that commitment in married couples means they are more likely to support each other and sacrifice themselves for their spouse, more likely to be sensitive to the other’s needs and feelings.
He states that faithfulness is broken by an escalation of three types of “infidelity”:
- Mental infidelity – where we begin to think about what it would be like to be free from someone, free to be with someone else, and fantasising about how good that would be.
- Emotional and relational infidelity – where we invest our time and energy into someone besides our spouse in order to meet our personal needs – such as going out to lunch with another woman and sharing our thoughts and feelings with them.
- Sexual infidelity – is the culmination of these when unchecked…and so unfaithfulness is reached, and a marriage might be destroyed.
Can you see how this can apply to our worship relationship with God? When we become a Christian we make a firm commitment to worship Him as first in our lives. But as time goes by and the troubles and cares and temptations of this world begin to take their toll on us – plus a huge dollop of spiritual warfare – we are in danger of spiritual infidelity which might begin with the temptation of “why can’t I do what they do? It seems so much fun” (mental infidelity); and can then lead to dabbling in the ways of the world (emotional and relational infidelity); and, before you know it, we are doing things and saying things, and being with people who are just going to lead us astray from our worship relationship with God.
Remember the warning in Revelation 2: 4 to the church in Ephesus:
“Yet I hold this against you: you have forsaken the love you had at first”.
There is now no church in Ephesus. Unfaithfulness led to the end of the worship relationship.
UNDERSTANDING COMMITMENT AND FAITHFULNESS THROUGH THE BIBLE
Let’s revisit our “old friend” Solomon. For he is the Biblical example of mankind – and of me – of how commitment and faithfulness are different and yet go hand-in-hand. He shows so clearly how I so often am…
Solomon was the son of King David. At the beginning of his reign, we see his commitment to worship God with all his heart, all his soul and all his strength (the “Shema”). We see this worship relationship evidenced through the sacrifices that he made to God:
3 Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places. 4 The king went to Gibeon to offer sacrifices, for that was the most important high place, and Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. 5 At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, ‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you.’ (1 Kings 3: 3-5)
And with relationship ALWAYS being a two-way road, we see that God blesses Solomon for his commitment – He blesses him with the wisdom that Solomon asks Him for in order to rule the nation of Israel well (v 6-12), and, because of His love for Solomon, from His Grace He gives him so much more – riches and honour and a long life (v 13-14).
Solomon well-knew the importance of commitment. In 1 Kings 8: 61 he prays to God for all the people and declares:
“may your hearts be fully committed to the Lord our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands, as at this time.”
The Hebrew word used here for “committed” is “salem” – an adjective suggesting a relationship with God which is “whole” or “undivided” – hearts that are wholly centred on God. It is, as I am sure you all recognise, the same word as the noun “salem” which means “peace” and thus implies that our commitment to God will bring us into the Peace of God…which I certainly want!
With everything Solomon could ever want, and wisdom that surpassed all who went before and all who have come after, we are shocked to read that he threw it all away and became unfaithful to God towards the end of his life:
4 As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. 5 He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. 6 So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done.
9 The Lord became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. 10 Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the Lord’s command. 11 So the Lord said to Solomon, ‘Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. (1 Kings 11: 4-6, 9-11)
How on earth did this happen!
He “took his eye off the ball”. He got enticed away by other people and other things. He didn’t stay focused on his commitment but rather allowed himself to simply drift away. Did he reject God? No. Did he stop worshipping God? No. But he allowed other things to become more important. God was no longer first in his life – other things had taken God’s place. He looked elsewhere for love (other women), security (alliances with other nations rather than with God), and wealth (through gold rather than God). His worship relationship was broken by unfaithfulness.
And the consequences of his unfaithfulness? The kingdom of Israel was ripped apart after his death. You know, it is the same in marriage. A wife might forgive her husband for unfaithfulness with another woman, but the relationship will never be the same – “I love you, but I can never trust you again”.
How easy it is for me to simply drift away from my commitment to God. How easy it is for my eyes to turn from God to other things. How easy it is for me to no longer be faithful to my God. How about you?
THE CHALLENGE: WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH THIS MESSAGE?
What am I going to do with this truth – that I am so often unfaithful to God, despite the commitment that I have made?
Well…here is the Good News – that God is faithful when I am unfaithful! 2 Timothy 2: 13 tells us –
“if we are faithless, He remains faithful”
How I DON’T deserve God’s faithfulness! And so WHAT AM I GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?
What is the message that the LORD wants to give to you today?
Return to me. Be fully committed. Be faithful. As we are told in Nehemiah 1: 8-9
“If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, 9 but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.”
Be committed. Be faithful in your worship relationship with Him and then, as David declares in Psalm 37: 4-6
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him and he will do this:
6 he will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
your vindication like the noonday sun.
Marriage experts, like Dr Bill Strom, say that we must ensure that we remain faithful by putting “relational guards” in place. In seeking spiritual faithfulness these take three forms:
- Be aware: be alert to the dangers of the spiritual warfare that we are in. The devil wants to deceive us, distract us, divert us from God and destroy our faithfulness. Put on the whole armour of God daily. Pray the Lord’s Prayer with conviction – “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”.
- Be accountable: be open to support and strengthening from one another – be honest with those who you spiritually trust.
- Be willing: to confess (to God and one another) spiritual infidelity and be willing to repent.
So, ask yourself this question: “Am I fully committed to the LORD today? Am I faithful in my worship relationship with Him? If not, then am I willing to repent – right now – and make a fresh start from this day onward and to put behind me all those things – those false ‘gods’ that often take His place in my life?” The message is “repent and return to me”.
Let your worship be one of commitment and faithfulness and He WILL give you the desires of your heart…not pleasures which fade or riches that disappear, but the JOY of the presence of the LORD, the PEACE that comes with knowing Him, the LOVE that emanates from Him and the sure and certain HOPE of Eternal Life.
To finish, let me tell the testimony of an Australian Christian named Christine Caine who in her book “How did I get here?” tells of how she had got to a point, after 30 years of service, in her very busy and successful life when she realised that she felt quite simply that “I don’t want to do this anymore” – not that she wanted to give up on her commitment to God, but that she had got to a place of weariness in her faithful service to God that she just wanted to step back and take it easy. She even fantasised about leaving it all behind and buying a taverna in the Greek islands – justifying it with a “I can still tell people there about Jesus”. And then she was reminded of a time in her youth in Australia when her dad would take her and her siblings to the beach and put a big bright beach towel on one end and a big bright beach umbrella at the other end. And he would say to his children – “beware of the undercurrent when you go out to swim. It is so strong and yet you won’t even know it is there and before you know it you will have been pulled out to sea. Unless you keep your eyes on the markers you will drift far away and be lost” And then she added “if you do nothing then you will drift away”. Learn the lesson of Solomon. Keep your eyes on the markers – of your commitment to God, of the guidance of His Word – and if you see that you are beginning to drift away from your faithfulness to Him then turn back round (repent) and swim hard back to shore and to safety in Him – for He remains faithful when we begin to drift into unfaithfulness. Thank God!
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
- What did you take away from this session?
- Are you aware of “undercurrents” in your life that could make you “drift out to sea” and away from your commitment to God?
- Read the small book of Ezra (it’s only 10 chapters long) which is a picture of:
- Our faithful God – who loves us, speaks into the heart of Cyrus, and brings His people back to the Promised Land.
- A call to a worship relationship with God – evidenced in the rebuilding of the Temple so there could be an intimate committed relationship with Him.
- Whereas God was faithful, the people were unfaithful (stated in chapter 9) – they married foreign women who would lead them into “detestable practices”.
- Repentance, with many tears, and a physical putting-away of their foreign wives in order to return to faithfulness.
- Why not carry on your own personal study of the different ways we can “Praise” Him.