Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Images and the Regulative Principle of Worship

Q. 51: What is forbidden in the second commandment?

Answer: The second commandment forbiddeth the worshipping of God by images, or any other way not appointed in his Word.

Q. 52: What are the reasons annexed to the second commandment?
Answer: The reasons annexed to the second commandment are, God's sovereignty over us, his propriety in us, and the zeal he hath to his own worship. (WSC)

The second commandment does not forbid the making of images in general (e.g. Ex. 26:1), as I explain in more depth in this lesson. It forbids the making of images to worship them or to worship God through them. “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing … Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them” (Ex. 20:4-5). We must not direct our worship to images or bow to them. We must not make or set up images for that purpose. This prohibition applies not only to the idol worship we find in pagan religions, but also to those acts of veneration directed towards images which are promoted in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. In part, this prohibition exists because we worship a living God, who is active and who directs us, not a dead image (Ps. 135). God would have us to rise above physical objects, to direct our worship to him directly, to set our minds on things above, and to heed and respond to his word (Deut. 4:15-24, Col. 3:1-4).

Furthermore, God would have us worship him as he has appointed in his word. God decides and reveals what is pleasing to him. For us to decide this on our own is presumption. Nadab and Abihu were consumed by fire for offering “unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them” (Lev. 10:1). God rebuked those who practiced child sacrifice not only because they shed innocent blood, but also because he had not commanded or decreed it (Jer. 19:5). In Colossians 2:18-23, the apostle Paul condemns “self-made religion.” As the Westminster Confession of Faith summarizes,
“the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture” (WCF 21.1)
The second commandment also contains several reasons to obey it. First, God's sovereignty over us, “for I the LORD.” Only he has the authority to appoint his worship. Second, his propriety in us, that is, his right of possession of us, “thy God.” We belong to him and ought not stray from his appointed worship. Third, the zeal which he has for his own worship, “am a jealous God.” He is jealous for the devotion of his people. He is also zealous for his honor and glory and will not allow his name to be despised forever. “For I am a great King, says the LORD of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations” (Mal. 1:14).

Friday, February 18, 2022

Self-Controlled, Upright, and Godly Lives

"For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age..." (Titus 2:11–12, ESV) 

What does it mean to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age? 

Self-controlled (σωφρόνως). This word refers to soundness of mind and judgment.

This word was one of the classical virtues, often translated as temperance or moderation. Unlike the “temperance” movement, it is not defined by abstinence, but by propriety, doing what is proper and properly using things rather than abusing them.

For example, moderation is shown with respect to things like food, drink, clothing, recreation, and sleep by using them as they ought to be used, in accordance with their purposes, as is proper and good.

And not only does moderation involve choosing the middle way between too much and too little, but it is the state of mind that allows you to make such a choice. Rather than being led away by worldly passions, by sloth or gluttony or rage or lust, a temperate person is able to do what is fitting and good and wise.

Upright (δικαίως). This refers to being righteous and just, obeying the moral law and fulfilling your obligations to others. As Jesus said, “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12).

It is more than not harming your neighbor. It also involves loving your neighbor as yourself. It means fulfilling the duties of your callings.

This includes being honest and faithful, not defrauding anyone. It means being steadfast in promises and agreements, following through on your commitments.

Godly (εὐσεβῶς). More precisely, this word refers to being pious, that is, reverent, devoted, and dutiful before God.

Today the word “pious” can call to mind the image of someone who places all their religion in private devotions or someone who is a self-righteous prig. But it is a good word, and more precise than “godly.” Piety is a union of grateful love and reverent fear that produces dutiful devotion. True piety is born of faith, for by faith we learn gratitude and reverence, beholding the grace and majesty of God.

A popular example of piety in the ancient world was Aeneas, the hero of the Aeneid, the legendary founder of Rome. In that story, he overcame his passions and the passions of others, such as Juno and her storms, the lust of Dido, the wives of his men who sought to burn the ships, and hostile forces and civil discord in Italy. How did he overcome passion? With piety, showing devotion to the gods and his father, especially by embracing the duty they gave him of founding Rome.

A biblical example of someone known as a pious man is Cornelius, the Roman centurion (Acts 10). His piety is described: he feared God, he prayed diligently, gave alms, attended to God’s word, was dutiful in his calling, and led his household in God’s ways.

Moderation, Justice, and Piety
These are complimentary virtues, an apt description of the Christian life:

Moderation especially regards your own things, justice especially regards your neighbor’s things, and piety especially regards God’s things, although all three regard all three areas.

From piety flows justice and moderation. A pious attitude, gratitude and reverence, leads to contentment with your own things and diligence about your duties.

Without moderation, you are led astray. Without piety, your good deeds are profane. Without justice, your piety is hypocritical.

The grace of God is a good teacher, and it trains evil beasts and lazy gluttons (Titus 1:12) to live virtuous lives, in moderation, justice, and piety.

Worship by the Book

Q. 49: Which is the second commandment?
Answer: The second commandment is, Thou shalt not make unto thee any 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: thou shalt not bow down thy self to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

Q. 50: What is required in the second commandment?
Answer: The second commandment requireth the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath appointed in his Word. (WSC)

The first commandment deals primarily with who we worship. The second commandment deals primarily with how we worship. The two things are certainly connected. Notice in the commandment how the worship of images provokes God to jealousy. God would have us worship him as he truly is, not according to human imaginations.

The second commandment explicitly prohibits us from giving veneration to images. Worship ought not to be done in that manner. What then should we do? The positive duty implied is that we should worship God in the way he has taught us in his word. Both at Mount Sinai and in the apostasy of the northern tribes, the contrast was between God’s appointed ordinances and worship of man’s own devising. At Sinai, the people did not wait for God’s instructions on how to worship but devised golden calves for the worship of the Lord (Exodus 32). Jeroboam did not want the people worshipping according to the Lord’s instructions at Jerusalem and so he came up with his own places, objects, priests, and days of worship (1 Kings 12:25-33). We honor or despise God when we honor or despise his appointed worship and ordinances (Mal. 1:6-7).

As in the old covenant, so in the new covenant God has appointed his worship and ordinances for us to keep and observe. Christ has appointed the ministry of the word, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, prayer and singing, the communion of saints, and the Lord’s Day (Acts 2:41-42, 20:7). The early church set a good example by diligently observing these things (Acts 2:42, 6:4, 1 Tim. 4:13), and the writers of the New Testament exhorted the church to keep them pure and entire (1 Tim. 3:15, 1 Cor. 11:17-34, Col. 2:6-23). 

Saturday, February 12, 2022

The Sins of Impiety and Idolatry

Q. 47: What is forbidden in the first commandment?
Answer: The first commandment forbiddeth the denying, or not worshipping and glorifying the true God as God, and our God; and the giving of that worship and glory to any other, which is due to him alone.

Q. 48: What are we specially taught by these words, 'before me', in the first commandment?
Answer: These words, before me, in the first commandment teach us, that God, who seeth all things, taketh notice of, and is much displeased with, the sin of having any other God. (WSC)

As we saw in question 46 of the catechism, the first commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” implies a positive duty to know, acknowledge, and worship God as the only true God and our God. Question 47 explains what the commandment forbids.

The first commandment forbids the denying of the true God. Some deny that the God of the Bible is the true God. Others deny the existence of any god. Others deny the relevance of God - perhaps he exists, but he doesn’t interact with his creation. Some people openly confess this denial of his relevance, such as deists and agnostics. Others hide this in their heart and disregard God in the life they live. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Ps. 14:1). All of these forms of denying God are forbidden, as they do not give God due recognition.

The first commandment forbids not worshipping and glorifying him as the true God, and our God. As Paul says in Romans 1:18-21, God is known to all through his creation, but many refuse to honor him as God or give thanks to him. This impiety provokes the wrath of God. All men everywhere are commanded to turn to him (Acts 17:30), and God’s covenant people in particular must not omit the worship and submission that is due him as their God (Ps. 81:10-11, Deut. 32:15, 18).

The first commandment also forbids giving the worship and glory which is due to God to any other. One must not give a creature the worship and service that is due the Creator (Rom. 1:25). His covenant people in particular are bound to worship him alone. For us to worship another god is treachery, spiritual adultery (Jer. 2-3, Hosea 1-3). The fifth commandment will deal with the honor and reverence due to other creatures (Rom. 13:7), but religious worship is to be given to God alone (Matt. 4:10). No created or imagined person or thing should be treated as God. “No one can serve two masters ... You cannot serve God and money" (Matt. 6:24).

The words “before me” remind us that we live in God’s presence and that he notices and is very displeased with spiritual treachery. He does not tolerate rivals. He is not like any other. He alone is God. He is the source of every blessing and our salvation. May we therefore worship and follow him as the only true God and our only God.

Thursday, February 3, 2022

The First Commandment: No Other Gods

Q. 45: Which is the first commandment?
Answer: The first commandment is, Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Q. 46: What is required in the first commandment?
Answer: The first commandment requireth us to know and acknowledge God to be the only true God, and our God; and to worship and glorify him accordingly. (WSC)

In my previous post on the catechism, we examined the preface to the Ten Commandments. While the preface introduces all the commandments, it has a particular relevance for the first commandment. Because God is the Lord and our God and Redeemer, we ought to know and acknowledge him as such, worship him accordingly, and to have no other gods.

The commandment, by forbidding us to have any other gods, implies that we have a duty to have the Lord as our God. And to have him as our God includes knowing him, confessing him, and glorifying him. How do we know him? We know him through the order of nature, but especially and more clearly through his written word, as we receive it with faith. It is through the gospel that we know him as our God. Furthermore, we ought to publicly acknowledge him to be the true God and our God by a confession of our faith and obedience (Deut. 26:17) and by worshipping and glorifying him as such (Ps. 50:14-15, 96:7-9).

One such confession of faith can be found in Deuteronomy 6:4, “The LORD is our God, the LORD is one.” Because we have only one God, the LORD, who is one, he deserves our complete and undivided devotion (Deut. 6:5) and his words ought to be on our hearts, in our mouths, on our hands, between our eyes, and on our doorposts and gates (Deut. 6:6-9). In other words, our whole life should be directed by his word unto his glory.