My Resolution for 2022
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.” Romans 12:1.
Admittedly, I’m not into New Year resolutions. But the one thought that comes to mind at the start of each new year is this: Have I grown closer to Jesus with every succeeding year God has granted me this side of Heaven? Have I, as the Apostle Paul put it, offered my body as a living sacrifice, one holy and pleasing to God, as my true and proper worship unto Him? Can I offer to the Lord my worship on a more committed and consistent basis in 2022 than I did the year(s) before?
I spent January 2022 in the book of Genesis, pilgriming with the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob on their nomadic journeys and adventures, building altars and calling on the name of the Lord as they did, in my present-day figurative versions of Bethel, Shechem, Hebron, and Beersheba. God has some strict rules about the make and the use of the altars we build with which to honor Him. There’s an intriguing set of instructions furnished in Exodus 20 on this very point, which the Lord gave to the Israelites together with His commandments as they began their journey as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6):
The Right Altar
“Make an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle. Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you. If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it.” Exodus 20:24-25
The composition of the altar is crucially important. Whether one uses earth or stones as material, the altar is to be simple. According to Merriam-Webster, the word altar refers a raised place on which offerings and sacrifices are presented; indeed, the Latin altus (e.g., high, noble, profound) connotes a high and exalted altar. But there is a real risk, it seems to me, that such a conception may draw the attention of the would-be worshiper to the altar and/or its builder, rather than the God its users are meant to reverence.
In comparison, the Hebrew word for altar, mizbeach, which stems from the root verb zabach – meaning, to slay and offer an animal for sacrifice – emphasizes solely the notion of sacrifice. Altars for Yahweh are not meant to be ornate and elaborate but simple, so that reverence is reserved for God and Him alone. Indeed, since our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), that presumably means we are equally the altar as much as the sacrifice offered on it. All the more, therefore, that the altar must never draw attention to itself but to the One to whom offerings are duly rendered!
The Right Worship
“And do not go up to my altar on steps, or your private parts may be exposed.” Exodus 20:26.
Moreover, no display of flesh of the worshiper is permitted. I take this to mean no carnality is to be involved in worship, because God desires worshipers who worship Him in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24). The warning about the exposure of private parts may sound offensive to our sensibilities, but there seems to be a connection here: a high and exalted altar, perhaps even one built with dressed stones – here I’m reminded of Paul’s caveat against laying foundations other than Christ and building on it with materials that will stand the test of fire (1 Corinthians 3:11-13) – increases the prospect of our fleshly nature intruding into and contaminating our worship of God, whereas a humble altar arguably lessens it.
Having the Right Stuff
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” John 4:23-24
It’s not just New Year resolutions but the notion of life verses as well! How does one pick a life verse where everything in God’s word seems equally important?! But oh, if I must have one – and since all that we do, think, and say with this life God has given us is to offer Him our true and proper worship – then John 4:23-24 is probably it.
Regardless of the specific vocations God may call us to – was Amos a shepherd or a prophet, or both? (Amos 7:14-16) – or the specific locales at which we worship and serve – is it Gerazim or Jerusalem, or neither? (John 4:21) – we are called to worship in the Spirit and in truth. In his book Work in the Spirit (Wipf & Stock, 2001), the Croatian theologian Miroslav Volf argues that the concept of charisma serves as a better and more accurate frame of reference than that of vocation to understand work because it is our privilege to do the kind of work for which God’s Spirit has gifted us. And if our work is also our worship (Colossians 3:23-24), then it’s probably fair to say that God’s servants must work for the Lord in the Spirit and in truth, just as they worship Him.
Granted, there’s no getting away from our reliance on our bodies in the worship of God. A body fully surrendered as a living sacrifice to God in such a way that is holy and pleasing to Him is what truly matters.
by Seng Tan