He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us (Acts 17:26-27).
In my previous articles I discussed the object of worship (God); the prerequisites for worship (faith, reconciliation, sincerity, and moral reformation); and the elements of worship (the fear of God, thanksgiving, praise, singing and service).
The topic before us now is the duty or responsibility of worship. Logically one must know something about what worship is before the matter of accountability is introduced.
Paul’s visit to Athens provides the background for this study. Athens! — fabled home of Greek philosophy, literature, architecture and culture. One can only imagine what thoughts must have surged through the Apostle’s mind as he strolled through the streets of that place.
Mars Hill lay just below the magnificent Parthenon — elevated above the city and shining in the bright sunlight. There, Paul would have an opportunity to press upon the gathered throng their duty to the true God.
On his way to the Acropolis Paul took special interest in a shrine to an ‘unknown God’, which stood out among all the other shrines and idols of various Greek gods. Clearly, the people of Athens wanted to be sure no deity was left out, so they built a monument to express their universal devotion to religion.
Imagine their astonishment when a Jewish preacher told them that this ‘unknown God’ was in fact the true one, and all the others were false! Paul’s dominant theme at Mars Hill was worship.
The duty of worship
The psalmist wrote, ‘Give unto the Lord, O you mighty ones, give unto the Lord glory and strength. Give unto the Lord the glory due to his name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness’ (Psalm 29:1-2).
Christianity teaches that there is only one true God, the holy Trinity whose glory and power are explained exclusively in the Bible. If this belief is true, then all rational beings (that is, all beings with intelligence, personality and the power to choose) should adore him.
There are two orders of rational beings — angels and human beings. And because God is their Creator, they are obliged to worship and praise him. In fact many of them do. ‘Praise him all his angels’, says the psalmist in a hymn of exultation (Psalm 148:2) and all the unfallen angels dutifully do this. The holy angels who have not sinned against their maker spend their endless days in worshipping and honouring the Lord.
This duty is universal
Paul’s message to the audience at Mars Hill makes it clear that all nations of men are obliged to give supreme praise to their Creator: ‘And he made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth … so that they should seek the Lord’ (Acts 17:26-27).
The God of the Christian church is not a tribal deity, nor one of many gods from which men may authentically choose. He is the only true God, and every being with a mind and soul should seek his face in submission and adoration.
Worship is man’s duty without distinction of race, culture, age, sex, or social status. Males, to whom God has given the crown of leadership in the home, should honour him — as should women who also are made in God’s image.
People in every phase of life owe to the Creator their entire devotion. The elderly, the middle-aged, youth and even children — all ought to love and yield themselves to God. Worship is a universal obligation.
Grounded in the nature of things
Paul’s visit to Athens confirmed what he already knew from his wider experience, namely, that human beings are inherently religious. All the altars that lined their streets spoke of the Athenians’ desire to reach out in reverence to the gods.
But Paul reminds them that God’s act of creation placed each of them in a position of duty to the one who made them. He begins with the idea of creation, as forming the root and source of man’s duty.
‘God, who made the world and everything in it, since he is Lord of heaven and earth … is not worshipped with men’s hands’ (vv. 24-25). As a trained Jewish scholar, Paul knew that when God placed man and woman on the earth he did so for the express purpose of honouring him as their rightful Lord and benefactor.
Paul’s admonition also touches on other aspects of God’s relationship to men. He spoke of God’s providence: ‘He gives to all life, breath, and all things’ and, ‘In him we live and move and have our being’ (vv. 25,28).
All the blessings that human beings enjoy come through God’s goodness. His sun shines on the earth with invigorating power; his rain waters the fields so that crops can grow for human sustenance. Indeed every good thing, whether physical or spiritual, comes from the hands of the good and gracious Creator.
Paul also grounds man’s obligation on racial unity. Unlike many teachers throughout history, Paul groups all human beings into a single category, making them all one regardless of colour or cast: ‘He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on the face of the earth’ (v. 26).
There is no room for racism here; no partiality, no discrimination based on national origin or the colour of one’s skin. The God of heaven is the God of all, whoever and wherever they are.
The Apostle even places predestination at the foundation of man’s duty to his Maker. He says, ‘[God] has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings’ (v. 26).
Human beings are not specks of dust blown by the winds of chance, nor are they masters of their own destiny, strictly speaking. They are under the control and supervision of God, who determines where they are born, how they live and what are the limitations of their practical existence. For Paul this is not fatalism or passivism but a summons to supreme praise and worship.
Master theologian as he was, Paul also spoke of God’s immanence. ‘God’, he declares, ‘is not far from each one of us’ (v. 27). Louis Berkhof writes, ‘Immensity points to the fact that God transcends all space; omnipresence denotes that he fills every part of space. The former emphasizes transcendence and the latter the immanence of God’.
Because God is near, filling the entire universe and dwelling fully in each place, all his intelligent creatures should give him glory.
Paul ends his discourse, and his exposition of man’s duty, by affirming that God will be the final judge of all men. ‘He has appointed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom he has ordained’ (v. 31).
Man’s time of probation and trial will finally end when all will be arraigned before him at the judgement. All, saved and lost alike, will stand before Christ to give an account of the lives they have lived.
Paul’s hearers mocked when, at the close of his message, he promised that all will be raised from the dead. The idea of resurrection was embodied in his own Jewish tradition but unknown to the shrewdest of the great Greek philosophers.
Nevertheless, Paul’s bold and powerful message met with some success: ‘Some men joined him and believed’ (v. 34).
In a few hearts the message came not in word only but in the power and demonstration of the Holy Spirit. Some not only accepted the reality of their duty, but received the gospel message and were converted.
As we look around us at the beginning of the twenty-first century, we can see much about the modern world that resembles ancient Athens. As then, people today are very religious but few either know or worship the true God.
As then, people are naturally curious about ultimate realities and are willing to listen to almost any ‘new thing’ no matter how absurd. As then, even when the gospel is preached faithfully and powerfully, those who accept it are in the minority.
But let us, like the great apostle to the Gentiles, be faithful and forthright in proclaiming the duty of all men to worship and serve the true and living God. Let us earnestly pray that, as at Mars Hill, some — and through God’s wonderful grace, many — will respond and believe to the saving of their souls.
Continued in Crucial elements of worship