Today’s Bible Reading:

2 Chronicles 5:1-6:11
1 John 4
Nahum 3
Luke 19

Today’s Bible Verse(s):

Luke 19:45-46 (CSB): “He went into the temple and began to throw out those who were selling, and he said, ‘It is written, my house will be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves!’”

Reflections on Today’s Bible Verse(s):

When you were a child, you may have had a parent or teacher look you in the eye and say something like: “You hear me but you aren’t listening.”

Hearing and listening are generally defined the same way but when they are put together in a sentence like that, they point to two different things.

  • Hearing is defined as recognizing the sound waves of someone’s voice.
  • Listening is processing those sound waves, understanding what they mean, and responding accordingly.

Hearing but not listening is a problem that has been around for millennia. Jesus was dealing with it 2,000 years ago. People were reading God’s Word (hearing) but not really paying enough attention (listening) to what God was really saying.

So, He had to correct them:

Matthew 5:21-22 (CSB): “You have heard that it was said to our ancestors … But I tell you …”
Matthew 5:27-28 (CSB): “You have heard that it was said … But I tell you …”
Matthew 5:31-32 (CSB): “It was also said … But I tell you …”
Matthew 5:33-34 (CSB): “Again, you have heard that it was said to our ancestors … But I tell you …”
Matthew 5:38-39 (CSB): “You have heard that it was said … But I tell you …”
Matthew 5:43-44 (CSB): “You have heard that it was said … But I tell you … “

If we are honest with ourselves, we would realize that we are often guilty of the same thing. We hear but don’t listen.

For instance, when 1 Timothy 3:2 says that elders are to be “the husband of one wife,” we hear those words and think that it simply means “an elder cannot be divorced.”

But, if we really listen to those words, informed by the rest of Scripture, we realize those words mean so much more than that. It addresses a pattern of life that includes adultery, or lustful eyes, or simply failing to sacrificially love and honor one’s wife. Limiting that passage to divorce grossly underestimates what God has called pastors (and the rest of us) to.

There are many other places in Scripture where so many Christians hear what it is saying … but fail to listen to what God is truly saying.

… which brings us to our Verses for Today.

Luke 19:45-46 (CSB): “He went into the temple and began to throw out those who were selling, and he said, ‘It is written, my house will be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves!’”

I have heard Luke 19:45-46 used to forbid purchasing something if it is in a church worship center. When a Gospel quartet shows up to sing, some people make certain that the purchasing will happen anywhere except the sanctuary even though every pew, every songbook, everything in the sanctuary was purchased. Why do people hold to the view of supposedly not purchasing anything in the sanctuary? Because they believe that the words that Jesus spoke in Luke 19:45-46 prohibit the exchange of money and goods in the place of worship.

That is not what Jesus was saying. We are hearing but we aren’t listening.

When we look back at the context in which Jesus said those words, we realize that Jesus was in the Jerusalem Temple complex. This was the holiest place on planet earth at that time. It is where God’s people showed up to worship Him and where sins were atoned for.

So, the atmosphere should have matched the occasion. There should have been sufficient silence for those who were grieving over their sin. There should have been boisterous, exuberant joy and happiness for those who experienced God and received the forgiveness of their sins.

Anything that would distract from focusing on the Lord and experiencing the benefits of that encounter had no place in the area set aside for worship. Anything that would distract from worship needed to go.

Some might say that the exchange of money distracts from worship. I disagree. Shouldn’t a believer worship our God at all times? Doesn’t verse like Psalm 113:3 and 1 Corinthians 10:31 call us to worship our God all day long in everything we do? Doesn’t that mean that we should worship the Lord while we are working for our paycheck? Doesn’t it mean that we should be in a attitude of worship when we get that paycheck? Shouldn’t our attitude of worship also include those times when we visit the store and spend some of our money? Earning and spending money is definitely included in what should be done with an attitude of worship. So, I don’t believe the commerce in the Temple is what Jesus was necessarily forbidding.

When Jesus stepped into the Temple area, He saw chaos. He saw animals and smelled excrement. He saw worshipers showing up to purchase a sacrificial animal only to end up arguing over the exorbitant prices. He saw worshipers entering the place of worship, angry over how much they had to pay for their sacrificial animal. “It was highway robbery!”

The result was that the very place where God was to be worshiped and enjoyed had so many things that would work against a worshipful attitude. It was absolutely impossible to experience the Lord and serve Him with gladness. Heartfelt worship was impossible.

That’s why Jesus chased the distractions out of the Temple area with a whip.

John 2:15 (CSB): “After making a whip out of cords, he drove everyone out of the temple with their sheep and oxen. He also poured out the money changers’ coins and overturned the tables.”

Friend, it would be easy to stand in judgment of those folks who allowed an environment to be created that distracted from worship … but we often do the same thing. In those times that are set apart for us to worship and enjoy our God, we have allowed so many distractions that we really can’t get into the attitude of worship.

So, let me end with some things for you to think about:

In Your Personal Quiet Time

You really need to have a specific time each day of the week when you are with the Lord in prayer and in the Word. Just like you need food to survive and thrive, you also need God’s Word to provide you with spiritual nourishment.

My friend, it should be a time of worship so and to cultivate that atmosphere you need to get rid of some of the distractions:

  • Find a quiet place and time. Maybe get up early or stay up late so that no one will interrupt you. You might need to find a quiet room. Maybe you could turn on some soothing music or white noise to drown out the distraction noises around you. Just try to create a ‘bubble’ so that you can focus on the Lord.
  • Turn off (or get away from) any technology that would cry out for your attention. E-mail, text messages, and breaking news notifications are the worst.
  • You may struggle with thoughts that barge into your mind reminding you of things you need to do that day. Simply write those things down on a piece of paper so you can look at them later … then get back to worshiping.

In Your Corporate Worship Gatherings

When we gather for worship, specifically on Sunday mornings, we need to make sure that nothing in our worship service distracts us from worshiping our Lord. If it does, then it needs to go. Jesus would chase it out with a whip.

  • Sometimes the flow of service can, itself, be distracting. Just as the building in which the worship service takes place wasn’t haphazardly put together, neither should the order of service be whimsically thrown together. The staff needs to prayerfully come up with an order of worship that provides the maximum opportunity for worshipers to experience God.
  • Sometimes the worship service can be cluttered with events that distract from worship. Announcements, if not done properly, can distract from worship. Other activities, intended to appease a select group in the congregation, can rob God of the worship He deserves. The church leadership needs to look over everything that happens during times of corporate worship, one item at a time, and ask: “Is this drawing our attention to Jesus or does it temporarily take our eyes off of Jesus?” If it distracts, get rid of it or adjust it.
  • Sometimes people who are gifted in speaking, singing, or playing an instrument end up on the platform. But, they don’t have a heart for worship. If their true intentions were known, it would become apparent that they are ‘performing’ for their own glory, not God’s. The church leadership needs to be so careful who they allow to be on the platform during the worship service so as not to distract from true worship.
  • We are also responsible for our own hearts. We are told that if we show up to worship but realize that we have wronged someone and we have not tried to make it right, we had better go try to resolve the matter before engaging in worship (Matthew 5:23-24). If not, God will not be pleased with our worship.
  • I particularly get flustered when people leave during the invitation. God may be moving in someone’s heart … and then they are distracted by someone who values getting to the restaurant a minute or two earlier. Please don’t leave during the time of invitation. Stay and pray.

On and on I could go about how to cultivate an atmosphere in our worship services that allows for as few distractions as possible. I’ve been in mega-churches that had television programs – and the cameramen were very distracting. I’ve been in places where worship was hard because the area of town was completely unsafe, the sun had set, and there were no persons who were providing security. On and on I could go – but you get the idea.

If it takes away from worshiping our wonderful Lord, chase it out (metaphorically speaking) with a whip.

John 2:14-16 (CSB): “In the temple he found people selling oxen, sheep, and doves, and he also found the money changers sitting there. After making a whip out of cords, he drove everyone out of the temple with their sheep and oxen. He also poured out the money changers’ coins and overturned the tables. He told those who were selling doves, ‘Get these things out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!’”

* * * * * * * * * *

Lord Jesus, You demonstrated in the Temple that day that our Heavenly Father desires and deserved our heart-felt worship. If anything would undermine our ability to enjoy our great God, then it needs to be chased out with a whip. Help me to focus not only on how I prepare for worship in church but how I can develop an attitude of worship throughout the moments of my week. You are worthy of that. I pray this in Your Name. Amen.

Photo by Ron Fung on Unsplash