Jesus Christ Superstar became a sensation in the 1970s as a rock musical. Tim Rice penned the lyrics, while Andrew Lloyd Webber composed the music for the album and play. It is believed that the creation of the musical was influenced by Bob Dylan’s cynical song, “With God on Our Side.”
In the musical, after encountering Jesus Christ, Mary Magdalene delivers a poignant performance of the haunting song, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.” Interestingly, she is not the only one who struggles with this dilemma!
How does one love and worship a God who not only gives life, but also provides everything necessary for a fulfilling existence?
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A Study in Loving God as He Intends
During their time in Egypt, the children of Israel were subjected to harsh servitude by Pharaoh and his people. To curb their population growth, Israelite baby boys were tragically put to death. The Israelites cried out for relief from their heavy workload and unbearable living conditions. Their cries reached the ears of their fathers’ God.
In response, God sent His servant Moses to lead them out of Egypt, after He had humbled and weakened the Egyptians through ten plagues. Eventually, the Egyptians begged the Israelites to leave and even showered them with gifts of gold and silver. God had heard the pleas of Israel and set them free, guiding them towards a bountiful land where freedom and prosperity awaited.
Naturally, the Israelites must have been overjoyed. It was only logical for them to express their love and gratitude towards this benevolent God and worship Him. However, they faced a dilemma. Egypt was a nation steeped in the worship of pagan gods, as evidenced by the plagues inflicted on them. Many Israelites had adopted the worship practices of their Egyptian neighbors, losing touch with the true worship of the God known by their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Furthermore, they found themselves surrounded by other nations who worshipped their gods in a similar fashion to the Egyptians. Should they emulate these nations’ practices to worship the Lord?
Recognizing the Israelites’ potential confusion, God inspired Moses to provide them with guidelines:
“Observe and obey all these words which I command you, that it may go well with you and your children after you forever, when you do what is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God. When the LORD your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’
“You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way; for every abomination to the LORD which He hates, they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods. Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it” (Deuteronomy 12:28-32).
It became clear that the Israelites could not simply choose any method of worship that pleased them and expect it to be acceptable to God. He intended to reveal to them the correct way to worship that would befit His glory and instruct them on the kind of people they should strive to become.
Do We Truly Know How to Worship God?
“I don’t know how to love Him!”
Perhaps this sentiment should be echoed by the entire world! Many people believe they know how to love God, but in reality, they do not know the way He desires.
How does one love God? How does one love a being who is a spirit, capable of creating anything, free from pain, and without needs that we can fulfill?
Christ warned that it is possible to worship God in vain. There have been and continue to be individuals who engage in completely useless and meaningless worship! When we comprehend that this magnificent and awe-inspiring God has granted us life and sustains our existence through the air we breathe, the food we consume, and the water we drink, how can we truly express our appreciation and love for Him?
At times, people reach a point in their lives where they recognize the need to establish or enhance their relationship with God. They may have never been religious before, and they may wonder, “How do I worship and display my love for God?” Similar to the ancient Israelites departing from Egypt, they might ask, “How did my parents or my churchgoing neighbors worship God? Is that the path I should follow?”
Christ cautioned that it is possible to worship God in vain. Some individuals worship God in ways that are completely useless and devoid of significance. He stated, “And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9).
God inspired the prophet Isaiah to describe those who mindlessly follow traditions without assessing their alignment with the teachings of the Bible. These individuals draw near to God with their mouths and honor Him with their lips but have distanced their hearts from Him. Their fear of Him is founded on the doctrines of men (Isaiah 29:13).
One might assume that as long as we worship God, the specific method does not carry much significance because God knows our hearts. We might believe that we can worship Him in our own way or in the same way as others, right? However, Jesus Christ declared, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
It is noteworthy that Jesus Christ consistently directed our attention to His Father. He instructed us to worship, obey, and love God the Father, giving Him preeminence and glory (John 14:28; 17:4). He instructed us to pray to the Father and prioritize our worship towards Him (Matthew 4:10; 6:9).
The Most Crucial Commandment
A lawyer once asked Jesus about the greatest commandment—the one that holds the utmost importance. Jesus responded, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38).
Simple, isn’t it? Well, yes and no! Love can be expressed in various ways. For instance, boys may sometimes playfully hit each other on the shoulder to indicate affection, but they understand that it would not be appropriate to do the same to girls, their mothers, or their pets.
In successful marriages, both men and women learn acceptable and unacceptable behaviors within the marital relationship.
Throughout history, people have tried countless methods to express their love for God. They have carved images, engaged in self-flagellation, dispatched armies to foreign lands to exterminate non-believers, and pursued numerous other actions.
Just as there are unacceptable and acceptable ways to express love within a marriage, there are similarly unacceptable and acceptable ways to demonstrate love for God. He has simplified matters by stating, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15).
It truly is as straightforward as that—obedience to God’s laws. If one desires a relationship with Him, it begins with obedience. If one seeks to be a friend of God, one must do what He commands. “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:14). As our Creator, He has every right to make such demands. He knows how life should be lived to cultivate the fruits of joy, peace, and happiness.
When a young man approached Jesus and asked what he needed to do to inherit eternal life, Jesus replied, “‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments'” (Matthew 19:17).
Undoubtedly, Jesus knew what He was talking about! The path leading to Jesus Christ and eternal life is constructed by the laws of God.
A Starting Point
Upon hearing the compelling sermons of John the Baptist, some individuals asked, “What shall we do then?” (Luke 3:10). We all have to begin somewhere, and obedience to God’s laws is a commendable starting point.
Read Psalm 119 to appreciate how much the psalmist valued God’s law. He came to see God’s Ten Commandments as guidelines for a fulfilling and purposeful life. These laws reflect God’s will and character. In fact, the apostle John declared that anyone who claims to know Christ yet disregards His law is deceiving themselves.
“He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:4-6).
The God who created us and granted us life has not left us without guidance. He has provided us with an instruction book detailing how to live, what to avoid, and how to fulfill His grand purpose for our existence. This book, the Holy Bible, will also serve as our guide on how to worship Him sincerely and in accordance with His truth. After all, He is deserving of our love and worship!
For further exploration of this topic, read the articles in the section “Who Is God?” 5 WS