The four living creatures, whose body-covering eyes are fixed constantly upon God, praise him for who he is. The twenty-four knee-bending, crown-casting elders—Israel’s patriarchs and the church’s apostles—praise him for what he does. They lift their voices with the words of this song:
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power;
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created” (Rev. 4:11).
The English word “worthy” translates the Greek term axios. Taken with the phrase, “our Lord and God,” it is thoroughly political language. Robert H. Mounce comments, “‘You are worthy’ greeted the entrance of the emperor in triumphal procession, and ‘our Lord and God’ was introduced into the cult of emperor worship by Domitian.”[i] So, when the first-century Christians ascribed glory, honor, and power to God, they were not simply talking theology. They were doing politics. By explicitly declaring God’s worthiness, they were implicitly denouncing Caesar’s pretensions.
In the long life of the church, unfortunately, Christians often have been tempted to separate the spiritual from the mundane. The worthiness of God forces us to stare down, resist, and overcome this temptation. We cannot proclaim that God is axios inside the church building and then pretend that he is not when we are outside it. Worship requires integrity. We must give glory, honor, and power to God not only in the weekly liturgy but also in all of our works. “I appeal to you, brothers,” Paul writes, “by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:2).
In saying this, by the way, I am not advocating the intermingling of the institutions of church and state. The First Amendment is a good idea, both politically and spiritually. Theocratic states, after all, are rarely free, and political churches are never redemptive. What I am advocating is an angle of vision, a way of seeing all of life sub specie eternitatis, under the aspect of heaven. Worship, which is nothing but the worthiness of God proclaimed in our songs and embodied in our actions, helps us see thing aright and value them properly.
The great problem in life, of course, is that our values are skewed. Domitian, for instance, a mere mortal, thought he was the immortal Lord and God. Everywhere, the Scriptures proclaim that God alone is worthy of our praise. Why? Because he made us. The elders sing, “you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” The first sin, the one that kills us, is the worship of creature rather than Creator (Rom. 1:21–23). So, if you want to value creation properly, value the Creator above all else. If you love the art, love the Artist more.
Worship, then, is axiology, the assignment of value or worthiness. When we give ultimate value to God, the rest of our lives—politics included—falls into proper order.
[i] Mounce, Revelation, 127.