Gravity and Gladness on Sunday Morning - Lesson 5

Worship Services and Preaching are Normative

Some elements of corporate worship make it possible to glorify God in a way that an individual worshipping privately cannot. Preaching should be expository exultation.

John Piper
Gravity and Gladness on Sunday Morning
Lesson 5
Watching Now
Worship Services and Preaching are Normative

Worship Services

I. Corporate Worship

II. Biblical Preaching

  • The aim of corporate worship is that God be seen, known, enjoyed as glorious. God supplies us the strength to do it. Jesus diverts attention from worship being in a specific location with outward forms to a personal, spiritual experience with himself at the center. Worship doesn't need a temple, but a risen savior.
  • So what Jesus has done is break decisively the necessary connection between worship and its outward and localized associations. Spirit refers to spirit given intensity and truth refers to thinking right thoughts about God. The root of our passion and thirst for God is God’s own infinite exuberance for God. The basis for my passion for God's glory is God's passion for God's glory. 

  • How is God's pursuit of his own glory loving? But if our enjoyment is incomplete until it comes to completion in praise, then God would not be loving if he was indifferent to our praise. When God commands us to praise something that is infinitely praiseworthy, it's the completion of our joy which can only be found in him.
  • The implications of the inward essence of worship focus on centering our corporate worship on connecting with God and experiencing joy as a result. When our whole life is consumed with pursuing satisfaction in God, everything we do highlights the value and worth of God. Which simply means that everything becomes worship.
  • Some elements of corporate worship make it possible to glorify God in a way that an individual worshipping privately cannot. Preaching should be expository exultation.
  • Eleven points of what unites us in worship. Ten practical preparations for hearing the Word of God on Sunday morning.

God pursues us. We should pursue him. The key is to get these in the right order and depend on the first for the second. In the New Testament is a stunning degree of indifference to worship as an outward form and emphasizes a radical intensification of worship as an inward experience of the heart. 

The booklet that Dr. Piper refers to is not available at this time. Most of the notes he refers to are in the notes that you can download under the Downloads heading.  

We are thankful for John Piper's willingness to share these lectures with us. They were originally given in 2008. Copyright 2008 by Desiring God Ministries. Used with Permission. For more information, please visit www.DesiringGod.org.

Gravity and Gladness on Sunday Morning

Dr. John Piper


Worship Services and Preaching are Normative

Lesson Transcript


The following message was recorded at an event hosted by Desiring God. More information about desiring God events, conferences and resources is available at W WW dot desiring God dot org. So what I'm going to do and. Try not to take too long on this, since I don't. It's the most difficult section from a historical standpoint and may be overly complicated. So I may move more quickly through it in the hope that you will simply take the pointers that I give and think on them for yourself. Because most of us are not on a crusade to abandon worship services and say they're not biblical. But I do feel some sense of. Urgency as a biblical person to ask why we have them. Why are there services? And for me as a person who gives my whole life to preaching, to know whether or not I'm doing something that the Bible considers to be right, indeed warranted and commanded is preaching to be as prominent in our services as it is, because from generation to generation there always rise up people. Usually it comes from people who are disillusioned from something that's gone wrong in church. But people rise up and say preaching is simply not for our day anymore. We need discussion, we need interaction, we need conversation. And so you get rid of pulpits and you put things in a circle and you just because preaching is just of another age. And is that the case? Did Calvin's quote that we quoted about it's amazing about the amazing flexibility and how you can change things from age to age. Does that mean sermons are good in some periods, in sermons aren't good in other periods? And so that's what this is for. And so let's let's go there.


For a little while. I got seven theses. Seven points. The first one is regular corporate seasons. Or services of worship. And here I'm going to define it like this corporate act of honoring God by the pursuit of satisfaction in God through these elements. Confession of sin toward God, because that expresses our contrition and brokenness that we have sought to satisfy our heart's desire somewhere besides God. In other words, if the essence of worship is being satisfied in God and we know we haven't been satisfied with God this week, it seems fitting that there be seasons in which we give corporate expression to our failure to be satisfied in God the way we should. That's what the confession of sin is. A third piece of these services would be supplication to God, expressing dependance on and longing for God. So prayers. We could sing those prayers. We could pray those prayers in a written way, read together. Somebody could do a pastoral prayer. But in the end, that event of coming together, we should say, corporately, we need you. You're the source of everything that we want. So we pray the Lord's Prayer and other kinds of prayers. We should thank him, give expression for God's glory and His gifts, and we should praise Him. Expressing delight, admiration, admiration toward God. So I'm arguing then. I'm just that's the thesis that regular corporate services of worship. Of corporate honoring God by the pursuit of satisfaction through confession, supplication. Thanks and praise are normative for local churches. There are at least four arguments for this claim. At least four kinds of support. Just look at those. There's a pattern of corporate worship in the Old Testament. Clear pattern. Temple was there. Sacrifices were there. Dozens and dozens of stipulations of how to do this.


How to approach God. And we may assume, well, that's a big assumption. We may assume the regular gatherings of the early Christians had similar elements, although the details of what was in the New Testament gatherings for worship are very sparse. This vagueness is, I believe, intentional on God's part so that the New Testament will be a very flexible missions book for all the churches. Not a prescription of form that would make cultural adaptation harder. So that argument goes like this. If you look at the way God worked with his people in the Old Testament, he had some pretty clear designs on how they should approach him. And when they came together, they did a certain kind of thing. Now you move on to the New Testament and you remember in the previous sessions we gave about four or five texts where shows Christians did come together. And so I'm assuming there would be specifics that they would pursue and they would draw from the Old Testament. But it's kept very, very flexible. So there are these gatherings, these forms, these approach things corporately to God, and it's left flexible, I think primarily for missionary reasons. This book is amazingly translatable. Sometimes we talk about the difficulties of translation from one language to another, and there are difficult. But just think of it. This is in hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of languages. And those languages generally reflect cultures that are dramatically different from our own. I mean, dramatically different from our own. What if this book said. When Christians come together, they should have organs. Or guitars. Or that there should be sound systems or pews or it has to be 11:00 on Sunday morning, or what if all that stuff were specified and there was cultures where it totally is impossible, totally wouldn't work.


And God means for this message to get to every people group on the planet. And when it comes, glorious truths come. But very few specifics about how to do worship services. Very few. Which means. Missionaries are free. They're free to study the culture and study their Bibles and then develop something that seems appropriately indigenous, musically and aurally and structurally and relationally, and and then go hard after God in it and cultivate satisfaction in God. And I just think it's glorious. And I think that's why there is so little there in the New Testament. So but the point there was that since there was concrete ways of doing it in the Old Testament and they are coming together in the new, we may assume there were some kinds of structured services that happened in the early church. Second kind of argument we have seen from these texts that I gave that the early church gathered for corporate meetings, even if we're not told in detail what they did there. Third, we have seen already in this course that God's aim in the universe is to be known and enjoyed by His creatures, and thus to be shown more glorious than any other reality. And here's an argument. Corporate worship is one essential way that God designs for this display of His glory to be expressed in the world and in anticipation of the final perfect worship in the age to come. Book of Revelation shows us worshiping corporately there. And I'm arguing here that since God's aim in the universe is to be known and enjoyed by His creatures and to be shown to be glorious, one way is corporate togetherness for the display of and enjoyment of that glory. I'm arguing that if there were no such thing as corporate gatherings for worship and you all just did private worship.


God would not be glorified as fully as He intends to be. He intends to be glorified more publicly, more fully, in ways besides the intense enjoyment you have in him when you sing to him or pray to him, or confess to him or thank him, praise him in your private room. He's a public god and therefore corporate ness is huge to God. And they're going to get to this me say it here and when I get to it, I'll just skip it if I do. There's a reason for that. Why the getting together adds to the glory that God gets than just private. And one of the reasons is it's hard to do unified corporate worship. And if you can overcome all the diversity Now, there's in one sense, there's huge diversity in this room because you're also different. And one senses little diversity in this room ethnically or language wise or culturally. But just take this diversity for us to meet on a common ground, sing songs together, pray prayers together. Here, preaching together. It's hard because you're not going to like some of the songs and you're not going to like some of the things that Bridges says. And just being you makes you want to do it your way and go somewhere else. If we could pull off a sweet tender. Unity in corporate praise and confession. And thanks God would get more glory than if we all fragmented into our private rooms. A second way to say it is. When there's a choir that sings unison, it can make a magnificent, loud, powerful sound to the glory of God. But when they break into parts. Something else happens. Hard to describe what it is. I try sometimes to sing a part.


I've only learned a few hymns with parts. I'm not a singer. But I love it when I'm in a little prayer meeting or a big prayer meeting, and the person next to me, like Amy Anderson or Ed Catterson. Suddenly I'm singing bass and they hit another note that if I try, it sounds like I'm off key. When they do it, it doesn't sound like they're off key. It sounds like beauty. A different beauty. A more beauty. I mean, unison is good and that's good. And what I'm saying is corporate ness is the more it's the more of the reflection of God's glory, not only at the musical level, but at all kinds of levels. So that is an argument from the purpose of God to be glorified. Fully implies corporate ness getting together to praise Him. Here's the fourth one. Corporate unified confession Supplication. Thanks. Praise displays more. I said it was coming. So there it is. So I already jumped ahead and did number number four. Okay, here's thesis number two. In these corporate services. Confession supplication. Thanks and praise will honor God in proportion to the intensity and authenticity of the affections responding to the truth of God and His ways. There is such a thing as hypocrisy. We go through the motions without the heart and mere form of godliness. They are deadly and no honor to God. Here's an implication. Oops, I just laid that out. That's a thesis that's going to be built on. So my point there is. Thanks. Honor God in proportion to the intensity and authenticity of the affections that is going to dictate, I think, some things that we do. If that's true, that the affections must be real in order for this service together to be real, it's going to imply some things.


Number three. In the real world of ordinary Christians, the pursuit of satisfaction in God through confession. Supplication. Thanks. Praise does not usually arise in the hearts of God's people without being stirred up. In some way when they come together. So following from thesis three two, I'm drawing out the fact that that intensity, that authenticity of heart affection for God generally is not brought into the service to the degree that we would like it to be here. That is, the average Christian does not come to a worship service filled with joy in God and ready to overflow. Be wonderful. The more, the more that come that way, the more remarkable things might be. There are at least three reasons for this. Our own remaining corruption and sin. God designed for us to live on the portrayal of Christ in the Word of God in a continual way. In other words, He doesn't ordain that we have a sustained fever pitch affection for him without reference to the influence of the Word of God. And therefore there's this rhythm of emotions go. Word comes. Emotions rise. Word comes. Emotions rise. In other words, in this world it is normal to go backward without continual exposure to the Word of God. Awakening in us to spiritual affections. God deserves from us. God also decides that some of this continual exposure to Christ in the Word of God be provided by leaders in the church whose calling it is to make truth known to the people and to be examples of God word affection for them. Thus, it is not only a sign of weakness, but of God's will that the spiritual life of a people depend in some measure on the regular gathering for exposure to these leaders feeding.


Of the flock on the Word of God. And that might be the musical dimension we feeding through the lyrics, prayer dimension, feeding through the words, because the Bible says, How can you say amen to a prayer if you don't understand it? Meaning you're supposed to hear another person's prayer and join them in it and go to God with it. And it would obviously involve preaching. That's what preaching is for. So I'm arguing this is ordained in the New Testament. Leaders are there in the New Testament, and they're there because some of the influence that God ordained to stir up the hearts of his people is to come from them. This number four, therefore essential to a corporate season of confession supplication, thanks and praise, is a fresh declaration of truth about God and a fresh demonstration of affection for God. See, I'm among the way to defend preaching. That's where I'm going. This is a case being built for services gathered around with the Word of God and the preaching of God as essential to them. This is true not only because ordinary Christians need to be exposed to truth and awakened afresh to its value in order to respond authentically, but also because the Declaration of God's truth and the demonstration of its value with appropriate affections is worship. That is, it displays the value of God in there. It shows he is worth knowing and proclaiming and feeling strongly about. Thus, it would be misleading to think of the Declaration of God's truth and the demonstration of affection for God is preparation for worship. It does awaken worship, but it is worship and should always be seen that way. Now, must we try to put that in my own words? Because this is my life.


We're talking about preaching here. I think we don't. We're free from this at best for him. But it took some years. We used to say I inherited the language. We worship for 30 minutes. And then there's preaching. That's not right. We worship for 75 minutes. Including preaching. And if I'm not worshiping in preaching, it's not preaching. My two word description of preaching is expository. Exaltation. E. X. U. L. T. I don't mean exaltation, I mean exaltation. Expository implies this book better be open. And the truth coming out of my mouth. Better accord with this book. It better be expository. Leading out from this book preaching that is not rooted here, saturated with this, governed by this, shaped by this communicating. This isn't preaching. And the word exaltation means I, as a preacher, better see what's in this book and what I say as magnificent and worthy of my highest exaltation so that my demeanor is not just transferring ideas from here to there. My demeanor is saying, as these ideas come, catch their value, feel their power. No, their depth be changed by them. That's what exaltation is for. So for me, this service is seamless. We'd love to have our worship leaders here to talk about this. I have worked hard over the years. I don't have to work hard any more because we're all on the same page. But in the early days, I had to work hard to impart how strongly I felt about the seamlessness of this service. I get really bent out of shape and I just got back up, you know, just get back away and say, stop being so controlling of other people's worship. But when I go to a service, there's 60, 70 minutes or whatever, and they do something and then they pause and tell you what they're going to do.


And then you tell me as they pause and to what degree, and then they pause and tell you what they're going to do. And everything is so disjointed and some leader is intruding himself and his comments in good singing, Let's sing another song. Stand up, smile this time. That's just totally distracting. That is all horizontal. Just get out of the way. So we we call this I mean, I hardly even think about it anymore. We do it so intuitively, what we call it, lingering in the presence of God. We put we put our welcome at the front. And I try when I do the welcome. I try to make the welcome worshipful. I wanted to have a certain tone. I don't want to be a slapstick artist during the welcome. I don't want to be a talk show host and want to be a judge. I just want to help people get ready to move into a sustained lingering in the presence of God. And you watch Dan and Chuck and Rick and Mark. These guys don't get in the way. They don't jump in. They. It's this careful. You will almost never hear from one of those guys. As a song comes to an end and great song and it's in, the second person's being addressed to the Lord. Chuck won't say. Let's pray now. Because I'm on his case. If he does, because I'm going to say to him, turn. We were praying. That's what the song was. If you stop and say, Let's pray now, what are you communicating? What were you doing when you were singing that song? Flapping your lips. No way. When we come to the end of you are great, you are worthy. How fitting for Chuck to simply say, Oh God.


Some of us right now haven't been able to sing that song where we want. We're sorry for our sins and we want to confess our sins before you. Mr. Reid, you don't jump in there and announce something. Just maintain the communion with God. You sustain it for 30 minutes. Try anyway. We're not perfect at it. The point there was to say that preaching is a continuation of that. So we stand up and we read a text and I stand up and I ask for God's help. And then I keep worshiping what I'm doing. I'm enjoying or I'm frightened by what I'm seeing in the text. And I'm telling you about it. To draw you into that joy, draw you into that fear. And meet God there. That's what it's about. That's the thesis for. Five. This fresh declaration of truth about God and fresh demonstration of affection for God, honor God most, and help people honor Him best when they happen not only in song, confession, supplication, gratitude, praise, but also in preaching. In other words, we should not conceive of the service as separated into two into instruction, teaching and lecture and inspiration, music and testimony. The preaching should be expository exaltation and thus an act of worship. If these are separated, a false message is sent to the people, namely that truth about God is not the key to spiritual awakening, but rather some other avenue is like music that I want to communicate that. The truth in the music is the key to awakening hearts. The music is the carrier of the affections. If the music becomes the dominant awakening of the affections, that will not be spiritual affection. This is very difficult for worship leaders. It's very difficult for human beings because we all know that music itself awakens our affection to dogs.


You can't not be affected by music either bad or good. And yet our goal is that the music be helpful as a carrier of the spiritual affection that's awakened by the truth of the glory of the God in the lyrics and the music is carrying. When they come together in the best way, the best kind of music for the best kind of lyric. Then you get the the best of all worlds. But we're all fighting that battle, aren't we? I mean, you'll find yourself at the end of a song how great he is. Ah, God, I love that tune. I love that tune. And it's easy to me to sing it and totally oblivious to what I'm saying. We all fight that. And you got to go back and say, I don't want to be just esthetically moved here and no worship leader of is worth a salt wants to move anybody musically alone. He wants them to be moved with the truth with God. Otherwise it's not honoring the God. God invented music. Human beings did not invent music as a competitor with truth. God invented music as a carrier of affections with truth. And we just got to battle it through and work at it. It would send a message if we separated preaching. And the other part who would send the message? Misleading message That inspiration can rightly awaken the affections without biblical vision of God functioning as the basis for those affections. Thesis number six. There is biblical evidence from the time of Ezra to Jesus, to the synagogue, to the beginnings of the Christian church, that corporate worship included preaching. Not going to read all of these texts, but there's Nehemiah and they come together and they stand up and the law is read and they are given instruction.


They gave the sense so that the people understood the reading. So you have a model in Ezra of word being red preacher, standing up, giving the sense of the word, and you come over into the New Testament and you see something similar in Luke where Jesus comes in and He reads Isaiah and then he explores, It's Isaiah. This has now been fulfilled in your hearing. Then you go to chapter 15. Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him. So preaching that word, preach Cruz Santos there was in the synagogue already. So the church that's growing up out of the Jewish synagogue already has a pattern for regular exposition, the word being read and somebody giving exposition of it. So when Paul comes to this church here in Acts 13, they say, do you have a word of exhortation for us when the scripture has been read, So speak to us. In Colossians 128, we proclaim him admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom so that we present every man complete in Christ. So this word proclaim is the word for preach, and it's every man complete in Christ. It's not just evangelism. Preaching is not just for evangelism. This proclaiming him is to work toward maturity in the church. Or Romans 115. So for my part, I'm eager to preach the gospel to you Christians who are in Rome also. Paul wanted to go to Rome, and when he got to Rome, he was going to preach not just on the street corner to the unbelievers. He was going to preach. And here is the most decisive text of all on preaching where the Scripture is inspired by God. And then he gets down here to verse one of chapter four in second Timothy, I solemnly charge you the presence of God.


This is Paul to Timothy and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living in the dead. And by his appearing in his kingdom, I charge you preach the word. Now that's two Timothy. Who was the main pastor of the church in Ephesus, who had to be encouraged to do the work of an evangelist. In addition to this. But look at the context here. Preach the word. Be ready in season and out of season. Reprove, rebuke, Exhort with all patients in instruction for the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine or teaching, but wanting to have their ears tickled. They will accumulate for themselves. Teachers. There's teaching as part of preaching teachers in accordance with their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside. So he's saying, Timothy, it's so dangerous. People in the church will come to the place sometimes where they want their ears tickled and want you to say what pleases them. I'm telling you, preach the word. I hear that as a mandate. I cannot escape. I believe that is designed by God for all worship. Services. So there's my little effort in six or seven theses to argue that as redemptive history moves from Old Testament to New Testament through Jesus and the synagogue to the emergence of these gatherings with all kinds of open ended needs to form and structure. Nevertheless, praising God, thanking God, confessing to God, pleading with God in the context of people who come needy for God and needing to hear a word from God that is normative structures, links, locations, forms, styles. Those things are not addressed in the in the Bible, but that the people hear the Word of God, that they be awakened by the expository exultation of preaching the Word of God, that they be given opportunity to give expression of their hearts to God in their longings for God.


I would say that corporate reality, however you do it, is normative. Thank you for listening to this message from Desiring God, the Ministry of John Piper, Pastor for preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Feel free to make copies of this message for others, but please do not charge for those copies or alter the content in any way without permission. We invite you to visit desiring God online at w WW dot desiring God dot org where you'll find hundreds of sermons, articles, radio broadcasts and more all available at no charge. Our online bookstore carries all of Pastor John's books, audio and video resources, and you can also stay up to date on what's new at Desiring God again. Our website is w WW dot desiring God dawg. Or call us toll free at 1888346 4700. Our mailing address is. Desiring God. 2601 East Franklin Avenue. Minneapolis, Minnesota. 55406 Desirae God exists to help you make God your treasure because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.


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