Lecture 3: Principles 2 – 4
Course: Essentials of Worship
Lecture: Principles 2-4
Principle #2: Worship is something that we do both individually and in community.
A. We can also speak of worship both as an habitual part of our lives and as a specific, intentional action.
When we speak about worship, we need to speak both in terms of worship as individuals and of worship as a community. Similarly, we can speak about worship both as something that is habitual and ongoing in our lives and something that is a specific and intentional action.
Sometimes, part of what we are confused about is our language and our use of the terminology. Some people say worship meaning only those intentional gatherings of the church for worship. That is a valid way to use the word worship, but that is not the only way to speak about worship. We need to speak about worship both as the intentional acts of worshipers to gather for the sake of worship and as the ongoing life of worshiping individuals and even of worshiping communities.
Worship in community, in fact, is not the whole story, but is to be an extension of our daily lives as worshipers. Our intentional acts of worship when we gather together for worship should be the overflow of a lifestyle of worship.
B. Where there is a radical disconnect, our worship is hypocrisy.
Where there is a radical disconnect between our lifestyle, commitment to worship God 24/7 – twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week – and our gatherings of worship, then we have a problem of hypocrisy. Such worship, biblically speaking, seems to be unacceptable to God.
C. Example of prayer as being both intentional and as habitual.
Let me just expand a little bit on this idea. Worship can rightly be spoken of as people gathering together for worship, for the intentional purpose of worship. This could also be true of myself as an individual. There are times in every day that I should set aside to be intentionally with the Lord, attending to His word, being with Him in prayer, singing praises to His name.
It reminds us a little bit of Paul’s exhortation in 1 Thessalonians 5 to pray without ceasing. Well, there is a lifestyle commitment to pray without ceasing, but there is also Paul in Ephesians 6:18 saying, “Pray in the spirit at all times with all kinds of prayers,” seeming to call for intentional moments of praying and intentional times of praying.
D. Worship is the vocation of every Christian.
So, too, with worship. We can think of worship both as a commitment to live for God, offering our bodies as living sacrifices to Him, but also of the intentional action of setting aside time for worship, both as an individual and as a community.
So it is a convergence of a couple of things here. Worship can be spoken of habitually and intentionally; worship can be spoken of as corporate action and as individual action. We can put these thoughts together by saying that worship is to be the 24-hour a day, 7-day a week vocation or calling of every Christian that is fundamental to worship. But, with that as a background, we still rejoice at the opportunity to intentionally set aside times individually and corporately to worship God.
E. Confusion from word use
Part of the reason we sometimes are confused is that Christians can actually use the word in different ways and wind up speaking past each other and our misunderstandings are complicated. If I put these thoughts together, I would say that although both are true: worship can be spoken of as an individual action and as a corporate action; worship can be spoken of as habitual, lifestyle, and as intentional gathering, I think the weight of the biblical testimony is that God weighs or values the lifestyle commitment to worship even more than he values the gatherings of worship for intentional worship acts.
If that is true, and we will make a biblical argument for that in just a moment, again, our language in contemporary evangelicalism is problematic. We put the bulk of our energy and time when we speak about worship into those particular times when we gather together to do worship acts such as singing praises, or celebrating the sacraments, receiving the sacraments, or preaching the Word of God, or taking up offerings. Critical and beautiful as they are, these are not as important, biblically speaking, as habitual worship.
Principle #3: Habitual lifestyle worship is more important than our intentional actions of worship in religious settings.
I will call this our third principle, just kind of an ongoing discussion of our second principle. Let me say it this way: Habitual lifestyle worship is more important than our intentional actions of worship in religious settings.
There are a host of Scriptures we could turn to here, and I would like us to consider some of these together.
1. Isaiah 1:10-18
First from Isaiah 1:10-18, “Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah! ’The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me?’ says the Lord. ’I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
“When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me.
“New Moons, Sabbaths, convocations – I cannot bear your evil assemblies. Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong; learn to do right! Seek justice; encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.
“Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord. ’Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be white like wool.’” Amen.
In Isaiah 1, the Lord is rebuking His people. Notice, in verse 10, He calls them Sodom and Gomorrah, because they are acting like Sodom and Gomorrah, but this is a vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem according to 1:1. This is a rebuke of God’s own people and the rebuke concerns worship.
But notice what the rebuke is in fact. God is rejecting the intentional actions of worship when the people set aside times individually or corporately for worship acts. He is rejecting that, because this has become radically disconnected from their daily lives. Here is God, who Himself has commanded the sacrificial system, saying, “I have had enough of your sacrifices, no more. I hate these things from you.” Here is God, who Himself has commanded the gatherings on New Moons and Sabbaths and convocations, calling them evil assemblies. Here is God Himself, who has commanded prayer, saying, “Now when you pray I will hide my eyes from you. I won’t take this, I won’t listen anymore.”
The reason for God’s opposition to these worship actions or rejection of these intentional acts of worship is clear. The people, He says at the end of verse 15, have their hands full of blood. Their evil deeds are filling His eyes. And so He pleads with them, stop doing wrong; learn to do what is right.
Then comes this line of thought that occurs over and over again, in the Old Testament prophets especially, “Seek justice; encourage the oppressed; defend the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” God, more than the prayers, more than the sacrifices, more than the gatherings, the assemblies, is looking for justice and mercy. It is very clear, give us justice, give us mercy, and then bring your sacrifices, then bring your prayers.
But the people have substituted the outward actions for the inward heart motivation and the lifestyle commitment and God will not have it. That is Isaiah speaking to the southern kingdom.
2. Amos 5:21-24
We find very similar language throughout the Prophets, including in the book of Amos. Here is the same line of thought being directed now to the northern kingdom of Israel. Amos 5:21-24, in some ways is even more striking to me.
Amos 5:21-24, “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, and righteousness like a never-failing stream!” Amen.
Again, the same idea – God is rejecting the worship actions. In this case, the things that are mentioned are burnt offerings, grain offerings, and fellowship offerings. Then, maybe especially relevant for contemporary worshipers, verse 23, He is rejecting their songs, their music, and the language could not be stronger.
“Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to them.” What is God seeking instead? Verse 24, “But let justice roll on like a river and righteousness like a never-failing stream.” Again, God is rejecting the intentional actions, because the lifestyle commitment is simply not there.
3. Micah 6:6-8 (Jesus’ teaching)
Here is another Old Testament passage, one more prophetic stop for us in this journey. Again, this is over and over again to be found throughout the Prophets of the Old Testament, but very much in keeping with the overall spirit of the whole Bible.
Micah 6: 6-8, “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?” Here is a question that is obviously and directly about worship. God, when I come before You to worship, what shall I bring? That is the question.
Here are the proposals that the prophet goes on to suggest. “Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil?” In the first part the suggestion is, is it the quality of the sacrifice that concerns God? Burnt offerings, calves a year old, bring Him the very best?
In verse 7 – is it the quantity that concerns God; thousands of rams, will that satisfy Him? Ten thousand rivers of oil? No, is that not it? Well then, are the pagans correct? “Should I bring my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” Is that what I should do? Follow the pagan example, like those who brought the infants to the god Molech and threw them in the fire; let them be burned?
Well, these questions are rhetorical, but the answer to is each is an obvious and fundamental and loud and clear “No!” Why? Because verse 8, “He has already showed you, O man.” Micah’s point here – there is nothing new about this, this is clear. The Scriptures have always been clear about this.
Remember Deuteronomy 6:4-5? What does God want? In the sight of His great revelation He wants us to love Him with heart and soul and strength. God has constantly talked about His concern for justice and mercy. “He has showed you O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?” What is your worship truly about? These three words follow: “Do justly; love mercy; walk humbly with your God.” Again, this is the fundamental worship that God wants first and foremost; justice and mercy as a lifestyle commitment toward our neighbors and humility in our walk before God.
It reminds us so much of the New Testament teaching of Jesus when, on a number of occasions in the New Testament, Jesus is asked what it is that God is really concerned about. What are the greatest commandments? And Jesus appeals to Deuteronomy 6:5 when he says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength,” and says this is the greatest commandment. And then He adds to that Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus brings these together, as many of His contemporaries agreed and assented to, and said these are the basic requirements of God – love of God and love of neighbor. This is exactly what we find in Micah 6: do justly in all your dealings with your neighbor, do right by your neighbor. Show mercy to your neighbor and do right before God by walking in humble ways before Him – humble relationship with your God.
Love of God, love of neighbor, that is the sum and substance of God’s requirements. Another way to say it: this is the requirement of God in worship, this is the worship God requires. These things turn out to be more important than all the sacrifices we could ever offer.
B. The same is true of the church today.
It was true of the Old Testament world; it is true of the church today as well. When we gather together we do not offer sacrifices of burnt offerings, the old sacrificial system that we find in the Old Testament to be sure. But we offer our own kind of offerings; the offering of our songs, our monies in the offering basket, our gatherings for prayer, our listening to the Word of God.
In our personal life, too, we give our quiet time devotional moments to the Lord. We can think about these things as religious actions that we engage in. God is pleased with them when they are an extension of a life, when they are the overflow of a lifestyle commitment. God is not pleased when they are offered in place of the fundamental worship that He is really desiring from us.
So, God wants us first of all to be worshippers in a 24/7 fashion. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, worshipping the Lord through just dealings with our neighbors, merciful dealings with our neighbors, and a lifestyle commitment of humility before Him, walking with Him, and developing and nurturing a relationship with Him. Then we gather together and offer our intentional acts of worship – prayer, tithes, offerings, praises, preaching, and listening to the Word of God – all the service that we offer on behalf of the church.
C. Intentional actions of worship are to be tokens of the inner reality.
In a sense, I think we could say that those actions of worship, those intentional actions of worship, like singing praises and praying and making offerings, are to be tokens of the deeper reality. They are the outward tokens, to use the language of a sacrament, of a deeper inner spiritual reality.
So, when I raise my hands as I sing a song of praise or pray to God, that song itself is to be the expression of a lifestyle of praise toward God. When I put my tithe in the offering basket, that tithe is an expression, a token reminding myself and demonstrating that I have offered my whole body as a living sacrifice to God.
D. Hypocritical and unacceptable worship
When we have merely the form but not the substance, or the show or the symbol or the token, but not the reality behind the token, that is hypocrisy. That is unacceptable worship. So, principles two and three are all about the idea that worship can be spoken of both as corporate communal activity and individual intentional activity and the idea that the worship that God requires most is that lifestyle commitment to worship.
Principle #4: Individual worship and congregational worship inform and strengthen one another.
In the same way, I will add this fourth principle, take this thought a little bit further. Principle #4, Individual worship and congregational worship are to inform and strengthen one another.
We could explain our meaning this way – when we gather together for intentional actions of worship it is not that suddenly we become worshipers at the point of gathering. We have been worshipers throughout the week. We have worshiped on our job; we have worshiped at school. We have worshiped in homes; we have worshiped in our community. We have worshiped as citizens by doing justice and loving mercy and walking humbly with God.
Then, we gather together on the Lord’s Day for a celebration and intentional actions of worship. But there is nothing about that celebration that transforms us magically into worshipers. There are no magic doors hung at the back of the sanctuary that suddenly transform us as we walk through them, from a non-worshiper into a worshiper for an hour or an hour and a half, and as we walk back through those doors we are zapped again and become non-worshipers as we go on in our way and do our own thing.
No, no magic doors at the back of the church. We are worshipers out in the world and as worshipers we gather together. I have been worshiping God in my community, on my job, in my home, in my neighborhood, in my particular context. Then I join you and my other neighbor and my other sister and that neighbor and that brother and we come together and we have a wonderful opportunity to worship God now as a body.
In some ways we have already been worshiping God as a body by the church in its dispersed form. The church is scattered to work in the world, being salt in the earth throughout the week, and now we have gathered and we are doing this intentionally and corporately with our specific actions of worship.
B. Because we have worshiped God as individuals, the gathering of worshipers is richer.
When we have been worshiping God in our individual life walks and then we come together, worshipers from here and there and here and there and here and there gathering together, something beautiful and powerful happens. As the Lord says in the Scriptures, He inhabits the praises of His people, and where two or three gather in His name, He is there in a special way.
So, because we have been worshiping individually, our worship experience is rich. We come together; we share what God has been doing in our own lives; we bring something to the table. Because I bring my worship experience and you bring yours, worship in the big picture – justice, mercy, humility before God – the celebration is rich and powerful.
C. Because we have worshiped with the body of Christ, we become better worshipers as individuals.
Then, when we are gathered together, as we worship together corporately in these intentional actions of worship, that corporate experience strengthens us. When we leave that worship gathering and go back into our worlds, we are strengthened to be better worshipers in the world that we return to or the settings that we return to. So, worshipers as we come in, worshipers while we are there, worshipers while we go out, better worshipers because we have been together.
D. Emphasis of corporate worship is on the clarity of the revelation.
Perhaps we can say there is a special emphasis that, when we come together, the gathering is primarily about revelation. Not to say that there is not revelation we are experiencing in our daily lives on our own, there should be. We should be spending time in the Word of God and learning much from the Lord.
But when we gather together, especially, the biblical data suggests that the church gathered together and one of their key emphases was the teaching of the Word of God, Gospel proclaimed again, Lord’s Supper celebrated pictorially retelling the Gospel story and seeing the Lord’s presence in our midst through community. So we gather together and the revelation of God is clarified by our gathering. That is the focus of our gathering.
Then, when we go out from there, we can do that most God-pleasing response, offer our bodies as living sacrifices to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly in our daily experience. But again, both should feed off of and, in form, feed into the other. That would be the fourth principle.
Let’s put two, three, and four together and just summarize them as we close this session. We can speak about worship and need to speak about worship sometimes as corporate gatherings, sometimes as intentional actions of worship, but we also speak about worship as lifestyle commitment of the church and of the individuals.
On balance, we would have to say that the biblical arguments suggest that the worship God requires most and delights in most is the worship of a lifestyle that is committed to justice and mercy and humility or, love of God and love of neighbor, as we have seen.
When we speak about these two kinds of worship – lifestyle worship: justice, mercy, humility, and intentional actions of worship: singing, praying, praising, hearing the Word, offering our gifts – these, too, need to feed off of and inform one another, strengthen each other.