Christian Worship

An elder observed: “The single most important activity of the Christian life ... is faithful and spiritual worship” (Layton).  Another brother wrote that Christian worship is remembrance, presence, and future (Willis).   Another writer exhorts us to have worship assemblies that are holy, helpful, [and harm-warming] (Root).  Today's sermon will address the subject of  Christian worship, and it is divided into eight parts: definitions of worship, foundations for worship, differences in worship, examples of the worship assembly, attitudes towards the worship assembly, purposes of the worship assembly, activities during the worship assembly, and suggestions for the worship assembly (you can add this last one to the back of your bulletin).  

Let's look first at some definitions of worship.  Our English word comes from two parts: the first syllable means “worthy” and the second syllable means “a quality.”  Worship means that its object has a quality that is worthy, so to worship God is to acknowledge that He has an excellence that is worthy!  Of course, the Greeks were a little more precise, they had five words that dealt with worship.  The first word meant to bend the knee towards, the key idea is submitting.  The second word meant to kiss the hand towards, and the key idea is adoring.  The third word meant to gain wages for a service, and the key idea is serving.  The fourth word meant offering gifts, and the key idea is giving.  The fifth word meant to announce something, and the key idea is affirming (Bromily PEB).  So when we worship God, we are: realizing our lowliness, adoring His greatness, serving His will, giving our energies, and affirming truths about Him.  Not one of these five definitions should be elevated in importance over the rest; they all together help to define worship.  

Now let's look at some foundations for our worship of God.  First of all, God's nature determines how He is worshiped.  Jesus affirms in John 4:24 that God is a spirit, and He must be worshiped in spirit (or spiritually, in any physical place) and in truth (genuinely).  John affirms that God is light (1 John 1:5), so our worship must be done in righteousness.  John also affirms that God is love (1 John 4:8), so our worship must be done with love for Him and for one another.  Peter affirms that God is holy (1 Peter 1:16), so our worship should come from lives of holiness.  The book of Hebrews affirms that God is living (10:31), so our worship should be with a faith that believes He continues to be active.  Secondly, Jesus' work determines how God is worshiped.  We know that Jesus' blood established a new covenant, sanctified a new people, and opened a new way to approach God (Hebrews 9-10).  Because of Jesus' work, we can approach God not only with lowliness but also with boldness (Hebrews 4:16).  

Now let's look at some differences between pagan, Jewish, and synagogue worship and Christian worship.  Pagan worship in the ancient world meant: a temple with a statue, an altar, the sacrifice of an animal, and a priesthood.  Now Jewish worship included the same elements, except there was no statue of God.  The temple in Jerusalem was the center of the Jewish nation.  The synagogue worship probably began during the time of the exile.  Ten Jewish male worshipers could establish a synagogue, and no priest or sacrifice was required.  Its elements of worship included; a summons to worshipers and their response with a blessing, the singing of psalms, affirmations of God's love for Israel, formalized prayers, readings from the law and the prophets with a sermon on how to understand and apply those passages, and sometime alms were given for the poor.  This order of these activities was pretty fixed.  In Christian worship, we see these differences.  First of all, the “essential elements of both pagan and Old Testament worship—[an altar], a sacrifice, and a priesthood—were seen as being fulfilled in Jesus” (Ferguson).  All worship is done with reference to Christ as the center point (therefore, a worship centered in an earthly temple with an altar, an animal sacrifice, and a priest has been removed and is no longer required).  Aren’t were thankful for that!  Secondly, Christian worship puts no emphasis on the place of worship; wherever believers gathered became a place of worship.  Thirdly, the church was seen metaphorically as the new temple which was filled with God's Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).  Fourthly, Christian worship appears to be much more spontaneous than that of the previous types.  It is certainly closer to the type of worship in the synagogue than to that of the temple.  Spontaneous, however, should not be equated with “loosey-goosey” and “anything goes” because Paul told the Corinthians that all the activities during their worship assemblies should be done decently and orderly (1 Corinthians 14:40).  The order in which Christians did their worship activities seems more flexible.  

Now let's look at some examples or proofs of the worship assembly.  “The word worship in the New Testament covers all the Christian life as well as the Christian assembly (Ferguson).  Paul says in Romans 12:1-2 that presenting our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, is our reasonable service or spiritual worship.  This teaching, however, does not make the assembly for worship less important but serves to make the Christian existence sacred or holy in all its expression.  Our worship to God happens everyday and is not just limited to the times we are in this building.  Private worship is important but so is the communal worship that takes place when we assemble.  In fact, there are several expressions in the New Testament that emphasize the importance of the worship assembly: believers often “came together” (1 Corinthians 11:17 and 14:26), they “gathered together” (Acts 11:26 and 20:7), they “assembled” (Acts 12:12), and they came together “in the same place” (Acts 2:47).  Although translations differ some in how they word these expressions, all these passages show that the early Christians were together in meetings and that those meetings were important to them.  You see, “Christianity is not a private religious experience” (Ferguson).  As someone has said: “There are no Lone Ranger Christians.”  The assembly of Christians is a part of their total service to God.  To be a church means that we must assemble.  A church may have poor programs and other weaknesses and still survive, but a church that does not meet together for worship will not survive.  The assembly allows the church to show its true nature—it is a redeemed community, separated from the world, reconciled to God and one another, a body of believers with a life of its own which looks back to God's historical acts and looks forward to Jesus' coming again.  Sure, you can technically worship by yourself under a tree by the lake, but you cannot do that and be the church.  When a member willingly does not come to the worship assembly, that person is not erring against an institution but is sinning against his brothers and sisters to whom we all owe our mutual edification and fellowship.  We all need each other.  Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12, that each member of the body is indispensable!  From the New Testament, we see churches that are mentioned in at least 15 named places.  Lastly, although the places for the assemblies varied, there was a specific time for the worship assembly.  Acts 20:7 tells us that the disciples came together on the first day of the week to break bread or partake of the Lord’s Supper.  Because Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday, met with His disciples after His resurrection on Sunday, and the church was established on Sunday, it became the day of the worship assembly.  So we’ve seen expressions about, specific places for, and a special day of the worship assembly.  These are examples or proofs of the worship assembly.  

Now let’s examine some attitudes towards the worship assembly.  Some improper attitudes towards worship are seeing it as a bargaining chip, a spectators' sport, a formal ritual, or a spiritual high.  The bargaining chip attitude sees worship as a means to force God’s hand or to bribe God into blessing the worshiper.  We are not really doing God any favor by approaching Him in this egotistical manner.  The spectators' sport attitude sees worship as a performance where those participating up front during the worship are on the stage and the worshipers are the audience who give approval or disapproval of those performing.  In true worship, however, God is the audience, and all of us are the actors.  The formal ritual attitude sees worship as a checklist of acts to be routinely followed as a legal requirement of law-keeping.  If worship is not motivated by love, then it cannot be forced by law (Jividen).  One elder has rightly observed, “Rigid order, unfailing in its sameness, and worship by rote and ritual cannot transform human hearts; moreover, the only difference between some worship services and some funeral services is the smell of the flowers” (Layton). The spiritual high attitude sees worship as an experience that must stimulate moods and create emotional excitement in order to make a person feel emotionally awed, uplifted, and recharged!  To come for worship to be impacted usually means that a person is very passive and very shallow in their commitment to others.  Another elder has correctly observed, “Worship is secularized [or made worldly] when the focus shits to the enhancement [or entertainment] of the worshipers” (Ferguson).  Proper attitudes towards worship are: purity, humility, thanksgiving, joy, unity, and expectancy.  Purity—We saw in our survey of the prophets that God did not want the Israelites’ worship if they were living immoral lives and treating others dishonestly and unfairly.  Jesus admonished us to be reconciled to our brother before coming to worship (Matthew 5:23-24).  Let us lift up our worship with holy hands (1 Timothy 2:8)!  Humility—“Before the Creator of all things, we as His creatures can only be humble and recognize our dependent condition.  It is only by God’s mercy that we live, and move, and have our very being (Acts 17:28).  Thanksgiving—“But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Corinthians 15:57).  “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him … abounding in [what you have been taught] with thanksgiving” (Colossians 2:6-7).  Let us approach God with hearts full of gratitude!  Joy—

We are joyful because Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33), and our lives have been transformed for the better (Romans 12:1-2)!  Let us render joyful praise for all the blessings that God has so richly lavished upon us!  Unity—No more racial barriers, no more social barriers, no more gender barriers—all people can be united in Christ and worship Him with one voice (Romans 15:6)!  Expectancy—“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13)!  Hope is desire plus expectancy.  We come to worship with anticipation that God will work and lives will be changed for the better!  Proper attitudes towards worship are: purity, humility, thanksgiving, joy, unity, and expectancy.  

Now let’s look at the purposes of the worship assembly.  Not everything acceptable in other contexts has a place in the worship assembly.  Paul said to the members at Corinth that meals to satisfy their hunger could be eaten “at home” while THE meal to satisfy their souls, the Lord’s Supper, should be eaten after they had all assembled together (1 Corinthians 11:17-34).  Some specific purposes of the worship assembly are: glorifying God, manifesting the church, edifying one another, expressing fellowship, impressing unbelievers, and commemorating and proclaiming salvation.  Glorifying God means adoring God, exalting God, and reflecting His character in our assemblies (Ephesians 1:6; 1 Corinthians 14:33).  Manifesting the church means that when we gather together for worship, we show forth that the assembly is really being the church by meeting and by doing distinctive activities associated with the worship assembly.  Hopefully, our meeting together will shape our character and make visible our unity (Gal. 3:26-28).  “The most extensive discussion of the worship assembly in the New Testament is found in 1 Corinthians 14,” and here we find that seven time Paul uses edify or build up as the purpose of worship (Ferguson).  In this context, edification comes through teaching, and learning, and understanding.  Everything done in the worship assembly should contribute to building up the members.  1 Corinthians 14:26 simply states: “Let all things be done for edification.”  The worship assembly should promote the ‘body’ life or fellowship of the church (Acts 2:42).  Also Hebrews 10:25 states that meeting together was a time for “stirring up love and good works and encouraging one another.”  Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 14:23-25 of unbelievers who will be at the worship assemblies and who can be properly impressed towards becoming Christians through the orderly activities during the worship assembly.  During the worship assembly, we commemorate the sacrifice for salvation through the Lord’s Supper and we proclaim the offer of salvation through preaching, singing, and baptism (1 Corinthians 11:17-34 and Romans 10:17).  Some specific purposes of the worship assembly are: glorifying God, manifesting the church, edifying one another, expressing fellowship, properly impressing unbelievers, and commemorating and proclaiming salvation.  

Now let’s quickly look at some of the activities during the worship assembly.  Those acts are partaking of the Lord's Supper, praying, singing, giving, preaching and reading the Scriptures.  Someone has rightly observed that the Lord's Supper was the central act of the weekly assemblies in the early church.  During the partaking of the Lord's Supper, we look inward to examine ourselves, we look outward to our redeemed brothers and sisters, we look backward to the cross, and we look forward to Jesus' coming again (1 Corinthians 11:17-34).  The New Testament gives at least four examples of prayer in a worship assembly (Acts 4:23-32 and 12:12, 1 Corithians 14:14-15; 1 Timothy 2:1-2).  According to the last passage, men are to lead these prayers, voicing corporate concerns and making affirmations of truth about God.  Singing was an activity in the worship assembly (1 Corinthians 14:15; Colossians 3:16).  Through singing, we confess our faith, preach Christ, strengthen one another, express our emotions, and show our unity.  A brother has noted: “Musical instruments occur in the New Testament as part of everyday life and as illustrations (Matthew 9:23 and 1 Corinthians 13:1), but they are never mentioned as part of the worship assemblies” (Ferguson).  Another brother has rightly noted that in contrast to the many reference to musical instruments for  Jewish worship, the silence to any references for Christian worship is deafening (LaGard-Smith)! The early church was a giving church (Acts 4:34-35 and 11:29-30).  Congregational giving is described as an act of fellowship and spiritual sacrifice (Philippians 4:15-18).  The goal of preaching and reading Scriptures is “to present every man [or person] perfect [or mature] in Christ” (Colossians 1:28).  The apostle Paul exhorted Timothy: “... give attention to [public] reading, to exhorting, and to doctrine [or teaching]” (1 Timothy 4:13).  We assemble to hear God's Word.  The activities of the worship assembly are: partaking of the Lord's Supper, praying, singing, giving, preaching and reading the Scriptures.  

Lastly, here are three suggestions for our worship assemblies.  First of all, dress for greatness!  Once at York College, we had a congressman who come to our campus, and most of the students at our chapel were dressed very neatly.  Why?  They wanted to show their respect to this great politician and former football coach.  Now if we respect God and consider Him great, let's dress neatly and modestly as well.  Dress for greatness!  Secondly, do your part!  Many of us have been assigned ways that we can help with the worship assembly.  Please, take your assignments seriously and do your part.  If you can't do it, then please find someone else to cover for you.  Doing your part will make our worship assembly a great blessing.  Lastly, make it heavenly.  If heaven is the main dish, then our worship assemblies are the appetizers.  There will be no races, no ages, no economic levels, no social positions, no snide remarks in heaven.  Well, why can't we try to look beyond these things in our worship assemblies as well?  May love, cheerfulness, encouragement, and gentleness pervade our worship assemblies!  Let's try to make them as heavenly as possible!  By the way, if you have some more suggestions for improving our worship assemblies, please communicate them.  

A church leader said, “I wish a fourth of our members would perk up, another fourth would cheer up, another fourth would grow up, another fourth would ‘fess up, and all would never give up!” (modified Layton).  Let us not worship in vain (Matthew 15:9), nor in ignorance (Acts 17:22-23), nor with self-imposed innovations (Colossians 2:23), but let us worship with reverence, godly respect, and brotherly impartiality (Hebrews 12:28; James 2:1-13)!  One brother proposes that our motto for worship should be: “Biblical in teaching, conservative in practice, and liberal in love.”  “O worship the King, all glorious above, and gratefully sing His wonderful love; Our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days, Pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise.  Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail, In Thee do we trust nor find Thee to fail; Thy mercies how tender!  How firm to the end!  Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend!”  So when we worship God, we are: realizing our lowliness, adoring His greatness, serving His will, giving our energies, and affirming truths about Him for truly His excellence is worthy!  Will you make this splendid God your Lord and begin worshiping Him at every worship assembly or will you repent if you have forsaken the assembly for some time and need to restart?  If so, won't you let your request be made known ...