Monday, March 16, 2009

The Church at Worship, pt 1

Part 1: ACTS OF WORSHIP (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

God’s people have always been a worshiping people. When God called Moses he told him, "I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain."

Worship in the Old Testament

In Exodus 19 God came down to meet with his people. Great care is given to the preparation of the people (vs.10-15). The people have to prepare their minds and their bodies for the visit of God. They have to purify their bodies and clothes. They have to concentrate their minds on the appearance of God. Even the natural relation enjoyed by a husband and wife, and which God authorizes, is to be refrained from so they can concentrate fully upon God.

God spoke ten words on this occasion, ten words of command, order, ethics and worship (chapter 20):
"I am the Lord your God ... You shall no other gods before me." (Vs.2-3)
"You shall not make for yourself an idol ..." (V.4)
"You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God ..." (V.7)
"Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy." (V.8)

Four of the ten commands were about our worshipful response to God. And God demanded strict allegiance! "Whoever sacrifices to any god other than the Lord must be destroyed." (22:20).

One way the people worshiped God was through sacrifice and festivals (23:4). In reaching out to the people, and offering ways of worship to them, what God wanted was communion with his people. "Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David." (Isaiah 55:2a-3).

Love is behind our acts of worship, love from God toward us and from us toward God. Love shows itself toward God in acts of worship: attending festivals and offering sacrifices.1 We live in communion with God our Father. We offer him our bodies and minds. We consecrate our bodies and renew our minds. When we do, we worship God acceptably.

Worship in the New Testament

Worshiping God acceptable today is to worship through and in Jesus. John 4:24 says, "God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." John 14 says Jesus is the truth. Today we worship in the name of Jesus.

There are two parts to worship: our bodies and our hearts or minds; our actions and our attitudes. We worship from the heart but respond with our bodies. It is a total experience. There are several acts that we offer to God in worship today.

One is giving.

Paul speaks of giving as a "privilege of sharing in ... service to the saints" and as an "act of grace." ( 2 Corinthians 8:4 & 6). Financial gifts that are given to the Lord willingly are accepted by God: "For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have." (V.12).

Paul urges worshipers to give liberally: "Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).

Giving to God does two positive things: it supplies the needs of God’s people and it is an expression of thanks to God (v.12).

In the act giving or contributing, let’s keep in mind several perspectives on this part of our worship that Paul emphasizes:
One, giving is a community function. Gifts given can and may be used to serve brothers who are in need.
Two, giving is an act of expressing thanks to God for the gifts he has given us.
Three, God looks at the attitude of the heart on the part of the giver: God looks for a spirit of generosity and cheer.
Four, gifts given in this proper spirit are accepted by the Father.
Remember the poor widow who had only two small coins to offer in contribution. Jesus said of her, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put in more than all the others (the rich). All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on." (Luke 21:3-4).

Jesus saw the spirit of generosity and cheer in the heart of the poor woman, and he accepted her worship.

A second act of worship is partaking of the Lord’s Supper.

Each time we eat of the Lord’s Supper we have bread and fruit of the vine. There is a deep theological purpose for this which Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. As we eat the bread and drink the fruit of the vine, we are remembering Jesus. But, it is actually more than remembrance, it is also proclamation. "For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes." (V.26).

We proclaim two things when we take the Lord’s Supper. One, we proclaim Jesus’ death. Jesus died. His death on the cross was sacrificial and unselfish. He died for our redemption and salvation. He died so that we could be restored to an eternal relationship with the Father.

Two, we proclaim his return. Jesus died but he also arose! The grave could not contain him. Further, Jesus is coming again.

Every time we eat the Lord’s Supper we proclaim, "Jesus died for us, but he arose and is coming again for us. Jesus is alive." Because Jesus is alive, there is life in our worship, because the one we worship is alive. We have hope, expectancy and purpose in our worship and our Christian life.

Verse 26 is really a good statement for all of our worship. All of our worship celebrates a living God, a living Son and a living Spirit. Think of how bland worship could become if we worshiped a mere idol or the memory of a some great leader. We don’t do that. We celebrate life. The Lord’s Supper does that. So does our perching. Preaching celebrates the victory we have in the living Christ. Prayer is offered with view to Jesus returning. We sing praises extolling a living savior. Our worship is alive and vibrant because Jesus is coming back.

A third act of worship is singing.

Visitors notice that we sing a capella. That is, we sing without the accompaniment of instrumental music. Why? There are three basic reasons. One is reason is historical: the early church did not use instrumental music. They sang. Secondly, the scriptural witness is that the early church sang. Finally, the focus of singing is to make melody in your heart: "Sing and make melody in your hearts to the Lord."

Two important texts for singing are Ephesians 5:19,20 and Colossians 3:15-17. Three important reasons for singing can be seen in these two passages. One, when we sing we teach and admonish one another. We need words for that. Secondly, we make music in our hearts. "The worship of God will no longer focus on sensual elements such as holy cities, sacrifice, incense, special priests and temples, but now the worship of God will arise from the fountain of living water that wells up inside the people of God through the Holy Spirit."2

Thirdly, in singing we offer thanksgiving to God. Both passages connect singing to God with offering thanks to God. How can we refuse to sing? How can we be unmoved by a spiritual song? How can we simply offer judgment on singing? The very act of singing is to offer thanksgiving to God.

Preaching is a fourth act of worship.

Acts 3 records the first public proclamation of Jesus after Pentecost. Peter and John are going to the temple to pray when a crippled beggar asks them for money. Peter tells the man, "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk." Strength returned to the man’s feet and ankles and he began to walk. But he didn’t just walk: he jumped and praised God. The people who saw him were filled with amazement and they gathered around Peter, John and the man who was healed. Peter asked the crowd, "Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or holiness we had made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus." (V.12-13).

After beginning with these two questions Peter develops his sermon as follows: One, he announces the sin of the people. "You handed him (Jesus) over to be killed ... You disowned the Holy and Righteous One ... You killed the author of life ..." (Vs.13-15). Next, Peter Affirmed the work of God being performed in their place and time: It was by faith in Jesus that the crippled man was healed." (V.16) Thirdly, Peter quickly outlines a history of the redemptive work of God, from the preaching of the prophets until the return of Jesus (vs.17-16). Finally, Peter offered an opportunity for the people to respond: "Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, and that time of refreshing may come from the Lord." (V.19)

This was an evangelistic sermon in an evangelistic setting. Preaching would be the means by which God would call people into his community of the redeemed. Preaching would form them in this community. Later, as people were called into the body, preaching would continue to keep them formed and rooted in the story of God’s ongoing redemptive work. As we continue to preach today, we continue in God’s ongoing purpose of calling, redeeming and forming people in the church.

The fifth act of worship we engage in is prayer.

Prayer is something we offer to God with each other and for each other. Prayer is not about getting what we want. Prayer is about seeking what God wants for us.

In Ephesians we have two model prayers for Christians and churches to offer today. The prayers are in Ephesians 1:15-23 and 3:14-19. Paul reveals in these prayers what he wants, and God wants, for Christians.

One, Paul prays that we would know God better. (1:17). "Know" is a relationship term. Paul is not praying that we would know more about God, but that we would enter more deeply in relationship with him. This would involve having a deeper faith and catching a vision of the character of the Father.

Two, the prayer continues with the desire that we would know the hope, glory and power God has for us. (1:18-19). Understanding the hope, glory and power God is ready to offer us will give us the strength to continue to endure in our relationship with God, even when the demands of the Christian life become difficult.

Three, Paul prays that we would be strengthened in our inner being by the Spirit so that Christ may dwell in us. (3:16-17). Paul knows the trials and temptations that can come to believers. He also knows that the strengthening of the Spirit will keep us living in faith.

Four, Paul prays that we would know fully and completely the love of God experienced in community. (3:18-19). Prayer is not just individual communication to God. Prayer is also a joint communication by the church. We pray together and we pray for each other. I pray for your strength and you pray for mine. We pray for unity, understanding and love for and with each other. Pray is our cement.

Worship is an attitude of heart we bring to God. But that attitude is expressed in specific acts when we come together as the Church. Each act has the function of focusing our hearts on God and of calling us together in unity.

Warren Baldwin July 2006
1.Love also shows itself toward God in acts of love toward others. Cf. 1 John 3:16-18.
2.John Mark Hicks, "Instrumental Music." Available on line at

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