My goal in these postings is always to anchor them on the foundation of the very reason we were created—to rule over the earth with the love, authority and power of Jesus Christ. The goal is that everything the family, church and civil government (God’s three ruling institutions) do is progressing toward that ultimate intention. I want my blog to help move us toward that end.
What role does the Bible say the church plays in that objective? What is its purpose? As a new believer, years ago, I was told the church’s primary purpose was simple: to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature“ (Mark 16:15).
That, most certainly, is one of the church’s ministries in fulfilling its calling, but it is not the calling itself. The church is described in the Bible as Jesus’ body here on the earth, expressing the Head who remains in Heaven. Since the ascension, Jesus has been ensconced there, seated at the Father’s right hand, while we, His people, do what we were created to do—be the vehicle through whom He rules here, now!
How does the church do that if its primary concern is in the spiritual realm—to minister to the spiritual lives of those over whom we will rule? This includes those believers in the church itself, as well as those unbelievers who have not yet had an experience with God.
However, when we meet together, as we are instructed to do in the Bible (Hebrews 10:25) our first concern is missed by most Christians—to always minister to, or serve, God Himself by corporately worshipping Him together.
Noah Webster, in his 1828 dictionary, defines worship as “the act of paying divine honor to the Supreme Being.” Worship is an act (something we do) of honor that we perform toward God. As a verb, to worship is to “adore; to pay divine honor to,” according to Webster.
So, worship is active, not passive. It is not simply an inner attitude that remains unexpressed outwardly, but something we do towards God because He is God; therefore, it is something we perform only towards Him. As a matter of fact, worship is the only act we perform only for God and no one else. In worship we acknowledge His absolute sovereignty (only God is sovereign) and His absolute holiness, His perfection (only God is holy). There may be elements of worship that we extend to others (thankfulness, praise, submission, etc.), but worship itself is reserved for the Triune God.
What is the purpose of worship? First, when we worship God, we are acknowledging our creaturehood and recognizing our subservience to the Creator. We are conceding by worship that we are not God! We are saying, “There is one who is higher than I.” When we worship Him in the context of the church, we are enthroning God experientially in the congregation of the saints to His rightful position as King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Timothy 6:15). He is that, whether we acknowledge it or not, but worship makes what is already true become true in experience. We are enthroning Him on our praises (Psalm 22:3) and welcoming Him to be with us as He truly is–very God of very God.
The universe is still in disarray because of a refusal by God’s creatures to worship Him, beginning with Satan, even though he is a defeated rebel. He as yet refuses to willingly submit to God and is fighting Him every step of the way.. We naturally have all the symptoms of that same rebellion; autonomy that says “Ain’t nobody gonna tell me nothin’,” a refusal to acknowledge our own sin–“It’s not my fault”–and a pride that seeks to glorify ourselves above our fellows. Do you see that autonomy, sinlessness and surpassing glory are characteristics of God alone? Though we would not say so in so many words, we want to be like God, just as Satan did!
I remember an instance as a teen-ager thinking about the meaning of life, my mortality, etc., and seeing very clearly that I was not God, and being angry over that fact! Because that desire to be God lurks in our hearts, we cannot really worship Him as He has instructed us. If man does not worship God, he is not even beginning yet to fulfill the purpose for which he was created, and is unknowingly becoming an accomplice of Satan in denying God the worship that is due Him alone.
The second reason to worship God, besides to restore divine order to the universe by worshipping Him, is to bring God pleasure. Worship is not for us. It has nothing to do with our pleasure or benefit.
There are those to whom finding a church “with good worship” is a primary consideration, and a church’s willingness and ability to worship is often an indicator of that church’s spiritual condition. But to seek an exhilarating experience for ourselves or to seek to be personally blessed during a church’s worship time is to fail to understand worship. The song sung by many charismatic churches in past years that included the line “We’ll be blessed because we came” misses the whole point of worship. Worship is for God: to humble ourselves; to please Him; to bring blessing, glory and honor to the only One who is worthy of our worship. We are giving Him a gift–giving Him pleasure–not ourselves. Any enjoyment we may receive is a minor corollary to fulfilling that greater purpose.
One Christmas when our three children were young, probably 9, 8 and 5, Jill and I happened upon a gigantic luggage sale as we were doing our Christmas shopping. We desperately needed luggage for our growing family, so we bought each child a suitcase, wrapped it up and put it under the Christmas tree. Were they overjoyed on Christmas morning with the gift we had given them? What do you think?! The luggage certainly pleased us. We were very comfortable with what we had done and very happy with the great deal we had gotten. There was certainly nothing wrong with buying the children luggage, but did we not miss the point of giving a gift? A gift is for the recipient, not the giver.
This is a beautiful picture of the gift of worship that many of us bring to God. It is a gift that pleases us, that makes us comfortable. However, should we not ask the question, “How should we worship the Lord in a manner that pleases Him?”
That is a question that many do not ask. As in many other aspects of the church, the temptation for us is to seek to worship God as we were taught to worship by the previous generation, the way that is customary according to our particular tradition. Or, if we did not grow up in the church, we seek to find a manner of worship that feels comfortable to us, or that makes us feel close to God, or that gives us some other positive experience.
We may say, “I enjoy a more liturgical style,” or “I like the more silent, dignified style of worship,” or “I like enthusiastic worship,” or “I have a certain personality, and that means I must worship a certain way.” Can you see that this is falling into the “luggage trap:” giving God a gift that we want, not what He wants for us to bring to Him.
Where do we go to find out the answer to the question of how to worship God in the church? As in all other matters of faith and practice, we must go to the Bible. It is our standard, not only for what we believe, but for what we do as well, including how we worship God. Are there specific instructions as to how we are to worship God as we gather together, whatever our tradition or personality? Yes, there are. The Bible does not leave us in the dark as to what He wants us to do when we worship Him. We will look at that question next week.