I would like to set the framework by turning your attention briefly to Ephesians 6, beginning with verse 10 and reading down to the first words of verse 14. Coming to the end of his marvelous letter to the churches in the Ephesus area, Paul writes:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Wherefore take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore.”
In these few verses, four times the apostle is exhorting the people of God to stand, to withstand. In other words, he pictures the Christian soldier clad in the armor provided by God not so much going into the enemy’s territory and gaining new ground in the name and for the cause of Christ, but standing his own ground against the principalities and powers that are trying to dislodge him from the territory on which he stands in the name of Christ. Surely that’s the imagery in this passage.
There are many portions of the Word of God which point to the Christian soldier as an aggressive conqueror. For example, Paul can say in 2Corinthians 2,
“Thanks be unto God who always leads us to triumph in Christ.”
There is the aggressive conquering of the enemy’s territory, but the emphasis here is not aggressive conquest but determined standing in the ground where God has placed us. Based upon that principle, I want to speak to you tonight under this general heading: standing firm in an unstable and shifting time.
I believe there are many of you sitting here tonight conscious that within the professing church of Christ, and even in what we would call our ecclesiastical circles, there is tremendous instability and shifting. People who at one time would have stood completely with us in our commitments across a broad spectrum of biblical truth are moving away from that truth, and not because they have made discoveries by careful exposition of the Word of God and with historic theology looking over their shoulder, confirming their new discoveries of the Scripture with the voice of the Spirit speaking through the historic church. No, they’re running after novelties in the pursuit of success, running after novelties in the pursuit of a church they think that will be more “with it” in its relationship to society and to the unregenerate. So my appeal to you is to stand firm in the midst of this unstable and shifting time.
I will seek to open up that theme under two headings.
Number one, my exhortation is this: stand firm in your determination to appreciate and to maintain the purity, the dignity, and the vivacity of the corporate worship of God.
Now consider with me those three words as they relate to the corporate worship of God, first of all, the purity of that worship. Our Confession of Faith has an excellent summary of what we are talking about when we speak of the purity of God’s worship. I quote from chapter 22, paragraph 1:
“The acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself and so limited by his own revealed will that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men nor the suggestions of Satan under any visible representations or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures.”
In other words, the framers of our Confession, echoing the conviction of the historic evangelical and protestant and reformed church, are stating that the purity of God’s worship rests upon this fundamental principle: that acceptable worship is instituted by God himself, limited by his own revealed will, and that anything outside of that will, from the imaginations and devices of men, is strange fire upon God’s altar. You will remember from the Old Testament what God did when there were two priests who thought God’s fire instituted and produced by God was not adequate. They offered strange fire upon God’s altar, and God consumed them in his righteous wrath and anger.
My exhortation to you as the people of God is that you will stand fast both in your appreciation of and your commitment to the purity of the corporate worship of God. That means that when God asks us the question that he asked his ancient people Israel, which the prophet Isaiah records in chapter 1 and verse 12,
“When you come to appear before me, who has required this at your hand?”
When God asks you and asks me the question, when you gather in this place, in the place where some others of you gather for corporate worship, and God says through His Word to you, individually and corporately, “Who has required these things at your hand, the things you bring me in your corporate worship, who has asked you to bring them?” We should be able to say with a good conscience, “Oh Holy, living, true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you have required these things at my hand, in your Word it is plain. I come before you with spiritual sacrifices of your own appointment.” It is at this point that the words of Peter are so crucial in all of our thinking concerning this matter of the corporate worship of God. You have your Bible, turn with me as I read from 1Peter 2. Beginning with verse 4, Peter writes:
“Unto whom,” that is Christ, “coming a living stone rejected indeed of men but with God elect and precious, you also as living stones are built up a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
Here Peter envisions the new covenant community scattered throughout Asia Minor, for that’s who he’s addressing, according to 1Peter 1:1. When they come together, whether in a house-church or whether they come together in some other physical surrounding, they gather as those who having embraced Christ the living stone, have been made into living stones as they share in his life, and those living stones are constituted a living spiritual temple. To change the imagery, they are not only gathered living stones constituting a living temple, but they are a new covenant priesthood. You are constituted a holy priesthood. Now, what’s a priest without a sacrifice? A priest must function with a sacrifice. And Peter says, “God ordains that His new covenant priests who gather in this living new covenant temple made up of living stones should offer up spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” And what are those sacrifices? They are the sacrifices mandated by the word of God. As our confession states, we bring to Him what His word mandates. Hebrews 13:15 identifies one of them,
“By him, that is by Christ, let us offer the sacrifice of praise continually, that is the fruit of lips making confession to his name.”
When we gathered tonight I hope you had a sense that when we began by singing the opening hymn, and then sang that marvelous, well that was a marvelous hymn that followed the very tracks of Philippians 2, and when we sang this hymn before the preaching that gathered together all of the lines of the central truths of the Gospel, Christ as our sacrifice and mediator who pleads, that you had a sense: God, I’m bringing a spiritual sacrifice required at your mouth in the Scriptures. I’m offering a sacrifice of praise. So when my Father you ask me who has required this at your hand, who’s required this at your mouth, you have a sense, “I’m offering a mandated sacrifice, and as I offer it up to God through Christ it is well-pleasing unto Him.” Then of course we have a passage like Romans 12 where Paul says,
“I beseech you by the mercies of God that you present your bodies a living sacrifice.”
–That is, the entirety of your redeemed humanity. You can’t present your body without presenting your soul. You can’t separate them. Your body goes, and its energies and faculties, where your heart goes. And so when he says offer up your bodies, he puts it in the concrete so that we can’t miss the emphasis. Overwhelmed with the mercy of God, we are to come into his presence and offer up the entirety of our being in holy worship to our great and to our gracious God. When upon leaving or entering you place your gifts in that box, and you give them to the Lord according to Philippians 4, Paul said of the Philippians’ gifts to him, given through the hands of Epaphroditus, he says they are a sacrifice, an odor of a sweet smell well-pleasing unto God. Or David says,
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, Oh God, a broken and a contrite heart thou wilt not despise.”
You see, brethren this must become a kind of holy obsession that we will determine to bring to God in His worship only that which God himself requires at our hand. Our confession, chapter 22, paragraphs 3 to 5, beautifully identifies those sacrifices which God himself requires at our hand.
Now I want to say something very much related to this matter of the purity of worship, and I’ll trust you’ll follow me closely. I’ve only seen this clearly in the last couple of months and have just begun to articulate it publicly. Seek to follow me closely. No little part of maintaining the purity of worship is to be found in the determination to maintain the primary focus of our corporate worship. According to the Scriptures, the primary focus of our corporate worship is not horizontal; it is vertical. It is not what we do for one another; it’s what’s with respect to God himself. As Peter tells us, we are constituted a living temple, a new covenant priesthood, to offer up sacrifices unto God. So that when we gather on the Lord’s Day, our thinking should be regulated by this biblical perspective: I am not coming primarily to get anything. I am coming to give something to my God. I’m coming to present myself, and through my redeemed humanity, the spiritual sacrifices required by my God.
The secondary focus of our corporate gatherings, especially according to 1Corinthians 14, is the mutual edification of the people of God. Paul had to regulate the exercise of those word-gifts, particularly of tongues and prophesy, gifts which we believe were limited to that transitional period. People had the blessings of the new covenant, but they didn’t have the new covenant documents–What does it mean to be indwelt by the Spirit? What does it mean to be united to Christ?–And so God gave these word-gifts that the new covenant community might feed upon the very truths that we can now feed upon in our New Testament epistles and in the Gospels. And in that transition period, our loving heavenly Father provided for the new covenant community with revelatory gifts, helping the new covenant community to understand their privileges in Christ. As Paul is sorting out how many are to prophecy–is anyone to speak in tongues if there is no interpreter?–three times he says, here is the great concern: let all things be done unto edifying, let all things be done unto building up.
The great concern is horizontal edification, the building up of the people of God. Primary focus: offering spiritual sacrifices vertically. The secondary focus is the edification of the people of God. Only thirdly and as a spillover of the first two is there to be concern for the unbeliever and the uninstructed that come among us. Look at 1Corinthians 14 with me to see the basis on which I’ve made that assertion. 1Corinthians 14 is filled with the admonitions, “everything unto edification, everything unto edification.” Now in verse 24 he says,
“But if all prophecy and there come in one unbelieving or unlearned, he is reproved by all, he is judged by all; the secrets of his heart are made manifest; and so he will fall down on his face and worship God declaring, ‘God is among you indeed.’”
Paul has been giving directions to the people of God how to secure maximum edification when they gather. Now he says, if the unbeliever happens to come among you as you obey the mandates for maximum edification among believers there may be a spillover effect upon the mind and the conscience of the unconverted. He will be persuaded God is of a truth among you. Falling down upon his face, either in conviction or wonder he will acknowledge that God is among you and begin to ask, “How can I know this God? How can I draw near to this God? How can I come to the place where I can speak of him with all the certainty with which you speak of him as your Father and as your redeemer?”
The point is, Paul is not giving a litany of directives on how to order the worship service to reach the unconverted. That emphasis is skewed! It is not according to the Scriptures. We have whole churches turning their worship service on its ear because they say, “We want to reach post-moderns, we want to reach generation x-ers and generation y-ers” and generation who knows what else. When we run out of letters in the alphabet I don’t know what they’re going to call them, like they’re some kind of special creature and we don’t want to offend them by turning to a lot of Bible passages because they don’t know their Bible, and they’d be offended. We don’t want to use rich Biblical terminology: redemption, salvation, regeneration, election, sanctification because they won’t have a clue. We have to dumb down everything and gear it to reach the unconverted. I rear back on my hind legs and say, “That is not according to the Scriptures!”
If we want to be enterprising and gather unconverted people in our buildings, in our shops, in our backyards, who cares where we gather them and speak to them in their language and in their thought forms I say, “Amen, Hallelujah let’s do it until we’re weary,” but when the church gathers it must be obsessed with its privilege and responsibility to have a primary focus vertically bringing spiritual sacrifices to God, edifying and building up one another and only thirdly and as a blessed spillover of that two-fold obsession, that God might be pleased to have dealing with the unconverted as well.
So I plead tonight for all of you committed in membership to churches seeking to maintain the purity of the worship of God, determine more than ever to stand your ground and not be bullied, seduced, or pressured into any other perspective concerning the worship of God. I shall never forget a few years ago when I was reading that book “Worship,” I think that the title of it is “Reverence and Awe,” a wonderful book on worship, and there was a chapter by Ligon Duncan III, pastor of the first Presbyterian church in Jackson, Mississippi, and he came to deal with the regulative principle and I shall never forget the experience–I can relive it right now in my mind–he said, “At the end of the day when we speak of the regulative principle what we mean is simply this: we gather in the name of Christ, and when we gather, we gather to sing the Word, to read the Word, to pray the Word, to preach the Word, and to see the Word.” I said, that’s it, that’s simple. I got blessing God and then I went to my desk, I said, “I gotta talk to this man.” I had forgotten I’d met him years ago at a conference in England. I got on the phone with him, and I said, “Brother you’ve blessed me into a shouting fit in my study, setting forth the regulative principle so simply.”
We sing the word. Colossians 3:17,
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in Psalms and hymns and spiritual song,” that are rich in the word of Christ.
We read the word. 1Timothy 4:13, Paul said to Timothy,
“Till I come pay attention to the reading of the Scriptures, pay attention, pay close attention to the reading,” the definite article is there. That was the public reading of the Scriptures.
In several of the epistles, Paul closes them by saying, “I adjure you that this epistle be read in all the churches.” I charge you this epistle be read.
We’re to read the word, sing the word; we’re to pray the word. Didn’t Jesus say, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you shall ask what you will and it shall be done unto you”? Did we not have read in our hearing this morning in 1John 5, “If we know that we pray according to his will, we know we have the petitions we desired of him”? How do we know when we’re praying according to his will? When we take his own word and we bring it back to him and say, “My Father, you have said, having not spared your Son, shall you not with him freely give us all things?” We press it before you.
As a young Christian I sought to do this in my prayer, and as I grew, I hope I grew in it, but I grew exponentially when I first began to pray with my dear black brother, Achille Blaize. I shall never forget the first time I prayed with that man. We were on our knees in a little dormitory room in Lester, England, and he began to pray, and as he started to pray he started bringing one verse after another before the Lord, and in his rich mellifluous West-Indian kind of Jeffrey Holder voice, I can’t imitate it, but he would say, “Oh Lord, this is the word of the King; Oh God, the King cannot lie. You are my Father, this is the Father’s word; Lord we bring your word before you. You must, you must fulfill your word.” At times I almost wanted to peek and see if he had the Lord by the hem of his garment. He was bringing God’s Word back to him in prayer!
When we talk of the regulative principle, this is what we’re talking about: worship services in which we sing not ditties and little dabbles of biblical truth, but truths rich in the word of Christ. When we have the word read to us, when we pray the word, when we preach the word. 2Timothy 4:2, “Preach the word, Timothy.” Even though he told Timothy, “There’re gonna be people turning their ears away from the truth, and they’re going to exchange the truth for fables, and they want stories, and they want cute little ditties,” Preach the word! Preach the word!
Then we see the word in the simplicity of the two ordinances instituted by Christ when the table is set before us and upon it is bread and the fruit of the vine, and God accommodates himself to our weak faith, and we can see with our eyes bread that Christ himself said represents his body given for us. We can see the red fruit of the vine, and this he says represents my blood shed for you. He knows we are creatures of time, yes, but also of sense, with our five senses, and he says, “I’ll give you the gospel in bread and the fruit of the vine, that you may have your faith strengthened as you feed upon me by faith.”
Oh dear people, there’s a beautiful simplicity in the regulative principle applied to our worship. It means that it is word-saturated worship; it is word-directed worship, and by that word we come into contact with the living word, Christ himself, and with our Heavenly Father. So I entreat you tonight, my exhortation is this: stand firm in your determination to maintain the purity of your corporate worship. Don’t grow weary of it. Remember the tragedy of the wilderness generation. They got tired of manna. And what was manna? It was the stuff by which their physical life was sustained. It contained all the nutrients; it had more stuff in it than you can pull off ten shelves at the health food store; it sustained their life in the wilderness, and they got weary of manna. I believe that’s what’s in the heart of many in our sister churches! They’re weary of the manna, and they want something new, something different! Well, God may give it to them like he gave that wilderness generation until what they wanted came out their ears and they said, “Enough, enough, give us back the manna.”
I’d make an appeal not only to stand firm in your determination to maintain the purity of your corporate worship, but secondly, to maintain the dignity of your corporate worship. The word dignity is defined as the quality of being worthy of esteem or of honor. When we come into the special presence of the living God, though we come to him as our Father and Christ, as our brother designated him in one of his prayers tonight–as our elder brother–and the presence of the Holy Spirit is our indwelling guest, Father, Son and Spirit in all the privileges and intimacies of redemptive privilege, remember, he is still God. He is still God. In condescending to relate to us in the privileges of redemptive grace, he does not yield up his dignity, his being worthy of honor and of esteem.
One of the problems I’m persuaded of, that militates against the maintenance of the dignity of worship, is an element of worldly societal reality that creeps like a terrible fog into the worship of God’s people. It is what I’m calling a crass, carnal egalitarianism. That is, a disposition that everybody is equal. In our society, attitudes, carriage, dress, protocol of respect and honor between inferiors and superiors has almost completely been washed away. There’s very little protocol of honor between inferiors and superiors, very little protocol of dress and appearance. Let me illustrate. In the average corporation people expect the CEO to come dressed in jeans and a t-shirt and to meet the janitor in his jeans and t-shirt and exchange first names,
“How ya doing Joe?”
“Fine, Pete, how are you?”
When anyone even introduces the concept that there is something that is unbiblical, unchristian, and ungodly in this attempt to obliterate those distinctions…My Bible says, “Honor to whom honor is due!” Certain people are due honor. It is not right to get on a first name basis. I am to honor them by my carriage, by my dress, by my demeanor, by the titles by which I call them. Who is more honorable than the living God? Who is more honorable than the high and the lofty one who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy? Therefore, when we gather to worship him, not only should we gather to worship in purity, but also with dignity. Here I turn you to a pivotal passage in the book of Hebrews, Hebrews 12. In this section of the letter, the writer to the Hebrews has been setting forth a marvelous contrast between the context and the privileges that were there under the old covenant with the context and privileges under the new covenant. He begins the contrast in verse 18, “You are not come unto a mount that might be touched,” etc. “But you are come,” verse 22, “You are come unto Mount Zion, you’ve not come to Sinai, you’ve come to Zion.” Then he mentions all of those privileges that are ours in coming to Zion, and then he summarizes, verse 28, “Wherefore, receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us have grace whereby we may offer service.” It may well be rendered…this word is rendered worship in other settings, “We may offer service, priestly service. We may offer worship well-pleasing to God with reverence and with awe.” Marginal reading: with godly fear and awe.
One of my little irritants is the way the word awesome has been cheapened. Everything’s awesome. The guy’s up at the plate, he hits it on the sweet part, out it goes at 380 feet and people say, “Awesome.” A homerun’s not awesome. Someone on the football field just about takes a guy’s head off, flattens him with a real tackle, “that was awesome.” No, that’s not awesome. That doesn’t put me on my face and prostrate me with a sense of my littleness as a creature in the presence of the great and glorious God. Only God is awesome, and therefore his worship should be tinged with reverence and awe, with godly fear–the sense that we are coming into the presence of this majestic, glorious, exalted being that we designate as God.
Listen to John Owen commenting on this verse in Hebrews, “Let us have grace whereby we may worship God acceptably,” Owen writes, “I judge that here peculiar respect is had unto the worship of God according to the gospel which was brought in upon the removal of those institutions of worship that were appointed under the Old Testament. To serve God acceptably is that we may be accepted of God in our worship. The principal things required to this acceptation are,” Do we want our worship to be acceptable to God? Owen says, here’s what’s required, “that the persons of the worshippers be accepted in the Beloved. God had respect unto Abel, his person and his offering because Abel was a man of faith,” and Owen says, “if we would offer acceptable worship it must be that the worshipper himself has been accepted through Christ, a true believer, one united to the Lord Jesus,” number two, “that the worship itself in all the duties of it and the whole performance of it be of his own appointment and approval,” in other words, the regulative principle. We want to bring God acceptable worship? We must bring a person, ourselves, accepted in Christ. Secondly, what we bring must be mandated by the word of God. And then thirdly, that the graces of faith, love, fear, reverence, and delight be in actual exercise, for in and by them alone in all our duties we give glory to God. So my person must be accepted. Secondly, what I bring must be approved of God, and I must bring it in the manner mandated by God in faith, in love, and I love these three words put together: fear, reverence, and delight. He says they must be in present exercise. In other words, Owen would stand in the pulpit tonight and say to us, “Dear worshippers, have you been worshipping me tonight with fear, with reverence, and with delight? Have they been in exercise as you have worshipped?” Then and only then, Owen says, is our worship acceptable. Then, commenting on the words “with reverence and godly fear,” listen to the good old doctor, “The sense of these words may be best learned from what they are opposed unto, such as number one: a lack of a due sense of the majesty and glory of God with whom we have to do in our worship,” Owen says where there is no sense of the majesty and the glory of God in our worship, we are not worshipping with reverence and godly fear, “secondly, a lack of a due sense of our own vileness, forgetting who and what we are. God says to us through the prophet, ‘Look unto the rock from whence you were hewed and unto the pit from whence you have been dug.’” We are never to forget what we once were before God laid hold of us. The remembrance of what we once were will give us a due sense of our own vileness. Then he says, “Thirdly, carnal boldness in a customary performance of sacred duties which God abhors.”
Reverence and godly fear in worship are utterly incompatible with a carnal boldness, a carnal boldness, not a holy boldness with the eyes of the soul fixed upon Christ as our mediator, reminding us that what we are is such even as believers that unless our worship is presented through the mediation of Christ it will disgust God, it will not please Him nor be received by Him. Then he says, “For, our God is a consuming fire.” Notice he doesn’t say, “He was a consuming fire at Sinai and under the old covenant, but now he’s a warm, fuzzy, cuddly bear hug.” My dear friend, listen carefully. God’s nature as holy and opposed to sin, that’s the whole significance if you trace this phrase through the Old Testament; our God is a consuming fire. His holiness and righteousness are active principles in his being that go out to lay hold of and consume all that is against him. God is revealed as a consuming fire in the giving of the old covenant–the mountain shakes; it smokes; it quakes. Fire flashes from off its crags.
But God reveals himself as a consuming fire more intensely under the new covenant. Yes. Where is God’s consuming fire more manifest than when his immolated Son hangs upon a cross, and the heavens are shrouded in blackness and the soul of the Son of God is plunged into the utter forsakenness of hell until he cries, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” He was abandoned because our God is a consuming fire. That’s why. He was bearing our sins, and God consumed him in his righteous and holy wrath. Therefore, in all the joy, in all the delight, in all the ebullience and all of the other marvelous internal reactions of a redeemed soul in the presence of God knowing his privileges, we never forget, our God is a consuming fire. He is the God concerning whom psalmists sing when they think of the God of majesty and the God of glory, and when they summon the believing community to worship what is the tenor of their language? Well listen to several passages. You could choose many others at random. Psalm 95:6-7,
“Oh come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker for he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.”
We are his people: intimacy. We are his sheep: tender care. But he’s God, and we’re to be prostrate before him. Let us bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our maker. Psalm 96:9,
“Oh worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness, tremble before him all the earth. Say among the nations, ‘the Lord reigns.’”
When we come into the presence of this majestic, exalted, reigning God, the element of dignity should pervade our worship, dignity in the one who leads the worship. The whole notion that the preacher ought to just amble out unto the platform and lean over and say with big thirty-two-tooth grin, “How, it’s good to see you lovely people. It’s a beautiful day today isn’t it? How, the Lord is good. How many think the Lord is good? Let’s just say praise him.”
My friends, that climate is shot through with despicable carnality. Those of us who come to lead the worship of God should not look like we’re coming to a funeral. The worship of God is to be marked, Owen said, by delight. Our countenances ought to reflect the joy and delight in God, but when we summon the people into the presence of God, it is the God who is a consuming fire. When we open up his word, God says,
“To this man will I look, even to him who is of a poor and contrite spirit and who trembles at my word.”
That’s Bible dear people. God looks to the one whose heart stands in awe before his person and before his holy word. When you turn to the perfect worship described in the book of the Revelation where there are the four and twenty elders, they’re on their faces before the throne in the very immediate presence of God, representing most likely the redeemed church, having come to perfection of glorification, yet they don’t forget that they’re creatures. They’re on their faces, wrapped up in ecstatic worship of their glorious God.
Then thirdly, I would urge you as God’s people to stand firm in your appreciation and commitment of worship that is not only marked by purity, marked by dignity, but marked by vivacity. Now, why did I choose that word, just to match up with the other two –ity’s? Well, in part, yes, but I wouldn’t have matched up another word just cause it had the same ending if it didn’t express what I believed ought to be expressed. By definition if something’s vivacious, it’s full of life and animation–it is lively. So vivacity speaks of the quality or state of being vivacious, where there is liveliness of spirit. Surely brethren, worship of the one true and living God, worship colored by all the glorious privileges of the new covenant: the gift of the Spirit, the ability to say Abba Father, the confidence that when we sin we have an advocate at the right hand of the Father, the knowledge that the best is yet to come.
Our most intense moments of enjoyment of our privileges are but an earnest, a down payment. It takes a redeemed body to house the worship of a fully sanctified soul. That’s one of the reasons God doesn’t perfectly sanctify us now. In this body it would kill us! If you had a perfectly sinless spirit, your body couldn’t handle it for five minutes! You’d want to worship with such passion your body would burn out and all your circuits would be blown. So God is going to give us both when we are through the door of death, perfected spirit, day of resurrection, perfected body. In that condition, with the energy and the passion of a perfected soul, we’ll have an instrument with which to house it, and all those holy desires will find expression without weariness, without distraction, without forgetfulness. Just thinking about it makes me want to blow all my fuses and burn my circuits standing here in the pulpit. It’s a marvelous prospect! That’s what awaits us, and when we’re contemplating those things, in our worship surely dullness is a terrible, crass contradiction of everything we say we believe.
So our worship, my brothers and sisters, ought to be marked by vivacity. Not a vivacity stirred up by the psychological and emotional manipulation of the worship leader or by some catchy little tune by the so-called worship leaders and their accompaniments spread out on the platform, but by the contemplation of the blessed realities of the being of God, the nature of our privileges in grace, all of these spiritual realities which when we focus our minds upon them cannot help but inflame our hearts. So that when we read in John 4 these words, “The Father seeks a people to worship him in spirit and in truth.” The exegetes debate what is “spirit.” Is that the human spirit quickened by the Holy Spirit? Or is it contemplating the coming of the Holy Spirit to constitute new covenant worshippers? No matter how it falls out and what the intention is, the Father is seeking worshippers to worship him in spirit, as opposed to mere lip-worship of the Jews. These people draw near with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. The Father is seeking worshippers who draw near in spirit, with spirits quickened by the Holy Spirit or by the energizing power of the Spirit.
Philippians 3:3, “We are the circumcision who worship by the Spirit of God who glory in Christ Jesus, who put no confidence in the flesh.” And Paul says, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” The human spirit is free to soar in the praise and in the adoration of God.
When you turn again to the worship scenes in the book of the Revelation, I find them so helpful. If anything marks the worship of those in the immediate presence of God, it’s vivacity. They fall down; they say with a loud voice; they marshal all kinds of language: “Blessing and glory and honor be unto him that sitteth upon the throne and unto the Lamb forever and forever!” There’s vivacity in that worship! And dear people, what we do here should be something of an earnest and a down payment of what we will do in perfection when we join the host of heaven. So that people who come among us and know very little of who and what we are, they ought to be gripped with several things the first time they sit among us, and they’re looking and wondering what is this people all about, they ought to be able to say, “Whatever they’re about, the Bible is touching every facet of what they do.” The preacher stands up, and he says, “We’re going to be called to worship“–and he reads from the Bible. Then he says, “Now we’re going to have a song, and then we’re going to have our consecutive reading.” Then when they sing, Scripture texts are written at the top of the hymn that reflect what the hymn is about in relationship to the Bible–and then when they pray, they’re quoting Bible back to God. This is a Bible-bound people! They ought to realize that, though they may be ignorant of many things.
Second thing: they ought to realize in one service that Jesus Christ is not secondary to whatever these people are talking about. His name, his work, his glory bursts through the worship. The hymns speak of Christ; people pray in the name of Christ; and then, when leading the people in prayer, the concerns of the kingdom of Christ. They say, “Whatever these people are about, the Bible’s putting its pressure on them, every part of what they do, Jesus Christ is central to all that they do, and one thing is clear: They’re doing it with all their heart.” They look around and nobody’s sitting there, leaning back, half-asleep, or fully asleep. They’ve got their hymn-book; they’re standing; they’re singing, some of them wagging their heads, some of them tapping a foot. They’re into it! These people are into it! It’s got hold of them. They’re engaged; there is vivacity in their worship. Now, I ask you, is any one of those things off the charts biblically? Or ought those things to be the mark of our corporate gatherings?
Dear people of God cherish, and by the grace of God, cling to these perspectives relative to worship. Don’t grow weary of them and with them. If something of the vivacity wanes in your worship, what’s the answer? It is not to introduce novelties to spruce things up. It’s to get on your faces and cry with the psalmist, “Wilt Thou not revive us again, that Thy people may rejoice in Thee?” If the fizz is gone out of the Coke, like it does if you sit it on the counter for three hours, if it’s gone out of our worship, we don’t introduce novelties, we cry to God to come by the Spirit, if we’ve grieved the Spirit that we might know wherein we’ve grieved him and repent and find fresh forgiveness and cry to God to reanimate and re-empower our worship.
Then don’t grow weary when those who lead your worship are constantly graciously exhorting you, “Brethren, let’s enter in with a whole heart. Brothers and sisters, as we now come to this hymn, let’s concentrate our minds upon the richness of its truth. Don’t lose blessing through a lazy mind.” Do you get resentful when those of us who lead you in worship are consciously and constantly graciously exhorting and admonishing you to enter in with your whole heart? It’s one of the great blessings in an assembly where those who lead are convinced, the worship must be vivacious! They don’t have the power to create it, but they can graciously exhort the gathered community to be satisfied with nothing less.
So I lovingly exhort you and plead with you that by the grace of God we may stand firm in our determination to maintain our appreciation and maintain our commitment to worship that is marked by its purity, its dignity, and by its vivacity.
Well, that’s the first time I preach this in this form and it got away from me. Let me just give you the heading that I had hoped to preach, and then maybe we’ll preach this the next time, if the Lord spares us.
Stand firm in your determination to maintain your careful, thorough, and conscientious, biblical churchmanship. All I’ll do is just remind you of a couple of texts that I would have expounded and applied.
The church, according to 1Timothy 3:15, God has constituted the pillar and ground of the truth. God’s truth gives birth to the church. The church then becomes responsible to embody that truth and to display that truth in its life. The way the church best displays the truth is by a careful, thorough, conscientious, biblical churchmanship determined as Paul said to Timothy,
“I hope to come to you, but if I tarry long, I want you to know how men ought to behave themselves in the church of the living God which is the pillar and ground of the truth.”
Then Paul gave very careful directions about how to maintain purity of doctrine, how to establish and maintain the primacy of prayer (1Timothy 2:1), how to instruct women to see their relative roles in relationship to leadership and teaching, to be modest in their dress, how to ascertain when God is fitting a man to be an elder and a deacon (1Timothy 3), and then he goes on to give direction about the care of widows, how to treat the rich fat cats in the church, he says to Timothy, “Get in their face and charge them not to be big shots in their own eyes, not to set their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but to have large hands to give much to the work of God and to the needy.” All of this specific directive comes to Timothy that it might be implemented in the church at Ephesus with careful, thorough, conscientious, biblical churchmanship.
When Jesus gave the great commission in Matthew he said, “Make disciples, baptize them, teach them to observe all things whatsoever,” intensive, extensive, “all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” And don’t regard any facet of revealed biblical churchmanship as irrelevant or unimportant. God knows best how to make his church a marvelous theater to display his glory (Ephesians 3:10), and it’s when we have, not a Pharisaic nit-picking mentality, but a passion that Christ will be glorified in his church, that we want to follow his blue-print for the church down to every last beam and plank and everything that pertains to the house of God.
Knowing that some of you are being tested in these areas, I urge you, I entreat you, for God’s glory, for the honor of Christ, stand firm in your determination to maintain your careful, thorough, conscientious, biblical churchmanship until the Lord Jesus takes you home or himself comes and gathers us all home to be with him.
Well, let’s pray together.
Our Father, how we thank you for your word! We thank you for all that you have revealed in that word, and we would confess the sin of being indifferent to parts of your word. We pray you would forgive us wherein anyway we’ve allowed ourselves to be bullied or seduced or nudged away from a careful obedience to the word. Seal to our hearts the things we’ve considered tonight. Whatever’s had the mixture, the clay of man’s thought, blow upon it, bring it to naught. Seal what is your truth to every heart. Receive our thanks for your blessings to us this day. Bless your dear people who have come from some distance. Take them safely to their homes, and may they return rejoicing in you and determine by your grace to be obedient to your word. Hear then our prayers we plead in Jesus’ name, Amen.
This is a minimally edited transcript of a sermon, used with permission. All Rights Reserved. Please do not copy without permission. For more information write to firstname.lastname@example.org.