Leaving Worship

It is so easy to walk out of church (or a worship conference) thinking about mostly how interesting the sermon was, how engaging the music and art were, how good or not-so-good the hospitality and fellowship might have been. How many of us leave worship genuinely pondering the sheer beauty and glory of God?

—John Witvliet, “On Divine Glory: An Expanded Conversation on the Conference Theme” (Calvin Symposium on Worship Jan. 2007), 2

Footnotes

I believe that we can move beyond these sterile disputes by putting our discussion of worship within our larger picture of heaven and earth, of God’s future and our present, and of the way in which those two pairs come together in Jesus and the Spirit. . . . This, I believe, sets the right framework for all our thinking about worship, and all discussion of the church’s sacramental life. The rest is footnotes, temperament, tradition, and—let’s face it—individual likes and dislikes (which is what I call them when they’re mine) and irrational prejudices (which is what I call them when they’re yours).

—N. T. Wright, Simply Christian, 157

God Serves Us

We can serve God because He first serves us. Understood first as God’s service to us, the liturgy becomes a locus in which God’s gracious self-giving promotes the interiorization of our faith, the articulation of our devotion, and the strengthening of our will for action.

—Geoffrey Wainwright, Doxology: The Praise of God in Worship, Doctrine, and Life, 217

Only God

Worship is a transitive verb. This isn’t a lesson in English grammar, it is a vital issue in biblical theology and in Christian living. Worship is a transitive verb! That is, it demands an object. And the only the object it will tolerate in biblical religion is the object God. So, when someone says, “O, I just come to worship God,” I wonder whether they really have got clarity about the object of our worship. It is God and no other. That’s what worship is really all about; it can never be divorced from the God who is its only object.

—Eric Alexander, “Worship God! (Rev. 19:10)” (sermon)

The Neglected Trinity (16)

Through the liturgy of the church, God comes to, speaks to, and joins with the worshiping community in Jesus Christ through the power the Spirit, and worshipers offer a response which is inspired by the Spirit and is united to the prayers and worship of Jesus Christ. In this way, a trinitarian theology of worship calls worshipers not to generate their own proclamation about God nor to muster up their own acclamation to God, but rather to receive the gift of the Word of God and to participate in the worship offered by Jesus Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit. This understanding of liturgy commends liturgical actions which acknowledge the mediation of Christ and the Holy Spirit, and reflect the joy, confidence, and gratitude that is a fitting response to gifts of divine grace.

—John D. Witvliet, The Doctrine of the Trinity and the Theology and Practice of Christian Worship in the Reformed Tradition (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Notre Dame, 1997), 297

All to Him

We do exhort men to worship God neither in a frigid nor a careless manner. . . . His benefits towards ourselves we extol as eloquently as we can, while we call upon others to reverence His Majesty, render due homage to His greatness, feel due gratitude for His mercies, and unite in showing forth His praise.

—John Calvin, On the Necessity of Reforming the Church http://www.lgmarshall.org/Calvin/calvin_necessityreform.html

The Giver

God lovingly receives our affection, our worship, our gifts, our conversation. Be this as it may, the line is to be traced, for the most part, from Him to us: He gives and we receive. All that we offer to Him, our lives and hearts, come from Him in the first place.

—Edith M. Humphrey, “The Gift of the Father,” in Trinitarian Theology for the Church: Scripture, Community, Worship, 94

We give Thee but Thine own,
Whate’er the gift may be;
All that we have is Thine alone,
A trust, O Lord, from Thee.

—William Walsham How (1858) (hymn)

An End In Itself

In worship, the members of the church focus on God; in instruction and fellowship, they focus on themselves and fellow Christians; in evangelism, they turn their attention to non-Christians.  

—Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 1066-1067

All evangelistic activities of the church have as their goal finding more worshipers for God; all edification activities of the church have as their goal making better worshipers for God.

—Ron Man

The only parochial [church] activities which have any real justification are those which spring from worship and in their turn nourish it.

—Jean-Jacques von Allmen, Worship: Its Theology and Practice, 55-56

Worship is the only Christian activity which is an end in itself.

—John Piper

The Center of Our Attention

Singer-songwriter Matt Redman tells the story of the donkey who remarked to his wife coming home from work one day: “I had a wonderful day, dear! I went to Jerusalem and they absolutely loved me there, laying down their mantles and palm branches to soothe my hot hooves and crying ‘Hosanna!'”  It seems that the donkey overlooked the Man on his back.

The Primacy of Worship

The only parochial [church] activities which have any real justification are those which spring from worship and in their turn nourish it.

—Jean-Jacques von Allmen, Worship: Its Theology and Practice, 55-56

Worship is the only Christian activity which is an end in itself.

—John Piper

All evangelistic activities of the church have as their goal finding more worshipers for God; all edification activities of the church have as their goal making better worshipers for God.

—Ron Man

Worship in Revelation (13)

“Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” (Revelation 19:10)

Now what was the angel saying about worship? That was the other question, you remember. Why did this angel react so violently? It was because of God being robbed of His glory. What did the angel positively say about worship? Well, you might respond to me, “Not very much. Just two words: ‘Worship God.’”

Notice the two things he says. 1) He is speaking in the imperative mood. He is talking a commandment from heaven. And this commandment produces the picture of worship as an obligation. Now of course you are going to say to me, “But worship, when it’s true, is something in which we take delight, rather than regard as a duty.” Of course we do. Please God, we do. But my dear friends, it still remains a duty in which we delight. It is what we were created for. It is God’s insistence from the mouth of Jesus, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.” And, although we delight in it, we worship God not for the pleasure we get out of it, but for the glory to Him that is in it. And that’s what we’re for!

What is this one life, so brief, given to me by God for? I tell you, my dear friends, it’s for Him. It’s for Him, and you will never really discover yourself or your destiny until you’ve discovered that: that’s for Him, and so that you might offer your life to Him to be a means of bringing Him glory and honor. So, says the angel, “Worship God.” Worship is an obligation.

2) Do you notice also: worship is a transitive verb. This isn’t a lesson in English grammar, it is a vital issue in biblical theology and in Christian living. Worship is a transitive verb! That is, it demands an object. And the only the object it will tolerate in biblical religion is the object God.

So, when someone says, “O, I just come to worship God,” I wonder whether they really have got clarity about the object of our worship. It is God and no other. That’s what worship is really all about; it can never be divorced from the God who is its only object.

——Eric Alexander, “Worship God!” (sermon)

Worship in Revelation (12)

“Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” (Revelation 19:10)

Now I want to ask two questions of this incident: First, why did this angel react so violently to what John was doing as he is down at his feet worshipping him? Second, what was the angel saying about true worship?

First, why did the angel react with such violence, almost with rudeness, to John. “Stop it at once!” he says. Well, you will notice that angels are rational creatures, and the angel gives a reason for this to John. “I fell at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, ‘Do not do it. I am a fellow servant with you, and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus.” Now what he is saying is that he puts himself into the same category as John. “I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers.” In other words, the one thing that angels and saints, as we are described in Scripture, have in common is that we are servants. We exist and are called by God to be servants. You will know that that’s what angels were created for. This is the real horror of what happened to Satan. He was created an angel by God; he became a fallen angel because he rebelled against his status and fell. Isaiah cries, “How you are fallen, Lucifer, son of the morning.” And he fell from the high glory of his privilege of being created as a servant to glorify God. And the thing that it is the ugly and ghastly distortion of Stan’s whole appearance in Scripture is that he who was formed to honor and glorify and praise and worship God has begun to rob God of His worship and seek to deflect it to himself. Isn’t that what happens in the temptation of Jesus? “Now,” he says, “I will give you the kingdoms of this world if You will fall down and worship me.” Have you ever thought how extraordinary and horrendous that here an angel, created to worship this holy Being who created Himself the heavens and the earth, now comes and says to Him and says, “You come and bow down and worship me.” I tell you, there is something utterly grotesque about this, both in the Garden of Eden and in the temptation in Matthew 4. But, my dear friends, there is something equally grotesque about a man or woman who devotes the faculties God has given them and the gifts God has bestowed upon them to bring worship to any other creature or object in the universe except to the living God. That’s what upset the angel. God was being robbed of His glory. My dear friends it doesn’t just upset the angel; it upsets God, Who appears within his being to be hypersensitive to this whole issue, for the universe is founded on the basis of it: He says, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God. My glory I will not give to another.” Now of course we sometimes think, what strange adjective to use of God, to suggest that He is jealous. Isn’t that the ugly green-eyed monster that we all want to be rid of? But you know, there is a holy jealousy, supremely found in God, as well as an unholy and ugly jealousy. And that holy jealousy is a beautiful thing. . . . That holy jealousy which is in the heart of God is reflected in the marriage bond, of which God makes much use in Scripture: here is the bride of the Lamb; there is Jehovah, the husband of His people. And He says, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God. My glory I will not give to another.”

Now when we bow down before any other person or object and bring our worship there, it is grotesque. The most grotesque thing of all, I think is when we bring our worship to ourselves. “They worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator,” says Paul. You know of course that this is the idea of robbing God of His glory that is behind the ultimate missionary compulsion. The ultimate missionary compulsion is not simply that there are people who are dying without knowing Christ, nor is it that God has given us the Great Commission to go out into the world; it is that there are areas of the world, whether here in Memphis or to the ends of the earth, where God is being robbed of His glory. That why when Paul went to Athens, a missionary situation if there ever was one to him, and found people bowing down before idols (and don’t think for a moment they were old-fashioned, former-generation people; they are modern people), Paul had what in the Greek of the NT seems to mean a paroxysm– a cardiac arrest is how some people think of it. Why was he so upset? It was because God was being robbed of His glory.

My friends, we need to learn a little of a jealous concern for the glory of God, because this is what puts worship in its true context. And it’s so easy to be worshiping idols. Let me put one illustration of that into the whole context of worship. I overheard someone, some time ago now, coming out of a church service and saying to someone who was standing nearby, “Well, I didn’t get a thing out of that worship. Didn’t do anything for me!” And I heard the voice of a kindly and wise pastor saying, “I always thought that what mattered about worship was what God got out of it, not you and me.”
And when we begin to have the test of worship what I get out of it, beloved, we are in the world of idol worship, and the idol is ourselves.

O for a passion for the glory of God!

——Eric Alexander, “Worship God!” (sermon)

Worship in Revelation (11)

“Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” (Revelation 19:10)

“Do not do it,” our English translation says. It’s a much stronger saying than that. It is, “Stop that at once. Whatever else you do, don’t do that!” And there is a measure of indignation in this unfallen creature at what John is doing. Nobody knows exactly why he did it; it may have been that he was so overwhelmed by what was happening he scarcely knew what was happening. But the one thing that is clear is that heaven is offended by his bowing at the feet of the angel and bringing worship to this angelic being. Now, whatever we know or do not know about angels, we must recognize that they know a great deal about worship. Because that is what their great function was in Isaiah 6, this is what the angels do. This is their language, this is their purpose. They fly to cry out in worship and honor and praise to God. “The whole earth,” they say, “is full of His glory.” But this angel comes to John and says, “Stop doing that. Worship God.”

—Eric Alexander, “Worship God!” (sermon)