As I have been preaching through this series of messages about worship, I have emphasized that worship is not simply what we say and do on Sunday mornings in the church building. My concern is that we must not reduce our appropriate response to who God is and what he has done to mere rituals that we perform without thought or actual devotion to God. We must understand that simply showing up on a Sunday morning, singing the songs, listening to the words, even taking the bread and cup in the Lord’s Supper, is not worship unless we are actively and intentionally acknowledging that God is worthy of our presence and participation. So even though worship is more than the worship service, it is also not less than the worship service.
Part of our problem with understanding this gathering of the church – that is, the body of Christ – is the fact that there is no single biblical passage that specifically defines what we do and how we do it. However, the Bible gives us plenty of information about what the early church did together in worship, and we should understand this to be instructive for our own gatherings. The church met together regularly, both in their homes and in other common places, such as the temple courts (Acts 2:42); in fact, this was not merely a common occurrence but an expectation, as we read in Hebrews 10:25: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (NIV 1984). They met purposefully on Sundays to share in the Lord’s Supper together (Acts 20:7). They met to do many of the same kinds of things we do in our weekly worship services: sing, teach, encourage, and give (1 Corinthians 14:26; 16:2).
While these examples and instructions do give us both direction and freedom, our worship must not be casual or flippant. Jesus himself indicated that God does have expectations for those who worship him; in John 4:23, 24, Jesus said:
“A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (NIV 1984)
In these words, Jesus cuts away peripheral issues and points the focus of worship on God himself, both in manner and content. In addressing specific issues within the church at Corinth, Paul makes a universal appeal: “Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (1 Corinthians 14:40, NIV 1984). Certainly, there’s a practical value to making sure things go smoothly in any gathering of people, but Paul’s primary concern draws us back to worshiping God because he is worthy, because of who God is; he reminds the church (1 Corinthians 14:33, NIV 1984), “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” This perspective ought to help us ensure that we’re worshiping God appropriately, which ought to be among our concerns in worship; Hebrews 12:28, 29 tells us,
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” (NIV 1984)
In the next several weeks, we are going to be faced with decisions and changes regarding our weekly worship services. If we keep our focus on who God is and what he has done for us – especially through Jesus – we will continue to worship God in spirit and in truth because he is worthy.