God’s Priorities for His Churches: Truth (3)
“Gather My saints together to Me,
Those who have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice.”
Let the heavens declare His righteousness,
For God Himself is Judge. Psalm 50.5, 6
“The passage is well worthy of our particular notice, as defining those who are to be considered the true members of the Church. They are such, on the one hand, as are characterised by the spirit of meekness, practising righteousness in their intercourse with the world; and such, on the other, as close in the exercise of a genuine faith with the covenant of adoption which God has proposed to them. This forms the true worship of God, as he has himself delivered it to us from heaven; and those who decline from it, whatever pretensions they may make to be considered a church of God, are excommunicated from it by the Holy Spirit.”
- John Calvin, Commentary on Psalm 50
The truth about worship
Many pastors live in fear of those dreaded words, filtering up to them second-hand from some trusted friend or church leader: “I didn’t get anything out of today’s worship.”
In churches today, we do everything we can to avoid hearing those words. We want everyone to find something for themselves in our services of worship – something of joy, or deep spiritual meaning, or fun and friendship, or good feeling. Our view is that worship should have something for everyone, so that everyone will come back again next week for more of the same.
We don’t put it quite that way, of course, but it’s what we do. And when worshipers don’t find what they want in worship, or worship fails to do for them what they think it should, they complain about worship, or leave to go to other churches in town, where the worship and other activities are more in line with what they’re seeking.
As the Scriptures present it, worship is not about what we’re seeking. It’s about what Godis seeking, or more pointedly, what God requires of those who come into His presence for worship. As Asaph explains, in corporate worship, God calls His people together so that He can examine the state of truth as it exists among them, and can lead them into His truth, not only for worship, but for all of life.
So the truth about worship for many churches today is that we have missed the truth about worship. And everything else in the life of the church suffers when that’s the case.
Truth in the focus of worship
Psalm 50 outlines the truth about worship, for in it we hear God commenting on the worship of His people, and calling them to bring their worship into line with His expectations.
The truth about worship is that God, not the worshipers, is the only proper focus. We should be asking not whether we and those we lead in worship were pleased with what happened in our service, but whether God was. God comes to meet His people in worship with pent up power, stirring up tempests of inner disturbance and aspiration, as He draws the minds and hearts of His people upward to His majesty, glory, and might (vv. 1-3). What we “get out of” such an encounter may not always be pleasant; or it may be pleasurable and exhilarating beyond anything we’ve ever known. And this will be the case when our focus in worship is as it should be.
God comes to judge His people, to determine whether our ways and offerings are what He intends (vv. 5, 6). We must look to Him, listen to Him (v. 7), bow in repentance and submission before Him (v. 8), acknowledge His sovereign greatness and self-sufficiency (vv. 1, 2, 12, 13), and remember and extol Him in all His power, work, will, mercy, and covenant expectations (vv. 16, 22, 23). We are not worshiping in truth if our focus in worship is anything other than God.
Truth in the forms of worship
Worshiping God in truth requires also that we embrace the forms of worship God Himself prescribes.
God stands in judgment over the forms we use to worship Him (vv. 7, 8). Only what God prescribes in worship, and everything He prescribes, must be what we offer Him. We are not free to add to worship any “false incense” of our own devising (Lev. 10.1-3), just because we think it’s clever, or people will enjoy it; and we are not free to delete from worship any forms God requires – such as confession of sin, bringing of offerings, waiting on the Lord in silence, and so forth – because we find these inconvenient, old fashioned, or not suitable for the people we’re trying to reach.
Above all, God wants us to engage the forms of worship He prescribes from within, in the depths of our souls, in an attitude of unworthiness, gratitude, and resolute determination to know and obey Him. The forms we use in worship must not be employed merely because they excite us in the inner person, but because they engage us – heart, mind, and conscience – in a deeper and more intimate communion with God, and truer commitment to obeying Him.
The truth about worship is that God scrutinizes the forms we employ, to determine the extent to which all He has revealed as pleasing to Him is present in the worship we offer.
Truth in the fruit
Finally, God meets His people in judgment to reinforce His demand that worship issue in fruitful livesof obedience and service, in which His people embrace His Word, walk in His ways, order their days for obedience before Him, and make of their lives a living sacrifice of worship (vv. 16-23; cf. Rom. 12.1, 2).
When we worship in truth, if the fruit of worship is absent in those assembled for true worship, the truth of God will expose their hypocrisy (vv. 16, 17), lay bare their sinful ways (vv. 18, 19), rebuke their false ideas about Him (v. 21), remind them of His covenant promises and commands (v. 16), and warn of judgment to come if we continue presuming on His grace and making a mockery of His mercy (vv. 22, 23). We do not use the service of worship to call out individual members for specific sins; however, we do not serve the purposes of truth if we downplay or excuse the weakness and complacency of our souls, and act as if sin is no big deal with God, because, as we insist, He is all of grace and all about us anyway. God is seeking other fruit from worship, not that we continue on cruise control in some status quoof childish faith.
God is not all about us. He is all about Himself, and that entirely and rightly so. For only God is holy, lovely, good, compassionate, wise, just, gracious, forgiving, merciful, and powerful beyond compare. Only He is deserving of worship that focuses entirely on Him, employs the forms He prescribes according to the manner of His prescribing, and issues in fruit that proves that we have met with God in worship, truly met with Him on His terms and for His glory, and are being transformed by that encounter with God, not only in our times of corporate worship, but as we worship and serve Him in every aspect and moment of our lives.
Pastoral Hope Initiative
Prayer for Revival
“Let us … earnestly strive to be found in the number of those that wait for him, in order that we may share in his promised gifts. But how, beloved, shall this be done? If our understanding is fixed by faith toward God; if we earnestly seek the things that are pleasing and acceptable to him; if we do the things that are in harmony with his blameless will; and if we follow the way of truth, casting away from us all unrighteousness and iniquity, along with all covetousness, strife, evil practices, deceit, whispering and evil speaking, all hatred of God, pride and haughtiness, vainglory and ambition.”
- Clement of Rome (fl. 92-101 AD) 1 Clement 35 (Ancient Christian Commentary Series, InterVarsity Press)
Please prayerfully consider sharing with The Fellowship of Ailbe through your giving. You can contribute to The Fellowship by clicking the Contribute button at the website or by sending your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 19 Tyler Drive, Essex Junction, VT 05452.
T. M. Moore
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.