1 August, 2013 William Philip
There is much argument in churches over the issue of worship. Yet what we are often talking about has nothing whatsoever to do with the Bible’s concept of worship. But worship is important. In fact, it is the biggest subject of all.
Don Carson sums it up neatly when he says, ‘the heart of all Biblical religion is God-centredness: in short, it is worship.’ That’s a big statement, but it’s right. Worship, in the Bible, is the alpha and omega. The purpose of both creation and the new creation is worship. The Old Testament story begins with humanity created in God’s presence, in perfect and conscious communion with Him; that is, in a state of perfect worship. The New Testament ends with the consummation of glory: that perfect relationship, lost through sin, is recovered; all the redeemed see God’s face and reign with Him. True worship is restored.
Worship lost, and restored
The whole Bible, between Genesis 2 and Revelation 22, is the story of worship lost and worship regained; true worship abandoned by mankind in Adam and his descendants – and true worship restored in Christ and for those who are in Christ.
Our very word ‘worship’, derived from ‘worthship’, helps us see that at heart it is all about the right relationship of God and Man. God has His place of rightful worth in our lives, and we must have a right view of our own place in relation to Him. He is our King and Lord, and we are His servant creatures. But what we call ‘the fall’ was an active rebellion against this royal covenant relationship. Rightful worship was turned on its head as humans grasped at being their own rulers, instead wanting God to serve us. That is the heart of sin: self-centredness and self-preoccupation which is the very opposite of true worship.
But where the first Adam failed, the last Adam triumphed. Jesus Christ is supremely the one who restores real worship – the right relationship of man, as God’s image bearer, to God his creator; the right worth of obedient servant to gracious Lord. The wilderness temptation demonstrates the pattern of how real, Biblical worship is expressed, in an exact reversal of the rebellion of Adam. ‘“All this I will give you,” Satan said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” But Jesus said, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’” (Matthew 4:9-10).
Whom do you serve?
This is the heart of true worship. Fundamentally it is nothing to do with aesthetics (types of music or liturgy); it is a spiritual matter: not mystical, but moral. The real worship question is not ‘what shall we sing?’ (though this can certainly help or hinder), but ‘to whom do you bow down; whom do you serve?’
Worship is giving all of oneself, in its totality, to God and for God. As William Temple put it, ‘to worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God; to feed the mind with the truth of God; to purge the imagination by the beauty of God; to open the heart to the love of God; to devote the will to the purpose of God’.
This amply demonstrates the magnitude of the revolution in our hearts that must be effected before true worship may even begin. But it is when we consider how God brings conscience, mind, imagination, heart and will into obedience to Himself that we realise what the real centralities in worship are. It is by the word of the Gospel alone that the work of restoring human beings to obedience begins, and continues.
The living word of God is the great promoter of worship, and its chief inspiration. Only through the action of the Gospel upon our souls can we be brought into a right relationship with God, so meaningful worship begins. Only as our response to that word becomes greater and fuller does our worship deepen.
Real worship is therefore not something we can ever initiate or work up, either within ourselves, or in any gathering. From beginning to end it is the fruit of the restoring, transforming power of God’s grace to us in Christ. God’s word is the only true worship leader.
That is why the language of having ‘worship leaders’ or prominent ‘worship groups’ in churches can be quite misleading. Of course music is an important part of what we may quite legitimately call our ‘corporate worship’, the special times when we gather to call consciously upon the name of the Lord together, as his body. In song we are uniquely able to unite our voices together to express our love and thanks to God as one. But only the Gospel has power to draw our hearts to sing, in unison with Jesus, the real worship song: ‘I have come to do your will, O God’ (Hebrews 10:7).
Our lives will only be fashioned into obedient, worshipful harmony with Christ’s risen life if, above all, it is our ears which are active when we gather as God’s people. The ear – not the mouth – has always been the chief organ of corporate worship, according to the Bible: ‘Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools… be not rash with your mouth’ (Ecclesiastes 5:1).
So, let’s encourage one other to have our ears open whenever we meet together as God’s people. And let’s understand that the chief task of the leaders who we are training is to proclaim that worship-leading Gospel to every ear (whether eager to hear or otherwise; 2 Timothy 4:2). Because it is only as we gain an ear for worship that people will be truly led, more and more, into joyful obedience to God in every arena of their lives. And anything less is not worship worthy of our King.