Monthly Archives: April 2014
“Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the Lord’s commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good? (Deut. 10:12-13)
This passage, which is the beginning of a more complete statement on worship in Deuteronomy 10:12-21, reminds me of Martin Luther’s admonitions in his Catechisms to fear, love and trust God in every aspect of life. Luther notes that the first of the Ten Commandments reads, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:2-3).
As a professor of Old Testament studies, and based upon his reading of the first commandment, Luther saw that fear, love, and trust were based upon the character of the object being feared, loved, and trusted.1 To have “no other gods” besides the one God is a response of faith to the promise of God to be a Father to His children. Once this relationship is properly established, and believed in faith, the other commandments and the life of worship Moses is calling for (in Deuteronomy 10) flows from the love of Christ and love for our neighbors, rather than from the burden of laws and requirements.
The word fear refers to the recognition and awe of God in His greatness, but also fear in the realization that God is so great and His children so unworthy. It is not a condemning fear, but an understanding that we are utterly incapable of earning His favor and only stand before Him out of His grace and the work and righteousness of Christ.
Reflecting thoughts from Deuteronomy, the writer of Hebrews recognizes the importance of understanding God in proper perspective. “Show gratitude,” he writes, “by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29). It is far from his mind that this should scare the believer, in that sense of the word fear, but it is in the writer’s mind that having the proper perspective on God’s holiness and righteousness should cause us to stop before making excuses for our own shortcomings. We are to gratefully serve God for His grace and mercy, realizing that judgment is only averted because of His grace in the work of Christ.
Love for God is responsiveness to His love for His children. God’s provision of every need as our Father and the Preserver of all things comes to His children out of His grace, based upon no merit of their own. All that we have and call our own are gifts of our Father: self, family, friends, property, good government, employment, peace, health, good weather, etc. Everything within and without are from God and our response should be one of thankfulness.
Note that our love for God is interconnected with our fear of God. Fear gives us the right perspective on what we deserved in judgment, and how far His grace and mercy has reached to redeem us. Love is our responsive attitude of gratefulness, by which we rejoice in our lives by serving God in all that He has entrusted to us. There are many ways in which worship can be described as a response, and these ideas are clearly demonstrated in these verses in Deuteronomy.
We are to trust in God as a child trusts a father. We are to find refuge and safety in Him and His provision.This faith, or trust, should have as its object the One that determines the core of our identity—it determines who we are. If this faith is misplaced, our identity is misplaced, but when centered upon God and His grace, then we have the gift of the right object of faith, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Trust is the inevitable outcome of fear and love. We gain perspective through fear, respond gratefully in love, and find peace and rest in our trust of God’s unfailing care. Although our circumstances in life may be difficult, and we may wonder how we will make it through another day, God’s faithful care for us supports and strengthens us. And often, through us, His faithfulness is carried into the lives of others – because He has shown His faithfulness to us, we can encourage others in the midst of their difficulties (see 2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
At a very basic and underlying level this fear, love, and trust of God gives us a complete perspective. And, it gives us a balanced perspective in every area of life. When we truly understand who God is, how He cares for His people, and how He loves and provides for us we also begin to understand who we are as His children. We are entirely dependent upon Him for all good things and owe Him our gratitude, our service, and our livelihood. In this complete and balanced perspective, the response of worship encompasses our entire lifestyle so that work, play, love for family and friends, corporate worship services, and everything else become an interwoven tapestry of worship and declaration of God’s glory. It is this that we celebrate in our worshipping community each week.
1 See Luther’s discussion of the First Commandment in his Large Catechism. Also reference Paul Althaus’ chapter called “God’s Will for Men” in his work, The Theology of Martin Luther (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), 130-140.
(Original Post on October 22, 2013 at the Worldview Church: http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/20609-worship-in-fear-love-and-trust)
I have often pointed to Romans 12:1-2 as a central passage of Paul’s letter because it so succinctly points the reader to true worship. The idea of worship, as it appears in Romans, may have been a deliberate sub-theme Paul placed within the book, or it may just be the result of Paul’s overall perspective on the Christian life as a lifestyle of worship. He shows how it intertwines with the realities of our daily lives based on the wider perspective he has as an expert and interpreter of the Old Testament. His special understanding of Israel’s stunted relationship with God, as well as God’s gracious gift of salvation to the Gentiles, is revealed throughout the entire book of Romans.
Essentially there is a four-fold outline of worship within Romans that can be delineated in the following way:
- The focus of worship (Romans 1:18-32)
- The faith of worship (Romans 4:19-5:11)
- The form of worship (Romans 12:1-8)
- The fellowship of worship (Romans 15:1-7)
These four principles paint an extensive portrait of what worship is to be, and not be, in the realm of human experience.
The Focus of Worship
Near the beginning of the book of Romans, rather than presenting properly focused worship, Paul describes the wrong focus for worship. Humanity’s sin has so blinded each person that there is no end to the lusts and desires that promote self. Rather than listening to the voice of God found both within themselves (1:19) and without (1:20), they pursue their own lusts and pleasures and their hearts are perpetually darkened (1:21).
This darkened heart leads man continually away from God. Paul even directly refers to this in 3:11-12, “There is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside…” Man has become wise in his own eyes and exchanged the true worship and service of the incorruptible God for “an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures” (1:23). Mankind is addicted to idolatry and seeks to fill the inner yearning to worship with everything other than God Himself. This misdirected worship is contrasted by the worship of the patriarch Abraham who rightly focuses his worship toward God through faith.
The Faith of Worship
We find a connection in Romans 4 between Paul’s discussion of Abraham’s faith and the concept of worship as demonstrated by the vocabulary Paul uses. Romans 4 explains the way of faith as exemplified in Abraham. Although he could be considered a man of good works, Abraham’s activities and “goodness” were not able to earn God’s favor. “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God” (4:2). This coincides with what we saw in Romans 1. Man’s ability to worship and serve God properly was damaged by the Fall, and this was true of Abraham as well.
However, Abraham is held up as one who responded to the evidence of God’s mercy around him and believed what he heard and saw. It was this belief—this faith—that allocated God’s saving mercy into his life. This is what Paul designates as righteousness (4:3-5). In simpler terms, righteousness is the status of a rightly restored relationship with God. Paul contrasts Abraham’s faith in God’s word and promises with the lack of faith described in Romans 1. Yet, just as Abraham responded in faith and believed God’s word and promises, Paul recognizes that we also can respond to God’s word and promises by faith. In spite of how things appeared, and our inability on our own to have a relationship with God, He calls us to faith in Christ and to be reconciled with Him (Romans 5:8-11).
The Form of Worship
The specific form, or pattern, of worship we find in Romans is physical and active. This is what it means to present our bodies (12:1). Appropriately, it comes in Romans after the discussion of the faith of worship, for the actions of worship must only be a thankful response to a work already completed in us, rather than a way to earn the favor of God. Faith first, then action–just like Abraham! We balance the physical and active with the internal. Let me phrase it by saying that the appropriate form of worship comes out of, or is the result of, the right attitude about worship. Remember the importance of the “renewed mind” and that our activity is always the result of our internal decisions (12:2).
The form of worship is empowered by God. It is God that has gifted His people to serve Him and others. This is why His love has been “poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (5:5). Our ability to serve God and others is empowered by His indwelling Spirit. Paul’s writings are filled with references to the work of the Spirit in our lives, and this is evidenced in Romans 12 as he has “allotted to each a measure of faith” (12:3). He has given us what we need for what He is asking us to do. Ultimately, the best form of worship is cooperative. As God has gifted each person, we are then responsible to serve others with those gifts (12:4-8). None of us have all the gifts. We need each other to be complete and serve in the fullness of the Body of Christ. This diversity and unity is vital to the proper working of the church.
The Fellowship of Worship
As Romans comes to a close, Paul uses worship terminology to discuss the fellowship of Christians loving and serving one another. He is expecting the combined Christian effort of living godly lives to issue forth in a unity of purpose and voice. “That with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (15:6). Obviously, from the perspective of the larger context, our unified “voice” is not necessarily vocal but a reflection of our daily lives of obedience and service (i.e., faith).
Of course, Paul reiterates the “renewal of the mind” (12:2) idea in 15:4 when he states, “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” It is no accident that Paul reuses phrases and terms we have already discussed in previous sections. His thought is interconnected throughout Romans, and his desire is that the Body of Christ becomes a community of loving individuals unified in their service to God, and also that God would be glorified in what we do.
And so we see that worship is an integral theme within the book of Romans. It would be unique if it only appeared here, but these concepts cross through many of Paul’s writings as well as the other writers of the New Testament for we see that they are founded upon principles laid down in the Old Testament. This is why it is important to think properly about worship, that we may then experience a life of worship, which encompasses the whole of our daily lives.
(This article has been adapted from Mark Sooy’s book: The Life of Worship: Rethink, Reform, Renew. For a more complete discussion you can order the book at www.MarkSooy.com.)
(Original Post on October 8, 2013 at the Worldview Church: http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/20529-worship-in-the-book-of-romans)
Planning and preparing worship on a weekly basis can begin to weigh a person down after a while, especially if there is more than one type of service, or services of differing styles. We can only include so many songs, dramas, Scripture readings, prayers, and other elements before there begins to be repetition. Our congregations can only learn a certain number of new songs, yet we don’t want songs repeated too often either. We don’t want to wear people out with too much of the new, or bore them with too much of the familiar.
As worship leaders and planners we will always struggle with that balance, but I’ve found that when we allow people to be comfortable with songs and elements they like and are familiar with, they will be more apt to allow for some newness and variety as we try new things. This certainly speaks to the issue of “traditional” and “contemporary” worship discussions, yet many churches have made the grave mistake of eliminating the familiar and opting for what they think is more “hip” and contemporary. Sometimes it works, but more often than not, it damages the ministry and leads to all sorts of problems such as people leaving for other churches.
Worship should be a means of unity, not one of disunity. Corporate worship is the culmination of the gathered Body of Christ that has already been worshiping daily as each Christian has served God by serving others (i.e., the life of worship). The corporate gathering becomes the opportunity to raise a unified voice of thanksgiving and praise to God Who has worked in their midst. It is the response of God’s people to His salvation and sanctifying activity in their lives. All of this takes place in the fullness of the horizontal and vertical aspects of corporate worship that are evident in a study of biblical norms.
I think a balanced approach is, more often than not, a positive experience for a congregation. We can stretch their understanding and experience of worship when we allow them the comfort of what they already know and understand. There must be a balance of variety and familiarity.
Worship leading is, after all, about leading. Sometimes a congregation must be led through songs and worship styles that are well-known. They are comfortable. At other times, they must be led through songs and worship styles that are not-so-comfortable. The songs are new, the music style is different, and drama or other creative material is inserted into the worship experience. This will stretch people and help broaden their faith.
The Key is balance. No one wants to be uncomfortable all the time. And, no one should be left comfortable all the time. The worship leader can only strike this balance by understanding the context within which he or she is ministering. Get to know the people in the congregation. Listen to them and take their advice. Lead them and help them grow. As leaders it is our responsibility to both bring them comfort (in the familiar or comfortable), and to challenge them to new spiritual understanding (in the unfamiliar or uncomfortable). As we serve them in love we can gradually demonstrate the vitality that can come in our worship through a balance of the two.
“Corporate” worship is specifically that time in which the church, as Christ’s body, gathers to recognize God’s work in our lives as believers. We gather because God is a relational God, and we are His relational people. We gather as feet, hands, ears, and eyes because Christ’s body is not complete otherwise. We gather to hear from Him, through His word, and respond to His love, grace, and mercy poured out into our lives. We do this in a celebrative community, which can be offered in the familiar strains of a favorite song, or the spontaneity of something newly penned.
In corporate worship, not only do we come to celebrate personal victories and gain support and prayer for personal struggle (as though corporate worship flows from our personal lives), but we also gain perspective from the larger body as to why we are called to live as we do, serving the way we do (as though our personal worship flows from the corporate identity). These two realms of worship are symbiotic. They exist together and flow from one another, and feed each other.
First Corinthians 12 is a beautiful description of the diversified body worshiping and serving as one body. When we serve faithfully with our gifts, doing our part as God has given us to do, we come alongside others doing the same. We come together in a unified body, living our lives in a personal life-style of worship, to pursue a corporate life of worship. The church (the Body of Christ) is vital to give our individual lives perspective in the larger plan of God in the world.
It is within this context of the Body of Christ in which we can best understand the value of the familiar and the new. There are many reasons that the older couple in the pew have remained through all the trials and joys of the local body. The comfort and familiarity of hymnody and traditional prayer, among many other things, has given them a staying power in their relationship with Christ – and with the body found in their church. Similarly, there is some wisdom in giving new expressions a place in our body and its worship, for each generation must find their own voice in their commitment to the Lord.
As we learn to unify around our diversity, we will find a joy and vitality to our faith that was previously unknown. Clearly, God desires unity, yet not by crowding out the variety and spontaneity that He Himself placed within them. As their Creator, He has made them creative!
(Original Post on August 13, 2013 at the Worldview Church: http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/20486-one-worship-design-variety-spontaneity-familiarity)