Last month, we discussed what has been called the “regulative principle;” that God’s Word must direct or regulate our corporate worship together. It is clear that God is not only concerned THAT we worship Him but also HOW we worship Him. When we are left to ourselves to determine how to worship God, it inevitably leads to sinful ways of doing so. Israel’s case with the golden bull calf serves as a prime example of this (Exodus 32). They took matters into their own hands and wound up greatly dishonoring God and participating in idolatry. God wants us to have the greatest joy and biggest blessing in worshiping Him as He deserves to be worshiped, so He doesn’t leave us guessing on how to conduct our worship in a way that pleases Him. He spells it out for us in His Word, setting boundaries for us to operate within. And when we come to the Word, we find that those boundaries are to read the Word, preach the Word, pray the Word, sing the Word, and show the Word. Since our worship must be centered on God, it only makes sense that it would be centered on His Word where He has specifically revealed Himself to us. To the way that these directives work out in practice, we now turn.
Read the Word. Paul instructs Timothy to Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching (1 Timothy 4:13). An essential component to our gathering together for worship on Sunday mornings should be the reading of passages of Scripture. This is why the “Call to Worship” is a Scripture reading, why we read a verse or two before the taking up of the offering, and the passage that is preached is first read. It is as God has directed us. Unfortunately, many congregations today have moved away from much Bible reading in their services. But it is so powerful just to hear God’s Word spoken audibly without any comments or explanations. The Spirit can work to grip our consciences and direct us away from ourselves to our Savior in the reading of the text alone. That of course doesn’t mean that the preaching of the Word is not as important though. In fact, God calls for both to occur in our worship together.
Preach the Word. Paul also told Timothy to preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching (2 Timothy 4:2). God does not only want His Word read before the company of gathered saints and perhaps visiting unbelievers but also desires for His Word to be proclaimed with the point of what He is communicating in a passage both explained and applied so that His people may be encouraged, challenged, and grow further in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). It is through the preaching of the Word that unbelievers are brought to faith in Christ and believers find their faith strengthened. As we looked at two months ago when I preached on Nehemiah 8:1-8, God has given us a good model both for preaching and the appropriate response to the sermon by the congregation with Ezra and the Levites’ preaching of the law to the returned exiles.
Pray the Word. In the context of giving instructions for how worship should be conducted in the Ephesian church, Paul says that I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people (1 Timothy 2:1). We are to be praying together as a body, expressing our adoration to God, confessing our sins before Him, and admitting our great need and dependence of Him. My wife and I recently visited a congregation while on vacation and it struck me how little we prayed together. The service didn’t even open with prayer asking for God to direct us to Himself and prepare our hearts for this wonderful time together! It was basically just a time of singing and the sermon with the offering plate passed in the middle. We certainly heard God speak to us from His Word but didn’t have much opportunity to speak to Him. He wants to hear from His people as well during our worship.
Sing the Word. Now we come to the music in our worship. How does the Word of God direct our singing and making music before the Lord? We are told in Ephesians 5:19 to address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart. This indicates that there are different types of songs that we should be singing together. I think that it is good for us to not only sing the old classic hymns with their rich theology pointing us back to Christ and His wonderful work but also newer songs that have recently been written that encourage us to look to the Lord as well. After all, the early church would not have been singing the hymns we sing today since they weren’t written yet! And as for the instruments used in our singing, the Bible provides quite a list for us to choose from (see Psalm 150 for example). Much more than just an organ and piano! The main thing in regards to our music in the worship service is that it is something that we can sing together which encourages us to center ourselves on Christ and the gospel.
See the Word. And the Bible also directs us to continually see the gospel placed on display in the ordinances; baptism (Matthew 28:19) and communion (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Both of these communicate visually the life changing work of Christ on our behalf. Baptism the changed life that the gospel brings where a new believer identifies with Christ’s death and resurrection and communion the precious body of our Lord and His blood shed in our place. Communion must be practiced often until the Lord’s return.
Let’s seek to worship God according to how He desires to be worshiped. That way He will be honored and pleased and we will be edified and grow. He knows what He is doing in His instructions to us!
Love in Christ,