1 Corinthians 14:24-25
December 31, 2017
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 18:35 in the audio file.
Or, What Happens When God Is Really Among Us
We are not the same. We who assemble together to worship the Lord week by week are being changed. “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Our thoughts about God are different, our thoughts about His world are different, our expectations for and experience of relationships are different, even our understanding of gathering on the Lord’s Day for corporate worship is different.
Almost a month ago at a Men to Men meeting we talked about a chapter on preaching. The author of the book we’re reading wrote that the most important thing that happens during worship is the preaching of the Bible. Multiple guys wanted to talk about this. Multiple guys challenged, if not denied this. While all of those guys are guys who love the truth of the Word, the discussion itself gave evidence that we’re thinking differently about how truth comes to us than we did not that long ago.
Trinity Evangel Church has not existed that long. Our seventh anniversary as a church is just a couple weeks away, but we are different. Not everyone who started with us stayed, but everyone who stayed is no doubt very different, and I think you’d say that you are different for the better, not aged like a compost pile but like good wine in a whiskey barrel. There are a variety of agents and instruments that the Lord, by His Spirit and grace, has used to grow us. But one of the most potent ingredients, if not the one that affects all the others, is our worship together on the Lord’s Day.
I believe this, and I believe that it is no accident. I believe that it is inevitable, and I believe that it is biblical. We become like who we behold. This is true positively, as I quoted from Paul a few minutes ago in 2 Corinthians 3. This is true negatively, as we heard in the call to worship from Psalm 115. Mute, deaf, senseless, idols cause those who worship them to have useless mouths, useless ears, useless hands.
Worshippers do more than, though not less than, gather truth. I have referred to this state as being a truth-tube. For those who love the Bible–may the Lord increase their tribe–but who relate to this principle impersonally, they also become what they worship. They become professional religious note-takers, worshipping the God of the Answer Key. They become professional religious lawyers, worshipping the God of Argument and Order. They become professional religious editors, worshipping the God of grammatically and theologically correct sentences.
But, while our God is truth, He is also the way Who shows where to go not just what to think. While He is righteousness, He is also grace that floods all our stuff. While He is the God who never lies, He is also the God who always loves, as the Father and Son and Spirit in eternal relationship created in an overflow of joyful fellowship so that mankind could know joyful fellowship with God and with other persons. This is our God and He is not bound in two-dimensions. Nor is He the ultimate taxidermist who lets us keep three dimensions but pins us to the wall. He is the living God! He makes men alive!
We are not the same. And as we worship the God of truth and holiness and justice and mercy and love and joy we are becoming more like Him. It may be slow; it is slow, but it is inevitable. It is happening whether we are aware of it or not, whether we see it week to week or not, whether it is stated explicitly on any given Sunday or during the service.
At the beginning of every new calendar year, which is close enough to a new year as the church body, I have purposed to talk explicitly about our corporate worship. This is for multiple reasons. First, while transformation by worship happens regardless of our awareness, it does, like most things, happen more effectively when we are aware of what’s going on. Second, most of us, including the ones who have been here from the start, did not come from churches with this sort of liturgy, and unlike our younger kids it is still not the most natural way of thinking for us, even though we’ve come to appreciate it. We need reminding. Third, we do have some new members, those who have started worshipping with us even within the last year, and unless you’ve gone back to listen to those previous messages, you may not know exactly why we follow the pattern that we do. Likewise, our kids listen at different levels at different times, and who knows what might get in this go-round. Fourth, and this builds on all the previous points, God calls all of us to worship, and every individual member in the body has responsibility to do so. You are not an audience, we are an assembly of worshippers, and we have a high calling and privilege and purpose.
So as my understanding of what we’re doing seasons the skillet and as my increasing conviction about its importance turns up the heat, I’m glad to take some Sundays and (re)address the subject of corporate worship like a favorite meal made fresh. Lord willing I will preach four messages this time, covering the Old Testament pattern for our worship next week, the Gospel pattern the following week, and then a look at how singing in particular fits the following week. For the rest of this morning I want to address the issue of what our worship looks like to visitors.
Have you ever brought a visitor, or thought about doing so? This is not a campaign to increase our attendance, or to make you feel guilty for not inviting people. But to the extent that our liturgy is different from past experience, or different from other churches, or uncomfortable, or difficult to follow for a first (or third) timer, have you thought about how that makes the entry level seem fairly high? And, I know some of you have because you’ve brought it up before, have you wondered if that is a good thing?
At the beginning of the Kuyperian Dispensationalist series I identified that our church is mostly a mutt of influences; we are not a theological thoroughbred. That makes us difficult to describe to others at times. We actually should be able to explain what and why we do what we do, and be able to explain it without tortuous jargon like “Kuyperian Dispensationalist.” And yet I’m not convinced that people don’t want what we have because that they don’t understand it, but rather many people do not want what we have because they don’t want to be exposed before God.
Isn’t that what’s happening at every point in the service for everyone here? As soon as I say, “Our help is in the name of the Lord,” your readiness to worship is exposed. Ready or not, the Lord says “Come, worship Me.” Are you excited, grumpy, tired, distracted? Whether you listen carefully to the exhortation to confession or not, there are a painful 90ish seconds of quiet (how quiet depends on whether it’s sick season, or baby season, or sick-baby season) during which your conscience has no where else to go. Then there is the reading of the Word, which is like fire and a hammer (Jeremiah 23:29), or convicts that you don’t care about it, then a time of supplication, which exposes that we are all incapable of handling all our problems. Then the sermon, if done correctly, is like a knife the slits the throat of the sacrificial lamb. This is precisely the point in Hebrews 4:12-13.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
The word exposed translates a form of the Greek word trachelizo, connected to trachea. The Scripture is not dull, it slices the windpipe at the most vulnerable spot to kill and to consecrate the sacrifice. Psalm 19, which is a celebration of revelation, gets into the mediation of our hearts.
Then we have communion with God Himself and His people. People get sick, some die, from playing around with this according to 1 Corinthians 11. Communion is not some ritual that you can go through the motions and come away from unharmed. It exposes us. That is good. And the whole service of worship is evangelistic.
God wants the worship of the church to be by His sheep and not for the goats. Sunday services are not evangelistic by design, they call believers to worship. We meet as the church, Christ’s body. But, that does not stop unbelievers from entering.
In one of the few passages in the New Testament that provides a glimpse into a corporate worship meeting, Paul shows that when God is really among a worshipping people, outsiders will not be comfortable, they are not supposed to be, they will be exposed before God.
But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. (1 Corinthians 14:24-25)
These verses are in an extended section contrasting the effects of tongues and prophesy (chapter 14), which is actually part of an even larger section dealing with how members of the body are to love one another and build up the whole body rather than build up each part (chapters 11-14). Verses 24 and 25 come after Paul’s explanation that tongues, even if used appropriately (which doesn’t seem to be a great concern for tongue-talkers today), are not best for understanding. That’s what prophesy does better, in a language that is understood by all. Prophecy leads to upbuilding and encouragement and consolation (verse 3). But that’s not all.
It will be a while before we get to chapter 14 in our study through 1 Corinthians, and I won’t take the time today to explain more about why prophesy was different at a time when the New Testament was not finished. What is key is that prophesy represents understanding of, and response to, God’s revelation, and when that happens, the secret is out.
Verse 24 reveals the condition which requires two things: 1) group understanding as represented by all prophesying, and 2) an unbeliever or outsider enters. The service is not for unbelievers but they are not kept out either. When the condition is met, four things happen in rapid, overlapping sequence.
The result of believers worshipping God is repentance and new worshippers. It does not happen by focusing on the unbelievers but rather by focusing on God while unbelievers watch. And note that evangelism generates conviction, not comfort, or at least not comfort initially. Evangelism reveals the heart it doesn’t conceal it. This does not mean that the unbeliever starts spouting all of his secrets to the people in the church, but he might. He might be glad to get rid of the burden of pretense and lies. But he falls on his face to worship God. He is humbled before the holy God not embarrassed by social pressure.
This is the work of the all, of the congregation, of the assembly. Our worship gives evidence of the presence of God which is not the same as giving evidence of our intelligence. The unbeliever responds in no different way than the believer should already be responding, with conviction and accountability and humble worship.
While this is the work of the assembly, the assembly is made up of individual members, just as the singular “he” of the visitor. What if “he” looked at “you”? We are never the object of worship, God is the only proper object. But could an outsider recognize that God is present with you?
Worship is great exposure. By that I mean that we can’t help but be exposed before God and we can’t help but be transformed into His image as we do so. There is nothing better, that is what He made us to do from the beginning. If you don’t want to be exposed, then you cannot grow. You cannot keep your secrets and get to see God.
Maybe we could say that there is a learning curve to our liturgy, but in another sense the entry level is quite low: just fall on your face. The more we understand about the God we worship, the less likely we can tweak the service to make anyone feel more cozy.
It is likewise exposing to hear men and women talk about how they don’t want to open up in front of others. Again, Paul doesn’t say that we must tell our deepest, darkest, nastiest secrets to one another. Mortification is a battle, and every sin is ugly, and some have more culturally ugly paint applied. But unbelievers are the duck and cover experts, and even they are called to account when in the presence of God. The secret is out.
Taking notes is easier than beholding God. Measuring righteous points, especially in comparison to those in the pew behind you, is much easier than beholding God. Objecting to the lyrics or the melody of a song is much easier than beholding God. When we’re assembled, what does it look like to others? A classroom? A choir? A support group? It ought to look like God is really among us.
Is this our own conclusion week by week? Do we enter with this mindset? Do we at least exit with it? What would happen if the secret got out in Marysville that God is really among us?
Beloved flock, you are the church of God, obtained by Christ’s own blood. You are in an ongoing spiritual battle; for the faithful, wars never cease. But you have been forgiven in Christ, your conscience is cleansed by Him, your mind is being renewed, and your lives transformed as living sacrifices for God. May God protect You, make you fruitful, and cause you to be ready to receive every blessing He has in store for you not just in this next year, but for eternity.
And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:32)