January 13, 2019
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 14:25 in the audio file.
Or, The Great Commandment of Worship
We’re taking a break from our study through 1 Corinthians at the beginning of the year to talk about our worship and liturgy as a local body. When we get back to it, we’ll pick up in 1 Corinthians 14 in which Paul addresses the gift of tongues, one of the most highly esteemed spiritual gifts among the Corinthians as well as among modern day Charismatics. I’ve been wondering about a possible connection between two modern church problems.
In the (narrow) slice of the Evangelical pie our church falls into, that is, the more exegetical and Calvinistic and intellectual-speaking-gift esteeming slice, criticizing Charismatics is popular. I believe the criticisms are usually right according to God’s Word. The truth-lovers speak truth when seeking to correct pride and practice in many Charismatic expressions. I get that the criticisms are right, but again, why are the criticisms so popular? It’s not just the pastors and theologians speaking out, it’s church-goers of all kinds getting into fights with family and co-workers.
What I’m wondering is if the criticisms and arguments are a defensive maneuver. But what’s being defended is not the authority of God’s Word, that’s Bible is the wall we’re hiding behind. What is actually being defended is the apathy of our hearts. Perhaps what we’re really concerned about is not how the Charismatics are violating Scripture, what we’re really concerned about is protecting our violation of Scripture in our lack of love. It’s a popular criticism as a pretense of righteous protection.
This is not to say that Charismatics are good God-and-man lovers. The existence of 1 Corinthians 13, in between chapters 12 and 14, should be sufficient to prove that Christians can value showy spiritual gifts, such as those typically valued among Charismatics, with a focus on self rather than building up the church body in love. But at least the Charismatics look alive. At least they’ve got some energy. And by comparison, our hearts can look as skinny as the olive-skin pages in our thinline Bibles. But if we can attack others about some particulars we can poison the entire well about their practice. And if we can do that, we’ve bought ourselves some time before any one asks about us.
We are gathered as God’s people to praise Him, but He is not interested in our accurate but reluctant praise. The most precise liturgy is loathsome to Him if we are not offering it in thanksgiving (see Psalm 50). We are gathered to fellowship with God in His presence, which is not simply about our bodies being on time and our brains regurgitating data of His revelation. We assemble to worship God, and the great commandment of worship is for all of us to love Him with all of us. This is a numeric and a spiritual comprehensiveness, all parts of every heart, all parts of all our souls, all parts of all our minds.
This is not just the point of our liturgy, it is the point of God’s law. You remember the discussion Jesus had with a lawyer who was trying to test Him. Jesus had just finished telling the Sadducees that they were wrong about the resurrection and that they knew neither the Scriptures nor the power of God (Matthew 22:23-33). Some of the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, so feeling good about themselves, “one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’” (Matthew 22:34-36).
The reason this was a “test” is because it’s an impossible question. Not only are there a lot of laws, there are almost as many sides who would argue for which is the most important law as there are actual laws. From the lawyer’s perspective, it didn’t matter which match Jesus lit from the box, the bucket of gas was still going to explode.
But this was not a hard question. Jesus didn’t ask a question back. Jesus didn’t hesitate. He answered not only by choosing one law and quoting the law, he chose the one that summarizes almost all the laws.
And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38)
Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 6:5, from the Great Shema. This is what God’s people, Israel, needed to “hear.” The command follows the revelation of God Himself as Lord: “The LORD our God, the LORD is one,” love Him. Love Him above all other persons and things, love Him with all your person and in how you use your things. The “heart” is the meditative part, the “soul” is the affections part, the “mind” is the reasoning part. Throw in “might” or “strength from Deuteronomy 6 (and Luke 10:27) and let there be light and heat and effort/force. Love Him, and teach your children about Him and also to love Him.
With this Jesus summarizes and prioritizes what is required in our lives, and also our liturgy.
There are worship wars among Christians, usually about what songs are sung and/or the instrumentation and/or amplification of those songs. There has been at times some painful feedback among us, and I don’t just mean through the sound system. We’ve had a small number of families leave off worshipping with us because we were adding more psalms and hymns to go along with the spiritual songs, and because we were encouraging singing in parts/harmony. We have families who wish the drum kit could sit in their pew, we have families who wish the drum kit could begin a compost pile.
And how many other things can the lawyer-types argue related to liturgy? Should it be the same order every week? Should it be words written five hundred years ago, words written five hours ago, spontaneous words of the moment so that we know it’s of the Spirit? Must every sermon be exposition, or is a running commentary not part of preaching? What about women leading? What about wine or grape juice during communion? Should there be an altar call, with a straightforward invitation to believe the gospel every week? Is the service for the sheep or for goats?
Not all of these are hard questions, actually, but more importantly, while we answer them we must remember that none of these questions are the great and first question. We can argue, and Christians do argue, and sometimes those who argue do so as an avoidance strategy toward the Great Commandment. It is much easier to fight against (harder to fight for, but it can happen) liturgical procedure than it is to fight against sinful, lethargic love.
We are taught in our culture that we can’t control our loves. We are slaves to our loves, so that if we love something unlawful we shouldn’t be held accountable, and if we do not love something lawful, we shouldn’t be held accountable either. Don’t make me stop loving, and don’t expect me to love.
God does reveal that we are “slaves” of our affections, as in, we always do what we most want to do. However, God says that we are accountable for our wants/loves/affections. He calls it sin when we love another god as greater than Him, and He calls it sin when we do not love Him as we ought. He calls it sin when a husband commits adultery (that is, when he “loves” the wrong woman) and when a husband lazily abdicates (does lot properly love the right woman). The Lord calls us to worship, and that is a call to get our loves in order.
Our liturgy each Lord’s day is intended to be a help to our hearts. It is at least a reminder that salvation is of the Lord, and that love for Him and for others is first His work in and through us.
The call to worship reminds us of His glory and our responsibility to acknowledge His glory with our minds and our affections. But even when I pray in praise I always ask in some way for His help to worship Him as He deserves. The songs we sing are an opportunity to let out the clutch. The exhortation and confession address our sins. But whatever limb or leaf is addressed, it always gets back to the root. The consecration depends on His Word and His Spirit to set us apart, not by moving us to a compound, let alone taking us to heaven. We look to Him to inform and inflame our affections. Communion is a table of love, the elements reminding us of His sacrifice of love. And the commission of charge and benediction is a blessing that you be filled with His love and go let the world know we are Christians by our love.
Our liturgy is a liturgy to love, not mainly because you should love the parts and order of the service but because each part provokes our love for God or at least provokes us to realize we depend on Him for loving Him.
“But,” someone might say, “I’m not ready. I don’t feel very thankful or joyful, let alone loving. I don’t want to be a hypocrite.” This sounds virtuous, especially if you don’t think about it very much. The problem with hypocritical worship is the lack of heart behind it, but the solution to hypocritical worship has never been “just come back when you feel ready.” The solution is not wait around for your heart, the solution is to get to work on your heart. It is the Great Commandment, not the great coincidence.
“But,” another might say, “the Great Commandment is not about corporate worship and liturgy. It’s addressed to individual believers.” And that is completely true. The context of Jesus’ discussion with the lawyer says nothing about church. The Lord does not command us to love Him fully at church…only, but to love Him fully at all times in all places. Our moral responsibility to be full of affections for Him is not limited to liturgical expression, but affections should be helped by it. Practice loving on command, because love is a command.
Of course there is counterfeit fruit and fake blossoms. Of course there are comets of enthusiasm that streak across the sky and burn out on the horizon. Jonathan Edwards pastored in such a context during both Great Awakenings when many were visibly affected by religion. He preached and wrote helpful criticisms about exaggerated and fabricated affections. But instead of arguing against affections and defending intellectual Christianity (like much modern criticism of Charismatics) Edwards doubled-down on love for God as vital to God’s glory.
God glorifies Himself toward the creatures in two ways: 1. By appearing to…their understanding. 2. In communicating Himself to their hearts, and in their rejoicing and delighting in, and enjoying, the manifestations which He makes of Himself….God is glorified not only by His glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. When those that see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it….He that testifies his idea of God’s glory [doesn’t] glorify God so much as he that testifies also his approbation of it and his delight in it. (Jonathan Edwards, The Miscellanies, #448)
This paragraph became an entire book: The End for Which God Created the World. And we could likewise say, “the end for which God calls us to worship.” The answer is the same, that we would glorify God in loving Him with all our hearts, souls, minds, and might.
We are not trying to pull down worship to our level, to whenever our hearts coincidentally line up with God’s command. We are aren’t worshipping in our power. What kind of worship would that be anyway? Worship in the flesh? Love is not an impossible standard, but it is a supernatural one. We have a liturgy to love as it pricks and prompts and prods our hearts for the love of God.
What is the quickest way to explain gravity? There are some fantastic formulas you could write on a white board, maybe ruffle your hair up like Einstein. You could also just hold out a bowling ball over your friend’s foot and let go.
Sometimes as disciples we wonder about what we should do. Sometimes we need more data so we get counsel or buy a book. And sometimes what we need is to pray to God for more love for Him. Obsessive love is not only antifragile, it often makes the decision obvious.
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9–11, ESV)