February 2, 2020
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 18:15 in the audio file.
Or, Unleashing God’s People One Week at a Time
If there was a title to all the annual messages I’ve preached on worship and liturgy, it would be “Boom!” That idea comes from Matthew 16:18 when Jesus said that the gates of hell could not prevail against the church. Gates, of course, are a defensive weapon, which means that it is the church on offense. When the assembly assembles and offers itself as an offering of worship, the gates of unbelief and of rebellion against God, the gates of hell, are battered. So for years we’ve talked about how each person has a handle on the battering ram of worship, and when we worship, we make a metaphorical, but spiritual Boom!.
This is a shaping word picture. It means that our worship is not retreat or respite from the spiritual battle, it is advancing the battle. We do damage to the forces of darkness when we worship, including the remnants of sin to be mortified within our own hearts. We remember that we serve the King of kings and Lord of lords; we declare that “all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens” (Psalm 96:4). We remember that He has died and rose again on the third day for the forgiveness of sins; we declare that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). We remember that He has called us and is working on us and through us; we are not enslaved to ennui or envy or escapism.
Our worship is a charge, in a couple of the usual meanings of the word. God assigns and entrusts us this delightful duty of dependence, He charges us to worship. And when we hear His Him and obey Him and praise Him, we rush forward. We charge.
We begin our worship charge with what’s called the votum. Whether you think about it every week, or once a long time ago when we started doing it, or never, it is the call of the minister and the response of the assembly. It is the only assignment of roles that we currently have printed on the order of service as such: Minister and Assembly.
This is different than performer and audience, even if those in the front look a different way than those not in front. Those who lead in our worship in song are not surrogate worshipers for the rest. They are going first, standing in front, and the rest of us follow. When one person is talking, exhorting, reading, praying, preaching, benedicting, it is representative to but not replacement of the whole assembly.
I’d like to take today and next Lord’s day to talk about a minister’s liturgical charge and the assembly’s liturgical charge. A minister should have certain expectations for his work in worship, as should the assembly. Today’s message will be a little minister meta, an insider’s look at what I’m thinking about what I’m trying to do when it is my charge to minister to the assembly, in a day when it is easy to mess it up, in a variety of directions.
Start with the word minister. Other words are fine: elder, overseer, pastor, shepherd, preacher, teacher. But there is a “ministry of the word” that the apostles devoted themselves to (Acts 6:4), a ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18), a ministry of service. A minister is a servant (διακονία), and his ministry starts with God’s Word, and includes the administration/ministry of the sacraments of baptism and communion.
A minister is a servant who leads worship. His reading and explaining and exhorting from God’s Word, combined with his prayers and his oversight of the ordinances make up the liturgy. The minister ministers the Word outside of the corporate worship service, but when it comes to the Boom!, he uses the whole counsel of God throughout the liturgy.
He does this as a servant of God and to the assembly. “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5). This ministry is representative on behalf of God to the assembly, which for many centuries of the church was the primary way the assembly heard the Word at all. The Word rebukes and reminds, it cuts and comforts, it feeds. There are times when such a ministry is combative, but most of the time such a ministry should be building, edifying, equipping. There will be those who don’t want to hear the Word, who prefer to have their ears tickled (2 Timothy 4:3), but a minister who pays attention to the flock (Acts 20:28) knows the flock enough to know who and what the problems are. If the majority (or entirety) of the flock are enemies, then something is really wrong.
I want to take two similar swings at minister meta, telling you what I hope to accomplish for my part among our Lord’s day liturgy, and summarize a key implication of these goals.
A minister should work to understand God’s Word (2 Timothy 2:15) so that he can teach God’s Word so that the assembly understands God’s Word. The key word is Word, but he wants to be used by God to give understanding. May you be filled with the knowledge of His will (Colossians 1:9). May you know the truth and be set free (John 8:32). May you see the light of the truth in facts and how the facts fit together. And when you already have understanding, may you remember (2 Peter 1:12-13).
Believing God’s Word, not just believing that the Bible is God’s Word, but accepting the truth as what God says (1 Thessalonians 2:13), with the comprehension of what He says, is essential. The cumulative effect of the Word’s work throughout the liturgy should make each disciple’s faith stronger, not more sentimental, and not more susceptible to doubt.
With the mind and heart the will follows, so that Christians are ready for obeying God’s Word. Obedience does not save, but good works are the fruit of faith, and without works, profession of faith is rickety. Paul preached for “the obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5) because Paul knew that faith without works is dead (James 2:17). Paul and James do not contradict.
In that obeying, that sanctification, there is increasing love and joy and peace and patience and goodness and faithfulness. These are the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), and the Spirit as divine Agent uses the divine Means of the Word, which was inspired by the same Spirit. Faith purified results in rejoicing with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory (1 Peter 1:8).
This is building up, not tearing down (2 Corinthians 13:10), even when it involves correction. Rebuke is for equipping for sake of good works (2 Timothy 3:16-17), not for simply mourning lack of good works. This results in courage, in not losing heart (2 Timothy 1:7; 2 Corinthians 4:16). And this is a sign of growth, which the word effects; by the word we “grow up to salvation–if indeed we’ve tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2-3).
The shepherds and teachers are given by God for sake of the body’s growth, and each part working properly. It is “building up the body of Christ,” for the “knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,” “so that we may no longer be children” (Ephesians 4:12-16).
It is this last consideration that, ironically, I find being so often undermined by preachers who love the truth and preach the Bible. I question if they really want their flock to grow, or at least if they really are willing for their flock to mature without them.
There is a subtle but crucial difference, just a mlick (if a klick is a kilometer, why not mlick as millimeter?) off at first, between preachers who view their primary role as teacher and preachers who view their primary role as discipler. I am not talking about those who claim that preaching is discipling, or the only part they play in the discipling process; that minimalistic deflation is ridiculous. But what is the assembly’s liturgy intended to accomplish?
For too many ministers of the Word it appears that what they willingly or unwittingly intend to accomplish is to be more needed by the flock. A teacher such as this always has the answers. This sort of teacher is always necessary. This teacher needs students. This teacher is threatened by those who know more. A teacher may be learning more himself, and so the pain point may arrive later rather than sooner. But he may get self-assured (thinking he’s arrived), he may just get older and slower. But a minister-as-teacher grows insecure if he is not outgrowing his students.
A servant of the Word who wants real growth in and of the assembly may watch the assembly, or at least some in it, go right by him, and, he will rejoice! His greatest fear was not being left behind, it was being a bottleneck, and he gives thanks that by God’s grace God’s Word worked beyond his limitations. A discipler thinking correctly about his task, like a father with his son, will want better for his son, and he assumes that he will be less needed as time goes on. I hope to go/grow faster by drafting in front of you, and when it’s time that I can’t keep up, gladly being dragged behind you.
Insecurity tightens its controlling grip and undermines the growth of the flock while stating that the growth of the flock is the goal. I have seen this mindset up close, I have seen it among denominations or associations who emphasize Bible teaching. Ironically, it mimics a sort of Protestant Popery (not potpourri), and it stinks.
Considering the above and adding a preacher’s touch of three alliterated points (though no poem), these are three things that I pray for God to help happen through my ministry of the Word when we meet to worship.
This is Colossians 1:28, and Ephesians 4:13. This is the ostensible aim of all Christian leaders and teachers, but it really can be tricky. Rather than to be like Jesus, some preachers want the assembly to like them. This is the tickling of ears, either for pride or profit or ease.
It also means that being more like Jesus, imaging God, means not being like the minister, at least in his vocational charge. The minister is charged to help his people charge in their work, which is not leading a Bible study. Know and believe and obey the Word where God posts you, not just behind a pulpit. Some will lead Bible studies, some will become preachers, and great. But when a minister of the Word makes teaching the Word the ultimate attribute of spirituality, he puts himself at the head of the only department that he says matters. But that is not what the Word says.
Joy has different faces, and this isn’t a denial of psalms of lament, or conviction of our sin, or the heaviness and hurts that we all face in various ways. It is, however, an argument against pastors who only know how to control people by making them feel bad.
Joyful people are hard to manipulate. The joyful, at least those with the joy of the Lord, are humble and submissive when necessary, but they do not let others live in their heads for free. The happy cannot be controlled by the petty.
I want you to know the joy of salvation, to have it renewed and reinvigorated. I want you to count trials and joy because you know the God who sent the trials, who controls the trials, and who promises to make you perfect and lacking nothing through the trials. I want you to learn to rejoice always (1 Thessalonians 5:16). I want you to see and fear and laugh at the man who would not make God his refuge (Psalm 52:6).
So Paul wrote to the Philippians:
I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith (Philippians 1:25).
He exhorted them:
Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, Rejoice. (4:4)
This is our eschatology, to live as those who are #blessed in such a way as to make the Jews jealous and bring them to worship God through His Son, Jesus (Romans 11:11, 14).
This is Psalm 1 jealous-able, rooted and fruitful. That is the blessed man. This is not blessed by what minister you listen to (think 1 Corinthians 1:12).
I want to serve you in such a way as to tell others, “Ain’t nobody just conquers like these men and women!”
The (many) men preaching the Bible today who may be making themselves less dispensable, even if unwittingly, are still not preaching Christ out of spite, as were those in Paul’s day (Philippians 1:15-18). He said in effect, “Who cares? Christ is being proclaimed, I’m going to rejoice in that.” Of course, not complaining is not the same thing as giving approval, let alone imitating. Growth is going to happen in spite of some preachers trying to limit the growth, though that will cause problems.
But a minister of the Word ought to be unleashing God’s people one week at a time. Just conquer!
Beloved, take heart. Remember when Christian and Hopeful were locked in the the dungeon of Giant Despair, beaten and broken, when the Pilgrim remembered that he had a key in his bosom called pastor. Oops. Wrong. He remembered that he had a key called promise. “That’s good news,” said Hopeful, “take it out and try.“ Likewise, Christian, You go with a pocket full of keys, with a light for your path and food for your work and a sword for the battle. That’s good news, so don’t forget what you have.
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, ESV)