"Worship that's a Witness"

Feb.7, 2010 1Cor.14:23-40


After attending church with his father one Sunday morning, before getting into bed that night, a little boy kneeled at his bedside and prayed, "Dear God, we had a good time at church today, but I wish you had been there."

Unfortunately churches may run the risk of doing the same as that little boy's church: a lot of commotion going on, but nothing that would truly classify as 'worship'. The boy certainly had something intuitively right when he sensed it would have been better had God been there.

However you might have a hard time getting two people to agree exactly what 'worship' is. Some churches have services that are highly emotional and loud, others are more quiet, reserved, and intellectual. Can they both be 'worship'?

A commentator writes, "I have a close friend who attends a church that has as part of its heritage, worship services with lots of movement, where there is almost hypnotic repetition in the music, which takes a single phrase and repeats it over and over and over, where the preaching is a many-faceted dialogue between the preacher and the congregation, and where the sense of having worshipped God in a true fashion is measured by the noise level in the sanctuary and by the number who 'faint in joy' in the service. He married a splendid Christian woman who had been reared in a church with an altogether different tradition, one with a paid quartet, with periods of quietness and reflection, and a sermon rich in content and related to life's needs, but delivered in a conversational manner to a congregation which listened intently. The first time she went to church with her husband she almost went into shock because what seemed like a high spiritual moment for her husband and his family seemed like bedlam to her. Finally, after trying in vain to shut out all the movement and talking from her consciousness so she could hear what the pastor was saying, she leaned over to her new husband and complained, 'I can't understand a thing the pastor is saying.' The husband's response explained the difference in their backgrounds when he said, 'Sweetheart, this isn't understanding time. This is feeling time.'

The early church in Corinth, Greece was just beginning to develop its own traditions when the apostle Paul wrote to give it guidance, hoping to shape its patterns away from bedlam towards meaningful uplifting worship. His instruction fits largely in 2 categories: the God-ward dimension of worship, and the Other-people dimension - plus a few general aspects that additionally describe what worship should be like.


Considering the God-ward dimension first of all - that little boy was onto something when he wished God had been there. True worship involves CONTACT WITH GOD - it helps us realize God exists, that He's present, indwelling believers, and that something wondrous and supernatural is going on. 14:24-25 describes the response of an unbeliever who might enter when real worship is happening: "But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, "God is really among you!"" Or in a more literal translation, "Really, God is in you!" Consider the aspects of that: God IS - He exists. So much of our modern secular world tries to pretend God doesn't exist, that this delicately-tuned creation and the marvel of sophisticated plants, animals, humans, and other organisms all just somehow spontaneously emerged from goo - wherever the goo came from! But when worship is real, even newcomers can sense the voice of God speaking to them in their heart, dealing with them privately. Then God becomes too personal to ignore or dismiss.

"Really, God is in you!" God exists; God is present here in this place, indwelling those who believe in Him - that's the conclusion a convicted newcomer must draw. So they fall down and worship God, sensing this is a supernatural encounter, how wondrous God is, how extraordinary, how awesome. They make contact with the living God in spirit and in truth.

In Christian worship there's also a SHARING OR PARTICIPATION OR REPLENISHMENT IN CHRIST'S BODY AND BLOOD. "Communion" as we call it, or the Lord's Supper, is a central aspect of worship whether it's practiced each week or less often. 10:16 says, "Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation (partnering, sharing) in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?" In that special meal we sense Christ is present in a spiritual sense, we have fellowship with our Saviour.

In connection with this, worship involves REMEMBERING JESUS AND HIS ACCOMPLISHMENT FOR US - His death for me, in my place. In 11:23-26, when Paul is carefully passing on the words of institution for the Lord's Supper, he quotes Jesus saying: "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me...This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." So we not only are aware of God's presence now, we recall the historical event in the past by which Jesus redeemed sinners from eternal destruction - giving His life as a substitute on the cross. Our worship isn't centred on philosophical concepts, but God's real-time interventions in history to save us, most particularly at Golgotha. St.Ephrem wrote: "Glory to Christ.Come, let us offer him the great, universal sacrifice of our love, and pour out before him our richest hymns and prayers.For he offered his cross to God as a sacrifice in order to make us all rich." We remember gratefully Jesus' cross.

Worship is also a voluntary separation or WITHDRAWAL FROM THE DOMAIN OF THE DEMONIC. When we come to God in worship, we consciously leave behind the realm of the world, the flesh, and the devil - all that would war with our soul. By choosing to obediently worship God, we are voluntarily separating ourselves from day-to-day factors that might tempt us. Paul was very conscious of the idolatry that predominated in Corinth, and the need for believers there to break off associations with evil. He writes in 10:20-21, "No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord's table and the table of demons." Coming to this table necessitates leaving the zones of temptation we have to resist the other 6 days of the week. Irenaeus wrote: "The glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God." We come to worship primarily to behold God, to adore Him, get to know Him better, make contact.

From Moses' time on down, COMMUNICATION OF GOD'S WORD, revealed and written, has been at the very heart of worship. What was the focal point of the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle and Temple? The Ark of the Covenant; and what did that sacred box contain? The Ten Commandments, God's special revelation of His will for His people to obey. New Testament worship inherited from the Old Testament tabernacle, temple, and synagogue components of preaching, music, and prayer. Exposition of God's word played a key role. In 14:24 it is through prophesying that God speaks to people's hearts; v26 mentions 'a word of instruction'. The office of 'pastor/teacher' interpreted and unfolded God's word for people.

Worship also involves an INTENTIONAL PASSING ON OF CHRISTIAN TEACHING. It was important to transmit God's truth to successive generations. In 11:2 Paul praises the Corinthians for "holding to the teachings, just a I passed them on to you." Later, v23 in the instruction about communion says, "For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you..." That's a very deliberated continuation of the chain of transmission from the other apostles who had been eyewitnesses of the Last Supper - and what Jesus intended it to represent, prophetically.

So the communication of God's message - and our response to it - is central in worship. Chuck Swindoll notes: "Consider this when it comes to worship: Draw near and listen well, because God is communicating; Be quiet and stay calm, because God hears the inaudible and sees the invisible; Make a commitment and keep it, because God doesn't forget; Don't decide now and deny later, because God doesn't ignore decisions."

Of course, hearing the word of a holy God can be very CONVICTING. In 14:24 the prophesying convinces the newcomer "that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare.So he will fall down and worship God..." The Holy Spirit drives God's word home in our soul with conviction. RC Sproul wonders how true worship could ever be boring: "We see throughout the Bible that when someone in antiquity encountered the holy God, the experience was almost uniform. To a person they stood quaking in terror, trembling before the Most High God. They were frightened; they were humbled; they were disintegrated; but they were certainly never bored. How is it possible then that people say church is boring?"

Paul suggests worship ought to include SOBER SELF-EXAMINATION THAT FREES FROM CONDEMNATION. 11:28, a person "ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup." And v31 suggests by doing that, judging ourselves, we would not come under judgment. So a time of confession is often part of a Christian service.

And worship means I ACKNOWLEDGE AUTHORITY / FIND MY PLACE IN SUBORDINATION TO GOD with structure and covering not oppression. Paul writes in 14:33ff that God is not a God of disorder; women are to "be in submission" not perhaps disturbing the service with questions arising from their lack of education which their husbands could answer at home instead; and people who were spiritually gifted would to acknowledge that what Paul wrote was the Lord's command. The section in 11:3-12 outlining that "the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man," etc.says the woman's head-covering (in the culture of the day) is "a sign of authority": Paul's not outlining this for any group to be oppressed, but so we find our place plugged-in appropriately with each one's respective privilege and protection, or spiritual 'covering'. There is a flow of responsibility and accountability - as 11:10 puts it, "because the angels are watching". Worship involves humbling myself within the framework God provides. This is counter-cultural in a society that balks at 'complementarity' and can't tolerate anything but supposed total egalitarianism.

So worship has a vital God-ward dimension. Karen Burton Mains says, "We must remind ourselves, over and over, that the focus of Sunday worship must be upon the living Christ among us. In truth, if Christ were bodily present and we could see him with more than our soul's eyes, all our worship would become intentional. If Christ stood on our platforms, we would bend our knees without asking. If He stretched out His hands and we saw the wounds, our hearts would break; we would confess our sins and weep over our shortcomings. If we could hear His voice leading the hymns, we too would sing heartily; the words would take on meaning. The Bible reading would be lively; meaning would pierce to the marrow of our souls. If Christ walked our aisles, we would hasten to make amends with that brother or sister to whom we had not spoken. We would volunteer for service, the choir loft would be crowded. If we knew Christ would attend our church Sunday after Sunday, the front pews would fill fastest, believers would arrive early, offering plates would be laden with sacrificial but gladsome gifts, prayers would concentrate our attention.Yet...Christ is present."


Out of this sincere gripping God-encounter - this brokenness before our Holy Righteous Creator - ought to arise a new openness to fellow disciples of Jesus. Anne Ortlund describes the fellowship that can arise out of encountering God: "Mary broke her vase.Broke it?! How shocking. How controversial. Was everybody doing it? Was it a vase-breaking party? No, she did it all by herself. What happened then? The obvious: all the contents were forever released. She could never hug her precious nard to herself again....

"The need for Christians everywhere (nobody is exempt) is to be broken. The vase has to be smashed! Christians have to let the life out! It will fill the room with sweetness. And the congregation will all be broken shards, mingling together for the first time.

"If you know one another as broken people, you're ready to get on with a church service."

Worship New-Testament-style is CORPORATE - A GATHERING OF THE GIFTED. It's communal, a group thing; while it's possible to worship on your own, you miss out on much of what the Bible understands as worship if you don't meet regularly with the rest of the local church. 14:23 says "So if the whole church comes together..." (Note - church is not a building: church is people!) Also 26, "when you come together..." What was Jesus' promise about not going solo? "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."" (Mt 18:20) Worship is corporate, gathering together, not just something you do solo out in the back 40. Just before that verse in Mt 18(19) Jesus said, ""if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven." A Latin Proverb says, "Prayers travel faster when said in unison."

Christian worship is PARTICIPATORY. Listen closely to how Paul describes the worship that was happening at Corinth in 14:26: "When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation..." There wasn't just 1 'talking head' at the front for the whole service - many people shared as the Spirit nudged them. Kind of a 'spiritual potluck' if you will - actually more like a smorgasbord, with considerable variety.

Yet with all the sharing and contributing going on, it was ORDERLY not chaotic. 14:33, "God is not a God of disorder but of peace;" v40, "everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way." As several had something to share, this would require politeness, sensitivity, and good manners - not butting in or hogging the floor.

While there was great freedom and variety, there was also ACCOUNTABILITY. V29, "Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said." The words 'weigh carefully' are literally 'to judge', to discern whether what's said really originated with the Holy Spirit - and accorded with inspired Scripture. Also v32, "The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets." It's not that anyone could just stand up and say something random or run on at the mouth: God still gave the guidelines as He led the congregation to monitor itself.

It was a gathering big on RESPECT AND SHARING as people waited their turn. V27, two or three prophets were to speak one at a time; 31, "you can all prophesy in turn;" 40, everything should be done in a 'fitting' way - or as NRSV puts it, 'decently and in order'.

Being other-oriented gave a sense of SHARING IN ONENESS TOGETHER, belonging to something bigger than myself. Paul wrote in 10:17, "Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf." Anne Ortlund expresses this well: "Christians can be grouped into two categories--marbles and grapes. Marbles are "single units that don't affect each other except in collision." Grapes, on the other hand, mingle juices: each one is a "part of the fragrance" of the church body. The early Christians didn't bounce around like loose marbles, ricocheting in all directions. Picture them as a cluster of ripe grapes, squeezed together by persecution, bleeding and mingling into one another. Fellowship and worship, then, is genuine Christianity freely shared among God's family members. It's sad to think [she adds] of how many Christians today are missing that kind of closeness. Sermons and songs, while uplifting and necessary, provide only part of a vital church encounter. We need involvement with others too. If we roll in and out of church each week without acquiring a few grape juice stains, we really haven't tasted the sweet wine of fellowship."


Time fails me to go into much detail on other general characteristics of worship suggested by Paul, other than to mention them in passing. 14:26 gives an overall principle: "All of these must be done for the strengthening [building-up, edification] of the church." Genuine worship is helpful, it makes you stronger in following and serving the Lord. Calvin Coolridge said, "It is only when men begin to worship that they begin to grow."

Worship is the best protection against enslavement to idolatry and immorality. We can deduce this from the fact that right after Paul warns against those in the beginning of chapter 10, he spends the next 4-and-a-half chapters offering worship as a better alternative! When you've experienced God's love and goodness in real worship, you won't have any appetite for those paltry counterfeits.

And, worship is culturally aware and relevant but not caged. 14:35 says women speaking in church is 'disgraceful': however Paul only says that to Grecian churches (see 1Tim 2:12 regarding Ephesus). One commentary notes, "Among the Greeks public women were disreputable. For a woman to speak in public would cause the remark that she was shameless. Virtuous women were secluded." Lack of education may have been a factor, causing women to have more questions about things they didn't understand. 11:5 does imply women both prayed and prophesied in the worship service. So Paul seems to be adapting worship practices according to local custom - in other churches than these Greek ones, he doesn't mention such restrictions. And in 11:11 he guards against men going overboard as tyrants by noting, "Nor is man independent of woman" - perhaps a nudge to culture to treat women with respect and dignity.

Real Christian worship exalts God, respects others, and strengthens the worshipper. Robertson McQuilkin, former president of Columbia International University of Columbia, South Carolina, wrote this testimony:

"Life was heavy on me. My dearest friend and intimate companion, my dear wife Muriel was slipping away, one painful loss at a time, as Alzheimer's disease ravaged her brain. Just as the full impact of what was happening to us hit home, the life of Bob, our eldest son, was snuffed out in a diving accident.

"Two years later, to care for Muriel, I left my life work at its peak. I was numb. Not bitter, let alone angry. Why should I be? That's the way life is, life in a broken world. But the passion in my love for God had evaporated, leaving a residue of resignation where once had been vibrant faith.

"I knew that I was in deep trouble, and I did the only thing I knew to do--I went away to a mountain hideaway for prayer and fasting. It took about twenty-four hours to shake free of preoccupation with my own wounds and to focus on the excellencies of God. As I did, slowly love began to be rekindled. And with love came joy.

"I wrote God a love letter naming 41 of his marvellous gifts to me, spotlighting eleven of his grandest acts in history, and exulting in ten of his characteristics that exceed my imagination. Surely he enjoyed my gratitude--who doesn't appreciate gratitude?

"But I discovered something else. Something happened to me. I call it the reflex action of thanksgiving. My love flamed up from the dying embers, and my spirit soared. I discovered that ingratitude impoverishes--but that a heavy heart lifts on the wings of praise." Let's pray.