Volume 17, No. 5 (May 2022)
The New Testament clearly speaks to the importance of our corporate worship gatherings:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42)
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. . . . But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:5,9)
Above all of the church’s other activities, it’s the corporate gathering for worship that really defines a local body of believers. The identity of a local church is most obvious and most compelling when we are gathered for corporate worship.
We come together, and then we scatter out into the world, but then we come back together again. It’s been compared to breathing in and breathing out: we must bring air into our lungs, but then we need to let it out as well; a healthy human body must both inhale and exhale. So too a healthy local church must come together, but must also scatter into the world in between its corporate gatherings.
But of course, the New Testament also makes it very clear that worship for the Christian is much more than just what takes place in the corporate gathering. Building on Jesus’ assertion in John 4 that the time and place of worship is no longer of paramount importance (“the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father, 4:21), but rather that it be “in spirit and truth,” 4:23,24) (see Worship Notes 16.5 and 16.6), Paul writes in Romans 12:1:
I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Paul sees that if worship is not limited to a time and place (according to Jesus in John 4), it must mean that it can and should take place at every time and in every place–that is, in all of life. Presenting to him our bodies, our entire lives, as a living sacrifice. This, Paul says, is the appropriate response to all “the mercies of God” he has just been writing about in the first 11 chapters of his epistle. Because of all that God has done for us and in us through Christ it is only right that we should present our bodies—that is, our whole lives, our whole selves—to Him as an act of worship.
This goes hand in hand with what Jesus identified as the greatest Commandment:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)
Our whole bodies, our whole lives devoted to God as living sacrifices, as our first and highest priority, as Jesus also made clear when He said:
Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)
First things first!
Paul hits on this idea elsewhere in his writings also: 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. THEREFORE glorify God in your body.” And 1 Corinthians 10:31: “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
Jesus and Paul both make it clear that there can never be a sacred part of our life and a separate secular part of our life – it all belongs to God, because we have been bought by Him with the price of the death of his Son. As one writer put it, this does not mean that there are no longer any sacred times or places, but rather that every time and every place is sacred to the Lord. It all belongs to Him.
So Paul tells us in Romans 12:1 (one of the most crucial New Testament texts on worship) “to present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Believers are to live a life, and to walk a lifestyle, of worship. All of life is meant to be lived before the Lord and unto the Lord as a grateful response of worship for all that He has done for us in Christ.
John Piper puts it this way:
The root of Christian living and the root of congregational praise are the same, which is why for Paul worship simply cannot be merely or even mainly thought of in terms of Sunday services but of all of life. His is an absolutely God-saturated vision of Christian existence. When our whole life is consumed with pursuing satisfaction in God, everything we do highlights the value and worth of God, which simply means that everything becomes worship.(Chapter 7 “The Inner Simplicity and Outer Freedom of Worldwide Worship,” in Let The Nations Be Glad, 3rd edition, 254)
This is the New Testament understanding of worship. Worship is not just what we do in church on Sunday morning. Worship is not wholly dependent upon the worship leader or the worship team or the pastor. It’s to be part of our everyday life: a lifestyle of worship—where we live, where we work, where we play. Worship is much more than what we do at church. We dare not put the entire burden for our worship on the staff or on what goes on in the Sunday morning service.
So BOTH the corporate gathering for worship and the daily walk of worship (including the focused private times of devotion and worship) are very, very important.
Which brings us to an interesting ongoing debate: Does our corporate worship gathering for worship, our “weekend worship,” prepare us for our “weekday worship,” our weeklong walk of worship? Or does our weekday walk of worship prepare us for our corporate weekend worship gathering?
That will be addressed in the July 2022 issue.