Rules for Worship

It may be surprising to many but God is not only concerned that we seek Him, but also how we seek Him. You are probably familiar with the story of Uzzah from the Old Testament but just in case you’re not, let’s do a quick review:

After David became king, he desired to move the Ark of the Lord to Jerusalem. While they were moving the Ark there was a great celebration of joy and praises to God for the victories He had given David and the very fact that His presence, symbolized by the Ark, was among His people. But during the midst of this celebration, something awful happened. Perhaps it was at the very crescendo of one of the praise choruses that the Lord struck down Uzzah. God killed someone during a worship service.

Our initial response may be like that of David. Absolute disbelief and even anger that God would behave in such a manner. After all, isn’t God obligated to be pleased that we seek Him regardless of the ‘how’? Shouldn’t the Almighty be giddy by the fact that: of all the things we could be doing, we are setting aside time to come to Him, even if it’s on our terms?

David needed to snap out of such man-centered thinking and so do we.

By chapter 15 of 1 Chronicles David understands his error and tells the Levites:

“You are the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites. Consecrate yourselves, you and your brothers, so that you may bring up the ark of the LORD, the God of Israel, to the place that I have prepared for it. Because you did not carry it the first time, the LORD our God broke out against us, because we did not seek him according to the rule.” – 1 Chronicles 15:12-13

God had given specific instructions on how to carry the Ark and He had made it explicit in His Word that touching the Ark would result in death (Numbers 4:15). As R.C. Sproul has quipped “Uzzah thought the mud was dirtier than his hands.”

Because we are sinners we have to come to terms with the holiness of God. And coming to terms with the holiness of God means that we must understand that God will not be approached in any way but only in His way.

There are many worship services that occur every Sunday across our nation and even the world that deserve God’s death sentence. Many gather each week expecting God to be impressed by the fact that they’ve gotten out of bed and showed up to corporate worship. There are a myriad of songs sang that have no place on an elevator playlist let alone a worship gathering for the Lord of hosts. There are other practices performed by churches each week that aren’t found in the Word. In fact, I think that in some places (many?) the Lord has left a long time ago leaving the people to carry out their abandonment of His Word. Many people leave these gatherings feeling the ‘spirit’; the only problem is it’s not the Spirit of the Lord.

Here is the point: God is to be sought according to His rules. This isn’t legalistic. It’s biblical. God is not impressed with our ingenuity. We must hold to what the Word says. And we must see that the Word actually does prescribe not only that God should be worshiped but also how He should be worshiped! God deals with us according to His terms, not ours. Here are a few application points:

1. All worship must be gospel-focused

Hebrews 4:16 says “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace…” Confidence yes, but in context, this is grounded in the finished priestly work of Christ. In other words, all approaching of God must come through the veil of Jesus. If I approach God based on who I am and what I’ve done, I am not seeking Him in His way. We must have the mindset of the hymn writer: Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling!

In fact, this has application for how a sinner comes to God in the first place. We don’t demand God to compromise His holiness for us. We see our filth and we repent and cling to Christ in faith. The only worshippers God accepts are those who come to Him through Jesus.

2. All worship must be Word driven

If Uzzah had listened to the Word, he wouldn’t have been killed. Instead, he invented his own way of doing things. Churches must take heed here! We would do well to examine all we are doing on Sundays periodically to make sure it aligns with Scripture.

Furthermore, I wonder if your service highlights the same things the Bible does? Here are some things that must be part of our services:

1. Preaching the Word (2 Tim. 4:1-2) The preaching of God’s Word is essential. It should be central and priority to all other things happening on Sunday morning. Perhaps you do all the rest on this list on Sundays, but if you leave out this one out you’ve missed the “main ingredient” to God’s intent for our gatherings.

2. Singing the Word (Colossians 3:16) This doesn’t mean you have to find a chapter in the Bible and sing it exactly word for word (although that can work at times!). But it does mean that you should actually be singing portions of Scripture in your songs, and songs that are not portions of Scripture should be able to be easily “proved” to be implied by portions of Scripture.

3. Reading and Praying the Word (Acts 2:42, 1 Timothy 2:1, 4:13) Yes, this element is included in the sermon, but it should not just be during the sermon that the church is reading and praying the Word. There should be other times during the service that the Word of God is read publicly and that the prayers of the saints are prayed according to the Word.

4. Living the Word — This is the local body living out the Word during corporate gatherings (not just “go act like a Christian when the services are over”). What I mean is that there are other elements that God says to include in our services that I am classifying here as “living the Word.” So, these elements include:

  • Financial Giving (2 Corinthians 9:6-8) Giving to the church is not just a “good idea” but it’s the duty of believers! This doesn’t mean you have to “pass the plates” during a service, but it does mean there should be at least a designated area (offering box, etc.) Where the body can give financially in worship and obedience to Christ.
  • The Lord’s Supper and Baptism (Matthew 28:19, 1 Cor. 11:17-34) These may not actually happen every Sunday but for a healthy church they should be happening on a regular basis.
  • Fellowship (Hebrews 3:12-14, and many others!) This does not mean merely eating (although, I’m down for lunch any time) True fellowship is sharing the truths of Christ with one another. We must constantly be willing to ask how one’s walk with Christ is going and to share what Christ is doing currently in our life.

3. All worship must be God-centered

If our worship is gospel focused and Word-driven we can be sure that this one will more readily fall into place. However, some things still need to be noted here.

There can be a tendency even in gospel focused, Word-driven services to make things about us. We can too easily drift into making our preferences the priority over God. That might be ‘style’, dress code, or even preferred length of the sermon.

God is not like us (Psalm 50:21). He is the Triune God of the universe! May we be in awe of Him—not in awe of what we can bring or do in a worship gathering.

4. All worship doesn’t merely have vertical aspects but also horizontal

Part of worship is not only glorifying God but also actually serving our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Singing robustly, praying before and during service for one another, and listening attentively to the exposition of the Word are all important aspects of worship not only because they are gospel focused, word driven, and God-centered, but also because they help serve one another. Again, look at Colossians 3:16.

I might also mention here that the gifts of the Spirit are to be used to serve one another (1 Cor. 12). Any use of the gifts that seek to magnify self and not serve the Body are gifts of the wrong spirit. Consider also Hebrews 10:24-26 and 1 Peter 4:10-11.

5. We can please God in our worship

Ephesians 5:10 says “and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” When we worship God we don’t have to wonder if He is pleased if we are gospel-focused, Word-driven, God-centered, and serving others. God has not left it to us to figure out how to worship Him. He’s laid down His desires in Scripture! Will we labor to discern what is pleasing to Him? We don’t find this out by what ‘feels’ right but what the Word says.

So, let us be in the Book. Let us search His Word so that we will have worship that pleases God. It is possible, and sadly too often the case, to have a worship gathering that pleases man, but not God. Let us strive to seek Him according to His rule! And we will find any worship that pleases God will always be satisfying to the souls of true Believers.

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