It is beautifully fitting that Christians gather for corporate worship every week.
When we do, we give united expression to our truth-rooted knowledge of the triune God and our treasure-rooted affections for all God is for us in Jesus. We have seen with the eyes of our hearts the supreme beauty of God and his ways (Ephesians 1:18). And we have come to cherish the supreme worth of this treasure (Matthew 13:44; Philippians 3:8).
And when we have completed our corporate exaltation of the glories of God, we continue that worship in a thousand daily tasks where the supreme worth of Christ governs our lives. This is what it means to be a Christian.
Come to Get
But it is not as though Christians experience steady-state fullness that is ready every Lord’s Day to brim over in joyful praise as we gather for worship. God is glorified in worship not only by those who come full, but also by those who come desperately needy and pinning all their hopes on meeting God. The same heart of worship that says, “Thank you” and “Praise you,” when full, also says, “I need you, I long for you, I thirst for you,” when empty. It is the same savoring, the same treasuring.
“God is glorified in worship not only by those who come full, but also by those who come desperately needy.”
Corporate worship is not a gathering only for overflow. The full may overflow. That is worship. The languishing come to drink at the fountain of God’s life-giving word. That too is worship. It magnifies the necessity and desirableness of God. The soul-hungry come to eat at the banquet that is spread from the rich stores of Scripture. This also is worship.
Woe to the pastor who chastises his people for “coming to get” and not to give. If what the hungry people are coming to get is God, their hunger magnifies the worth of God’s soul-satisfying beauty. If they are returning week after week for entertainment, the pastor had better look in the mirror for the cause, not in the people.
When David says, “He restores my soul” (Psalm 23:3), he implies that the soul often needs restoring. Hence, we call out, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation” (Psalm 51:12). “Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved!” (Psalm 80:3). “Restore us again, O God of our salvation” (Psalm 85:4).
This experience is universal among Christians. It is partly owing to our being sinners. Our old nature wars against the soul and tries to bring it to ruin (Galatians 5:17; Colossians 3:5; 1 Peter 2:11). Part of that warfare is depletion.
Another part of our need for refreshing input is owing to our being creatures. We will always be creatures and therefore will always be in need of God’s grace. Even perfected and glorified saints will still benefit from the ministry of other saints in the age to come, where there will be no sin. Otherwise, meaningful relationships would be nonexistent. Therefore, whether we think of ourselves as sinners or as creatures, we need help in maintaining a heart of worship.
In view of this normal neediness of real Christians, God has designed us to depend on other humans to awaken and sustain and strengthen our worship — our knowing and treasuring God. This is clear from many considerations in the New Testament.
Hearts Sustained Through Humans
“The same heart of worship that says, ‘Thank you’ and, ‘Praise you’ also says, ‘I need you.’”
First, God has appointed that there be pastors and teachers in the church (Ephesians 4:11). He has required that they be “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2). This means that God designs for us to be helped by other human ministers of the word, not just by our own private reading and praying.
Second, it is clear that we need other ministers from the example Paul set in strengthening the churches he started:
They returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:21–22)
God did not design Christians to be strong in faith and fervent in worship without other Christian ministers strengthening their souls.
Third, it is clear that our perseverance in joyful, faithful holiness and worship depends on other Christians exhorting us again and again with the truth of God’s word:
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:12–13)
Escaping hardness of heart and persevering in joyful, sin-mortifying faith depend on the exhortations of other believers. We are not designed to survive without the ministry of the word from others.
Not a Defect
Fourth, it is clear that we stand in need of others who minister to us, because God designed the body of Christ this way and Paul said we need each other:
God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” (1 Corinthians 12:18–21)
It is clear from Paul’s use of the word need in 1 Corinthians 12:21 that he does not see the Christian’s dependence on other Christians as a defect in our dependence on God. Total dependence on God’s grace does not mean no dependence on God’s means of grace. If God wills that our dependence on him sometimes be direct and unmediated, and sometimes be indirect and mediated, then we are no less totally dependent on God in either case.
“Come to church desperate for more of God, and expect that he will meet you through his people.”
Our physical lives depend on God and on food that he gives. Our emotional resources for patience depend on the Spirit and on the refreshing sleep that he gives. Our spiritual strength depends on God’s word and on the ministers whom he sends to us.
Fifth, it is plain from Scripture that we need the ministry of the word from other Christians, because Paul commanded Timothy, “Preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2). That is not a pointless command. Preaching is commanded because preaching is needed.
Among all the other ways in which the people of God help each other persevere in faith and lead lives of joyful worship, preaching is uniquely designed for its essential role in corporate worship. As people gather to give united expression to their knowledge of God and their love for God, preaching is distinctly designed by God to model this love by its exultation, and to serve both the knowledge and the love by its exposition. Its content and its demeanor are suited, by God’s design, to restore and enlarge our knowledge of God, and to restore and enlarge our passion for God.
Ordinary Christian living is depleting. We are not designed to live on yesterday’s mercies.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22–23)
Every day has its depleting trouble (Matthew 6:34), and every day has its restoring mercies (Lamentations 3:23). The corporate gathering, therefore, is not only for Christians who come to church overflowing with faith and love, but also for those who come languishing, dry, and desperate for new mercies. And God has so arranged the body that these mercies often come through the ministry of fellow Christians.
So, come to church desperate for more of God, and expect that he will meet you through his people.