Of all the ways we might provide a biblical basis for corporate worship, there is one that has risen to the top for me as a pastor in the nitty-gritty trenches of everyday ministry.
It has become so obvious to me that, for my own soul and for the souls of my flock, Christ-centered, God-exalting, Spirit-filled worship on Sunday is one of the main ways we survive and thrive from Monday to Saturday. The New Testament authors would say the same.
Consider two passages from Paul. First, Colossians 3:16–17,
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
John Piper says the heart of true worship is the experience of being satisfied with God because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. We are still called to “Let the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly,” to worship “with thankfulness in [our] hearts to God,” and to be “making melody to the Lord with [our] heart.” There is still a necessary and vital aspect of corporate worship that is inward. In fact, there must be.
Truth on Fire
Any group of people can get together to hear someone speak, or sing songs together, and it does not make it worship. What makes it worship is that these are individual hearts that value God’s word preached and sung richly in their hearts, and they respond with great thankfulness to him in Christ.
But now we see that this inward worship extends outward to other members of the church. There is preaching and teaching that has valued Jesus richly through his word during the week that then flows out to the people as fresh grace to help them also dwell richly. There is singing that lands on the hearts individually, that then addresses, admonishes, and teaches others around us as we worship in song. We might call this “truth on fire.”
There is nothing that addresses and admonishes my heart more as a pastor than the members of our church going through the deep waters of suffering, eyes closed in worship, singing “Blessed Be Your Name.” There is hardly a sweeter thirty minutes of my week than when I get to open the word of God for our people and help us dwell richly there, begging that God would make us see Jesus and be encouraged, convicted, comforted, and confronted by the work of the Spirit. There is a beautiful self-forgetfulness that comes as we are pressing hard after God together as his gathered church. It’s as if we are forced, for at least that hour of our week, to peel our eyes off of ourselves and onto God and one another.
In the Fight Together
The author of Hebrews emphasizes the importance of gathering together as well.
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 10:23–25)
The author wants them to meet to stir each other up and encourage each other all the more as the Day is drawing near. The Day here is the Day of Judgment when Jesus will return. Here we begin to see the necessity to keep each other “holding fast the confession of our hope without wavering” in a world filled with sin and suffering that will only increase as the Day draws near. There is a lot in the world that wavers, but our hope doesn’t.
When you begin to look at the context of Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5, you see the same thing. Colossians 3:1 is a call to “set your mind on the things above, where Christ is.” Put off the old sin and put on the new characteristics of someone in Christ. Paul calls us in Ephesians 5:15–16 to “not be unwise, but wise” and to “redeem the time, because the days are evil.”
It is in these settings of war against sin and evil days that corporate worship is highlighted. This is what the church is: a group of Christians, treasuring Christ in their hearts and then marching forward in the fight of faith together.
Encouraged to Keep On
We gather to let the word of God dwell richly in us through corporate singing and preaching and praying. We gather to be ministered to by the various gifts in the body. We gather from places of joy, sorrow, health, and suffering to encourage each other to continue to cling to Christ.
God has given us the greatest gift of all through the gospel, the gift of himself and all eternity with him — in his presence where there is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11). And he’s given us the gift of corporate worship weekly to remind each other to keep our eyes on Jesus, so that we can fight the fight of faith for another week.
Corporate worship is not a social club, it is a war zone to fight the fight of faith.
We may come in staggering with a barely lit flame of faith. Oftentimes we leave held up by the grace of God working through another brother or sister, flame fanned, heart full, or at least encouraged to keep the barely lit flame flickering.
Corporate worship is not a social club. It is a war zone to fight the sin and despair in our hearts and the enemy that would love to use it to undo us. Corporate worship is not a place to make us feel a little bit better about ourselves or check off a to-do list. It is a lifeline to gather strength from God’s people to keep pursuing Jesus, no matter our circumstances.