For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
Visible, corporate, Christ-exalting worship contains the same tension and the same paradox as all of Christian life on this fallen planet. The tension and the paradox come from this fact: becoming a Christian makes a person both at home and at odds with his own culture. This paradox affects the way we live and the way we worship.
Let me try to illustrate how Christianity is both at home and at odds with culture - every culture on the earth. The tension is rooted in the very nature of the gospel - the good news that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. The tremendous truth that God justifies us by faith alone apart from works of the law (Romans 3:28) implies that "God accepts us as we are, on the ground of Christ's work alone [through faith alone], not on the ground of what we have become or are trying to become."1 This means that, in every culture, being put right with God through Christ - being justified - does not mean first or decisively or fundamentally abandoning that culture to become a Christian. We begin the Christian life accepted by God with all our cultural baggage.
The Gospel-Rooted Indigenous Principle
One of the scandals of Christianity in the New Testament was that Gentiles did not culturally have to become Jews in order to become Christians. Justification by faith alone means that anyone from any culture, and in any culture, can become a Christian. The way this truth expresses itself in missions is in the rightness of planting indigenous churches. What we mean by "indigenous" is that the churches should reflect the home culture rather than being squeezed into a foreign mold. That's what I mean when I say, Becoming a Christian makes a person at home with his culture. You don't have to become American or Jewish or Amish to become a Christian. Justification by faith alone on the basis of the righteousness of Christ alone produces an indigenous principle in Christian missions and in the Christian life.
The Gospel-Rooted Pilgrim Principle
But right along side this gospel-rooted indigenous principle emerges another one immediately. Listen to how Andrew Walls, former missionary to Sierra Leone, puts it:
Not only does God in Christ take people as they are: He takes them in order to transform them into what He wants them to be [the necessity of sanctification follows the gift of justification]. Along with the indigenizing principle which makes his faith a place to feel at home, the Christian inherits the pilgrim principle, which whispers to him that he has no abiding city and warns him that to be faithful to Christ will put him out of step with his society; for that society never existed, in East or West, ancient time or modern, which could absorb the word of Christ painlessly into its system.2
So, rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ is the tension that we are justified by faith alone on the ground of Christ's righteousness alone, not on the ground of leaving our culture for another; and yet immediately the Holy Spirit begins to sanctify us and put us at odds with some of the elements in our culture - every culture. So becoming a Christian makes us both at home and at odds with our culture. The gospel has an indigenous impulse and a pilgrim impulse. Or, to use last weeks, words, there is the settler mindset and the sojourner mindset. There is the impulse to make a home for the faith and settle down; and there is an impulse to travel with the faith and take it to places and peoples where it doesn't exist yet.
You can see this even before Christ in the Old Testament: there was the solid, settled, immovable Temple in Jerusalem, and there was the temporary, moveable, pilgrim tabernacle traveling through the wilderness. Throughout church history, corporate Christian worship has been expressed, on the one hand, by great, lasting, settled cathedrals, and, on the other hand, by simple chapels and homes and rented auditoriums. You can see the tension even in the instruments of worship: the large, immovable, pipe organ and grand piano, on the one hand, and the simple guitar or the keyboard, on the other hand. The indigenous principle and the pilgrim principle - the settler mindset and the sojourner mindset - have been in tension from the very beginning of Christianity, in the way we live and the way we worship.
God Calls Us to Be Sojourners and Exiles on Earth
Last week I said that Bethlehem's vision of Treasuring Christ Together - growing by multiplication instead of centralization - calls for a shift in our mindset from settler to sojourner. And now you can see more clearly, I hope, that the point is not that the settler mindset is bad in itself. In its best form, it grows right out of the gospel - Christ means to be at home in every culture! Nevertheless, I must say this to be faithful to the Scriptures: The Bible calls us exiles and sojourners (1 Peter 2:11) who are laying up treasures in heaven and not on the earth (Matthew 6:19). And if the settler mindset dominates this church - or any church - we will not reach our neighborhoods or networks of unbelievers, or the nations of the world for Christ. It isn't just missionaries that need a risk-taking, comfort-disturbing, semi-nomadic, pilgrim mindset. We all do. Christ did not call us to settle in on this earth. He called us to be exiles and sojourners on the earth.
Which brings us now directly to verse 14 in our text and the issue of worship. "For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come." That is not a comment about missionaries. It is a comment about Christians. The readers of this book were drifting toward the passive, settler mentality. They were too at home in the world. Everything was starting to feel too natural and too comfortable. So the writer drove home over and over in the last chapters:3 Here we have no lasting city. This is not our home. We have a "better and abiding possession" (Hebrews 10:34). We are pilgrims. We are aliens and exiles. Our hearts are set on the City of God and on the joy of Christ's presence.
And what we saw was that from this pilgrim mindset flows the seamless sacrifice of worship as the fruit of lips (verse 15) and the fruit of life (verse 16). So let's see how these verses tell us to worship as pilgrims.
One thing is really clear: Style and form and genre are not high on the list of essentials for pilgrim worship. What is? We can see at least four pilgrim worship priorities in these two verses:
- Jesus Christ as the mediator of all worship.
- Praise to God as the continual expression of the lips.
- Practical proofs that your treasure is in heaven and is worth more than everything here.
- Pleasing God.
Let's take these one at a time and make them part of our pilgrim mindset in worship.
1. Jesus Christ as the Mediator of All Worship
Verse 15: "Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name." Our sacrifice of praise to God must go "through him," that is, through Jesus Christ. He is our Go-between. We are sinners, and God is infinitely holy and pure. If we drew near to him without Christ, we would be consumed. Christ is the asbestos righteousness that wraps us up in love so we can enjoy the blazing heat of God's holiness and not be consumed by it.
Hebrews 7:25 puts it like this: "He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them." And Hebrews 10:19ff puts it like this: "Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, . . . let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith." Every act of worship, every whisper of praise, goes to God through Christ, or not at all. Never cease to think of Christ as your moment-by-moment Mediator in worship.
There is an even more astonishing sense that we praise the Father through Christ. In Hebrews 2:11-12 the writer says of Christ, "He is not ashamed to call them [that is, us] brothers, saying [now this is Christ speaking], 'I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.'" What that means is that the risen Jesus is worshipping with us in our gathering. "In the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise."
Have you ever imagined Jesus singing today? If you imagined it, what do you think he would be saying? I think he would be saying, "Holy Father, I with my whole soul, and all those you have given me and for whom I died, praise you and honor you and glorify your holy name." So when we worship, let us never forget that we praise the Father only because of the blood and righteousness of Christ, only through Christ. And when we go through him, he goes with us. And whenever we sing through him, and wherever we sing through him on our pilgrim journey through life, he is singing with us. How can the Father not listen and enjoy the songs of his Son and all the redeemed!
2. Praise to God as the Continual Expression of the Lips
A second pilgrim worship priority in these verses is that our lips should praise God and that this should be continual. Verse 15: "Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God." There are at least three senses in which you can take the word "continual."
One is over against stated Sabbaths and holy days. In other words, don't praise God only on Sunday and Thanksgiving and Christmas, but praise him continually. Let every day be a holy day to the Lord. "This the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it" - all my days (Psalm 118:24). For the Christian pilgrim the holy day and the holy place is always present.
The second way to take the word "continual" is that every word that comes out of our mouths should be rooted in the praiseworthiness of God's grace and justice and wisdom and power. And so every word, even if it's a conversation with a friend, a business phone call, the teaching of math, the shouting at a high school ball game, is an honor to God. God hears in it praises to himself.
But the most important thing to say about the word "continual" is that it means, praise God continually through good times and bad times - wherever our pilgrim journey takes us. There are not praise-God times and criticize-God times. There are only praise-God times. That doesn't mean there are no tears. And it doesn't mean there are no perplexities about the way God works. But it does mean that through tears and unanswered questions we praise the Lord. We speak well of him. We don't call him into question. We submit to him as wise and powerful and good.
Matt and Beth Redman's new song, "Blessed Be Your Name," expresses what I mean. (We'll sing it one of these days.) It's based on Job 1:21 where Job lost all his children and possessions and said, "The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." This is praising God continually.4 The song says:
Blessed be Your name when the sun's shining down on me
When the world's "all as it should be,"
Blessed be Your name.
And blessed be Your name on the road marked with suffering
Though there's pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name.
You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name.
Which is a good example of the fruit of lips "that acknowledge the name."
3. Practical Proofs That Your Treasure Is in Heaven and Is Worth More Than Anything Here
The third pilgrim worship priority is practical proofs that your treasure is in heaven. Verse 16: "Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God." Here the sacrifices of worship are not worshipful sacrifices of the lips in praise, but worshipful sacrifices of the hands in doing good for others and sharing what you have.
The reason this is worship is that the way you handle your possessions on earth is a declaration of whether your treasure is in heaven, namely, whether God is your treasure. If you are lavish and risky in your giving to the needy and to the cause of Christ, keeping your life lean as on a wartime footing, then it will appear that you are living for another world. It will appear that verse 14 has really taken root in your life: "Here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come." The city where God himself is the light and the joy.
Here we see the connection between worship and the pilgrim mindset most clearly: Pilgrims travel light. If we have a great inheritance just around the corner we do not quibble over treasures here.
4. Pleasing God
One last pilgrim worship priority: Pilgrim worship pleases God. Verse 16: "Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God." Why does it please God, when we do good and share what we have because we seek the city of God, and not the city of Man? The answer is obvious: When we give things away and live more radically for Christ, we make him look more valuable than things.
But notice how this writer says it in Hebrews 11:6, "Without faith it is impossible to please [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him." You can't please God if you don't come to him empty handed and longing for the Reward - and he himself is the final Reward. God is pleased when our worship reflects our need and his bounty, our bankruptcy and his riches, our folly and his wisdom, our weakness and his strength, our emptiness and his fullness, our hunger and his rich food, our thirst and his fountain of living water. God is pleased when the seamless sacrifice of worship makes him look like our all-satisfying Treasure. Oh, that we might be united in such pilgrim worship in Treasuring Christ Together.
Andrew F. Walls, The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1996), p. 7. ↩
Andrew F. Walls, The Missionary Movement in Christian History, p. 8. ↩
Hebrews 10:32-35; 11:9-10; 24-26; 12:1-2; 13:13-14. ↩
Sarah Edwards's words to her oldest daughter about the death of Sarah's husband, Jonathan, is a beautiful example of continual praise in the midst of great loss and pain: ↩
What shall I say: A holy- and good God has covered us with a dark cloud. O that we may kiss the rod, and lay our hands on our mouths! The Lord has done it, He has made me adore his goodness that we had him so long. But my God lives; and he has my heart. O what a legacy my husband, and your father, has left to us! We are all given to God: and there I am and love to be.
Your ever affectionate mother,