Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." Then Jesus said to him, "Begone, Satan! for it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'"
I have an abiding fear of what C. S. Lewis called chronological snobbery. Chronological snobbery is the arrogant notion that the ideas of our own day are better than the ideas of a bygone day just because the ideas are in our day. Chronological snobbery feels that things are truer because they are newer. And so it is both irrational and naïve.
It's irrational because being new is no guarantee of being true. It's pure arrogance to think that a thought in my head is better than a thought in the head of Martin Luther just because I live in the twentieth century and he lived in the sixteenth. There is no logical connection between the truth of an insight and the century when God puts it into somebody's mind.
And chronological snobbery is not only irrational. It is also naïve. Because there aren't any really new ideas under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1:9–10 says,
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
and there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
"See, this is new"?
It has been already,
in the ages before us.
So I try to flee every temptation to be a chronological snob. I don't want to be irrational or naïve. C. S. Lewis prescribed at least one antidote. He said that every third book you read should be from outside your own century. It was good advice.
Bethlehem's Philosophy of Ministry
In the past several years we have developed a philosophy of ministry at Bethlehem and some clear doctrinal distinctives. None of them, I am very happy to declare, is new. The philosophy of ministry states that we exist as a church to fulfill three priorities: worship, nurture, and evangelism. Each priority corresponds to a relationship in which we exist: to God, to other believers, and to the world without Christ. We exist
- to reflect the grace of God back to him in worship,
- to apply the grace of God to each other for the edification in faith and love, and
- to extend the grace of God to unbelievers in domestic evangelism and frontier missions.
Measuring Congregational Growth and Maturity
The practical implication is that as a congregation and as individuals we can measure our growth and maturity by whether we are making progress in these three priorities.
- Do you delight more and more in the majesty and glory of God? Does your heart incline to worship God more consistently and intelligently and earnestly and intensely today than it did five years ago?
- Is your love for your brothers and sisters in Christ abounding more and more so that you use your gifts more and more effectively to strengthen their faith and stir them up to love and good works?
- And do you feel a greater burden for the lost? Are your prayers for unbelieving relatives and friends more consistent and earnest? Are your efforts to give a reason for the hope that is in you more bold, less ashamed? Are you becoming a world Christian with a zeal for the final mission thrust of the church to reach the hidden peoples?
If you can answer yes, we are making progress as a church. If not, we are failing in those areas. But at least we have goal and a definite biblical theology behind it.
None of This Is New
But it is not new. Listen to the way another pastor and teacher describes the meaning of membership in the church:
Membership, therefore, involves a personal obligation to promote the objects of the body as expressed in the covenant. These objects are three: 1. The social, united worship of God . . . 2. The perpetuation and diffusion of the gospel . . . 3. The sanctification of its own members . . . The church, thus comprehensive in its scope, looks upward to God, outward upon the needs of a lost world, and inward to the processes of sanctification in the souls of its own members; the neglect of any one of these grand objects of its organization imperils its whole design.
This is our philosophy of ministry. The quote is from Hezekiah Harvey, who was born in England in 1821 (The Church, 1879, reprint 1982, pp. 35–36). There is nothing modern or trendy about the priorities of our church. They have been around for two thousand years. They are tried and true, and it shouldn't bother us at all that they are not new.
Reminders of Priorities Which Are Easily Forgotten
But no matter how old or basic they are, they tend to be easily forgotten. So once a year or so we make explicit the three priorities of worship, nurture, and evangelism. We want all the regular attenders to be able to give an account for why Bethlehem exists.
So our plan is to devote one Sunday here at the beginning of the fall to each of the three priorities. In the morning we will give the big picture of biblical foundations and implications. Each Sunday evening we will give an account of practical ways we are implementing the priorities. I urge you all to take in both the morning and evening services, to get the whole picture.
Today we focus on priority number one—worship.
Worship—The Duty of Every Human Being
Let's begin with Matthew 4:8–11.
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." Then Jesus said to him, "Begone, Satan! for it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'" Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him.
There is one main truth that I want to urge from this text, namely, that worshiping God is the duty of every human being. The basis of the truth is this: if the very Son of God counts it his duty to obey the command to worship God, then how much more must we count it our duty to obey this command!
Taking Cues from the King's Son
Suppose you are a kid playing in the streets outside the mansion of the king, and the king's own son comes out and starts to play with you. After a while he invites you to come home with him and meet his father. At first you decline in fear: "I'm just a peasant. I don't have a noble name. And my clothes are all dirty. I'm not fit to visit the king." But he just smiles and says. "That's OK, if you're my friend, he won't mind."
So you follow the son of the king through the huge gate. Your heart is beating so hard you can see it moving your shirt. And it occurs to you that you have never met a king before and have no idea how to approach him. But the happy stride of your friend, the king's son, puts you at ease and you remind yourself that the king is his father. They no doubt have a wonderful relationship. Everything will surely be all right.
By the time you reach the king's chamber you are almost feeling at ease. Then something utterly unexpected happens. As the son knocks at the chamber door and hears the deep welcome from the other side, his whole demeanor changes. His gaiety turns to gravity. Not grief or sadness, just gravity—like something weighty is about to happen. And the change isn't artificial like when an actor is joking behind stage and then quickly puts on a new face to go on stage and be sad. The change wasn't like that at all.
It was more like when a mountain climbing team is driving toward the mountain they aim to scale. They are joking and laughing about former good times. Then all of a sudden they round a curve and for the first time they see the massive face of the mountain, and inside the car there is silence as they drive on and stare. The laughter wasn't phony. It was real and good. And the silence and awe in the car isn't phony. It is real and it is good too.
The son puts his hand on the long door handle of the king's chamber and opens the door. His face meets the king's in the most natural manner, and then he kneels and puts both knees and then his face on the floor of the king's chamber. And he waits.
It didn't take any great chain of reasoning for you to know exactly what you must do. You had never read it in a book. Your mother had never told you. But you knew: if the son of the king bows before his father in holy silence, this peasant child better get on his face before the king.
Jesus' Response to Satan
And so it is in our text. When Satan tempts Jesus to worship him by offering the glory of the world, Jesus does NOT say, "Satan, I already have a right to the world as a Son of the Creator. You should worship me, not I you. Be gone!" He could have said that. It would have been true.
But what he said was, "Satan, my Father has given commandment that he and he alone be worshiped. I always have and I always will obey my Father. Begone, Satan!" And here we are this morning, dirty peasants, battered souls befriended by the Son of God, standing by his side at the entrance to the chamber room of God. Our duty is clear. The duty of every human being is clear. If the very Son of God counts it his duty to obey the command to worship God, then how much more must we count it our duty to obey this command! WORSHIPING GOD IS THE DUTY OF EVERY HUMAN BEING!
Worship Must Be Priority Number One
That is the number one priority of Bethlehem Baptist Church and should be the number one priority of your heart. The reason I say that it's number one is that everything else we do is a means to this end. When all other goals serve one goal, that goal is NUMBER ONE.
Nurture Is Not Ultimate
The priority of nurture or edification is not ultimate. It is a means of building faith toward God and love toward man. But the reason faith is valuable is because it focuses on God and magnifies his all-sufficiency (Romans 4:20). And the reason love is valuable is because it is the overflow and evidence of faith and leads people to give glory to God (Matthew 5:16). So nurture is not ultimate. It is crucial. But it is not number one.
Evangelism Is Not Ultimate
Nor is the priority of evangelism ultimate. Its aim is the ingathering of God's elect from every tongue and tribe and people and nation into the joy of worship. So missions and evangelism are not the number one priority. They are a means to the end of number one. Only the priority of worship is not for any greater purpose than itself. It is an end in itself.
So I would make the truth from our text more precise: WORSHIPING GOD IS THE NUMBER ONE DUTY OF EVERY HUMAN BEING.
Two Questions About Our Duty of Worship
Let's ask two more questions about this duty. In what sense is it a duty? And how shall we as a church obey it?
1. In What Sense Is It a Duty?
One of the most profound books that I have read in the last five years is Christian Commitment, by Edward John Carnell. I have a special affection for the man, though I never met him. I was reading his book The Kingdom of Love and the Pride of Life when I fell in love with Noël. I learned afterward that he struggled terribly with depression, endured numerous shock treatments, and was cut off in the prime of his career just before I arrived at Fuller Seminary where he taught.
He appeals to me because he is so real in his labor to show the truthfulness of Christianity. He uses everyday illustrations to explain the deepest things and makes you feel that in ordinary life you are walking on hallowed ground.
Not That Kind of Must
He uses an example in his book Christian Commitment that shows so clearly what is meant by the CHRISTIAN concept of duty.
Suppose a husband asks his wife if he must kiss her good night. Her answer is, "You must, but not that kind of must." What she means is this: "unless a spontaneous affection for my person motivates you, your overtures are stripped of all moral value." (pp. 160f.)
Yes, worship is a must. But not THAT kind of must. Not the kind that says, "I don't want to, but if I must, I will." That will not do in kissing, and it will not do in worshiping. (They are very closely related!) There is no value in a kiss or an act of worship that does not come from the heart.
Jesus devastated the worship of the most religious people in Israel with these words from the prophet Isaiah:
This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.
The Duty to Become a New Person
When the heart is not in an act of worship, the lips can move all day long and it will be IN VAIN! The number one duty of worship is not merely a duty to perform outward acts. It is a duty to feel inward affections. It is a duty the way C. S. Lewis spoke of it in a letter to Sheldon Vanauken when he said, "It is a Christian duty, as you know, for every one be as happy as he can."
Or the way Jeremy Taylor spoke of it when he said, "God threatens terrible things, if we will not be happy."
Or as the psalmist commands us, "Delight thyself in the Lord!"
In other words, the duty to worship is a duty to become a new person, to get a new heart. If worship must come from within, and worship is our number one duty in all of life, and you don't find it coming from within you, then you need to be born again. Hearken to the renewing Word of God! Pray that God would give you a new heart that freely and gladly delights in his glory.
2. How Then Shall We Worship as a Church?
We will get much more specific tonight. But let me urge three general traits we should strive for.
Corporately, Not Just Privately
We should worship together, not just privately.
Privately, YES! But not just privately. Psalm 149:1 says, "Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the faithful!" We are commanded to sing God's praises in the assembly of the faithful—in the church!
Some may say, "I can worship God better by myself in the woods or by the lake." Perhaps you can. And God forbid that any of us should be denied our private encounters with God! But the test whether any experience of God is genuine or is simply an aesthetic high is whether it inclines you to obey God. If you don't come away from your private lakeside encounter more eager to meet God in the assembly of the faithful, you probably are not meeting God by the lake. If it were God, he would be filling your heart to obey his command to join with his people.
It IS a command of love, you know. If the deepest and highest joys could be had in private, the songs of heaven would be described as a solo here and a solo there instead of million member choirs. So we should worship God together not just in private.
We should worship God EARNESTLY.
The ascended Lord Jesus Christ said to the church at Laodicea, "Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth" (Revelation 3:15–16). Is it not consistent with the image to say that lukewarm worship turns the stomach of Christ?
This is why Saturday night and early Sunday morning preparation is so important before you come to worship. It's why the prelude is indispensable. We are not naturally hot. We must trim the wick with the Word of God. We must seek the breath of his Spirit to blow it into a flame. He will not quench a smoldering flax! If we seek him!
Brothers and sisters, we must be more earnest in seeking God in worship. We must be less flippant and less frivolous and thoughtless and casual and disrespectful as we approach the chamber of God in the assembly of the faithful. Have you ever thought through the implications of Jeremiah 29:13 where God says, "You will seek me and find me; when you seek me WITH ALL YOUR HEART." There is only one reason to come to this service—to seek and find GOD! And the Lord God says to you straight from his Word every Sunday, "You will find me when you seek me with ALL YOUR HEART!"
Does your bedtime on Saturday night say, WITH ALL MY HEART DO I SEEK YOU? Does your Sunday morning meditation and preparation say, WITH ALL MY HEART DO I SEEK YOU? Does your arrival time in the service, and your posture and demeanor, and use of the prelude, and riveted attention and participation—do they all say WITH ALL MY HEART DO I SEEK YOU, O MY GOD? If not, Jeremiah 29:13 offers you no encouragement that you will meet him. And you may have found the source of a hundred problems in your life. For when the soul does not feast EARNESTLY upon God, the spiritual malnutrition shows itself in every area of life. Brothers and sisters, we should worship together earnestly?
Finally, we should worship EXPRESSIVELY.
The spirit of worship at Bethlehem is so different than what many people are used to that they don't know quite what to make of it. Often wrong conclusions are jumped to. For example, one may think: Well, since they don't announce the hymns, and they discourage conversation during the prelude, and everything on the platform seems to be thought through ahead of time, they probably don't want any spontaneous involvement at all.
But that is a wrong conclusion. The goal is to meet God together. Every part of the service is designed either to channel God's reality to you or to channel your affections to God. There are, of course, a lot of spontaneous things that you could do that would derail this locomotive of worship. But there are also some that would not derail us but would in fact stoke the engine.
For example, there is nothing in our concept of worship to hinder a hearty "Amen!" when your heart beats with what is said or sung. Why must I go down to preach at Bethesda Baptist in order to hear a chorus of amens? I can tell by your faces often when it's on the tip of your tongue. Let it out! Be expressive. Who knows what might get pulled out of this preacher or this choir! Visitors need to know whether anyone here really agrees with and loves what this preacher is saying and the choir is singing. Your nods and ummhmms and Amens and your posture of attention bear witness that this is a shared message, not just a one man stand.
I dream of the day when the doctrines of sovereign grace and the spirit of worship are so deeply prized and so deeply shared by the family of God in this place that we will feel, as though with one mind and one heart, the moment for utter silence and the exact moment for shouts of acclamation.
For the Lord is in his holy temple! Let all the earth keep silence before him. AND the Lord is GREAT and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols; but the Lord made the heavens. Honor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
Majesty! Worship his majesty!
Unto Jesus be all glory power and praise.
Majesty! Kingdom authority!
Flow from his throne unto his own,
His anthem raise.
So exalt, lift up on high the name of Jesus.
Magnify, come glorify Christ Jesus, the King.
Majesty! Worship his majesty!
Jesus who died now glorified,
King of all kings!
If you know it, sing it. If you don't, receive it as a gift.