Now how do we serve God in His glorious presence? One thing is to serve theLord is to bring to Him praise and thanksgiving and adoration with greatjoy and exuberance
by Dr Joseph Pipa
At the Greenville Seminary Conference in Taylors, South Carolina on March 11, 2003 Dr. Joseph Pipa, President of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and professor of historical and systematic theology, spoke Tuesday evening on the purpose of worship.
In his introductory remarks, Dr. Pipa reminded that in order to understand anything well, one must be acquainted with its nature and its purpose. Whether it be something mechanical or even mental, if we don’t understand the nature and the purpose of a thing, we really cannot profit from it. Dr. Pipa gave the example of early computer users thinking the “cup-holders” on their computers were not working properly and then discovering that the reason they didn’t work as expected was that they weren’t in fact cup holders but CD drives. The same is surely true about worship, he said, and the reason we are in the midst of worship wars is largely the result of our having lost sight of the nature and purpose of worship. If we are going to have reformation in worship today, we are going to have to recapture the biblical purpose for worship. To begin to do so, Dr. Pipa directed attention to Psalm 100.
Coming at the climax of the Messianic Kingdom Psalms, Psalm 100 summons us into the presence of the LORD and describes to us the nature and purpose of worship. Because of who God is and what He does, we are to come into His presence with the service of corporate worship. The Psalm itself is divided into two parts each with a command to worship and each with a foundation or basis for that command. Consequently, from this Psalm, we can observe three things: 1) the duty of worship, 2) the purpose of worship, and 3) the basis for worship.
THE DUTY OF WORSHIP
In addressing the topic of the duty of worship, Dr. Pipa called attention to the Psalm summoning us to worship Him, acknowledging that in one sense, all of life is worship. However, the commands of worship here are corporate commands addressed plurally. The summons is to worship God in a corporate capacity. We are to worship him privately and in our families and in all we do, but the commands given in Psalm l00 are a call to the corporate worship of all people. It is an address to the nations, commanding all the world to worship Him. “Every individual who ever has or is or shall live on the face of this planet has the responsibility to worship God,” said President Pipa. We have been made in His image, and thus we have been made to give Him glory. “All of the creation was made for God’s glory, as we well know,” he stated. Birds singing and trees budding are giving glory to God, praising their Creator, doing that which God created them to do. Adam and Eve were not only to glorify God in behavior, but they were to offer intelligent glory and praise to God. As the crown of the creation, they were the choir directors of all the rest. Adam’s rebellion was his refusal to give glory to God and worship Him.
Man, the only creature made in God’s image, the only one who could think God’s thoughts after Him, is the one who suppresses the revelation of God and gives glory to gross creatures rather thin to Him. That is the chronicle of human history and is the most serious offense of all mankind and every individual – the refusal to honor God as God. Addressing all who may not be Christians, Dr. Pipa stated, “I want you to understand tonight if you’re not a Christian, and I’m sure there are some here tonight who are not Christians, that this is your greatest offense.”
With respect to the outward acts of the law, he continued, you may not be a gross sinner. “But your worst sin, your most reprehensible act of rebellion against God is your refusal to come to Him in Christ Jesus and to worship Him according to His Word. And for that, you should be judged more sorely than Sodom and Gomorrah in all of her wickedness, for you refusal to give glory to the creator.” You have a responsibility, President Pipa pled, to do homage to the Lord Jesus Christ. “And there is none more lovely than this Savior who calls you unto Himself. These Messianic Psalms anticipate Christ’s coming, and they are in light of His coming, a call to the nations to shout joyfully unto the Lord and come before Him. And He has come, you see, and He is the one who is being exalted now in the praises of His church from the rising to the setting of the sun.”
Dr. Pipa described the sun rising on the Lord’s Day with hour after hour, from far East across the globe, God’s people rising corporately to praise Him because the Lord Jesus Christ has suffered and died and has been risen from the dead and sits on His throne and rules. This, said Dr. Pipa, is why we send missionaries – to bring worship to God from throughout the earth that He might have praise and honor from all people from every tongue and tribe over the entire planet.
After addressing all the earth in Psalm 100, God then addresses us, His covenant people. All are responsible to worship God, but it is our glorious privilege that we have been redeemed, sought by God, brought into the Covenant as His gathered people that we might worship Him in spirit and truth. God’s command to Pharaoh through Moses was to “Let my people go, that they may serve me!” It is for this, for the purpose of worship, that God has saved us. It is our distinguishing mark as Christians that we are the people who have been redeemed and instructed and know how to worship God. “This is a glorious privilege, my friends! Delight in this great purpose of redemption!”
THE PURPOSE OF WORSHIP
Secondly, Dr. Pipa addressed the topic of the purpose of our worship. We are to serve God in worship. It is an act of service performed of God’s children unto Him. Worship is work. Thus, as you approach any other job, you need to think about it and study it enough to do it and increase in your skill and ability to do this work. “But the most precious part of this,” said Dr. Pipa, “is where this work is performed. It is performed in the special presence of God.” We are told to “come before Him, to enter His gates with thanksgiving, enter His courts with praise.” God dwelt in the Holy of Holies in Jerusalem and was enthroned in the midst of His people in the temple. Thus, when they were to come before His presence, that was most fully realized for them in coming to the temple. But, who is our temple? It is the one who said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days, I will rebuild it” Jesus Christ is our temple and has entered into the Holy of Holies on our behalf. The veil has been torn apart so that we have free access into Heaven. When we come before His presence as we worship, we, in a mysterious manner, because of union with Christ, are lifted up into Heaven. We are transported into the throne room of Heaven in the presence of the King and of angels and the souls of just men made perfect, and that is where we have our transactions with God
Now how do we serve God in His glorious presence? One thing is to serve the Lord is to bring to Him praise and thanksgiving and adoration with great joy and exuberance. We are to revel in the greatness of our God. Much of Reformed worship today has become boring, the professor stated, not because we don’t have the right things, but because our hearts are disengaged and we don’t come into the Lord’s presence with joy and exuberance.
Another aspect of serving the Lord is to have communion with Him. We come there to gaze on Him, to “know that the Lord is God.” We come into His presence to enter into a sweet communion, to gaze on His loveliness as He reveals Himself to us in the parts of worship – the Word read and preached and sung and recited in our creeds and in the sacraments. And as we see Him revealed to us, we then respond with our prayers and through our hymns and Psalms and the humble hearing of His word read and preached. It is two way communication. When you come to partake of the Lord’s Supper, He says to you personally, ‘You’re mine. I have forgiven you of your sins. Walk boldly in me.” And our hearts run out to Him in response to the manifestation of His love and favor, and through corporate worship, communion occurs between the worshiper and God.
Furthermore, edification is an outworking of communion with God. The means of grace are the Word, prayer, and sacraments, and though the Word and prayer are used privately, there is much greater blessing in using them corporately. As we commune with God, He is working in us, sanctifying us, mortifying our sin, and conforming us to the image of the Son, so that worship is then for us edifying.
There are two important messages that must be driven home. The first is that out worship must be God-centered. If it is to fasten attention on God and to adore and praise Him and have communion with Him, it is obvious the worship must be God-centered. And this is one of the places we’ve gone astray today; we’re confused about worship because we “approach worship as ‘What am I going to get out of it, and what kind of buzz am I going to have; am I going to leave self-affirmed, feeling good about myself? Am I going to be moved? We have come with all the wrong reasons and are asking all the wrong questions.” We shouldn’t be asking what we are going to get out of this but what God is going to gain. How will His name be blessed and His loveliness portrayed? As we fasten our attention on God and seek His glory and commune with Him, our hearts will break We will be exuberant; we will rejoice with trembling; we’ll serve the Lord with fear. We will indeed be moved from the depths of our being because we sought Him. Just as in a marriage relationship, if we seek our own well being, our marriages are wrecks. But, if we seek the well being of our spouses, we find our marriages to be fulfilling.
The second message we must learn from the purpose of worship is that it is by nature covenantal and not evangelistic. That is again a great mistake that the church today is making and is the reason why so many are departing. Everything is being defined by bringing the unconverted in and making the unconverted comfortable so they’ll be saved. Their motives are great! They desire to see the lost converted. “But, I ask you this very simple question,” said Pipa, “if an unconverted person comes to your worship service and leaves feeling good, who has not been present? God. The unconverted cannot come into the presence of God as we’ve described it and feel good or fulfilled. His conscience is going to have been scratched with the strong claws of the Lion of Judah. He’s going to be probed. As Paul says, he’s going to fall down before the Lord, his heart made naked and bare before God. And then God saves them that way. We are so foolish to take that which is God’s and profane it and adulterate it to try to package it for the world.” We are changing God’s glorious and holy celebration into an outreach enterprise, and He is no longer the center of attention; he’s no longer honored and glorified in our worship.
If we are going to worship well, we must recover these purposes of worship and their principles. As we do, our worship will become increasingly God-centered and covenantal. We must not ignore the unconverted in our midst and we should explain and translate to them using rubrics; but we must structure our worship for God.
THE BASIS OF WORSHIP
Finally, we must think of the foundation or basis for our worship. The exuberant worship that the Psalmist describes flows out of the keen, personal knowledge of God as He reveals Himself to us in scripture. We must know who He is, that He is the creator, and that He is our God. We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. God is good and compassionate, and He loves us, not in condemnation but in goodness and loving kindness, faithfulness and purity. This is why we worship Him, coming into His presence with thanksgiving for who He is and what He has done;
We often fail to worship properly, Dr. Pipa admonished, because we haven’t taken the time to savor the goodness of God. He has given us the Sabbath to exercise this privilege, but we too often fail to make use of the gift. Many dread or neglect worship, especially evening worship. Why in the world, if we had a gripping view of the beauty and glory and privilege that is ours to enter into His courts with thanksgiving, would we ever want to do anything but worship Him when we have the chance? May God grant to you and me the continued growth in grace to worship Him with skill, to worship Him in some small way in the way He has instructed. Amen.
[as reported in “Presbyterian and Reformed News”, January-March 2003. www.presbyteriannews.org]