The True Worship of God:
Servants Before Their Lord

by Rev. Sterling Durgy

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Formal worship, whether private or public, is "coming before the Lord." There is, of course, the sense in which Christians both always dwell in the presence of God and the Spirit of God always indwells each Christian. But the relationship between God and His people is not unlike the relationship of human beings to one another - in order for the relationship to survive and grow, there must be times when each has the undivided attention of the other.

The words "before the Lord" or "before God" (where "before" is the Greek enopion or emprosthen) and the concept described are not uncommon in the Bible. In the Old Testament there were times when Israel gathered to present itself before the Lord (Exodus 16:9, 23:17, Joshua 24:1, I Samuel 10:19. Under Mosaic Law there was also a separation in the best of relationships with God, for the priesthood and the tabernacle (which later became the Temple at Jerusalem) always stood between the worshipper and God. For the Christian, there is no longer this sense of separation, but a deep sense of fellowship with God, as the author of Hebrews describes in great detail. Still, as the author of Hebrews is careful to point out in chapter 12, the meeting between men and God takes on greater, not lesser, significance for Christians. The difference is, perhaps, similar to the difference between the blue sky and the night sky - for on a clear night the dome of blue "drops away" to open up to our gaze the vastness and distance of the heavens. In much the same way, the presence of God in the New Testament opens up so much more of the awesomeness as well as the closeness of God - the great truths with which the Revelation of John begins its message to the Christian community.

Other religions involve the "merging" of the worshipper and God. Christian worship involves no such goal. God and the Christian are already one, in fellowship though not in substance. In very much the same manner that a man and a woman are "one" when joined in marriage, this "oneness" never takes away the sense of self identity. The goal in Christian worship is not for the worshipper to dissolve into God, or be taken over by God, but to become one with God in fellowship, character, goals, and understanding. But always with God as the sovereign.

In fact, in the Scriptures, even faith in Christ, that which leads to Christian worship, is not an option, but an act of obedience to God. In his opening remarks in the book of Romans, Paul states that the purpose of his apostolic mission from God was to bring about the "obedience of faith" (Romans 1:5, 16:26, I John 2:23, 5:10, I Peter 1:2). This follows from the fact that Jesus is the "Christ," the "Messiah," the "Anointed One" (Deuteronomy 18:15-19, Acts 3:19-26, John 3:13-19). To reject God's Chosen One is to reject God Himself.

Everything Christians have comes from their God. The plan of salvation, from before the foundation of the world through the life, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ, to the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, to the return of Christ and the establishment of an eternal kingdom, all come completely from God without the aid of man. Even when human beings are a part of God's work, as were the prophets in bringing us God's Word, Mary in becoming Jesus' mother, the apostles in laying a foundation for the church, or faithful Christians in their service of Christ today, their work is always at the initiative of God and in complete cooperation with His Divine plan.

Not only does salvation through Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Kingdom of God come from God; Christian character, and the character of Christian life and service are derived completely from God as well. It follows, then, that Christian worship must also flow from God, that it must be consistent in every respect with both His character and His purposes.

The definition of holiness in any religion is based upon that religion's God or gods. It is always associated with the character of that deity. Christian holiness is defined by the one, true God and His character. Christian holiness in worship, like the Christian life, is a response of gratitude for God and His work on our behalf (II Corinthians 5:14-15, 6:14-7:1, I Peter 1:3-2:1, I John 3:16-20, 4:7-21). It is inconceivable that there could be true Christian worship that does not reflect the character and glory of Jesus Christ (II Corinthians 3:18) or the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). The sovereignty of God, the dignity of God, the righteousness of God, the logic and orderliness of God, the eternity of God, the redemptive love of God, the presence of God, the dependence of all creation upon its Creator, all are to be reflected in Christian worship (Exodus 15:11). The apostle Paul, reflecting upon God's plan of salvation and His promises of faithfulness to His people, wrote, "Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (II Corinthians 7:1). In so doing we participate in God's redemptive plan for us.

This response to God is never without the awareness of sacrifice. The tabernacle established by the Law of Moses (which later became the Temple) was a place of continual sacrifice. Animal blood was shed at the altar for many reasons. At least once each year, on the Day of Atonement, a sacrifice was made by the High Priest for the entire nation of Israel. Even far away from Jerusalem, those who worshipped in the synagogues were mindful of the sacrifices at Judaism's one true Temple. "And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness" (Hebrews 9:22). For Christians, the focus of attention is the sacrifice of Christ at Calvary - the same sacrifice typified (foreshadowed and symbolized) by the sacrifices of the Mosaic Law performed at the tabernacle.

In Mosaic worship, after the ceremony, part of each sacrifice went to the priests. This was how the priests were supported because they were given no land to farm for themselves. The author of Hebrews says of Christ's sacrifice, "We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat" (Hebrews 13:10). With a similar thought, Peter wrote, "you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ" (I Peter 1:18-19). In churches where worshippers receive the Lord's Supper on their knees at an altar rail at the front of the church, the altar rail represents the cross of Christ -- the place where God and man are brought together because Christ offered His body and His blood.

The knowledge of the sacrifice of Christ brings a solemnity to Christian life and worship that cannot be ignored by devout Christians, even when experiencing moments of joy. Indeed, the passages quoted from Hebrews and I Peter are used by both authors as the reason for Christians to conduct their lives in a specific manner. The author of Hebrews draws the conclusion, on the basis of the importance of Christ's sacrifice, that Christians should be willing to go into the world to serve Christ even if they suffer abuse, that Christians should live lives of gratitude and praise, and do good works. In other words, the sacrifice of Christ should call forth, in gratitude, sacrificial service by Christians. Peter also teaches that the sacrifice of Christ is reason for Christians to "be holy yourselves in all your behavior" and for Christians to serve God sacrificially in witness and behavior (I Peter 1:15, 2:1-10).

The best way to honor God's character and His sacrificial work through Christ is to act in a manner that is consistent with the purposes of God. This involves knowledgeable, purposeful cooperation with the work of God through His church in the world, and thus with His Spirit. We know that God's purpose is to redeem us from the kingdom of darkness and place us in the kingdom of His Son (Colossians 1:13), to redeem us from dead works to the service of God (Hebrews 9:14, Romans 6:22), and to enable us to reflect the character of God more and more in our lives (II Corinthians 3:18, Ephesians 5:1-5, I John 2:3-6), which is to live in true holiness. We know that God's purpose is to build up the church, the Body of Christ in the world, both in membership and in spiritual maturity (Ephesians 4:11-16). To this end, our purpose must be to understand and know His will so that we can please Him, cooperate with His work in our lives and the lives of others, and be faithful servants (Matthew 25:1-46, Ephesians 5:7-17).

Since this is true, although we have freedom in Christ in our lives and worship, it is not true that we can take license to do whatever we might decide to do. Peter wrote, "Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves to God" (I Peter 2:16). Notice "bondslaves!" In neither the Christian life nor Christian worship is it faithful to God for Christians to please themselves without thought for what pleases and serves the Lord their God.

Paul wrote, "All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify" (I Corinthians 10:23, 6:12). The most important issue in true Christian worship is not what appeals to the most people, or what is most enjoyable, or what is most entertaining, or what causes the least friction with the secular world, but what actually edifies, in other words, builds the Body of Christ according to the purposes of God. This is not the narrow goal of bringing people to confess Christ as their Savior, it is the broader and deeper goal of building up individuals and the church in Godly, Christlike holiness. Further, anything that causes unbelievers or those new to the faith to stumble, that leads them away from this broader goal, must be rejected, even if it seems harmless to those who are mature Christians (I Corinthians 10:24, Romans 14:13-21). Of course we hope people come to Jesus Christ through our worship services. But if we do away with the deeper purposes of God to attract the unsaved, we have allowed the unsaved, rather than God, to control our worship. Helping the unbeliever or new Christian to understand our faith is one thing, compromising our faith is quite another.

Christian worship is the gathering of the servants of Christ before their Lord. His character, sacrifice, and goals calls for a specific response on the part of His people that is reflected in their worship - worship that both motivates and prepares them to serve.

First printed in The American Night Watch Newsletter, Volume IV, Part 7, July 1996.

Copyright 1999 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved. Revised October 3, 1998.

The American Night Watch is a trademark of the Christian ministry of Sterling M. Durgy.

Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible, Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968,1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Permission is granted to reprint this article as long as the copyright is included, this statement is included, and the article is not sold to the recipients.

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This page was last updated October 22, 1999.