The Assembly of Worship
God’s Purpose For the Church
Today, we start a new series. We will be looking at God’s purpose for the church. The series consists of three sermons. God’s purpose for the church consists of three things; worship, nurture, and witness. We will look at the first two, worship and nurture, this week and next, then, during our missions focus month in November, we will look at the last purpose, witness.
Why this series
The elders desire to do this series for many reasons.
- The primary reason for doing this series is that we desire to have a unified foundation for church ministry. For us to be in unity, we need to have a unified foundation on the topic of God’s purpose for the church.
- Our culture is confused about the church. There are many iterations of the church in our culture. Some are good, and others are not biblical, such as an internet church. Churches cater to preferences and conveniences. It best to know what the Bible says about the purpose of the church rather than take cues from our culture. (Have the right criteria for choosing a church.)
- There are times that we do things or not do things because we desire to follow God’s purpose for the church. Knowing God’s purpose for the church will help us decide in unity when making decisions about church ministry.
- God has expectations for us as a body of believers. We need to make sure that our expectations for the church are in alignment with God’s expectations.
- As we go through the book of Acts, we see things that the early church did. The book of Acts provides the pattern to imitate. It is a great joy to hear about the early church. Their passion and enthusiasm are inspiring. Our prayer is that we are inspired to imitate their pattern and that we find the joy in church that they find.
The Assembly of Worship
God mandates that His people worship Him. We will look at a broad overview of worship in the context of an assembly. The word for church in the Greek, ecclesia, means assembly. We will understand worship in the context of the assembly.
We call this time on Sunday, a worship service. We intend to worship God together. We don’t call mid-week meetings, a worship service, but they are. Our intent with our mid-week meetings also needs to have worship as a purpose. The message this morning will help guide us with all the times we assemble as believers.
The main idea of the message is that we will endeavor to fulfill our purpose as worshipping members of the church.
We need to strive as a church, to be a unified worshipping body, and we need to strive as individuals to be a member of the body who worships.
We see the scriptural basis behind this idea, and we will review practical suggestions on how to fulfill God’s purpose. We desire to please God in our obedience to His ways.
We are created as worshippers
WORSHIP is the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration. When we worship, we are responding to what we see and the feelings of reverence, adoration, and love result.
All humans are worshippers. God made us to worship.
Think of how we love the “awesome.” Our lives are full of things that we identify as awesome. We enjoy and admire an athlete who accomplishes an amazing feat of athleticism. We lay on our backs and look at the stars in the night sky, and we enjoy thinking about the awesome size and power of the universe. We have a great meal that stimulates our eyes, nose, and taste buds are in ways we have never experienced, and we think it is awesome.
Every experience we enjoy is a worship experience.
Every culture worships, no matter how primitive or advanced. When the Apostle Paul visits Athens, he recognizes them as worshippers.
“For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, 'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.' Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.” (Act 17:23)
When Jesus is born, the magi travel a great distance so they can worship a king.
“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2:2)
Our problem is that our fallen nature leads us astray from worshipping what is right. We are easily led astray to worship creation and not the Creator. We worship everything from trees and animals to other people.
Only God is to be worshipped
The problem with our fallen nature is the object of our worship. While in the wilderness, being tempted by Satan, Jesus is enticed to worship Satan. Satan offers all the kingdoms of the world to Jesus if He only changes the object of His worship from God to Satan.
“All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, 'YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.'” (Matthew 4:9-10)
Jesus quotes Scripture, Deuteronomy 6:13. We learn from our Savior that only God is to be worshipped. No created thing is to be the object of our worship. It is permissible to enjoy watching athletes or eating a good meal or looking at a beautiful sunset or landscape, but we are not to worship those things. We are to enjoy everything relative to our worship of God. Whatever we do, eat or drink, we are to do for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Worship is the response to God’s glory
What brings about our worship of God is His glory.
We are familiar with the passage in which Moses asks God to show him His glory. God passes by Moses and declares to him His glory.
Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations. Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship. (Exodus 34:6-8)
Think of all the things God might say to Moses. The most awesome thing about God, not His omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, but His loving way of relating to people. He can create anything that will make us say, awesome. He can perform amazing tasks. But, it is His truth, love, compassion, forgiveness, and judgment that God sees as most awesome of all His character attributes.
Moses hears the gospel and does what comes naturally to hearing something awesome. Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship.
In the Old Covenant - The Temple is the center of worship
At the same time, on the same mountain, God gives Moses a Covenant. The covenant is the written instruction on how to worship the God of glory.
The Israelites are to construct a place where the glory of God will dwell.
The instructions in the Covenant are explicit. The worship of God requires curtains of fine twisted linen, bronze washing bowls, acacia wood, onyx, rams’ skins died red, gold lampstands, and fragrant incense. Worship of God requires holy priests, wearing holy garments, and using holy utensils.
The Covenant is extravagant, elaborate, and detailed. The center of instructions for worshipping the God of glory is the Tabernacle, which later becomes a Temple. The Tabernacle is the tent of meeting. It is where God meets with His people.
A clear and obvious truth of the worship God commands in the Mosaic Covenant is that it is done collectively. God calls His people to worship as an assembly. They sing songs, eat at feasts, and celebrate holy days together.
The Sabbath command specifies a holy assembly on the seventh day.
The call to assemble does not negate individual worship. God’s people are to worship God from the heart. However, only worshipping individually and not worshipping with the assembly is disobedience to the Covenant.
In the New Covenant, Worship changes form
The first indication in the New Testament that worship is about to change radically is found in Jesus’ discourse with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:19-24).
After she perceives that Jesus is a prophet, she asks Jesus an important question that His disciples fail to ask. It is the most important question any of us may ask. She knows God is to be worshipped. So, she asks, “How may we rightly worship God?”
What Jesus says is profound. He tells the woman that the way God is to be worshipped is now changing. The hour of the change is now. The assembly of God’s people to worship in a place is going away. No longer will the Jerusalem Temple be the place of worship. True worshippers will have a heart of worship. They will worship in spirit and truth.
Jesus directly connects salvation to worship. He says the Jews worship in the right way because they know salvation is from the Jews. They worship rightly because they know about salvation. Worship and salvation are connected. The Jews know the truth of God’s glory.
The reason worship changes is standing in front of the woman.
Worship is in response to God’s glory
For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)
The woman at the well finds herself looking directly into the face of God’s glory.
Until the day Jesus is born, God’s glory cannot be seen. The words spoken to Moses describing God’s glory are a vision, a dream in the minds of God’s people. The promise of salvation consists of words on a page. For centuries of human existence, the gospel is an idea waiting to happen.
Then, Jesus is born. The verbal description given to Moses of God’s glory takes form. The Word of God’s glory becomes flesh. God’s glory walks among us. God’s glory becomes tangible. We can touch and see God’s glory.
God’s glory is on display profoundly as Jesus hangs nailed to the cross. Our eyes gaze upon God’s glory stretched between heaven and earth. Truth wears a crown of thorns. Jesus abounds in love. We come to grips with the priceless gift of forgiveness. God’s glorious judgment of sin is manifest in blood dripping to the ground, cries of anguish, and on the face of the man of sorrows.
God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ invokes worship.
The compassion and grace of Christ are awesome.
The God-Man who embodies truth is awesome.
The display of the greatest love is awesome.
Make haste to bow low toward the earth and worship.
Jesus changes worship because He fulfills the Old Covenant and inaugurates a New Covenant.
New Covenant Form of Worship
Because Jesus fulfills the Old Covenant, and He inaugurates a new Covenant, the form of worship in the New Covenant changes.
Unlike the Old Covenant, the New Covenant does not provide detailed instructions on how to worship God as it does in the Old Testament. What we do know is clear.
Jesus obsoletes the Temple and practices
The first principle of New Covenant worship is that Jesus obsoletes the temple and its practices. Gone are the sacrifices because Jesus is the one, sufficient sacrifice. Gone are the priests, because Jesus is our great High-Priest. We offer the sacrifice of praise and the incense of our prayers.
We draw near to God, not in the temple, because the blood of Jesus gives us access through the veil and makes a cleary way to stand before God’s mercy seat in heaven. We enter with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean and our bodies washed because of the sacrificial blood of Christ (Hebrews 10).
The assembly is the temple
The New Covenant temple is not a building, but an assembly of God’s people. When we leave the walls of this building, we rightly say, “the church has left the building.”
The New Testament Greek word for church is “ecclesia” (or ekklesia). The word means assembly. The church assembly of believers is the temple.
Listen to the words of Peter:
… you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For this is contained in Scripture: “BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A CHOICE STONE, A PRECIOUS CORNER stone, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.” (1 Peter 2:4-6)
The Apostle Paul shares the same illustration with the Ephesians. He says that we are being built together as a building, Jesus is the cornerstone, and we are being fitted together to become a holy temple in the Lord (Ephesians 2:19-22).
It is important that we recognize how Peter and Paul use the illustration of the church as a spiritual temple. They see the church assembly as the replacement of the temple.
The emphasis on the church assembly does not negate the scriptures calling for individual obedience and holiness. The church assembly is called to expel unrepentant members from the body as we might amputate a diseased finger.
We are mini-temples, because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 3:16) Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? (1 Corinthians 6:19)
Let’s understand the illustration they provide as it relates to us as individual members. Jesus is the cornerstone; we need to align ourselves with Him as individuals. And, we need to see ourselves as fitting into the temple building. A stone that is outside of the building is not in line with the cornerstone. We must be in alignment with Christ and fitted together into the building that Peter and Paul reveal as being a temple.
Defined by Scripture
Worship in the New Covenant, at first, was very confusing. There was not a clean break from Old Covenant worship. It took around 15-20 years after Jesus’ resurrection to finally call a council in Jerusalem to determine how to make the break.
New Covenant worship in the New Covenant is open but defined. When it comes to the church assembly, there are no rules, and there are rules. The Bible does not give a specific time to worship. There are no feasts. There are no regulations on what to wear.
Much of what we do in our worship service, we imitate the pattern in the book of Acts. There is no rule saying we have to have church on Sunday. The early church met on Sunday, so we meet on Sunday (but, not as a command). We would not tell people in a persecuted church that they have to meet on Sunday.
Scripture defines the appointing of leadership in the church. First, it begins out of necessity in Acts 6, but by the time Paul writes to Timothy and Titus, the selection of church leadership is much more defined.
When we meet, we need to make sure everything is done decently and in order. God is not a God of confusion. We are to have shepherds who preach and teach. We are not to neglect the public reading of Scripture. There are regulations regarding women. There are instructions on what to do and not do regarding the Lord’s Supper. But, there are no regulations on the frequency. We are commanded to sing songs.
On those things where Scripture is explicit, we obey. In the areas where Scripture gives principles, there is liberty.
The “assembly” of Worship
We call what we are doing today, a worship service.
The foundation of our worship service is the truth of God’s Word. We cannot worship in spirit and truth unless we have the truth.
God’s Word reveals the glory of God. God’s Word proclaimed is the same as God walking by Moses and describing His glory (definitely not as dramatic, but the same nonetheless). God’s glory is the gospel of salvation. We assemble to hear and to respond to the proclamation of God’s glory.
The worship service is our effort to decently and in order, assemble to worship the God of glory.
We respond in four ways (following the pattern of the church in Acts).
PRAYER: We hear God’s word tell us of the awesomeness of God, and we respond with prayer, speaking to God. We tell God that we adore Him. We hear the truth that God forgives our sins in Christ, so we pray words of thanks. We recognize His sovereignty, so we pray for His help. We hear the truth of His power, so we ask Him to intervene.
PRAISE: In the same way that we pray, we respond with worship with song. We sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in our hearts to God. We sing in unity as one body. We glorify God by using the voices and talents He gives. God is the audience of our worship. The congregation is on the stage signing to God, while the worship team helps facilitate and lead.
ORDINANCES: We see very early in the church that the members participate in the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Baptism is a commandment for membership to the body of Christ. And we are commanded to participate in the Lord’s Supper until Jesus returns to take us to our home in heaven.
GIVE: The pattern of the New Covenant worship assembly is to give. We give to support the needs of others. We give to fund evangelism. We give to those who minister the word of God, allowing them to focus on prayer and the ministry of the word.
Worship is one of the purposes God creates the church.
The Church is of utmost importance
Let’s remind ourselves of how God sees the importance of the church.
Matthew 16:18 – Jesus is the founder of the church. It is not an institution created by man, but by God.
Acts 9:4 – The church bears the name of Jesus. It is to represent Jesus.
Colossians 1:18 – The church is the body of Jesus. Jesus closely associates Himself with every person in the body. We are a living organism, a body, with Jesus as the head fo the body.
Revelation 21:2 – The church is Jesus’ bride. Jesus gives His life for His bride. He loves her and desires to spend eternity with her.
Acts 20:28 – The church is purchased with Jesus’ blood. There is nothing more valuable than the blood of Jesus.
Because the church is of utmost importance, God’s Purpose for the church is of utmost importance.
Practical Ways to be a Worshipful Church Member
Endeavor to fulfill your purpose as a worshipping member of the church.
Be worshipful in and out of the church assembly
Fulfill your purpose in life by subjecting all things to the glory of God. Be a God worshipper. Be a worshipper before entering the assembly. Leave a worshipper.
God is glorified in our assembly
Heaven is an assembly of worshippers. God is not glorified by rocks that are independent of the temple. We are not in alignment with God if we are not in alignment with the Cornerstone, who is the foundation of a building.
God’s glory is “reflected” in our response
We are mirrors who reflect God’s glory. When we adore God, others see how we value Him. When we obey God, others see that He is worthy of our obedience. His commands are good. When we are thankful, we show we appreciate the glory of God’s grace.
God is glorified by our unity in worship
Jesus prays to the Father in John 17 (verses 22-23), and says that the glory which the Father gave Him, He gives to us, that we may be one, just as the Trinity is one. He gives us His glory so we may be perfected in unity. When we are in unity, the world will know that God sent Jesus and that God loves us just as God loves Jesus. Unity is a demonstration of the love of God.
Value the worship assembly
The assembly is purchased with blood. The Sunday worship service is a great opportunity to worship God as He intends. Value the assembly as an opportunity to respond to God’s glory.