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April 20, 2024 4:00 am


Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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April 20, 2024 4:00 am

You’ll often hear strong opinions about various aspects of ministry—but does the Bible teach a particular worship style? What does genuine worship look like? Study along with Truth For Life as Alistair Begg looks to the early church for guidance.


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What Does Authentic Worship Look Like?

We hear strong opinions about music or style of leadership, how a congregation ought to participate in worship, but does the Bible teach or favor one particular style of worship? Today on Truth for Life Weekend, Alistair Begg looks once again to the early church for guidance about worship. You may like simply to turn to Acts chapter 2 and to notice that it says there at the end of verse 46 that they were together in the homes of one another, eating together, and their hearts were glad and sincere, and they were praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.

We also had noted earlier in verse 43, the opening phrase, that everyone was filled with awe. That they were, in that little section, meeting not only in the temple courts, but they were also meeting within their homes. And so what happens is that there emerges very clearly a pattern of both formal and informal dimensions of worship—the formal within the framework of the temple courts, the informal in their gatherings in their home. I think it is safe to say that their worship was at times structured and at other times unstructured. That it would be, within the context of the temple precincts, if you like, somewhat traditional, whereas in the opportunities in gathering in the homes of one another, it was probably more spontaneous. And there is this balance in these verses that is so very, very important, because it is often this very balance which is not found in worshiping communities. So you go from local church to local church, and they ask you questions like, Well, do you have traditional worship, or do you have nontraditional worship?

Immediately polarizing the two opportunities and assuming that they are somehow or another mutually exclusive. Or do you do things in a very structured way, or are you a more unstructured group? Are you a joyful group, or are you a more somber group? Again, all was seeking to polarize that, which in the balance of Scripture I don't find polarized. And indeed, as I'm suggesting to you here, there is this wonderful ebb and flow. Their worship was both joyful, and it was reverent. There was a sense of awe. They were not merely a company of folks who were expressing themselves on a peculiarly horizontal plane, but they were people who were coming, as it were, into the presence of God, and they first of all looked up in awesome wonder. They understood what it was to be in God's presence, and they knew him to be both transcendent and to be eminent.

They knew him to be beyond their understanding, and yet they knew him to have revealed himself in his Son and made himself present by his Spirit. And their gladness of heart had the kind of basis that is the basis for all Christian worship. There was good reason for them to be praising God. There was good reason for them to be joyful. After all, the gospel was good news.

God had sent his Son. They had been redeemed by his outstretched hand. They were no longer in condemnation. They were now set free by the word of his truth. They had once not been a people. Now they were the people of God. They had once lived in darkness.

Now they lived in light. They had once not known mercy, and now they knew mercy. So who of all people ought not to be joyful in this context? Furthermore, God had sent his Spirit to them, and as a result of having done so, part of the fruit of the Spirit was joy itself.

And therefore, we should not be surprised that when they came together, they were marked by this glad and joyful experience. Every worship service should be a joyful celebration of the mighty acts of God through the Lord Jesus Christ. It is right for worship services to be dignified. It is not right for worship services to be dull. And a number of people want to explain dull as dignity and joy as irreverence. Now, it is possible for dignity to be dull and for expressions of joy to be irreverent.

But the point is that the pattern in the acts of the apostles and the worshiping community of God's people does not immediately set these things in distinct contrast with one another in the way in which it is most common to do in contemporary circles. And so you have, on the one hand, as I've said before, services which are much more akin to what you would find going on in a crematorium, and you have other services much more akin to what you would find going on in some kind of circus tent. And, of course, the circus variety go on their own way, and the crematorium people go on their own way.

We've been trying to discover something in between the circus and the crematorium, and our journey continues. Everyone was filled with awe, because the Lord Jesus was present, and they knew that he was present. There was reverence, and there was rejoicing. There was formality, and there was informality.

There was structure, and there was that which clearly was unstructured. Now, again, you're sensible people, and you must examine the Scriptures to see if these things are so. Now, that's all I want to say about those verses at the end of Acts 2. I want to illustrate this in part from 2 Chronicles chapter 5. In fact, I'd like to start earlier in 1 Chronicles and chapter 23 and just give you the wider context of what we're finding.

Because it is difficult to jump into this ancient book and to have any sense of our bearings. When David was old and full of years, he made his son Solomon king over Israel. And he also gathered together all the leaders of Israel as well as the priests and the Levites, and the Levites thirty years old or more were counted, and the total number of men was thirty-eight thousand.

Now, David began to break them up. He said, Of this group, of these, twenty-four thousand are to supervise the work of the temple of the Lord. Six thousand are to be officials and judges, four thousand are to be gatekeepers, and four thousand are to praise the Lord with the musical instruments I have provided for that purpose. And as you read through the remainder of 1 Chronicles, you discover that the priests were divided up into groups. In chapter 25, you have the singers. In chapter 26, you have the gatekeepers. Then you have the treasurers and so on. Chapter 27, you have the group divided up into armies.

Then you have the king's overseers. And when you get to chapter 28, you have David's plans for the temple. When you get to chapter 29, he's bringing together all the gifts for the temple. Then comes the question, Now who is willing himself to consecrate to the Lord? Quite a staggering challenge, you see, when the leader not only invests the resources that are part and parcel of the kingdom, but says, What I'm going to do now is I'm going to take my own personal treasure store, and I'm going to use it to make walls with it. I'm going to go into my investment accounts, I'm going to take them out, and I'm going to use the material in my investment accounts so that the walls can be overlaid with gold and with silver.

Now, I want to ask you a question. He says, Which of you men is prepared to consecrate himself to the Lord? See, it's a consecration to the Lord. The temple is only a means to an end. It's not a consecration to the temple, it's not a consecration to walls, it's not a consecration to a building, it's a consecration to the Lord.

And the temple is merely symbolic of his presence. Now, when you get into 2 Chronicles—which, of course, we have to do somewhat quickly—you have the transition to Solomon. And you will find that the preparations for the building are extensive there in chapter 2. Then you have the construction work being done in chapter 3. Then you have this amazing, wonderful furnishing description in chapter 4. And when all the work that Solomon had done for the temple—we're now in chapter 5—of the Lord was finished, he then brought in the things his father David had dedicated—the silver and the gold and all the furnishings—and he placed them in the treasuries of God's temple. What an amazing day that must have been! And what a heritage from his dad!

He wouldn't have been able to do that with any sense of, sort of, marginal interest. He must have pondered so many things as he oversaw these things being brought in and carefully placed, and as he recognized that somehow or another there was the stamp of his father's kingship and the interest of his father in the God of all creation here in this manifestation. And then they anticipate the ark, which was the symbolic presence of God himself being brought to the temple. Now, it's in that context that I need you to notice three things, and I'm merely going to point them out to you.

I'm not going to take time to expound them. We've said so much about worship in recent days that I don't want to be guilty of simply repeating myself. But will you notice the consecration of God's servants? In verse 11, it says, The priests then withdrew from the holy place. All the priests who were there had consecrated themselves regardless of their divisions.

They had been divided into twenty-four groups, each of them serving for two weeks. But the thing that marked them was the fact that they recognized that if they were to come before God with any sense of rectitude, they must do so from the perspective of consecration. The particulars are not important for us, not as much as the very notion itself. Because when you think about the nature of consecration as it relates to worship, if you know your Bible at all, your mind will immediately go to Romans chapter 12, and to Paul's words, Therefore I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices. In other words, to consecrate yourselves, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, to regard your life as not being your own, to regard your emotions as being given into God's care, to regard the totality of who you are and what you have, your gifts, your graces, your personality, all that makes you up. He says, as the priest did in 2 Chronicles 5, I want you, in the same way, to come and consecrate yourselves. Now, let me say that when we find ourselves responding to this, we must immediately beware of two things. Beware of counterfeit consecration. I don't care if you wave your arms around. I want to know if you're living in purity.

I don't care if you're exuberant or unexuberant. I want to know that you're consecrated to me. Beware counterfeit consecration. Beware, also, intermittent consecration. Intermittent consecration. Well, I will follow you for a little while, and then I'll go on my own for another little while, and so on.

The way many of us engage in exercise programs, bursts of enthusiasm followed by periods of chronic inertia. And the consecration of Romans 12 is not only a logical consecration in light of what God has done in his mercies, but it is a lasting consecration, as well as being a living consecration—let your bodies be a living sacrifice. If we are going to make discoveries about worship—and I'm not talking style here—if Parkside Church is going to discover dimensions of genuine worship, it will not do so absent the consecration of God's servants.

It will not happen. You can create structure, you can establish performance, you can even have a jolly good singing. But genuine worship is grounded in the self-giving abnegation of the servants of God. Secondly, notice not only the consecration of God's servants but look at also the celebration of God's praise. It's a wonderful picture.

I would love to have been there just to see what it was like. You've got this very fine and grand picture of these Levites lined up, dressed in fine linen, playing cymbals, harps, and lyres, and the trumpeters and the singers, verse 13, joined in unison. In other words, there was a unity in the celebration. There was a functional unity insofar, as we're told, that they sang in unison. And they sang as with one voice.

There was no disparity. It was as though there was just one voice making this sound. They were marked not only by unity but also by fervency. Trumpets sounded, and cymbals clanged, and other instruments joined in this great cacophony of sound. And they raised their voices in praise to the Lord, and they sang. So there was a fervency about what they were doing.

There was none of this mumbling in your beard, there was none of this jingling your change in your pocket, there was none of this superficial stuff, you know. No, if you'd been there, you would have said, My, my, these people are into this. If you'd come as an outsider, you would have said, From a distance, I thought it was just one person with an amazing voice.

Now that I've got closer, I discover that it had multiple voices, but they possess a unity, and they are marked by a fervency, and they are also marked by absolute clarity in what it is they are conveying. They weren't just having an emotional trip. They weren't just having an experience for themselves. They weren't just having some form of subjective high that was based on their interest in music. They were declaring theology. See?

He is good. His love endures forever. Their minds were engaged in truth. Their worship was rational insofar as it engaged their minds. It was biblical insofar as it was grounded in the Old Testament truths. It was volitional insofar as they committed themselves to it in an act of the will, and it was emotional inasmuch as their hearts were caught up in wonder and in praise.

Now, loved ones, that's supposed to be what happens when God's people celebrate in worship. Joseph Kemp, who was the good minister of Charlotte Chapel from 1902 to 1915, was intrigued by what he was hearing about the revival in Wales. And he went from Edinburgh into Wales to see what was going on for himself. And when he came back, he told the congregation at Charlotte Chapel, and I quote him, the Holy Ghost was in their singing. See, there was a spiritual dimension to what was going on that could only be explained in terms of God. It didn't have to do with style, it didn't have to do with structure, it didn't have to do with anything other than God in its ultimate source. There was that, he says, which shot itself through—I love that phrase—shot itself through.

The worship was impregnated, shot itself through all prescribed forms, and shattered all conventionality. Now, that's enough for many of us to get off the boat right there. Because those kinds of phrases represent terror in our minds. Because we have to control everything. Oh yes, we would like God to work, but we only want God to work within the framework of our trenches.

We're not in charge of the trenches. The Scripture sets the parameters for the way in which God works. God's character establishes the parameters for who he is and what he does.

Therefore, we need not fear. He draws the boundaries. We live within them. And, says Joseph Kent—and it must have been a fairly gutsy statement, because, you know, sixty years later in Charlotte Chapel, the people were still struggling a little bit with it—he said, But such a movement, with all its irregularities, is to be preferred far above the dull, dreary, monotonous decorum of many of our churches. Now, I don't want to be unkind, but as I travel this country, I encounter two things. Superficial stuff that is kind of geared to making pagans feel comfortable in worship.

So you get it to the lowest common denominators—again, a trivial sound. I'm not remotely interested in that. If we do evangelistic outreaches that are geared to the vast majority of the people coming as pagans, we may do them very differently. But within the framework of our average Sunday-by-Sunday worship, we're not endeavoring to do that.

And anyone who thinks that that may be part and parcel of it has missed the point completely, and I apologize for a lack of clarity. So on the one hand, a kind of superficial trivialization of anything that would be remotely close to worship, and on the other hand, the most doleful experience that you could ever imagine. And I go from place to place, and I say to myself, Does God move by his Spirit anymore? Does God still shoot himself through all the regularities? Does God still, by his Spirit, do unconventional things? And lastly, there is not only the consecration of God's servants and the celebration of God's praise, but there is the revelation of God's presence.

Look there at the end of verse 13, in the beginning of 14, Then the temple of the LORD was filled with a cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the temple of God. Now, this gets me excited. I start to get interested at this point.

I want to be there for one of those events. I don't want to live my Christian life in such a way that everything I do, say, mean, enjoy, and apply can all be explained in terms of human activity. I want there to be that about life, ministry, relationships, worship, evangelism, conversions, salvation, that we're forced to say, God did this.

That we're not a slick marketing operation. That we're not a production crew in relationship to worship. That we're asking God to consume the place with his presence. That's what we've been looking at when we've considered it, and with this I conclude in 1 Corinthians 14, where Paul says concerning the way in which people could come into the experience of the worshipping church, especially in relationship to the question of ecstatic utterances, he says, tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers. Prophecy, however, is for the believers, not for the unbelievers, and so on.

He says, if an unbeliever or someone who doesn't understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, speaking the word of God, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare, so he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, God is really among you. I certainly expect God, don't you, to do things exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we can ask or even imagine? Expect to see unbelieving people become committed followers of Jesus Christ, unlikely people being brought to faith in such a way that we say, I would never in my wildest dreams have imagined that that girl would ever trust Christ. God did this. I would have never thought that I could learn to worship God in that way. Surely God is in the place.

What do we need? We need a fresh vision, a fresh vision of God himself. You're listening to Truth for Life Weekend. That is Alistair Begg with a message he's titled, Worship. Well, given what we have studied today, I want to mention that if you don't routinely attend a local church, maybe you've recently moved and you're searching for a new church home, you may be helped by Alistair's article on what to look for in a church.

You'll find the article as well as other helpful information on our website at slash find. As Alistair often reminds us, the entire Bible is a book about Jesus. He is predicted in the Old Testament, revealed in the New Testament. Being able to see how Jesus is foretold in the Old Testament can help us better understand the full significance of the Gospels. So I want to encourage you to request a booklet titled, Does the Old Testament Really Point to Jesus? Of course, the answer is yes, but this booklet will help you see specifically how you can identify passages in the Old Testament that point directly to the coming of the Messiah. You'll even learn how the Law of Moses points forward to Christ. For more information about the booklet, Does the Old Testament Really Point to Jesus?, visit our website at

I'm Bob Lapine. Thanks for setting aside time this weekend to study the Bible with us. In spite of increased persecution, the early church experienced phenomenal expansion. Is that kind of growth still possible today?

We'll find out next weekend. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-04-20 06:43:59 / 2024-04-20 06:53:04 / 9

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