Sunday Sermon Notes: February 21, 2021

Basics of New Testament Worship (1)

Text: John 4:21-24

What an exciting day this is- our first-ever worship service in a brand-new congregation!

Have you ever wondered why it’s called, in Protestant circles at least, a worship service?

The Biblical study of worship can be tricky. It isn’t tricky because it’s all that complicated, it’s tricky because there are several factors that come together making it very easy to become confused. For instance, the English word “worship” appears 75 times in the NIV, but three different Greek words translate as “worship” in English, and they have three different meanings.

There are many different ways for a congregation to conduct worship. Some are very formal and ritualistic, some are sort of formal, yet quite traditional, while others are more relaxed and non-traditional, and still others are contemporary and almost anti-traditional.

So, which is right?

Many people today are in the habit of using the word “worship” in place of the word “music”: Are music and worship the same thing?

There is more than one kind of worship mentioned in the New Testament, I’ll mention 3 of them: Individual private worship, family worship and corporate worship (Church worship service).  Would you be surprised if I told you that individual worship is spoken of in the New Testament a great deal more than corporate worship? Well, it most assuredly is. Can you imagine what would happen if a person took their personal worship practices and preferences and sought to impose them on the corporate worship of the entire congregation?

There are 2 possible outcomes: 1. Unity in the church is broken and the church splits. 2. Unity in the church is broken and the congregation drifts away and the church dies.

Worship, you see, is a serious topic.

Years ago, I was asked to pick up a couple of undergrad courses on worship: Intro to Worship 1 and Intro to Worship 2. It always came as a shock to the students that almost everything they knew about worship was not from Scripture. Sadly, most of what we think we know on the subject comes from culture, tradition and custom and are entirely of human invention.

Yep, worship is a tricky subject.

As far as a worship service is concerned, it might be a good idea to look and see what the apostles did on the first day of the week when everyone came together. For that, here’s a familiar passage:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Acts 2:42

As we seek to bring our Sunday worship to its essential essence, these four items become paramount:

While we don’t have any apostles to pop in and teach, we have teaching of the Word of God, fellowship is indicative of the community of the congregation in pursuit of God’s purpose. The breaking of bread refers to communion around which our hope of eternal life rests, and of course we must never underestimate the power of prayer. While these components should form the basic foundation of our worship, the list is interesting, for there is something that is conspicuous by its absence, and no, I don’t mean music: Notice that the word “worship” isn’t mentioned.

So how must we worship?

Jesus gave us some information about that:

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

John 4:21-24

 Yep, everyone is probably familiar with that one, but do we see how revolutionary it was? Notice that Jesus was speaking of something quite different from the ceremonial laws of Jewish Temple worship, with its rigid rituals and forms; this was entirely new. You see, in order for us to worship in “Spirit” we need to have access to Him, which they did not yet have. We have access to the Spirit, for He indwells us in the Person of the Holy Spirit. Worship for a New Testament church isn’t really a matter of outward form, but instead it is all about an inward presence in our lives. As for the “truth” aspect, I think maybe Paul had this in mind when he wrote:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:1-2

As all of you know, whenever we see the word “therefore”, we are reading a passage that draws a conclusion from what has preceded it. While that is certainly true here, this one isn’t just referring to the verses just concluded, for this is the beginning of a new unit (12-15) and thus, “therefore” is drawing a conclusion from the preceding unit (1-11), which is a very important distinction. The first unit in Romans discussed grace; the second unit discusses our response to grace. Thus, Paul is telling us that in response to God’s amazing grace, we are to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God.

Verse 1 is, in a sense, a counterpoint to the Old Testament worship in which animals were sacrificed and rituals were observed. Notice the presence of the words “offer”, “sacrifice” and “worship”, all three of which are terms that pertain to worship in the Old Testament. The old system of worship involved symbols and ceremonies, but worship in the New Testament involves “spirit and truth”. Consequently, the proper and true manner of worship for the Christian is for us to offer ourselves to God as living sacrifices. Please understand: This is no platitude; it is an imperative. A fair question right about now would be, “OK, but just exactly how do I do that?”

You will no doubt be relieved when I tell you that Paul has provided the answer in verse 2: Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. 

My goodness, how we love to quote this, but how many of us actually do it? How many of us actually believe that it is possible? Surely this is nothing more than an abstract ideal, a goal that cannot be realized in this life!

Maybe we should all pause and re-read it; look carefully at the words, the grammar…

Holy heart attack! This is no abstraction; it too is an imperative!

So, here’s another question: Would the Apostle Paul command us to do something if it is impossible? Perhaps we need to think about this some more. Do you recall what Paul told us regarding Israel’s failure to attain righteousness? Yes, that’s right: They never obtained righteousness because their faith was in their ability to conform to the Law, but what God wanted was for them to put their faith in Him… and with God, all things are possible.

Notice that in the imperative of verse 2, there is a contrast, a duality that is set up by the word “but” “Do not be conformed… but be transformed” Thus we have a choice to make: Either we live as the world does with its values, activities and ways of thinking, or we allow the Holy Spirit to transform our minds so that we have an entirely new way of thinking with different values that lead us to a different way of life; this is our choice, and to be quite candid with you, it is very much like the choice that Israel had to make.

But we are talking about corporate worship here…

If offering ourselves as living sacrifices is our true and perfect worship (or service) to God, maybe we need to look at Acts 2:42 again:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

When we come together on the Lord’s Day, our worship is a service to God, but the service is not in our grudgingly having given God 1 hour a week of our valuable time. Instead, it is in offering ourselves, with open hearts and minds, to receive the teaching of His Word, to offer ourselves in service to the community of beliers to accomplish His purpose, in offering ourselves to proclaim Christ’s death, burial and resurrection as our hope of Salvation and eternal life, and to offer ourselves to prayer for the sake of His Kingdom. All of this is offered so that we might be transformed by the renewing of our minds by His Word and His Holy Spirit, working together in our lives to accomplish His purpose.

Here we have a foundation to build upon. We also have a number of options from which to choose, for there are many brotherhoods of the faithful around the globe, and not everyone approaches the particulars of a worship service the same way. Yet if these basics of Scripture are present, I am not willing to tell anyone that their manner of worship is right or wrong, unless they incorporate something that the Scripture explicitly forbids.  In this, I hope we can take the position that where the Bible speaks, we speak, but where the Bible is silent, we are silent.

Next time, we’ll take a look at the concept of worship from a different viewpoint as we consider the Greek words used in our original text and what each of them means. Perhaps we will find additional guidance in our quick review of the basics of New Testament worship.

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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11 Responses to Sunday Sermon Notes: February 21, 2021

  1. Bette Cox says:

    Thank you, Don. I have truly missed your posts, was very glad to see this one today.

  2. Karina Lam says:

    Dear brother, Don.
    It’s been a while I’m not read your post. Hope and pray everything is okay with with. God Bless.

  3. Beth Ann says:

    So Wonderful to have you back!

  4. daylerogers says:

    Symbols and ceremonies–spirit and truth. Your wisdom has been greatly missed, my friend. You always have a way of bringing up an insight that not only piques my curiosity but motivates me to study further. Thanks, Don! Glad you’re back!

  5. Pingback: Sunday Sermon Notes: February 21, 2021 – Talmidimblogging

  6. Pingback: Sunday Sermon Notes: February 21, 2021 — TLP – QuietMomentsWithGod

  7. eguyadeen3 says:

    Happy to see you have return

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