Grateful for Alistair Begg’s insight!
Posts Tagged With: worship
If most evangelicals would quickly agree that worship is central to the life of the church, there would be no consensus to an unavoidable question: What is central to Christian worship? Historically, the more liturgical churches have argued that the sacraments form the heart of Christian worship. These churches argue that the elements of the Lord’s Supper and the water of baptism most powerfully present the gospel. Among evangelicals, some call for evangelism as the heart of worship, planning every facet of the service—songs, prayers, the sermon—with the evangelistic invitation in mind.
Though most evangelicals mention the preaching of the word as a necessary or customary part of worship, the prevailing model of worship in evangelical churches is increasingly defined by music, along with innovations such as drama and video presentations. When preaching the word retreats, a host of entertaining innovations will take its place.
Music touches the emotions like few things can. Songs are packed with chord constructions and changes that can move the heart; they contain numerous memories attached; and they have been used as ammunition in the dreaded ‘worship wars’ that take place among God’s people.
Oftentimes, we come to worship with an idea of what we want, but God in His word tells us what we need—a steady diet of His whole counsel (Acts 20:24-28).
Pray that your pastors have time to study so that you and the church may be well-fed.
Pray they would have clear thoughts and clear speech in which to convey His Word.
… for whom I am again in anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you (Galatians 4:19).
Hard to believe 2013 is here. Was it just me, or did 2012 go by in a blur? When I look back and slow the tape down, if you will, I see that God did some marvelous things at ARBC:
- He brought some incredible people into a church already filled with incredible people ready to mature and mobilize in Christ (69 have joined the church this year!).
- He has allowed us to participate in some great neighborhood outreaches.
- He is using us to develop men and women in Christ to make an impact in our homes, jobs, and schools.
- Our worship gatherings have been filled with a ‘serious joy,’ in that we take God’s Word seriously, and His Spirit is filling His people with the joy of Christ!
- A growing desire is taking place among our people to go deeper in the Word and a desire to be discipled in Christ.
I could go on about what God is doing here in looking back at 2012, but soon 2012 will be ‘last year.’ What does 2013 have in store? Honestly, only God knows what He has planned for our church. But I do know that of the things I see Him bringing over the horizon, 2013 could bring be a very special, Christ-exalting year in the life of ARBC.
My aim for 2013 in seeing the glory of the gospel spread from Centennial to the corners of creation is this: Christ formed in you (see Galatians 4:19). Here are some ‘resolutions’ I would encourage you to embrace in the year ahead:
- Bury yourself in the Word and prayer. Find a good Bible reading plan that will take you through the Scriptures. If you have Internet, http://www.youversion.com has a ton of Bible reading plans—and yes, smartphone users, they have an app. You can even download the ESV Bible app for free! I use it everyday and I praise God for it. I also recommend two great books on prayer: Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan prayers that are food for my soul; and Developing a Healthy Prayer Life: 31 Meditations on Communing with God by James Beeke and Joel Beeke.
- Commit to attending our worship gatherings (Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night). Hebrews 10:25 not only commands it for our own good, but shows some significant benefits to our Christian walk. If
- Commit to a Sunday morning small group. These are more intimate settings where teaching and dialoguing about the Scriptures can take place. Plus, you develop friendships that last outside the class and the church. We cannot do this alone! We need these relationships to help strengthen our main relationship with Christ.
- Be a part of our monthly family conferences (business meetings) on Sunday nights: Do you realize that you can participate in the goings-on of our church? You can ask questions, make suggestions, and just learn about what’s going on with our various ministry teams. As a member, you can even vote. How wonderful it is to have a part in our church in this way! Don’t miss out!
- Do a Hi-Five: There are 401K Plans. Here is a 261K Plan—signifying the 261,000 people that live in a five-mile radius of our church. The Hi-Five seeks to make a dent in this: Make a list of five people you know that need Christ or at least need a church home where they can mature and minister for the cause of Christ. Pray for them. Then Invite-Invest-and Involve them in the Lord’s work here as they submit to the Lord’s Word in their hearts! Remember, Paul’s aim and ours is “Christ formed in you.” Who’s on your Hi-Five? Let us know so we can begin praying for them specifically on Wednesday nights.
May God grant you a blessed 2013! On the mountaintops or in the valleys, He has promised to walk with us all the way. What needs to happen and what obstacles need to be removed for Christ to be formed in you and in others?
After our question and answer time when I came in view of a call, I remember talking with two members of the pastor search team afterwards to get a feel for how they thought it went—for there were a lot of different questions from a lot of different subjects. I remember telling them, “Well, I know they asked me a lot of questions, but if God calls me here, I’ll be asking a lot of questions—and a lot of them will likely start with the word ‘why.’”
Why ask why? Because every church that has any age about it will develop traditions, patterns that ebb and flow unnoticed after a while. As a newcomer to ARBC, I haven’t picked up on all the patterns, so I ask why things are done a certain way. It serves to help me learn about my church family—but it also helps those answering the questions to think about it.
That’s what this sermon series is about. Because if I’m asking these questions, there may be others of you who are new here who are asking the same things! Why do we come to church? Why do we pray? Why do we have to listen to a preacher? Why do they pass the plate and why do I see people putting some money in the plate? Why do we have to leave—and what do we do when we leave? And what is the purpose behind all of it?
There’s nothing wrong with asking why. But there may be something wrong if our answer is the way many of us parents respond: “Just because,” or “Because I said so,” –or the piece de resistance: “We’ve always done it that way.” These answers do not wash—nor should they! Peter tells us to be ready to give a defense for the hope within you, with meekness and fear (1 Peter 3:15).
For the next six weeks, we will be going through a series called “Why We Do What We Do,” outlining some core values of ARBC. In his leadership book, Aubrey Malphurs defines core values this way:
The core values of an organization are those values we hold which form the foundation on which we perform work and conduct ourselves. We have an entire universe of values, but some of them are so primary, so important to us that through out the changes in society, government, politics, and technology they are STILL the core values we will abide by. In an ever-changing world, core values are constant.
This worship service and all of our worship services outline these core values. And the first one we will take a look at is the core value of assembling together—that is, coming to church. Has there ever been a time in your life when you wondering, either silently or out loud, “Why do we go to church?” Or as an unbeliever, “Why do people go to church?” For many in certain parts of the country, it was what you did on Sunday—more of a cultural event. But even now in those parts, a younger generation is coming up asking these questions, but not getting very many satisfactory answers. The answers are usually a variant of: “Because that’s what you’re supposed to do” or “Because that’s what we’ve always done.”
This morning, we are going to talk about the value of ‘assembling’ or coming to church. This is important for us to address because, in our culture, church has fallen on hard times. By ‘church,’ I mean coming to church, the institution of church! Some influential leaders have even said that the institutional church has had its day, but other things can take its place. Now, you can watch a worship service on TV, go to ‘church’ via the Internet with its numerous websites to hear sermons, music and all sorts of other things you can hear.
Kevin DeYoung recently wrote:
These days, spirituality is hot; religion is not. Community is hip, but the church is lame. Both inside the church and out, organized religion is seen as oppressive, irrelevant, and a waste of time. Outsiders like Jesus, but not the church. Insiders have been told they can do just fine with God apart from the church.
But Jesus describe the church as the bride of Christ—and as one person said, “You cannot say you love Jesus, and not love what he loves.” And Jesus loves the church—He built it—and he also said that the gates of hell would not prevail against it!
1. Worship joyfully (Psalm 95:1-2).
Oh come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
One of the things that I love is seeing a church that worships joyfully! Where the music is joyful, the praying is joyful, the preaching is joyful—and the people are joyful in what Christ has accomplished. May Psalm 133:1 be true of us: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord.’”
I did not always buy into this notion. At a church where I grew up, we were always encouraged to stay quiet as we come into the church out of reverence and out of a time where we could meditate and reflect on what we were about to do. In fact, right above the order of service was a verse from Habakkuk 2:20: “The LORD is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silent before Him.” This was a misuse, because in this, Yahweh was distinguishing between the idols crafted by the hands of men and their ‘worship’ of him by yelling and screaming so he would answer. We don’t have to scream at God for Him to answer—we can come before him in silence and ponder his majesty! So do that as a quiet time in your homes on Saturday night or Sunday morning. Psalm 95 shows that when it’s time to come into His house, let’s be joyful because of the promises God made and has kept in Christ!
Psalm 95 is a progression. They are heading to the Temple to worship, but they are not in the Temple yet. They are encouraging one another and anyone else who will listen to come! What does this joy look like?
Twice in these two verses, singing or songs are mentioned. We are beckoned to come, “let us sing to the Lord.” Twice, the phrase “let us make a joyful noise to” God is used. Joy is expressed—not kept in. Dictionaries define joy as “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires : delight; the expression or exhibition of such emotion.” Yes, the exhibition! The great type of exhibition is that of singing. Which answers the question, “Why do we sing?”
One of the reasons that those of us from our Baptist tradition may shy away from this is the excesses we may see from other traditions. But should we allow anyone else to take away our joy just because we are afraid of looking like someone else! We are letting that come between us and God—and each other! There are too many things in this world and can steal your joy. In Philippians, many times called the book of joy, so many things took that work against maintaining that joy:
· Rival preachers tearing down each other out of envy or jealousy
· Selfishness and arrogance among the members of the church when things do not go their way.
· Critical spirits that discourage the work of the ministry of the gospel and its workers—all based on their own personal preferences!
· False teachers who hold to works over Christ!
But we sing “to the Lord.” We make that joyful noise “to the rock of our Salvation.” We sing out of joy that overflows from His atoning work on through His Son!
2. Worship theologically.
3 For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
5 The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
Our worship is about Christ, not about us. Say that with me this morning: “Our worship is about Christ, not about us!” When we worship, we worship joyfully, yes. But we also worship with our minds! This is why we think of this as worshiping theologically. Worship is about God, and we should be about the study of God (which is what theology is), engaging the mind as well as the heart. We do not want you to leave your mind at the door—Jesus told us to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength!
Psalm 25:4-5 says,
“Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
Lead me into your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.”
Why do we assemble? Because these times together are given over exclusively and decidedly for learning about Christ and His Word and His word. This needs to be a joyful time because our Savior and Lord lives and has rescued His people from their sins! And we need to take time to pour through who He is, what He has done, and what He aims to do through us!
Look at what this passage is saying. This serves as the motivation for the joyful worship—it is informed by truth regarding who we worship. “For”—and then he begins sharing how he is great! God rules over all His creation. Gods usually are over a portion of what we see, yet God is over all—via a tribal or territorial god. But God rules over all—to the point that even in His own hand are the depths of the earth and the heights of the mountains.
This deals with the basic understanding of God as Creator. This is basic because this is how the Scriptures begin: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth!” This is critical. One unbelieving South Carolina man was listening to James P. Boyce preaching on Genesis 1:1 and heard, “In the beginning, God. . . .” He said, “If that is the case that ‘In the beginning, God,’ then I am in terrible trouble.”
3. Worship personally.
6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
7 For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
The progression continues! Worship is connecting with God, not as equals. He is supreme! We are ones who submit to him. We understand the theology of God creating us—and then we understand as Christians how Christ rescued us from ourselves and made us a ‘new creation’ (2 Corinthians 5:17) with a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26-27). Turn with me to Ezekiel 36:26-27. Here, God is giving them a foretaste of the ‘new covenant.’ He had told the house of Israel that he would act, not based on their obedience, but in spite of it and based on his holy name. The people of Israel had profaned His name among the nations. How? Look at verses 26-27:
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statues and be careful to obey my rules.
You see, we cannot receive eternal life and favor with God by mere adherence to outward rules. God changes our hearts so that we are able to obey Him and turn to Him! Every other religion is about change from the outside in. Christianity is about change from the inside –and it comes out! We plant the theological seeds, and God grows those seeds into a beautiful fruit. He removes the heart of stone that is insensitive to Him and His Spirit—and He gives us a heart of flesh that is sensitive to the Spirit’s work! This is not something that we can do or decide upon—God gives us the new heart and the new spirit within us! By this, he causes us to walk in his statutes.
It’s only by His grace and how He changes our hearts that we would even want to worship, to bow down, to kneel before the one who made us! But we gladly say, “He is our God, and we are the people of his pasture!” Those of us who have been around in church world know that if the Lord is our shepherd, we shall never want for anything we need. He will even guide us through the valley of the shadow of death.
And who is our Good Shepherd? John 10 quotes Jesus as saying, “I am the good shepherd.” What does he do?
· Verse 11: He lays down his life for the sheep.
· Verse 14: He knows his sheep and his sheep know him.
· Verse 15: He has other sheep not in the fold, and he is going to get them.
· Verse 27: Jesus’ sheep know his voice.
· Verse 28: He gives them eternal life. They will never perish. No one will snatch them from me.
Dear friend, in whose pasture are you feeding? Because make no mistake, you are feeding from somewhere? Does the shepherd of that pasture you’re dwelling care about you? Did they lay down their life for you? Do they know you? Do they take care of you, or expect you to take care of them? Do they give you eternal life? Do they protect you from the enemy who is trying to snatch you away?
In this we press on to the last…
4. We worship carefully (Psalm 95:7-11).
Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
9 when your fathers put me to the test
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
10 For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,
and they have not known my ways.”
11 Therefore I swore in my wrath,
“They shall not enter my rest.”
Have you heard the voice of God? Before you start thinking of a personal experience you have had, please keep in mind that you have heard the voice of God in concrete form—the preaching of the Word! And as James Montgomery Boice reminds us, “Worship begins with listening rather than speaking or singing or shouting. It requires listening to God as he speaks to us in his Word. Worship must be based on the preaching of the Word. We must hear God’s Word… [and] obey it. Only then can we praise God joyfully for what we have heard.”
But when we hear the Word of God, one of two things happen: our hearts are softened or hardened! Has that ever boggled your mind—that two people can hear the same Word from the same Bible by the same preacher, and one responds by faith and another rejects it?
The Jewish people remembered well what happened at Massah and Meribah. “Massah” means ‘testing,’ and even with all the miracles that God displayed to them in the wilderness, they still wanted proof that God was with them and cared about them and would provide for them. They tested God by their unfaithfulness and unbelief. Year later, they did the same thing at Meribah, even after God had shown his full glory to them!
But that unfaithfulness was there for the entire 40 years (and yes, they only journeyed in the desert for 40 years)—and by their unfaithfulness and distrust, they would not enter into the Promised Land.
What is interesting is that this passage is outlined in Hebrews 3-4 and is brought up three times. In response to this, Hebrews 4:9-10 says:
8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. 9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.
So this Psalm, written far after, is talking about ‘today,’ meaning that the Canaan land promised corresponds to the “Sabbath rest” even now—salvation! This is not just for Israel—but Hebrews shows us that it’s for us today! By persevering in faith, we will obtain rest.
But it’s also a warning for those who identify with God’s people on the outside, but are still hardened in heart on the inside. God’s people were find until a time of testing, then they quarreled and tested with God. So look at Hebrews 3:12-13:
12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
This Psalm 95 is about the why of worship! And worship is about hearing from God. God will encourage you, but will also challenge you! And he challenges you because He loves you. He provides these lessons and examples so that you will take care, should you have an unbelieving heart that is taking you away from God. So those who are faithful fill up with the word, why? To “exhort one another every day.”
If you have not responded and surrendered to Christ today, sin, self, and Satan is deceiving you right now, working to harden your heart. But while it is called ‘today,’ come! Worship and bow down. Kneel before the Lord your Maker! Find out why there’s so much joy in so many hearts today! They have surrendered to Christ, they belong to Him—their sin is forgiven because God loved them enough not to leave them that way. He sent Christ to pay a high price on the slaughterhouse of the cross so we wouldn’t have to. He atoned for our sins by taking God’s wrath that was careening toward us!
That’s why we come to church! We come to church to see how to come to Christ! Have you come to Him?
Kevin DeYoung & Ted Kluck, Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religions (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009), 13.
James Montgomery Boice, Psalms, Vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), 778.
Bob Kauflin recently gave a talk about “Music: Gift or God?” at a conference in November. I found what he presented very compelling and right on the nose with so many who attend our churches in this consumeristic age.
- We choose to attend a church or a meeting based on the music rather than the preaching of the gospel and God’s word.
Nowhere in the Bible are we told that the church is to gather around music. We gather around the crucified and risen Savior, Jesus Christ.
2. We can’t worship in song apart from a particular song, style, leader, or sound.
Anytime I say, I can’t worship unless X happens, or X is present, unless X is the death of our Savior on the cross for our sins or the power of his Spirit, we are engaging in idolatry
3. We think music leads us into or brings God’s presence.
Here’s what music can’t do. Make God more present. Bring God’s presence down. Bring us into God’s presence. Manipulate God.
4. Poor musical performance leads us to sin against other band members or the musicians leading us.
We’re hardly representing God’s heart when we get angry, frustrated, or impatient with musicians who don’t play up to our standards. God’s standards are perfection, and they’ve been met in Jesus Christ.
5. A love for music has replaced a love for the things of God.
It’s possible to listen to music that’s destroying your soul and be completely dull to it. To become enslaved by an idol and you feel like you’re breaking free.
Go here to read the entire article. Read and heed, dear church.
(This is a portion of a sermon I preached on Sunday, August 8 at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church. Feel free to listen to the entire mp3. It’s not verbatim to what’s below, which are just notes I had in preparation for the sermon.)
This morning, we begin a five-part series that I am convinced will be of great benefit to you as followers of Jesus Christ. August has served as our month to emphasize stewardship—how we use our time, talents, money, and spiritual gifts for the King and the Kingdom. Peter wrote to his audience to “be good stewards of God’s grace” (1 Peter 4:10). And by God’s grace, He has equipped Christians with all they need to accomplish all He asks of them.
The first ship of stewardship we will see is that of worship. As we have heard over the last number of weeks, how we use what God has given to us reflect who we worship! Where is your time, talents, money, and gifts going?
Some of you watch football. I confess, I enjoy watching football immensely. I heard that my grandfather observed that football just looked like a pile moving up and down the field, and he couldn’t make heads nor tails of it. Yet, when you go to their training camps and practices and see how they break down film and design plays, you see that what looks like chaos is in reality a plan being worked out.
Some of you enjoy traveling and spend a good deal of time in airports. As you look around in the airport and see all the planes leaving and entering, from our vantage point it looks as if it’s mass confusion. But once you travel to the control tower, you begin to see the schedules, the flight patterns and you notice that from that vantage point, everything is moving ahead with a controlled plan.
As we approach these two chapters in the book of Revelation, we must remember that the Apostle John was living in a very different time. From John’s vantage point, it seemed like chaos! The persecution of the church was rampant and normal for that time. John himself was on the isle of Patmost—a rock out in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea! He was in exile for his faith in Jesus and preaching about Jesus. He had seen all the other disciples be killed for the same reason. Yet, here he was—90+ years old—in exile, alone, and wondering where it would all go and how it would all end.
While he and other followers of Jesus were well aware of their circumstances, he needed to see what was behind the curtain, if you will. And this is what ‘Revelation’ is. In the Greek, it’s the word apokalyptis, which means an unveiling. But unlike what we saw in the Wizard of Oz, the one ‘behind the curtain’ will not be a disappointment nor will he be someone like we are. John needed to see the glory of the One whom He worship and the One whom He trusted.
God pulls back the curtain. Understand, there is no way we can get a glimpse of anything Godly or supernatural unless God pulls back that curtain. Even the beloved and revered Apostle John could not go into heaven unless He was told to—and even then, He could not do this on his own, but the Spirit carried him into the portals of heaven.
And the first item John sees is the throne! Not just any throne—not even the throne owned by the Emperor of Rome! This was the throne of the Most High God! This is the central item in all of the book of Revelation! In these two chapters, the word ‘throne’ is mentioned 19 times!
You see, when we worship, we are confronted with the splendor of the King upon His throne. He had the “appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.” Twenty four elders were seated around the throne, complete with white garments and crowns on their head. Flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder, and the torches of fire which are the seven spirits of God were all eminating from the throne!
Notice what this picture shows us:
First, this is not a God who is like us. In the Wizard of Oz, the four come to the inner sanctum of the Emerald City to see “the great and powerful Wizard.” At first, they were terrified at the sight of the one they thought was the wizard—until Toto found the man behind the curtain who was manufacturing all the effects.
Yet this is no manufactured effect! There is a magisterial splendor and a magnificent terror when it comes to seeing the living God! Notice, “From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings (can also be translated voices/sounds) and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal” (Revelation 4:4-5)
In chapter 5, we see another episode in the grand order of worship in heaven. It’s a dilemma. In the right hand of the one on the throne was a scroll, written on the front and back. In biblical times, scrolls were sealed with wax, impressed with the author’s insignia as evidence of being authentic, as well as for security and privacy. In order for the scroll to be read, the seals had to be broken, and in order for the seals to be broken, it could not be done without the authorization of the owner.
Of all the creatures in heaven and earth, no one was found with the authority or the elevated status to look on the contents of this scroll! What was in this scroll? John began to despair, but One could open its seals. Ezekiel’s scroll was about the promises and the consequences and judgments that would come to those who ignored or disregarded the promises of God!
Here John is comforted by the fact that “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals” (Revelation 5:5). Yet, in the next verse, this one in the midst of the 24 elders is described as “a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (Revelation 5:6). So this Lion of Judah, the one prophesied to Judah himself in Genesis 49:10:
 The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
(Genesis 49:10 ESV)
The Root of David, who was King of Israel and through whose line the true King of kings, Jesus Christ would come through. Many hiccups and interruptions made the people of Israel wonder if David’s line hadn’t been interrupted. But no—the root is still there. And He has conquered. He is worthy to unleash the seven seals.
But how did He conquer? The Lion of Judah conquered by being a slain Lamb! The seven horns represent strength, and the seven eyes (like the seven lampstands) represent the eyes of the Lord that move to and fro on the earth. And this one like a slain Lamb is standing! Seven horns, representing complete strength! Seven eyes, representing complete vision and omniscience, showing that He knows everything that is happening to His people and that He is with them in triumph!
He not only sees and reigns in power, but He hears to the prayers of the saints. In the next chapter, in Revelation 6:9-11, the martyrs are crying out for justice. And the seals show that God keeps his promises, will take vengeance on those who have assailed and assaulted His people, and unleash judgment on the world as this old earth ends and the new heavens and new earth begin!
How do we respond to such a God? It begins with recognizing that the only way we can approach God is by His grace! Notice that the only way that John could see any of this was because God opened the door, God who told him to come up, and God’s Spirit who brought him up. Do we not see how wonderful God is that, in spite of our sinfulness and rebellion against him, he makes open a way to commune with Him?
We see that entering into God’s presence should not be taken lightly. It is no small thing to come into the presence of the living God. He is full of majesty, splendor, glory, and even terror! But He is worthy of honor and power because he made possible for sin-wracked people to be able to come into His presence—something that even stunned the angels in heaven (1 Peter 1:10-12).
We also see that worship is all about God, not about us! When we entered into the portals of heaven (even as we are here on earth), we see that whatever earthly treasures we may have are nothing compared to the treasure of the thrice holy eternal God! The twenty-four elders threw their crowns at his feet. What does this mean? Dennis E. Johnson notes that this is “acknowledging that all authority derives from him, belongs to him, and returns to him.”
The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him. It begins in the mind and may be present where no overt act of worship has taken place. ‘When they knew God,’wrote Paul, ‘they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.’
Then followed the worship of idols fashioned after the likeness of men and birds and beasts and creeping things. But this series of degrading acts began in the mind. Wrong ideas about God are not only the fountain from which the polluted waters of idolatry flow; they are themselves idolatrous. The idolater simply imagines things about God and acts as if they were true.
Is our worship on earth as it is in heaven? Look at these five praises (doxologies) found in these two chapters. One thing you will notice is that not once do you see the word “I” used! You see, God is the subject. They exalt His holiness, His eternality, His glory, His honor, His power, the fact that He created all things by His sheer will, that He sent His Son to conquer by His blood a people from every tribe, language, people and nation! He has made them kingdom citizens and priests who through prayer are able to enter into the inner sanctum of heaven, approaching the throne of grace with great confidence.
Dennis E. Johnson, The Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2001), 103.
A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy.
You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe….
–1 Thessalonians 2:10
I am afraid of the pastor that is another man when he enters the pulpit from what he was before. Reverend, you should never think a thought or do a deed or be caught in any situation that you couldn’t carry into the pulpit with you without embarrassment.
You should never have to be a different man or get a new voice and a new sense of solemnity when you enter the pulpit. You should be able to enter the pulpit with the same spirit and the same sense of reverence that you had just before when you were talking to someone about the common affairs of life. (A.W. Tozer) Worship: The Missing Jewel of the Evangelical Church, 29.
"Lord, help me to be a man of impeccable integrity. Give me the grace to be the same man, whether in the pulpit, in a board meeting, caught in rush hour traffic, or at dinner with my wife.
Even though I serve as a pastor, I received my college and Master’s in Church Music, with an emphasis in piano. I do not have an opportunity to play much during our worship services simply due to my other duties in preaching. Yet, this past Sunday our pianist was out of town, so I filled in. I forgot how much I enjoyed playing in aiding our people in the worship of our Lord Jesus.
Our offertory hymn was Bill and Gloria Gaither’s “Because He Lives.” I confess this is one of my favorite hymns to sing. What struck me was the third stanza:
And then one day I’ll cross the river;
I’ll fight life’s final war with pain.
And then, as death gives way to vict’ry,
I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know He reigns.
Here, the music must be an appropriate vehicle for the text. I started it out softly, hoping the congregation would take time to consider their own mortality and the finality of not just their life, but also the “final war with pain.” But then when we hit that third line, “And the, as death gives way to vict’ry,” this is when I felt I really needed to dig in on the piano to help lift our hearts to the reality that death is not the end–it’s an entry into glory!
Music can be a snare because we can be so caught up with the tune, the harmonies, and the rhythms that the words risk being lost. In the context of Christian worship, the music always, always, always serves the text. The music must support and propel the biblical message found in the text of the song or hymn.
Bob Kauflin has a wonderful website called Worship Matters which helps musicians not just think musically but biblically and theology in regards to their music leadership.
When I was young, I would watch or be familiar with shows on TV that had some pretty interesting characters. Mike Brady from the Brady Bunch, Gilligan from Gilligan’s Island, Archie Bunker from All in the Family, Hawkeye Pierce from MASH. As a kid, I could never separate the actor from the person in real life. And often times, these actors were quite different from the characters they portrayed.
While this may throw us a bit, what is even more concerning is when someone who portrays a believer and a follower of Christ is nothing like the character he or she portrays.
As we get into Matthew 6, we find Jesus addressing three particular areas of our Christian devotional life: giving to the needy (Matthew 6:2-4), praying (Matthew 6:5-15), and fasting (Matthew 6:16-18). But all of these issues come from what Jesus says in Matthew 6:1, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” While some versions say for us to beware of giving alms, the oldest and best manuscripts state that Jesus is merely speaking in general of appearing righteous before men in order to receive praise from men.
Matthew 5 dealt with the inner moral requirements found in the heart. Chapter six is now dealing with the outward religious requirements and the motives behind those religious works. We find ourselves wanting the approval of those who are just like us. Jesus moves back to Matthew 5:19-20:
Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
And now we are getting to the nuts and bolts of our religious rituals. Are we doing them to help and grow, or are we doing them so we can be seen helping, giving, and fasting? Dan Doriani in his commentary asks the appropriate question: are we desiring to be holy, or are we driving toward hypocrisy?
Let’s look at Matthew 6:2-4:
1. When you give, what reason do you have?
As we mentioned last week, there are numerous places to give: humanitarian efforts, missions work, charities, churches, television ministries, campus ministries, churches—there is no end. Each of these makes often legitimate cases for your giving. What makes you give to them?
Sadly, many give for what they can get out of it. When I worked in college at a local grocer, I would find myself witnessing to a lot of guys I went to high school with. One told me that he was up late at night going through some particular issue, when a TV minister put his hand toward the TV and said, “I sense someone is out there with a ______________ problem. Send $100 to our ministry and I will send you an anointed prayer towel. Just pray with this in hand, and God will hear and answer.” Sometimes we give thinking that by giving, God will materially bless us.
Yet, some of us are moved by pictures of needy children all over the world and give to these organizations. That’s a good sign. Jesus said, “When you give to the needy.” The operative word is needy. In fact, when the early church began, this area of giving and helping those in need was a very distinguishing mark for Christians. James Montgomery Boice noted
Before Christ’s time there were no homes for the sick or poor, no orphanages. There was a world of toil and poverty, of the exposure of unwanted children, of slavery, of great hunger side by side with great affluence, and appalling indifference. After Christ came there was an instant and sacrifical love of the believers for each other. This was followed by care for the poor, hospitals, reform laws in the status of women, the establishing of change in labor laws, the abolition of slavery, and other things.
Understand that giving is not optional, but it is a sign of obedience—especially if it is for the right reason.
What kind of heart do we have when we give? Part of being God’s covenant people is that we give to the needy. As Eric read earlier from Deuteronomy 15, God commanded and expected his people to help their poor and needy brother. Why? Remember that Deuteronomy is all about Moses giving his last marching orders to the people of Israel before they entered into the Promised Land. But where did they come from? From being enslaved and mistreated in Egypt. God delivered them from their slavery and would always remind them of their former condition.
While the Jews of Jesus’ time did give, it was more of a ritual and very external. Yet, we must realize that giving must not be a ritual, but a matter of a relationship. You see, when we give, we really give unto the Lord. Remember Malachi 3:6-10:
“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.  From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’  Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions.  You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.  Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.
Remember this: when we do not give, we are robbing Him. Yes, we are giving to the needy, but remember there is a spiritual need as well, and God expects his people to give to the storehouse of the local church to which they belong so that physical and spiritual needs may be met.
2. When you give, what reward do you seek?
Rewards. Many people have this conversation about rewards. Will Billy Graham have more rewards in heaven than a regular Christian? Some ask these with their main concern being what kind of ‘stuff’ will we have in heaven.
Yet, I believe this is the wrong angle to take. Heaven is not earth. Beulah Land is not America. Getting to heaven is not the equivalent of obtaining the American Dream where we have everything we want and more. We think about our life and what blessings God can give us both now and in the by-and-by.
Yet, Jesus comes along and in a span of six verses mentions the word ‘reward’ four times. Go back and look at Matthew 5:46-47:
For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
Notice in Matthew 6:2
“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
Both of these verses deal with a false desire for a false reward. The great snare for many was to give for the praise of men. Those in Jesus’ times were particularly snared because the model being presented by the religious leaders was one of drawing great attention to oneself. When the trumpet sounded from the Temple for a time of giving, the Pharisee would drop what he is doing and rush toward the Temple, giving a great sign to everyone that he was spiritual—he’s going to the Temple to give! But it went even further.
The scribes and the Pharisees even believed that the more one gave, the more sin was forgiven. In one of their writings, we read, “As water will quench a flaming fire, so charity will atone for sin” (The Wisdom of Sirach 3:30). The Pharisees, in a way, felt they could buy their way to heaven with the amount of money they gave to the needy. But ultimately, what they wanted was recognition from men. And since that’s what they desired, that is just the reward they received—but no more!
The word Jesus uses is the word ‘hypocrites’ – as the hypocrites do in the synagogue and in the streets. A hypocrite is someone who pretends to be something he is not, much like the actor in a play.
Do we do this? Ask yourselves these questions:
• Will we only give to the needy if someone is around to see us give it?
• Will we give to the church, but only if our name is on a plaque by a window or a nameplate in book or Bible?
• Do you find yourselves “accidentally” bringing up how much you give?
• Do you give, but only if there is no monetary sacrifice, but if there is, you find excuses not to give? In other words, will you only give when you are “financially settled?”
• Sometimes we just give with the expectation of gratitude to the one to whom we give.
• Sometimes, people will only give if things are going well at church, but will withhold their giving if things are not—using it as leverage for implementing change they want to see.
What reward do we seek? The question is, at this point, what reward should we seek? Jesus answers this in Matthew 6:3-4:
But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
This is an interesting picture. Jesus here is saying, “Be discreet—very discreet.” MacArthur says, “The most satisfying giving, and the giving that God blesses, is that which is done and forgotten.” When our right hand gives, we should be discreet even from our left hand, not to mention other people.
So are we to give in secret? Does this mean that every good work we do should be done in secret so no one else knows about it? What about what Jesus said in Matthew 5:16, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” So is Jesus saying in one place that people need to “see your good works” and in other place do like your Christian life and duty out in secret? No, the similarity still stands: what is the end result of your good works, to receive praise from men or from God? Wherever you seek praise from, from that same place your reward will come as well.