When we come into this world and before we have faith, the Bible tells us that we are spiritually “dead” (Ephesians 2:1), “hostile to God” (Romans 8:7), are “alienated from God” and see God as our enemy (Colossians 1:21). What an amazing thing it is, then, that God has not only freely forgiven us in Christ but also makes us alive in him (Ephesians 2:4-5), makes us new (2 Corinthians 5:17), allows us now to see him as our Father (Galatians 4:6), and promises that we have eternal life in Jesus (John 3:16). It’s because of these gracious things God has done for us that we worship him. Worship comes from an Old English word (“weorthscipe”) that means to ascribe worth to something (think: “worth-ship”; see Revelation 5:12), and there are a number of ways a Christian ascribes worth to God.
The highest worship of God is to believe in him, that is, to fear, love, and trust in him above all things (Deuteronomy 6:5, 10:12; Psalm 31:6). Faith is a trust and a confidence created and empowered by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3; 2 Corinthians 3:4-6; Ephesians 2:4-5,8). When Christians have faith and confidence in God, they’re indicating what they think and feel he’s worth to them (Hebrews 11:1). Thus, as we believe in God, trust in his Word, and show confidence in the Savior he has sent, we are ascribing the highest form of worth to God.
By Living Lives of Love
“Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”
Another way in which Christians ascribe worth to God is by living according to his will. They follow God’s commands (Exodus 20:3-17) out of thanks for what he has done for them through Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). As the apostle Paul encouraged the Romans, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1, NIV84). This form of worship pours out into our relationships with others as well: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35; see also Romans 13:8-10, 1 Peter 1:22-23, and 1 John 3:11). Living lives full of love for God and for others is another way Christians worship God.
By Gathering for Public Worship
Christians also demonstrate how much God is worth to them when they gather together for public worship. Gathering together for public worship has been the habit of God’s people since creation (Genesis 4:26). God prescribed specific details and guidelines for Israel’s worship in Old Testament times (Exodus 35-40; Leviticus 1-9, 16, 21-25). The New Testament church assembled together often for public worship (Acts 2:42, 4:31, 18:26; 1 Corinthians 5:4). For a Christian, it is not only a duty to assemble and worship together with other Christians (Hebrews 10:25) but a delight and an inner desire (Psalm 84:1-4).
What are Christians supposed to do when gathering together for public worship? Neither the purpose nor the pattern of Christian public worship is prescribed on the pages of the Bible. The Old Testament laws concerning worship for the Israelites was all pointing forward to Christ, which means we are no longer required to follow them because they are fulfilled in Christ (Galatians 3:24-25; Colossians 2:16-17). This made for a difficult transition for the early New Testament believers because it took time for the Christians who had followed the Old Testament laws to realize their newfound freedom in Christ’s completed work (Acts 15; see also Christian Freedom). Combine this freedom with the fact that the Greek words commonly translated as “worship” in English all have to do with the first two forms of worship mentioned above, and this makes it difficult to determine any type of standard for public worship in the New Testament.
What is obvious from the words used in the New Testament for public worship is that it all focused on Christians assembling together around the gospel (Colossians 3:17). For the early New Testament church, this commonly meant the public reading of Scripture (1 Timothy 4:13), partaking of the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34), singing hymns (Ephesians 5:19-20; Colossians 3:16), and praying together (Ephesians 6:18; Colossians 4:2; 1 Timothy 2:1). In freedom but with sound reasoning, believers continue to follow this pattern of public worship. We demonstrate what we consider God’s worth to be by carrying out the commission he gave to his church, that is, to preach the Word and administer the Sacraments (Matthew 28:19-20; Luke 22:19-20).
Gathering Around the Means of Grace
“This is my body…This is my blood…Do this in remembrance of me.”
Why is it good to gather around the Word and the Sacraments? Because they are the life of the church. We call the Word of God, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper the means of grace because they are the means by which we receive forgiveness, life, and salvation in Christ, that is, God’s grace in Christ (John 21:21-23; Acts 2:38; Matthew 26:27; see The Bible is the Word of God, Baptism, and The Lord’s Supper). God’s Word has promised that where the means of grace are present, there Christ himself is present with them (Matthew 18:20; Galatians 3:27; Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 10:16). God also wants us to use the means of grace because through them he brings blessings to his church and to the world (Exodus 20:24; Titus 3:5-6; 1 Corinthians 11:26; Romans 15:1-2,5-6). When we proclaim the gospel message in Word and Sacrament, we are praising and worshiping God.
The form in which a congregation gathers around the Word and the Sacraments can differ from culture to culture and from subculture to subculture. For example, a Christian congregation in America may sing differently-styled songs than a Christian congregation in Africa. One congregation may read three passages from Scripture, while another may read only one. The pastor of one congregation may have a 15-minute sermon, while another incorporates a 45-minute Bible study. The style and form of worship will depend on the people within the congregation and those outside of the congregation they are trying to reach.
To Build Each Other Up
However, while God doesn’t prescribe a specific form of worship in his Word, he does give us wise guidelines to follow as we gather together in his name. We see one such example in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. In Paul’s day, God sometimes miraculously gave his people the ability to “speak in tongues,” which was some kind of utterance inspired by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 14:2). The only way these utterances could be understood was if someone else in the congregation had the gift of interpretation (1 Corinthians 14:6-9). This is why Paul says that he prizes the gift of “prophecy,” that is, inspired preaching, above the gift of tongues. “Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church…In the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue” (1 Corinthians 14:4,19). Therefore, when Christians gather together for public worship, one goal they have is to edify, or build up, each other in the faith through the proclamation of the Word of God. “Everything must be done so that the church may be built up” (1 Corinthians 14:26; see also Hebrews 10:24-25). Christians join together in public worship to build up the church of God by encouraging each other with the gospel and bringing others to faith in the gospel.
“Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.”
1 Corinthians 14:40
Paul gives another guideline for public worship in his instructions to the Corinthians: “Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (1 Corinthians 14:40). This guideline goes along with the first. If things are disorderly in a worship service, it is far more difficult for a believer to follow along and be edified. Also, it may give the wrong impression of believers and of God to outsiders: “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people” (1 Corinthians 14:33). Therefore, a public worship service will wisely gather around the gospel in the Word and the Sacraments in an orderly way with the goal of building up God’s Church.
Through Called Ministers
This work of public worship in all its aspects is the work of the people. In fact, God has made all Christians priests. Christians call this the universal priesthood. “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). However, in an effort to keep good order as it carries out this work, a church calls and appoints public ministers to assist, guide, and participate in its public worship of God. This includes pastors, assisting ministers, music ministers, and so on. For example, pastors may serve a congregation by preaching, leading Bible studies, baptizing members, and administering the Lord’s Supper during a worship service. By calling people to serve in this way, a congregation can edify its people and fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) in an orderly manner.
Whether it is believing in God, living according to his will, or gathering together to proclaim God’s work publicly, there are many different ways Christians ascribe worth to God. By worshiping God together, Christians are able to help each other stand firm in the faith until the Last Day (Hebrews 10:24-25). With the forgiveness Christ has won for us and the eternal life Christians will receive through him on that day, it is obvious from all he has done that God is certainly worthy of praise.