Pastor Steve shares some Thursday Thoughts…
This past Lord’s Day – we took some time during our singing to consider “what” we were singing and “why” we were singing. I want to take a few minutes here to bring some more attention to the “why” we sing aspect. I said, referencing D.A. Carson (“Worship By The Book”), that our singing is to be God-ward, sung in praise and adoration of God, but also man-ward, with an intentional consideration of those around us. I want to focus on that aspect here.
I referenced two texts on Sunday:
16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
19 …addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,
20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Two things are most evident in those parallel texts – 1) we are addressing one another in our singing and, 2) we are expressing thankfulness to God. So what becomes clear is that our singing isn’t just expressions of phrases to God: “Father, we thank You”, but also expressions of phrases to one another: “I thank my God”. Both of those are expressions of thanksgiving; the first is God-ward and the second is man-ward. Impacting our ability to make these expressions is the songs that are selected for a worship service. If we are to sing God-wardly and man-wardly, our songs will have to aid us in that. They will need to communicate praise, and thanksgiving, as well as admonition and instruction to our fellow worshipers. Once you have recognized the man-ward aspect of faithful worship in singing – – your perspective changes on the songs you sing. And it isn’t that some songs are written in God-ward language, and others are written in man-ward language – – it is that solid worship songs rightly understood and faithfully expressed accomplish both.
Now you might be tempted to think that I am trying to caution against Christian worship being too God-ward … but that really hasn’t been a risk in most churches, and rightly understood it could never be a risk (which I hope you’ll see by the end of this writing). No, we’ve found a third expression and it has tended to dominate our worship: it has become Me-ward. And this isn’t seen so much in the songs we sing – though it clearly appears there – but it is most often seen in the attitudes and expectations of the worshipers who assemble on a Sunday. It has become common to hear a worship leader direct the worshipers “inward” toward a “private communion with God”. This is never the goal of corporate worship. We assemble together, to make a corporate expression and to instruct and encourage one another. We are not to assemble so each of us can worship God individually – – but that we might worship God corporately. This is clearly Paul’s greatest concern with the Corinthians as he addresses their worship habits. They had become self-centered, boastful, and arrogant leading them to a worship expression that was almost entirely Me-ward.
- It was a problem at the Lord’s Supper – Paul writes: “Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk.” (1 Corinthians 11:20-21) Notice the Me-centeredness of their communion … “each one takes HIS OWN”.
- They were exercising their spiritual gifts for self-promotion – Paul writes: “But to each one is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:7) Notice again, he is correcting them because they had turned away from other-centeredness to Me-centeredness in the use of God’s good gifts.
- Then he takes an entire chapter to emphasize the importance of love for one another. 1 Corinthians 13 stands as a pillar of other-centered instruction. Love, Paul says, “does not seek its own…does not brag…is not arrogant”. Love is an outward expression to those around us, not an inward expression to myself.
- Even the supernatural gift of tongues, designed as a unique challenge to the Jewish unbelievers, had become a Me-centered, self-devotion. Paul writes: “One who speaks in a tongue (the abuse of the gift) edifies himself…” (1 Corinthians 14:4)
Despite all of that instruction from Paul, the modern worship leader invites the worshiper to concentrate on getting so absorbed with God that they become unaware of those around them. In other words – “Become so God-ward in your worship that, in the end, you become Me-ward.” All the Christians in Corinth would undoubtedly have argued they were simply focusing on God – – but they are exposed for their Me-centeredness. They had failed to see that if a worshiper becomes truly focused on God they will become INCREASINGLY AWARE OF THOSE AROUND THEM.
So this week, as we sing, be aware of the God-ward element of our praises and adorations to our great God … and let that make you most sensitive to those around you, to whom you are also speaking in song.
Don’t just declare the wonders of God to God – – declare them to those around you.
For His glory and for the edification of His church! That is true Christian worship.