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Worship is oriented around a particular center

Worship is oriented around a particular center

I’m in the midst of preaching through 1 Peter right now, and while preparing for this week’s sermon came across this great passage from Edmund Clowney in his book The Message of 1 Peter (IVP, The Bible Speaks Today series). Commenting on 2:9 (“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”), Clowney offers the following window into the worship of the covenant community:

         “Declaring the praises of God is the great work of worship. Two forms of praise appear in the Psalms: praising God for what he has done, and praising God for who he is. Isaiah used a verb that means to ‘count’ or ‘tell’ in the sense of ‘recount’. The praises of Israel are full of the recounting of the mighty works of God.

His deeds of creation excited the marvelling awe of the psalmist: ‘When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers…’ God provides the armour of the crocodile and feeds the goats upon the mountains. God works in history; he raises up kings and puts them down. But above all, it is God’s work of salvation that his people celebrate in praise.

Praise is more than thanksgiving. Praise not only offers the sacrifices of thanksgiving for God’s deliverance; praise adores God the deliverer. From declaring the works of God, the sacrifice of praise moves on to praise the name of God. To commemorate the saving deeds of the Lord is a thrilling task, but the pinnacle of devotion is to rejoice in God himself, the doer of those deeds. The supreme prayer of devotion is ‘Hallowed be thy name’. When we thank God for who is he and ask him to be God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we enter into the high sanctuary of heaven’s praise.

Peter says that we have been brought from darkness to light and made a priesthood so that we may show forth God’s praises. This spiritual worship has no earthly altar or ark; it has transcended the elaborate ceremonials of Old Testament worship. It is vain to imitate in pageantry the ceremonies that ended when the veil of the temple was torn in two. Yet worship remains the central calling, not only of the Christian, but of the Christian church. The worship of God consists not only in hearing and responding to his word, as Peter has been reminding us. It finds its burning focus in lifting the name of God in adoration. This function of the priesthood cannot be delegated. God’s praises must rise from the lips of all his people, assembled before his face and joining with the festival assembly of the saints and angels. If the singing and speaking forth of the praises of God are viewed as ‘preliminaries’ to the sermon, the meaning of worship has been lost.

Nothing can be put above worship. We adore God not  to gain his favor, but because adoration is our response to his grace. We are, to be sure, uniquely blessed through worship, and as God’s worshippers we seek his blessing. but the core of our worship is not receiving but giving. Peter reminds us that the inestimable privilege of entering the presence of the Lord contains a yet greater privilege: to lift his name in praise. He lifts us up so that we may lift him up.

Yet our praising of the name of God has another result. We declare before the nations the works and the name of the Lord. Our praises to God bear witness to the world. The heart of evangelism is doxological. Peter emphasizes the offer of praise to God. Yet he is also thinking of the Gentile world in the midst of which we are called to praise. Our hallelujahs do indeed join the anthems of the heavenly host, but here on earth they are heard by our neighbors.” (pp. 95-96)

Clowney makes a lot of great points that I think every Christian–and especially every pastor and worship leader–need to have in mind. Among the most important, in my view, are these:

  • Worship is to recount who God is and what he has done, and to praise him for those things.
  • As central as the proclamation of the Word is to corporate worship, we err if we consider the other elements (songs, prayers, laments, confessions, sacraments, giving, etc) as ‘preliminaries’ to, or subsidiaries of, the sermon.
  • Worship is both doxological (offering praise to God) and evangelical (offering the gospel to the world).
  • This task of ‘priesthood’ is one in which every believer is called to engage, and cannot be viewed as an ancillary or optional aspect of our identity as disciples of the Risen Lord.

So, when (not “if”) you gather as a part of the covenant community to offer praises to the Triune God, keep in mind that you are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

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