Let the People Sing! – May 5, 2023

An essential principle in worship is the principle of the Congregational church. The church is a congregation. The church is a body of Christ. It is not a group of individuals but a body of one. So, when Paul noted that spirit-filled believers sing, he did not limit it to only the gifted. Consider again Ephesians 5:18-19, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” Note that we all are to address one another. In other words, everyone should be singing (Col 3:16).

Everyone is to sing in worship to God. Congregational singing paints the picture of the people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation redeemed by God’s blood singing together before His throne in the eternal kingdom. Vibrant singing reveals a healthy church. When no one is singing, it reveals a dead church. Sadly, many churches have replaced the congregation singing with a few gifted singers performing. To this, I reply, “Let the people sing!” Congregational singing should be the crown jewel of musical worship in the church. If the sound of worship in the church is to be the people singing, four principles must apply.

First, the music chosen for worship in the church must be singable. In other words, the music should lend itself easily to the average congregation member. Many songs performed by Christian artists do not lend themselves well to congregational singing. They were written for a single performer, not a group of untrained musicians. A song with a broad range (too high and too low), excessive or irregular syncopation, and irregular rhythm and meter create a challenging environment for congregational singing. These kinds of songs make the average member mumble, not sing wholeheartedly. For this reason, we usually try to choose hymns and songs written for congregational singing.

Second, the music chosen for worship in the church must be tasteful. The genre, volume, and instrumentation should serve the sound of the congregation, not the other way around. If the genre is of a worldly nature, the godly members of the congregation will not be able to participate in good conscience. Further, the style of the music must fit the lyrics. Some styles of music do not fit the message of the song. As a result, the message is lost. Some styles of music are inappropriate for a song. As a result, the message is lost. One would not sing the lyrics of lament to a Susa march, nor would one sing the lyrics of rejoicing in a funeral dirge.

Further, If the music is too loud, the beautiful sound of the congregation raising their voices in praise to God will be drowned out. If the instrumentation is too complex, ornate, or boisterous, the congregation’s attention is drawn away from the lyrics in worship. The guitar riff or piano solo might be impressive but distracts from the song’s message. The congregation should drive the singing, not the genre, volume, or instrumentation.

A key idea to remember is that the church is not a concert hall but a banquet hall. The congregation does not gather to be entertained but to feast on the Word. The music, the prayer, the reading, and the preaching must serve this purpose. As a result, what one listens to in private worship may not be appropriate or helpful in congregational worship. The music must serve the congregation in worship.

Third, and most importantly, the music chosen for worship in the church must be Biblical. Whether a song is new or old, loved or hated, preferred or tolerated, it has no place in the church if the lyrics are not Biblical. Further, the lyrics must be clearly Biblical. The song’s purpose in our mouth is edification and evangelism (Ps 40:3). If the lyrics are ambiguous or unbiblical, these dual purposes are destroyed. Too much modern “Christian” music could be sung to one’s boyfriend without changing anything. God is not our boyfriend. Some sacrifice truth for poetic license. Is reckless really the way we should describe God’s love? (Hint: look up the definition of reckless. To describe God’s love this way is heretical). These songs have no place in worship. Too many “Good Ole” songs have no clear message. What does it mean to bring in sheaves, and why are we doing it? And who in the world are we walking with in some garden at night by ourselves? The music must be unambiguous, clear, and above all, Biblically true. The church is the place of the Book. The songs must be songs of the Book.

Finally, the music chosen for worship in the church must be familiar. This is not to say that the church should refrain from singing new songs. However, there should be a balance to the new music introduced into the church. When people know a song, they will sing it out. The amount of new music a church can handle must be carefully evaluated on a congregation-by-congregation basis. If a church looks around its auditorium and people barely sing, it is doing it wrong. Let the people sing!

Worship is to make us more like Christ. As we enter the throne room of God, we see his glory and proclaim it to those around us. This means that when we gather together on Sunday, you look to make those around you more like Christ through your worship. Your singing is so that those next to you might hear the lyrics and agree. You remind them that they are not alone. When you pray, you encourage those around you that God is accessible. When you listen eagerly to the Word, you remind those around you that we serve a God of the Word and that he gives answers for life. Worship is for edification.

For edification to happen, the church must be a banquet hall, not a concert hall. We do not gather to be impressed by one’s musical or intellectual prowess, for that distracts from worship for God alone to God alone. Instead, we gather to feast on the Word! So we sing the Word, pray the Word, read the Word, preach the Word, and picture the Word in the ordinances so that we might go out and live the Word. To this end, we seek to obey the command to sing to one another in Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. We all sing. A healthy church sings. A dying church stands in silence. So let the people sing!

While our world tells us to have it our way, we must stand countercultural and state that we would rather have it God’s way. But we must understand that God’s way is not always the most emotionally stimulating way. God’s way is not always the most enjoyable way. God’s way is often a way of pain and hardship. God’s way is a way of sacrifice and edification. But God’s way is the only way to approach Him in worship and find lasting peace and joy.



Worship Should Not Be Selfish – April 28, 2023

A primary purpose for congregational worship is the edification of fellow believers. This principle sets corporate worship apart from all-of-life worship. Due to this focus, many activities are appropriate for believers in all-of-life worship but not for corporate worship. As a primary purpose of corporate worship is edification, we can draw out three essential principles. Last week we examined that edification is corporate, not individual.

Since the worship of the body of Christ is corporate, not individual, our worship must be saturated with grace. Since a healthy body of Christ is diverse in age, race, and taste, personal preferences and standards will vary. This being the case, corporate worship must be saturated with grace towards one another. This leads us to the second principle: edification means more than preference. Edification means more than asking, “Do people like this?” While some preferences in worship may be fun, entertaining, creative, and satisfying, they are not appropriate for corporate worship if they do not build up the whole body into maturity in Christ. Even if the preferences use the gifts of members and encourage some, if the preferences do not build up the whole body of Christ, they are not appropriate for corporate worship. While some preferences may be suitable for private worship, not all preferences are appropriate for the body of Christ.

Further, the church must ensure that the worship is cross-generational. No generation in the body of Christ takes precedence over another. We do not focus on the old at the expense of the young or the young at the expense of the old. The church is one body. The question in edification must be, “Does this drive people to the cross of Christ and the Word?”

 

1 Corinthians 14 provides some necessary insights into the nature of edification in corporate worship. In this passage, Paul provides guidance for speaking in tongues in the worship service (as a cessationist, I believe that the gift of tongues in the church has since ceased. However, the principles in this passage apply to all of corporate worship). In this passage, Paul argues that an accompanying interpretation must be provided when tongues are used in a corporate worship service. Because, without interpretation, no one would understand the speaker, and the body would not be edified. While an experience may be powerful, emotionally charged, and moving, if it does not edify the body, it is not appropriate.

Consider Paul’s statements throughout 1 Corinthians 14, “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up” (1 Corinthians 14:1-5).

Here edification means house building. The primary responsibility of Christians to each other is to build each other up. In Ephesians 4, we learn that a primary purpose of the church is to bring each believer into full spiritual maturity. Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 14:12, “So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.” Once again, notice that the focus is building up the church, the assembly of all the believers. Finally, in verses 16-19, he states, “Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.” And in verse 26, “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.”

In verse 26, Paul insists that when Christians come to their meetings prepared with a song or any other spiritual exercise, they must consider how that song or spiritual exercise will build up the whole body. “In other words, if you are so eager to minister spiritual gifts, minister them in the way God intended: for the benefit of the church, in particular for the church’s edification. Again the clear word is that this gift is for public, not private, use and benefit” (MacArthur, 1 Corinthians, 375). Because you are to edify your fellow believer in your worship, your preference cannot stand central. Instead, you are to prefer your fellow believer.

This second principle leads then into the final principle regarding edification: edification is intelligible (easily understandable). The body cannot be edified without intelligible, intentional, and precise wording. You will notice that throughout Scripture, God is a God of words. John 1 calls Christ the Word. The Scripture is referred to as the Word of God. God communicates in intelligible, intentional, and precise words.

This principle greatly limits the use of arts in worship because they are imprecise and open to various interpretations. A primary principle from 1 Corinthians 14 is that understandable language is necessary for edification (note verses 7-12). Only intelligible language possesses the precise language necessary for body growth. While language can be misunderstood, other forms of communication contain more ambiguity, lack of preciseness, and greater intelligibility. Other forms of communication lead more easily to differing interpretations. Arts, by definition, invite differing interpretations and are more open-ended. Worship should be precise, not ambiguous. So, words should be central in worship.

Corporate worship is for the edification of the saints. Each Sunday, we glorify God by edifying one another in our worship. This means that we will not do anything to bring in unbelievers, for that is not the purpose of our service. We do other activities to evangelize the lost. But our worship on Sunday is for edification.



More Principles for Worship – April 21, 2023

For years, a large burger chain used the slogan, “Have it your way.” This slogan caught the American Consumer mentality that we should get whatever we want, however we want. When I go into a burger restaurant, I should be able to tell them how I want it made. This concept has expanded into other areas of consumerism in that we have the ability to gain designer products for just about anything. We can have it our way from clothing to tools to trips.

Unfortunately, this same consumeristic mentality has trickled into the church. We begin to expect to have church our way. Specifically, we expect to worship our way. But is this the way that worship should operate? Over the past few weeks, we have examined the topic of worship and the church. We have looked at two foundational principles we must understand if we are to accomplish the biblical purpose of the church: Our worship should be to God alone and for God alone, and our worship should be how God requires. With these foundational principles in mind, we will spend the next few weeks examining a few other essential principles that will help explain why we do what we do in worship at Cambria.

First, the Christian should understand that a primary purpose for congregational worship is the edification of fellow believers (Eph 5:18-19; Col 3:16; 1 Cor 14). Why is congregational worship important? We hear people often say that they can worship God without the church. Several Biblical truths render this statement asinine, but in line with our discussion today, this statement reveals a complete misunderstanding of worship.

While worship is all about God, and worship is not primarily about us, Scripture does indicate that a primary purpose for congregational worship is edification. Consider Ephesians 5:18-19 and note that a sign of the indwelling work of the Spirit of God in our hearts is that we sing to one another. Paul states nothing about singing in your car to God or in the quietness of your home to God (although I would hope we do this). Instead, the sign that we are walking in the Spirit of God is that we sing to address one another to God. That word addressing (λαλουντες, from λαλεω) could also be translated as communicating. In this context, Paul states that believers are to use their voices to communicate with one another in song.

In Colossians 3:16, Paul informs us that when the Word richly dwells in us (when we live in line with the Word of God), three things result: teaching, admonishing, and singing. Teaching is the importation of positive truth. Admonishing is the negative side of teaching. It means to warn people of the consequences of their behavior. Further, admonishing has the element of strong encouragement. It is generally practical and moral rather than abstract or theological. Paul’s address here that the Word richly dwelling in us (being people of the Word) results in teaching, instructing, and singing suggests that singing is a means of mutual edification and a vehicle of praise to God.

A primary purpose for congregational worship is the edification of fellow believers. This principle sets corporate worship apart from all-of-life worship. Due to this focus, many activities are appropriate for believers in all-of-life worship but not for corporate worship. As a primary purpose of corporate worship is edification, we can draw out three important principles. We will look at the first today and the other two in the coming weeks.

First, edification is corporate, not individual. The church is not about the individual. The church is about the body (we spent much time discussing this in 2019 in our foundations messages available on our website). As such, the individual should not ask, “What can I get out of this service?” Instead, each individual should ask, “What can I give to the body, and how can I serve the body?”

This principle means that the goal of corporate worship is not individual (or even corporate) entertainment but edification and worship. The church is to sing to one another in Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Col. 3:16). So, all worship ought to lead to the maturing of the body of Christ.

This principle also has some ramifications on our thinking about the purpose of music. It means that every part of our service is a form of worship for the edification of the body. The music, the Bible reading, the praying, the preaching, and the observance of the ordinances are all worship. This means that music should never simply be a lead into the preaching.

But it also holds sway over the purpose of our gathering. So far, we have seen that worship is to God and for God alone accomplished through the edification of the body of Christ. Now notice what is not here, evangelism. The purpose of the church’s corporate worship is not evangelism but edification. Corporate worship is not to bring in unbelievers but to edify believers. So we don’t bring in unbelievers at any cost but worship in truth at any cost.

However, since we are gospel people, and the primary expression of God’s glory is the amazing reality of the impartation and outworking of the Gospel, the Gospel should saturate our services. The message of the Gospel should be all over the worship service. As a result, evangelism should happen in every service. So please understand what I am saying. I am not saying we do not want unbelievers in the service. We desperately want them to hear the Gospel. I am saying that the service is not for them (designed and purposed for them) but for believers. I am saying that evangelism is a byproduct, not a purpose of worship. No music in the Bible is ever characterized as being or intended to be evangelistic. It is always pictured in the context of the body of Christ to the body of Christ. This means that our singing is for the body of Christ.



The Regulative Principle for Worship, Part 2 – April 14, 2023

God does not simply care that we worship. He also cares about how we worship. Last week we looked at the Old Testament justification for the regulative principle. However, the book of Galatians clearly teaches that the Law no longer binds us. Instead, we live in a state of Grace. So, we must ask, “How does Grace impact the prescriptions for worship?”

God does not change. As a result, He still cares about how we approach Him. We must therefore ask if God has given us instructions for our worship today. The answer is that He has. Throughout the New Testament are instructions on how we are to approach God. These serve as our guidelines today. And since God commands how we approach Him, we cannot approach Him any way we want. How has God commanded that we approach Him?

First, we see that we are to pray the Word. Our worship should be bathed in prayer. Consider Christ’s condemnation of the temple worship of His day, “He said to them, ‘It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers’” (Matt 21:13). In response to the trials the early church faced, they immediately responded in prayer (Acts 4:24-26). Yet even our prayer comes with instructions (Matt 6:7-13). Jesus commands us not to fill our prayer with empty ritualistic platitudes. Instead, He gives us a prayer saturated in Scripture. So, we are to pray the Word. This is why we have numerous prayer times on Sunday mornings. We try to pray a lot.

Next, 1 Timothy 4:13 commands us to read the Word. The word of God is what sanctifies believers. As a result, we are commanded to read the Word together. This is why we have two times every Sunday morning devoted to the public reading of the Word.

Third, we are to sing the Word. We covered this a little last week. But the point here is that singing is a commanded part of worship. A church that does not sing is a church that does not worship. Consider again Ephesians 5:18-19 and Colossians 3:16. “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Eph 5:18-19). “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” (Col 3:16).

A few weeks ago, we focused on the fact that our singing is to be Word saturated. It is to be true. So, we must ask our songs, “what does this song actually say?” Is the song saying anything, and is it true? However, the point this week is that God commands us to sing to one another. Some have said, “I don’t sing for the sake of those around me. I have a terrible voice, and no one around me wants to hear it.” Others take the opportunity of singing to demonstrate how gifted they are. Both come from a faulty view of worship. You see, the singing in the church is not for entertainment but for edification, teaching, and admonishment. God does not command that only gifted people sing, but that we all sing one to another.

So, let me be frank. If you stand silently while the congregation sings, you are doing your fellow members a disservice. You are violating a clear command of Scripture. And you are not approaching God properly. Further, if you choose to make the singing time a dazzling display of your musical prowess, you are doing the body of Christ a disservice by distracting them from the song’s message, and you are not worshipping God properly.

This is why the song that the congregation sings must be singable. Most modern Christian songs today were written for performance, not corporate singing. As a result, they contain musical elements which the average church member cannot handle. So, we attempt to introduce singable songs. We will address this concept further in the coming weeks.

Fourth, 2 Timothy 4:1-5 commands that we are to preach the Word. The preaching of the Word is necessary for the worship and spiritual growth of the church. We should note two things about this preaching. First, it is the Word that is to be preached. The pastor should not preach personal opinions or another person’s thoughts. God commands the pastor to expound the Word. Second, expository preaching will not be popular. Today many churches have chosen to downplay the preaching of the Word for this reason. But we are to love the preaching of the Word.

All of this is done so that we might worship through living the Word (Josh 1:8; Eph 2:10; Rom 12:1-2). Sunday worship means nothing if it is not followed by Monday-Saturday obedience. A true believer follows the Word every day. The church sings the Word, reads the Word, prays the Word, and preaches the Word so that Christians will live the Word.

You will note that every aspect of the worship prescribed by God is saturated with the Word. The Word is God’s tool for change in life and understanding the demands of God. God has commanded that we pray, read, sing and preach God’s words back to him. In other words, the church gathers around the Word. The Word is primary. As a result, the Bible must saturate every aspect of worship. The Word is to be read, prayed, sung, and preached.

Since the Word is central to all worship, truth is the basis for all worship. The giving of the Law demonstrates that God cares about how He is worshiped. As a result, all worship should be Bible-based and Bible-saturated. For the Word of God is Truth. When songs are sung in worship, they must be saturated with truth. When prayers are prayed, they must be saturated with truth. When the Word of God is preached, it must be saturated with truth. The question must be asked through every portion of worship, “Is it true?” Tradition cannot take precedence over truth. Preference cannot take precedence over truth. Worship is not worship if it is not true. All worship must be Bible-saturated.

The regulative principle not only keeps us from foolish attempts to gather crowds (like clowns, performing interpretive dances, or WWF-style themes for Sunday series), it also keeps us centered on what is eternally significant and serves to fulfill the purpose of the church of making disciples of Jesus for the glory of God. God created us to worship, so everyone worships something. Our call as God’s people is to worship the right One in the right way. We must take worship seriously. We should not treat it like any other gathering when we gather with God’s people. This is a sacred time with a sacred people for a sacred purpose. Our worship must reflect who God is.



The Regulative Principle for Worship – April 7, 2023

Have you ever paused to consider what should be accomplished in a church service? What is necessary for it to be considered worship? Often tradition, our upbringing, our various biases, and our culture determine what we think worship should look like. However, God cares deeply about how we worship him. He stated, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:24). Since God cares how we should worship, what is the proper way to worship?

In John 4, Jesus met the woman at the well and began proclaiming the gospel to her. In her discomfort, she tried to deflect the conversation and seized on the worship war of that day. Does true worship take place in Jerusalem or on the mountain? The Samaritans argued that worship took place in the spirit. Hence, they were justified in not going to the temple in Jerusalem. The pure-blooded Israelites argued that you had to go to the temple. Who was right? Jesus states that they were both wrong. God had dictated how they were to approach worship. That meant that the temple was necessary. However, God also said that worship must be about God and not man, and in this, Israel failed. True worship must be in spirit and truth.

If our worship is to be true, it must be Biblically proper. Since worship is to God and for God, we cannot worship however we want. Paul comments on this reality in his letter to the Colossians, “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Col 2:23). There were individuals in the Colossian church that were placing extra implementations on worship. They demanded that the believers follow specific ritualistic guidelines. In response, there was another group that was allowing worship to become a free for all. Paul states that these people had ceased worshipping God and had created a self-made religion. He says very clearly that this self-made religion was of no value. It attempted to approach God the wrong way.

From the beginning, God regulated how mankind was to approach him. This has become known as the regulative principle. In other words, we can only approach God how God tells us to. If God does not instruct us to come in a certain way, we cannot approach in that way and expect God to accept our worship.

When mankind fell into sin in the Garden of Eden, God gave instructions for how man was to approach Him. We see this in the sacrifices that he made and the clothing that he prepared. However, it is not long before we see the seriousness with which God takes worship. Genesis 4 contains the well-known narrative of Cain and Abel. However, we often miss the point of the passage. They both approached God in worship. Both made a sacrifice. Abel brought the best of his flock, and Cain brought the best of his harvest. However, God rejected Cain. Why? Not because Cain’s offering was not a sacrifice. But because this was not the way that God had regulated that they came to Him. He required the blood of a lamb. And Cain chose to attempt to approach God in his own way. The result was that God rejected his sacrifice.

Later, as Israel headed towards the promised land, God gave specific instructions on worship. In fact, the first five books of the Bible served as a manual on how to approach God. As we consider the ten commandments, we are struck that the first part is about how to approach God (Ex 20:2-6). Note that God is a jealous God. This means that we must approach God on His terms. Worship is not about us. It is about God. This means that we have to worship the right one the right way. There were severe consequences if they approached God the wrong way.

Leviticus 10 contains an engaging narrative on the consequences of improper worship. As the sons of Aaron, it was Nadab and Abihu’s God-given task to lead Israel in worship. But in this chapter, we learn that they attempted to do this in their own way. They tried to approach God with incense. But note that they did not bring the incense in the way the Lord had commanded. We might say, “but they were trying to worship.” However, God is not just concerned that we worship. He is also concerned with how we worship.

The method of worship was the problem with the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. The Pharisees had hearts for God. They worshiped. But they did so in ways God did not prescribe, so God rejected their worship. Jesus lays this out very clearly in Matthew 15:1-14. The most telling verse is a quote from the prophet Isaiah that Jesus applies to the Pharisees in verse 9, “In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”

Now we understand that the cross of Christ has placed us under Grace. The book of Galatians clearly teaches us that the law no longer binds us. Instead, we live in a state of Grace. So, we must ask, “How does Grace impact the prescriptions for worship?” This is the question we will seek to address next week.



God’s Requirements for True Worship – March 31, 2023

Worship is to God and for God. This means that our worship must be how God requires it. From the beginning, God has informed man how we are to approach Him. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, God demonstrated to them the sacrifices that were then necessary to approach God. These sacrifices continued through Moses when God prescribed a set of laws. The first five books of our Bible testify that we cannot approach God any way we want. However, now that we are under grace in the New Covenant, has this changed? Since God does not change, the answer would be no. So how do we find out how we are to worship God? Once again, the answer is found in His Word.

Peter informs us, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:3-4). So the Word of God contains everything that we need for life and godliness. This Word contains what we need to approach (or worship) God rightly. To this end, we should consider three principles of truth in worship.

First, worship should be Biblically saturated. Throughout the Word of God, we see that when God’s people approach God in worship, they often repeat God’s words back to Him (Psalm 119:54). This is what Hannah did when she praised God in 1 Samuel 2. An examination of Hannah’s song reveals that it is saturated with Scripture.

But not only is this an example for God’s people. We also see this as a command to us today. Consider Ephesians 5:18-19 and Colossians 3:16. “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Eph 5:18-19). “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” (Col 3:16).

When we gather, we sing to one another in Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Whatever your definition of hymns and spiritual songs is, there are a couple of facts here that are beyond argument. The first is that Psalms refers to the inspired book of the Bible, Psalms, and other songs found in the Bible. We are to sing God’s Word. Second, hymns and spiritual songs imply that the rest of the songs are to be heavily spiritual (Biblical) in nature. They are to be Scripture saturated. We also see the command about what is to occupy our minds in Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

We live in an age that has relativized truth. However, truth is not fluctuating, and the truth is not relative. Truth is dogmatic. And Christ informs us that truth is found in the Word of God. In fact, beyond being found in the Word of God, the Word of God is truth itself (Jn 17:17). If we are going to worship in truth, then the Bible must saturate our worship.

Second, worship should not only be Biblically saturated, but worship must also be Biblically accurate. In 2016 Donald Trump shocked the world with his election as the president of the US. His campaign was largely successful because he tapped into the country’s mistrust of news agencies. Through his campaign, he brought the country face to face with the fact that most people do not trust the news because it often fails to be accurate.

Sadly, this downplaying of accuracy has infiltrated most of life, and the church is no exception. The Word of God is handled as though it can be used to say whatever we want. This is not a new problem. One of the final books of the Bible given to us by God addresses this very issue. “Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Pet 3:14-16). Peter states that the Scripture can sometimes be hard to understand. But that is not an excuse to fail in biblical accuracy. For note that Peter says when ignorant and unstable people twist the Scripture, they do so to their destruction. We must be accurate with the Word of God. We must handle the Word of God correctly in our worship of God.

One of the most important questions we can ask in worship is, “Is it true?” When the speaker stands behind the pulpit and presents a message, we must ask, “Is it true?” Does what the speaker says align with what the Word of God says? When we sing songs, the question is not “How does it make me feel?” but “What is it saying, and is it true?” Just because it is old or just because it is new does not make it true. Just because it is catchy and put to music you like does not make it true. We must make sure that our worship is Biblically accurate.

We come now to the final principle; our worship must be Biblically proper. Since worship is to God and for God, we cannot worship however we want. And since God has instructed us in his Word what he desires, our worship must be Biblically proper. We must then ask how God has instructed us to worship Him. What does Biblically proper worship look like? This is a massive question that we will begin to address next week.



True Worship Is for God – March 24, 2023

Everyone worships something. As Christians, we must seek to worship the right One the right way. Last week we mentioned that we must begin this discussion with two essential principles: True worship is for God and to God. This week we want to start with that first principle. We must begin with the most foundational question to understand that true worship is for God. Why do we exist? Because the world refuses to worship God, they have come up with the happy alternative that we are nothing more than accidents of evolution. There is no purpose to our existence. However, the Bible presents the truth that we were created by God and for God (Revelation 4:11).

God created us to be worshipers of Him. This is our purpose in life. This principle means we must live for God’s glory to fulfill our created purpose (this is the only way to find purpose, satisfaction, and joy). As we follow this line, it means that worship is for God. Paul brought this home to the church in Corinth, which was in the middle of a massive civil war on worship. Some expressed superiority because they believed they had the gift of tongues. Others expressed superiority because they were so loving they could overlook blatant sin. When they celebrated the Lord’s supper, they also had a massive meal with it. The rich would bring in vast amounts of food but would rush the table to ensure they got the majority. Some refused to work but claimed God called them to be counselors and would travel from house to house, taking advantage of other members. In short, this church was a mess. Paul wrote the letter of 1 Corinthians to instruct them in part on proper worship. And in it, he states that worship is all about God. At the end of chapter 10, he makes the statement, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (v. 31). With this, Paul repeats the statement he made in chapter 6, “For you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (6:20).

Since mankind’s purpose and the purpose of worship is to glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31; Rev. 4:11), corporate worship in the church should reflect this purpose. Further, corporate worship should train the church members to accomplish this purpose in their lives. The church’s worship on Sunday should inspire the individual member’s worship Monday through Saturday. To worship with God’s people on God’s Day before God’s throne under the authority of God’s Word is the solemn duty and distinct privilege of God’s people.

Where the church corporately and Christians individually have often gone astray is by falling into the thinking that worship is about us. When we hear a song on the radio that impacts us emotionally, we feel we have worshipped. When we leave a church service after singing our favorite songs and having our ears tickled with some moralistic devotional, we feel we have worshipped. On the other hand, when we sing songs that don’t do it for us, and the preacher exposits the Word, and it feels like meddling with our lives, we think, “Well, that really wasn’t very good worship today.” However, this thinking is due to faulty worship. Instead of worshipping God, we are worshipping ourselves. You see, true worship of God is not primarily about us.

As Paul opens the book of Romans, he comments on the decline of culture. As he presents an incredible argument for the total depravity of man, there is a verse tucked in there that has massive implications for worship in the church. “Because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen” (Romans 1:25). When we make worship about us (a creature) instead of about God (the creator) we are exchanging the truth of God for a lie. What is this lie? The lie is that we are worshipping God when, in reality, we are worshipping something far inferior.

The implication for the church is that worship cannot be about us. It must be about God. This is not to say that worship should never be emotionally stimulating. This is not to say we should never leave the service feeling good about ourselves and life. This is to say that if we think that good feelings are all there is to worship, we have begun to worship ourselves and exchange the truth of God for a lie.

This faulty worship was the very problem that plagued Israel just before God judged her with deportation. The problem was not that Israel was not worshipping. The problem was that Israel had made worship about themselves rather than about God. In his prophetic book, Amos informed Israel that God would judge them. He had no interest in their faulty worship. “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. 23 Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. 24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:21-24).

The prophet Amos addresses their worship and proclaims God’s hatred of it with words of burning eloquence. Amos uses the same words earlier to describe the attitude Israel should have toward evil in verse 15. He applies that word here to the things they think please the Lord. The routine observance of the Levitical ritual is empty because it was being done so that the people would feel good about themselves and direct God’s favor to them. He states that their religiosity is a mockery of true worship. Ezekiel echoes the reality that the very reason that God was going to judge Israel was for the impact of their improper worship. “And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes” (Ezekiel 36:23).

Since mankind’s created purpose is God’s glory and honor, the church’s worship and music should direct its members toward that goal. Worship is only for God. He alone is worthy of our worship. He is the most important audience at every service. The gathering of the church for worship is a picture and an anticipation of the heavenly gathering of God’s people. This means then that our worship gatherings should look distinct from the worship gatherings of the world. Our worship through music should look and feel different from the music concerts of the world. Our assembly should not resemble the athletic or rotary club assembly. The subject matters of our worship and music should honor God above all. The texts should drive the heart of the people to God. The focus of the service should be on God. Our worship should move the heart of God’s people to God’s throne. Most importantly, since worship is for God, we do not get to worship God any way we want. We must worship the right One in the right way.



Everyone Worships Something – March 17, 2023

In December 2019, there was an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal. It was an op-ed piece by Erica Komisar entitled “Don’t Believe in God? Lie to Your Children.” In the article she stated that “Nihilism [atheism] is fertilizer for anxiety and depression, and being ‘realistic’ is over-rated.” She continues on to write, “The belief in God—in a protective and guiding figure to rely on when times are tough is one of the best kinds of support for kids in an increasingly pessimistic world.” We would agree with her statement so far. Komisar’s counsel goes awry, though, when she discloses her advice for parents on how to talk about death if they don’t believe in God or life after death: “Lie. The alternative is to tell children that they will simply die and turn to dust, which is harmful for children’s ability to cope. Religion, on the other hand, will give children community, a sense of meaning, values of empathy and compassion, and will protect them from anxiety and depression. So even if there’s no God, no heaven, we should tell children there is.”

What Komisar discovered is that worship of self and humanity (which is what atheism is) is sowing the wind. What she also states, but does not seem to recognize, is that everyone worships. She acknowledges that people need something beyond themselves. Mankind inherently knows that they are incapable of coping with life on their own. As a result, everyone worships something.

It would probably be best to work through a definition of worship to help us understand this. As we talk about worship, we are referring to the innate desire of man to look to something for purpose, satisfaction, and joy, and to subsequently regard that person or thing with great or extravagant respect, honor, or devotion. As a practical outworking, worship is declaring the greatness of someone or something.

This is the fascination with sports. This is the fascination with politics. This is the fascination with alternative medicines. This is the fascination with mass consumerism. This is behind the revival of the occult in our country. This is behind every battle we face in life.

Everyone worships something. As believers in the one true God, God’s people should strive to worship the right One in the right way. Scripture clearly demonstrates that a believer’s life is all about worshiping God (Romans 12:1-2). God created all things to worship Him. Mankind stands in a particular position as God’s special creation in God’s own image. As such, man is specially designed to worship God. We need to note that this worship is best pictured when the bride of Christ, the Church of God, gathers for corporate worship. Every Sunday when we gather, we are making a very important statement to the world in who we worship, how we worship, and why we worship.

Over the past few weeks, I have had several conversations surrounding worship in the church. As a result, I want to work through this topic over the next few weeks in this letter together. Today we want to understand that everyone worships something. As Christians, we should worship the right One the right way. With this in mind, it is important that we understand two foundational principles to worship and the church that we will begin looking at next week: True worship is for God and to God. God cares how we worship and who we worship. So we must seek to worship the right One the right way.



Doing Right Through God’s Spirit – March 10, 2023

As we finish this series of letters concerning the idols of our hearts, I want to challenge us with two final steps to murdering our idols. These steps stem from Philippians 2:12-13. As we examine moving from worshipping idols to worshipping God, we must understand that this track involves two rails. If we ignore either rail, we will fail to change. One rail we can label with the title: the Holy Spirit’s power. The other rail we can label with the title: Do right. Change involves both our effort and the Holy Spirit’s power.

First, to overcome our idols, we must walk in the Spirit. Paul challenges us in Ephesians 4:30, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Paul challenges us not to grieve the Spirit. Theologically he is telling us to listen to the Spirit of God in our lives. God has given us a helper. His Spirit dwells in the believer and convicts us of sin. We must listen to this alarm. If we do not listen, we risk grieving the Spirit. What happens when we grieve the Spirit? We are told we end up with a seared conscience and no longer hear his prompting in our lives. So, listen to the Spirit. He will give you the power to topple your idol.

Finally, we overcome our idol (we overcome our sin) by doing right. We put off the sin and the idol and replace them with what is right. Notice in Colossians 3:12-17 that Paul gives us a list of actions we should be marked by. “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 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. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

This is in contrast to what we were to put off. In Ephesians 4:24-32 Paul makes it even more apparent. “And to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

You overcome sin by doing the opposite form of righteousness. How do you know when a thief is no longer a thief? Not when he stops stealing but when he starts sacrificially giving to others. This is true because the idol of self-gratification has been replaced by God.

Paul tells us that we put away falsehood by speaking the truth, we overcome sin by hating it and not giving the devil opportunity, we overcome stealing and self-gratification by self-sacrifice and giving, we overcome corrupt and sinful speech by encouraging speech and speech that builds up, and we overcome anger and conflict by kindness and love. How do you overcome your idol? How do you overcome your sin? By actively doing right. At first, it is hard (and honestly, it will always be a battle), but you regularly choose to kill your sin and idol by doing right. You choose to run from the situation, build your fences, and take the right actions.

We all struggle with idols. A significant part of overcoming them is admitting that we have them. Once we have acknowledged our idol problem, we can begin to identify them. Once we have identified them, we can start to overcome them. We overcome them by putting them off, murdering them, and with the assistance of God’s Word, God’s People, God’s Song, and God’s Spirit, we do what is right. Only then can we obey John’s challenge. “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).



Tell Yourself the Truth – March 3, 2023

I know my habit or sin will ultimately lead to problems. I have tried to overcome and cast off this idol, but I simply cannot. Over the last few weeks, we looked at the path to successfully killing our idols. We concluded last week with the observation that our idols lie to us. As a result, we must speak the Truth to ourselves.

Often, we do not overcome our idols, and we do not overcome sin because we listen to ourselves instead of talking to ourselves. We listen as our flesh states that we need those idols and sins. We listen as our flesh tells us that we do not have the power to overcome these idols. But we do have the power and ability. So, Paul challenged us to talk to ourselves. 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 (Colossians 3:16). In this text, Paul gives us three ways we are to walk in the spirit. Three ways we are to speak Truth to ourselves.

First, Paul tells us to let Christ’s Word dwell in us richly. We are to speak the Word. The Word is the power for life change. So, we are to let the Bible dwell in us. This insinuates consistent reading, memorizing, and meditating on Scripture. If we ignore the Word, we cannot overcome our idols. We cannot overcome sin if we fail to spend time in the Word. As a result, Paul challenges us to let it dwell in us richly. The Word is to be overabundant in our lives. Letting the Word dwell richly in us is like sitting at a buffet and going all in. When we let the Word dwell in us richly, it is more than reading a few verses out of duty. It is more than trying to get our God stuff out of the way for the day. It is something that characterizes who we are. We ooze the Word. You cannot grow, and you cannot overcome your idol without God’s Word.

Second, we speak the Truth to ourselves through God’s people. Paul continues in Colossians 3:16 that we are to teach and admonish one another. God did not design the Christian life to be a solo sport. God does not intend for you to do this Christian life alone. God created this institution called the church for a reason. One of the reasons God created the church was for our mutual spiritual growth. We are to look out for one another. As a result, one of the ways that we overcome sin and idols is through the sanctifying work of the body of Christ. What does this look like? It means we edify one another daily. We speak to each other throughout the week. In these conversations, we challenge one another to overcome our sins. We ask how each other is doing in our fight against sin. We encourage one another with what God has taught us in His Word. We speak the Truth to one another.

Cambria Baptist Church is not a social club. This church is the visible body of Christ where we gather and scatter to exhort one another to overcome sin and idols and declare God’s glory to all people. You cannot overcome sin or your idol if this church body is not your priority. You will always struggle with idols when you separate your church life from the rest of your life.

Third, Paul informs us in Colossians 3:16 that we are to speak Truth through song. This means several things to us. First, it means that our singing is essential. When we sing as a congregation, it is not simply a duty we perform. We are singing to one another. Therefore, it is not dependent on your ability, nor is it not dependent on your mood. You are responsible to the rest of this body to sing for all you are worth.

Second, it means that what we sing is important. God’s Truth must mark our songs. They must mean something. The Truth that they proclaim must be clear. They cannot be surface or trite. And if they are theologically deep, I must think about them. I cannot disengage my mind and go through the motions because singing is not my thing. Here is the reality, it better become your thing because you will do it all eternity.

Third, it means that we sing corporately. This is why I am passionate about our congregational singing. We do not come to church to be entertained. We come to church to participate. So, we sing! We sing heartily. We sing loudly. And we sing passionately because we sing for God and one another. My Christian duty as a member of God’s church is to sing passionately to you as a congregation.

Speaking Truth to ourselves through God’s song also has some ramifications about what you listen to in your own time. You will struggle with sin and idols if you engage in a steady diet of this world’s music. Nothing is redeeming about the music of the popular culture. There is nothing about it that will make you more like Christ. Nothing is worthwhile, from the philosophies behind the songs to the emotional concepts driving the songs, to the lyrics, and to the performers’ lifestyles. And if you engage in a steady diet of it, you will struggle. Fill your heart with God’s songs: true songs that challenge you to live Truth (not just songs that make you feel an emotional high). Fill your mind with theologically deep songs and Scripture-saturated. When we fill our minds with these things, we begin to think like Christ.

There are two more important aspects to overcoming our indwelling sin and idols of our hearts. We will conclude this topic with these aspects next week. In the meantime, speak the Truth to yourself this week through God’s Word, people, and song.