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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10.30am service, 2002-09-01

Text: Leviticus 10:1-7; 1 Corinthians 14:40

Introduction:

A. Why This Must Be Considered

This morning we we will consider the proper conduct of a worship service. You may want to know the reason for having a topic like this. It is because of the situation that has developed in Christendom today, where anything and everything has become permissible in worship service. That includes the use of contemporary music, light and sound effects that are becoming more sensational and at times even bizarre In July this year an article appeared in the Sunday Times about 3 fast growing churches in Singapore that use loud and lively music, and even magic shows. 

The scene in such a service is sometimes no different from a secular variety show. The audience is hyped up to a great frenzy by worship leaders who go at break-neck speed. They are encouraged to participate by giving clap offerings to God, and by performing all kinds of extraordinary gyrations to prove how much they love the Lord Jesus. Now the sad thing is that these trends are gradually coming into many conservative churches as well. New things are introduced often with the reason that the existing worship is deemed to be too outdated, old-fashioned, somber and boring. It is claimed that the service is simply not 'user friendly' enough, and does not appeal to the new generation.

And the so-called church growth experts advocate that the main problem why churches are not growing is that there is nothing in our worship service that attracts people to the worship service. One must create a lively mood of celebration that will give people a high thrilling sensation so they they will keep coming back for more and bring their friends along. This is guaranteed to boost the church attendance very quickly. And this is precisely why we need to deal with this topic of the proper conduct of a worship service: Because the temptation to follow the trend is so great today. 

If we are not careful we too will get caught up with the trend to increase our attendance by delivering an emotionally charged and thrilling experience to worshippers. This has become the main objective of all contemporary worship. But the question we need to ask is, 'What should be the main objective of our worship?' What is worship primarily supposed to achieve? Doesn't it have to do with the One we are worshipping? Isn't worship meant to bring the most pleasure and glory to the Lord rather than to the worshippers? 

B. What Is Worship?

The word 'Worship' itself is an English word which is derived from the word, 'worth' with the suffix, 'ship'. To worship therefore means to ascribe worth to someone. In the Christian context, we apply this to God. We gather to ascribe great worth to God, much like the worship God receives in heaven (cf. Revelation 4:11; 5:12). In fact, our worship service is supposed to be a replica of the kind of worship that God receives in Heaven. It thus provides us with a foretaste or glimpse of how true believers will be worshipping God in heaven forever. Besides that, worship is also meant to bring a sense of solidarity or unity in the body of Christ. We notice that the heavenly worship is corporate, with multitudes of saints and angels of all tribes, tongues and nations in full agreement. Hence worship fosters an attitude of reconciliation between brethren. 

Because of the importance of worship, the scriptures are dominated with worship and it is mentioned in hundreds of passages. Genesis 4:26 tells us 'then began men to call upon the name of the LORD.' In Exodus 15 the Israelites praised and worshipped God for delivering them from Egypt. Corporate worship can also be seen at Mt Sinai, at the Tabernacle, in the book of Psalms and at the dedication of the rebuilt walls of Jerusalem by Ezra and Nehemiah.

These passages reveal that God not only wants our worship, but He wants us to worship Him according to His accepted way. E.g. When the Israelites were on their way to the promised land, they were warned not to borrow any of the worship practices of the Canaanites and adapt it for their worship of the Lord. This warning is found in Deuteronomy 12:29,30 'When the LORD thy God shall cut off the nations from before thee, whither thou goest to possess them, and thou succeedest them, and dwellest in their land; Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise.'

When the Israelites committed the sin of golden calf worship at Mount Sinai that brought God's great wrath upon them, they were actually not attempting to worship a different god. A careful study of the text in Exodus 32 reveals that they wanted to worship the same God - the same Lord who had brought them out of Egypt - but with their own devised methods. One may say that they had the right intention - to render to God the worship He deserves. The problem was in the manner of worship, which was not from God. 

And God had given Israel specific laws on the manner of worship. And one particular incident hammered home the message that the manner of worship is of utmost importance is the one describing how two priests were slain when they attempted to offer incense to God. Nadab and Abihu had the privilege of being among the first priests of Israel, but they did something during worship, which caused their own deaths! This incident is described in our text, Leviticus 10:1-7. This passage provides us with the first two guidelines for the proper conduct of a worship service: 

II. Guidelines for The Proper Conduct of Worship

A. The Worship Service Must Reflect God's Holiness 

The first thing we ask in this incident of Nadab and Abihu is: what did they do wrong? Some commentators suggest that it was the procedure they used for offering the incense offered that was wrong, e.g. taking the fire from the wrong place (cf. 16:12). Others believe that the incense they offered at that point was not part of the procedure i.e. wrong timing. In either case, it is clear from the context that the two priests had violated God's holiness by somehow deviating from the divinely prescribed form of worship, a deviation that did not sanctify God. This was the main reason for their immediate death. This is stated in the first part of v.3 'Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the LORD spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh Me' 

The principle that is given for worship through this incident still holds today, namely that God must be sanctified in them that come nigh to Him. To sanctify means to treat as holy - those who approach God in worship must approach Him in such a manner that reflects His Holiness. 

This principle is also given in the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 11 the Corinthian believers had been conducting their Lord's Supper in an improper and unsanctified manner. Listen to what the apostle said about their manner (vv.20-22) 'When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not. In order to show His displeasure on this improper, unsanctified manner of taking the Lord's Supper, God caused many members of the church to become physically weak and sick, and some even died! 

V.30 'For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.' ('sleep' here is a euphemism for death.) Let us remembers this even today as we partake of the Lord's Supper! We must conduct our worship in a proper manner, and that is, in a manner that is worthy of God, a manner that sanctifies Him and reflects His holiness. This is the divine requirement in worship. So let us carefully examine the manner in which we worship our Holy God here every Sunday. Does our manner of worship reflect the holiness of God? 

Someone may ask: Why does God value His holiness so highly? This is so because the holiness of God is the very essence of His moral character. It is the attribute above all other attributes that God has. We know this because God used the title 'The holy one of Israel' no less that 40 times, and because the angels in heaven praise Him saying 'Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty.' (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8) This is the attribute of God that is most praised by all the angels. The psalmist tells us to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness (1 Chron 16:29, Psalm 29:2; and Psalm 96:9.). Why is beauty associated with God's holiness? Because it is this attribute that makes God most attractive and lovely to those who love Him. 

Our worship service must therefore enable worshippers to sense as fully as they can on this earth, the holiness of God. It must be conducted in such a way as to promote a reverent fear of the Lord among worshippers. Our experience in the worship service should be like that of Isaiah who, when he beheld the holy God, was moved to say: 'Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.' (Isaiah 6:5) Or like that of the apostle John who joined the heavenly throng to fall down in humble adoration in order to worship the Lord (Revelation 4:10; 5:8,14; 19:4; 22:8-9). The most important thing to remember in conducting a worship service is therefore to maintain an atmosphere of reverence and sanctity in the worship service. 

Let us now go on now to look at the last part of Leviticus 10:3 to find another important guideline for conducting a worship service: 'and before all the people I will be glorified.' This guideline is that: 

B. The Worship Service Must Glorify God Alone (v.3b) 

Perhaps what provoked the Lord to make this statement is that the act of Nadab and Abihu in offering incense had in some way robbed God of His glory. Perhaps Leviticus 9:23 will give us a clue 'And Moses and Aaron went into the tabernacle of the congregation, and came out, and blessed the people: and the glory of the LORD appeared unto all the people.' The two young priests may have watched what happened when their father, Aaron and their uncle, Moses emerged from the Tabernacle - the glory of the Lord appeared to the people. What a privilege it was for Aaron and Moses to have entered the Tabernacle and come out with God's glory radiating around them. 

Perhaps when Nadab and Abihu saw this, they coveted a share in this glory and so they tried to enter the Tabernacle to offer incense. How nice it would be for them, if they also came out from God's presence with His glory radiating around them! But such a thing would amount to taking advantage of God's glory to gain glory for oneself - i.e. robbing God of His glory. 

Therefore let us remember that in any worship, God alone should receive all the glory. No man should attempt to glean even a little bit of that glory for himself. Any worship that takes away glory from God is therefore not acceptable. For example, if a worship leader is out to impress people with his fine singing or praying, or if a preacher is out to amaze people with his eloquent rhetoric abilities, let him be aware that he is dangerously drawing unecesarry attention to himself, and thus robbing God of His glory.

Let us therefore remember this principle: The worship service is not a 'performance'. It is not a place for people to exhibit their talents and abilities or even their piety. Let everyone who participates in the worship service do everything unto the Lord, not unto men. If we play the piano or organ it is for the Lord to hear; if we sing - God is our listener. And if we sing a special song item as a choir or as a soloist, the words are meant to edify the congregation, but the item itself is offered to the Lord - to seek His pleasure and approval. 

No applause is to be given - God is the only one who should give the applause! Let us never be hopeful that people will come up to us after the service and make us happy by saying 'What a fine singer you are' or 'That was wonderful praying or wonderful preaching' 'I loved your piano playing' If you feel disappointed because no one commended you or even noticed your part in the service, then beware - because you may not be seeking God's glory but your own! 

The worship service is also not the place for worshippers to seek for their own pleasure. For some people the primary aim of worship is to get a nice tingling sensation, or what they call, to get a wonderful 'touch from the Lord'. When we gather together to worship the Lord, our focus is to be giving to Him, not getting from Him. Worship is an all-consuming desire to give to God, and it involves the giving of ourselves, our heart attitudes and our possessions.

Although the psalmist tells us that in God's presence is fullness of joy and at His right hand there are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11) let us remember to seek the Giver rather than the gift. The Lord is the end or object of worship itself, and not a means to an end. The whole worship service must be directed to seek to glorify God and bring Him maximum pleasure and glory we can bring to Him. And in order to do that, the worship service must be done in an orderly and dignified manner. This brings us to the third guideline: 

C. The Worship Service Must Be Orderly And Yet Vibrant.

God is not glorified by chaos or confusion, but by order and beauty. The worship service should not be like a rowdy party or free-for-all meeting where people can do whatever they like, any time they like. This is why Paul said concerning church worship, 'Let all things be done decently and in order' (1 Corinthians 14:40). For this reason we follow an Order of Worship. Where the various parts of the worship are arranged in a specific sequence that flows smoothly from the opening hymn to the benediction. And only those elements of worship mentioned in the Bible can be allowed into the order of worship: Prayer and thanksgiving in the name of Christ (Philippians 4:6; Ephesians 5:20); The reading, preaching, and hearing of the word (Matthew 28:20; 1 Timothy 4:13); The administration and receiving of the sacraments (Matthew 28:19; Acts 20:7); Singing (Psalm 149:1; Colossians 3:16); Offering Gifts (1 Corinthians 16:2). 

This order of worship that we use is actually quite similar to what the Jews use in their synagogue worship. They also have the same elements - prayer, singing, reading and preaching of the word, ending with a benediction by the rabbi. And it is interesting to note that this order of worship in synagogues was in existence right from the time of Christ! In fact the Bible tells us that our Lord Jesus faithfully participated in the synagogue worship every Sabbath day. Many times He would read and preach God's Word during the service (e.g. Luke 4:16-20). From this we see our Lord's implicit approval on having an order or worship. 

There are some churches that are opposed to having a fixed order of worship. Some may feel that a predictable order will soon become monotonous or stereotyped. But the worship service can still be made vibrant and inspiring within the set order. This depends on how well the chairman, organist, pianist, preacher and congregation prepare themselves for the worship service. 

Each item in the order of service must not be regarded just as an item to get over with until the end is reached. Sometimes there is a tendency to regard everything that comes before the message as just some necessary preliminaries to get over with and that the message is the real thing they have come for. Actually every part of the worship service is important and should be conducted and regarded with as much effort and concentration as listening to the message. Let us put our heart into all parts of the service. Do not regard them as religious ritual - as if the mere act of reciting verses or singing words and going through the movements have some inherent magical power to bless us.

Remember how Jesus rebuked the Jews - 'This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.' (Matthew 15:8) We must seek to worship God in Spirit and In Truth (John 4:11). In order to do this, we should all come at least 10 minutes early to spend time to prepare ourselves for worship, to 'tune in' to the Lord's frequency, so to speak and 'tune out' all worldly and selfish thoughts. Before the service begins meditate on the words of Habakkuk 2:20 'The Lord is in His Holy Temple - let all the earth keep silence before Him!' From the moment the service begins, engage your heart and mind fully in what ever is going on in the worship service. Participate in everything: the Call to Worship, the Opening Hymn, The Invocation and Gloria patri and so on. How should we participate? 

Just remember three simple steps: First, Listen attentively to every word that is said, from beginning to end, then understand and meditate on it, and finally respond to it appropriately from your heart. And do not allow your mind to wander away, but keep focusing your thoughts on the worship. When you sing hymns, pay full attention to the words. Sometimes the Lord may speak to your heart through the particularly verse or hymn that was chosen for the service. Therefore be sensitive and receptive - do not miss anything! 

Since such participation requires intense concentration, no one should be talking, eating, or walking up and down the aisles during the service. That is why latecoming is not good - it disturbs the worshippers who are already there when they see people still walking in to the church and trying to find a seat. Children - should sit quietly, or if not able to keep quiet - be with other children in a separate cry room. All these can be very distracting and make it hard for members to fully concentrate on worshipping God. In all this, we must always maintain an atmosphere of sanctity in the worship service - this is so important to help the congregation to focus their thoughts fully on the Lord. Distractions are one of the greatest enemies of worship and must be minimized wherever possible!

The ultimate aim of all our efforts to conduct the worship service properly is to help bring ourselves to glorify God and to respond to God with all our hearts, soul, mind and strength. We have seen three important guidelines for conducting our worship service: 1. The Worship Service Must Reflect God's Holiness, 2. The Worship Service Must Glorify God Alone and 3. The Worship Service Must Be Orderly and Yet Vibrant. Let us do all we can to follow these guidelines so that our worship services will always accomplish these things!

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25