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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 8am & 1045am Svc, 2012-06-24

Text: Matthew 15:7-9

I would like you to consider something quite fundamental this morning - this weekly activity called the worship service, which we are involved in right now. What do you understand of it? When I was a child, I did not understand what the worship service was all about. My parents brought me to church every Sunday and I enjoyed attending Sunday School. But after that I had to sit with my parents right through a worship service and frankly I thought it was quite boring. I was not interested in it and always looked forward to the closing hymn. In fact I must confess that there was a time I really dreaded weekends because it meant having to sit through another worship service. 

But as I grew up and began to know God personally in my teenage years, I turned to Jesus Christ and asked Him to be my Lord and Saviour. Then I began to understand the significance of the elements of the worship service and appreciated them. Worship became something real, tangible and meaningful to me. I looked forward to each Sunday Worship Service - and saw it as a time of spiritual refreshment and blessing. 

That is what this weekly activity should be to all of us. My objective for this sermon is that all of us may discover the real experience of worshipping God in our Sunday worship service, and that worship will become such an essential part of our life, that we will look forward with anticipation to attending worship services. It is my fervent prayer that the Lord will convict all of us of this through His Word and through the Holy Spirit working in our hearts.

I. What is Worship?

First of all, let us consider the part of verse 9 in our text where God says, 'In vain they do worship me' This tells us what worship is not. Not all that men call worship is true worship. Here are some examples. Worship is not-

1. A Show or Performance - It is most unfortunate that in many churches today worship has degenerated into entertainment - with special lighting, magic, effects, music and anything that will keep people coming. That is the whole idea - to keep them coming! In one megachurch in Texas that draws crowds of 15,000 there is always something new every weekend. On one Sunday the pastor drove a Ferarri on stage. On another Sunday he made a cup of coffee with an espresso machine while he was preaching 'The Parable of the Coffee.' This is not worship, but a show or a performance. Worship is also not-

2. A Religious Ceremony or Ritual - Where every prayer and response is read from a prepared script mechanically, as if the mere recitation of certain words and going through certain prescribed motions have some magical power in themselves to bring blessing. Worship is not about going through the same routine Sunday after Sunday. Worship also not-

3. A Party or Celebration - Where people can shout, dance, sing, enjoy themselves, and do whatever they like. People attend parties because they want to have a good time of fun for themselves and get a nice, high feeling. That is not worship. Worship is also not-

4. A Lesson or Lecture - There are lots of benefits of attending a Christian lecture, talk, seminar or workshop on the Bible. But our Sunday worship is not the same as these things. They feed the mind, while the worship service feeds the soul. Having seen what worship is not, let us go on to see-

B. What Worship is:

Look at v.8 and you will see the words 'honoureth me'. This is what worship is all about. It is honour that is paid to God. It means 'to give homage, honour, reverence, respect, adoration, praise or glory to a superior being who is none other than God.' The essence of worship is not getting but giving - giving honour and respect to God. So, if you have been attending church for what you can get for yourself out of it then you've missed it! This is not worship at all, but religious consumerism. Whenever we gather together like this on the Lord's Day, our focus is to be on giving to Him, not on getting from Him. Worship comes from a consuming desire of our heart to give to God, and it involves the giving of ourselves, the giving of our thoughts, and the giving of our possessions to God.

II. How is Worship Expressed?

Here is a statement that is going to shock some of you: Our Christian faith is not a religion. It is a relationship - a relationship between God and His people. And we must get used to thinking of it that way. There are some basic requirements for any close relationship. Let us consider how this applies to a human relationship that all of us are familiar with: A relationship between close friends:

1. Good feelings for each other. A person will always have good feelings toward his close friend, because this friend has found much worth and favour in his eyes.

2. A desire each other's company. Close friends always like to be together. They enjoy seeing and hearing each other. And even if they are very busy people, they deliberately make time for each other.

3. How mistakes and offences are handled. When something threatens to break their friendship there is sorrow and regret. And there is an earnest hope of a complete restoration of the relationship to what it was before. They have already gone through so much together and do not want to let anything disrupt their relationship. Restoration happens when one of them own's up for his mistakes and a sincere apology is made.

4. Mutual help and support. Close friends love to help and support each other. When you are in trouble, you can depend confidently on your close friend to back you up to the limit, and you will express appreciation and gratitude to him for doing so.

5. Openness or transparency. When close friends get together they open their hearts to each other without any reserve. They can talk freely about their hopes, plans and prospects. They are most willing to share their innermost feelings knowing that they will not be misunderstood or misjudged by each other.

How do all of these apply to worship? I would like to suggest that everything we do in worship results from having an intimate relationship with God. You will notice in v.8 of our text the words 'draweth nigh unto me.' Doesn't this indicate a sense of nearness and closeness with God? Thus, the same requirements in a close relationship will also be found in a worshipper's relationship with God:

1. A worshiper always has good feelings toward God. He wants to praise Him because God has great worth in his eyes. Therefore he praises God by singing songs of praise called hymns.

2. A worshipper desires to commune with God. He enjoys being in God's presence. No matter how busy he is, he always makes time to come and hear what God says to him in His Word. Therefore worship includes the reading of the Scriptures, and a clear exposition of God's Word in the sermon. 

3. A worshipper feels a sense of sorrow and regret whenever he offends God - whenever sin threatens to break the good fellowship he enjoys with God. Therefore he will seek to restore fellowship by bringing the sin out into the open before God. This is what confessing of sin is all about.

4. A worshipper wants to help and support God's work, while he is also confident that God will help and support him. And when God helps him, he will express his thanks to Him, with a gift. This is what the collection of the offering is all about - an expression of thanksgiving and of our desire to support the Lord's work.

5. A worshipper opens his heart to God without reserve. He does not hide anything from Him but wants to be fully known by God. Therefore he freely expresses his innermost thoughts and feelings to God in prayer.

Thus we can see that our worship of God includes everything that results from the intimate relationship we have entered into with God. That is why our worship service naturally includes elements like: the Singing hymns of praises to God, Hearing God's Word preached, Confession of sin, Giving of Tithes and Offerings and Prayer. 

And this means that without having a close personal relationship with God, all these things are nothing but a form - an empty, meaningless form. Dearly beloved, do you have a close relationship with God? If you don't, please make sure that you begin right now! How? By seeking Him through Jesus Christ who is the way, the truth and the life. Ask Jesus to be your Lord and Saviour and commit yourself to obey Him fully.

III. Why Must We Have Corporate Worship? 

A. Nothing Can Substitute for Corporate Worship

1. Personal Quiet Time.

So far, all that we have been talking about is our close relationship with God. But if that is all that worship is all about, then I may as well do it alone in the privacy of my own home, where I won't be distracted by the presence of other people. Will I not be able to worship God better in my own personal devotion or Quiet Time? I trust that all of us here have been taught the value of spending time each day in a private personal time of worship or Quiet Time, a time when we read God's Word and pray usually at the beginning or the end of the day. This daily habit is most vital for your spiritual growth.

But as important as a daily personal time of worship is for everyone of us, this cannot be a substitute for the corporate worship that is found in the church worship services every Sunday. 

2. Fellowship Group Meetings

Others have tried to substitute attending worship services with just attending a fellowship meeting on Saturday afternoon (e.g. LTF, YF and YAF). After all isn't the fellowship group meeting also a kind of mini worship service, with the singing of hymns, a message and prayer? Well, fellowship group meetings do play an important role in providing a good environment for interaction, mutual encouragement, service and spiritual growth, with those of the same age group. But they still lack the full depth and dimension of worship that is found only in the Sunday worship service.

3. Worship Services on TV or the Internet

But someone may say, 'If that is the case, can I not just watch a video recording of the Sunday worship service at home? Does this not achieve the same thing?' In some countries one can just stay at home on Sundays and tune in to a live worship service on TV or access live video-streaming of one from the Internet. These recordings and transmitted services can help to meet an important need - they cater to those who are unable to attend church because of physical illness, hospitalization or disability. They also cater to those who travel overseas to a country where there is no suitable English-speaking church to attend on Sunday. But they can never be a substitute for actually being present and participating with God's people in a church worship service. Something vitally important is still missing from them.

B. Corporate Worship Glorifies God in a Very Special Way

Nothing can serve as a substitute for attending Sunday worship service in church. And this is primarily because the worship service glorifies God in a very special way. It is a replica of the kind of worship that God receives in Heaven. The worship service is meant to provide us with a foretaste or glimpse of how God's people will be worshipping God in heaven forever. To see this, please read Revelation 7:9-12 and try to imagine for a moment that you are right there. In this wonderful vision, John the apostle saw 'a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues,' standing before Christ and worshipping Him with all the angels of heaven (v.9). And with one accord, every one of them lifted up their voices together and said, 'Blessing and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God forever and ever. Amen.' (v.12)

Can you see how greatly exalted the name of our Lord Jesus will be, when all creatures both great and small unite their hearts together to give all glory and praise to Him? Here in the Scriptures, the Lord has given us a glimpse of this glorious event, so that we may be inspired in our own present experience of worshipping Him together. The corporate worship that we have here is only a foretaste of it. It is like the appetizer at a dinner which whets your appetite for the main course - heavenly worship! 

And if you truly love the Lord Jesus Christ, your response to each Sunday worship would be: 'How I wish I could be there right now, to join in that great unified exaltation of my Lord Jesus. And how I wish for many more to join in to make His worship even more glorious.' As one hymn-writer expressed: 'O for a thousand tongues to sing my Great Redeemer's praise, the glories of My God and King, the triumphs of His grace.' The corporate worship that we have here every Lord's Day is a part of the ultimate plan of God, that all who have been saved and all His creatures, will give unified praise to His name. It is the unity of our combined worship that brings glory to God in a very unique and special way.

Therefore you must make it a point never to miss any Sunday worship service in church. You and I have the privilege to be part of it. Your very presence at this worship service is a testimony to the world. By taking the time and trouble to be here every Sunday to participate in the worship service, you are proclaiming to the world that our God alone is worthy to receive such special honour and glory. 

Earlier this month the people of Britain celebrated the diamond jubilee of their queen. Thousands of people gathered at Buckingham palace and the River Thames just to honour Queen Elizabeth II for the 60 years of glorious reign they have enjoyed under her. If people are willing to honour an earthly monarch like that, how much more should we honour our King of kings and Lord of lords who reigns forever!

Thus we have seen two reasons for us to take our Sunday worship service more seriously - Firstly, nothing can be a substitute for it, and secondly, it glorifies God in a very special way. This is the first step toward having a meaningful and real experience of worshipping God in our worship service.

IV. What Worship Will God Accept?

But there is something very important that we need to know about worship services like these. And that is, that God is not impressed just with great numbers of people praising Him. That is not all that He sees. God looks at our heart. As He says in verse 8 of our text, 'This people draweth nigh unto Me with their mouth and honoureth Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.' This clearly means that we should draw nigh to God with our heart and honour Him with our heart. God alone sees our heart. He knows whether we are as sincere in our worship as we claim to be. This Sanctuary may be packed above and below right to the doors with people, and yet very few may actually be giving God worship from their hearts. Most of us may have our minds elsewhere and our hearts are not here in the worship service at all. 

If this characterizes our worship service, then it becomes nothing more than just a mere form or pretense of worship, and the Lord is not glorified by it at all. Worship is not just a matter of going to a certain place on a certain day and just going through a certain routine of offering something to a certain god. If we do this, we become hypocrites just like the scribes and Pharisees Jesus rebuked in our text. We end up displeasing God instead of pleasing Him with our worship. In order to offer worship that is acceptable to God we must fulfill three conditions in our worship. If any of these three conditions are not met, our worship will become unacceptable to God. The first condition is that we must have:

A. The Right Object

Only the Living and True God must be worshipped. We all know that the worship of false gods is unacceptable (1st commandment). But how do we know what false gods are? Listen to this: Any concept of God which is different from what He has revealed in His Word is a false god. The God who has revealed Himself to us in the Bible is the one we should worship. Therefore if we were to formulate our own ideas about God, or borrow ideas about God from elsewhere, and worship Him with those ideas, then we are not worshipping the living and true God any more. The second condition is that worship must be made in:

B. The Right Manner

God will not accept our worship if it is offered in the wrong way. We cannot create or invent our own forms of worship, and think that God will accept it. As God says in v.9, 'In vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.' E.g. in some churches the leader will say, 'Let us give God a clap offering.' And then the whole congregation will break out into loud applause. 

This is not biblical (Though some think that it is mentioned in Psalm 47:1 but the context of that psalm is not praise at all but exultation over the defeated enemies of Israel.) Clap offerings are a man-made innovation which is borrowed from the world of entertainment where applause is customary after a performance by a skilled entertainer. But God is not an entertainer who performs for our pleasure!

Worship cannot be treated as something where 'anything goes.' For instance, can a former Taoist who has become a Christian worship God by burning joss sticks and joss paper, and say that he is now using these to worship the Lord? The answer is obviously, No. God must always be worshipped the way that He wants to be worshipped. We are not at liberty to add whatever we like to worship in order to make it more appealing to ourselves or others. Now we come to the third condition that must be met for worship to be acceptable to God:

C. The Right Attitude 

Of all the three conditions, I think that this is the one that hits us the hardest. Very few of us deliberately choose to worship a false god. And most of us don't invent our own ways to worship God. We try our best to worship Him according to the Scripture. But the question each of us needs to ask is: Do I have the right attitude? If I don't, it also makes my worship unacceptable to God. 

1. Unacceptable Attitudes for worship

To some people, worship is something they want to get over with in the quickest time and with the least amount of trouble and expense. They just want to fulfill the barest minimum that is required to let them get by with God. What about your worship? Is it something you want to achieve with the least amount of time and effort? Do you give the best of all you have, or the least? 

Jesus spoke against the wrong attitudes of worship in our text 'This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.' (vv.8,9) These people were merely going through the motions of worship. It was strictly a routine, to them. And while they seemed to be worshipping God outwardly, their thoughts and feelings were somewhere else. Their hearts were far from God. What about your worship? Is your heart in it? Is worship merely a routine or a form to you? Now that we have looked at the attitudes that are unacceptable, we must go on to see what attitudes for worship are acceptable:

2. Acceptable Attitudes for worship:

a. Reverence and Godly Fear

Hebrews 12:28 'Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve [worship] God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:' What is reverence? It is a sense of the sacred presence of God and of one's dependence upon Him. And why should we have godly fear? Because if you perceive God as being utterly holy and awesome, you will in turn perceive yourself as being utterly unholy. The true spirit of worship is an overwhelming sense of one's unholiness in the presence of a holy God. Do you remember how Isaiah responded when He saw the Lord in all His glory lifted up in the Temple? 'Woe is me, for I am undone!' (Isaiah 6:5)

But there are some who do not have such a sense of reverence in worship. They talk and eat during the service. They slouch in the pews or send SMSes to one another. Is this the way to conduct ourselves when we come before God? Let us understand that God is a consuming fire! He has a holy indignation against sin. We cannot enter flippantly and irreverently into His presence and treat Him on equal terms as if He is our our 'buddy'. But when we come before God with the attitude of reverence and godly fear there can be a wonderful sense of communion and fellowship with God. This leads us to the next point:

b. Love For God

In Psalm 84:1,2,10 the psalmist says 'How amiable are thy tabernacles, O LORD of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God. For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.' Look at the words the psalmist uses to speak of his desire to commune with God: 'My soul longeth', 'fainteth' 'my flesh crieth out'. To him the privilege of spending just one day in God's presence is better than spending a thousand days anywhere else. Why? Because he loves God! Let us grow in our love for the Lord and for the things of God. And let us cultivate an attitude of

c. Thanksgiving

Psalm 100:4 says, 'Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise: be thankful unto Him, and bless His name.' We must always worship God with a thankful attitude for all the grace and mercy that He has bestowed upon us. Remember that we never deserved any of the many wonderful blessings that we have received from Him. Let us always come before Him with thankful hearts.

I trust that you have learned some useful things today that you will always cherish in your heart, and that will help to transform your worship from now on. Worshipping God is the most sublime activity that human souls can ever participate in. Let your experience of worship be full of meaning and purpose. Please do not ever regard this as a waste of your precious time. Do not just come here because you have to come. Do not sing or pray here just to follow what everyone else is doing. You must understand what worship is all about. Come for worship with a heart and mind that is prepared to worship and then engage your heart and mind and whole being fully in the service.

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