Thomas E. Tyson
Worship—what is it? The word comes from the old English worthship. So, it has something to do with ascribing worth to someone or something.
The pressing question, therefore, seems to be: “Who’s giving it and who’s getting it?” Most people would reply without hesitation, “Why, we’re giving it to God!—what else could it be?” And that’s the correct answer, of course.
Still, it is somewhat perplexing to me that some of these same folks seem to be trapped in an entertainment mode when it comes to public worship services. They act as though the minister were the participant and they were the audience. They judge his performance, and they expect to “get something out of the worship service.” Kind of like going to the opera.
But if the worship service is the congregation ascribing worth to God, then things must be viewed in a radically different manner, don’t you think? Actually, the congregation is (collectively) the participant, and God is the audience. True, there is “audience participation” in that God is active when he is worshiped—he speaks! But he, not the congregation, is truly the audience. And the congregation, not the minister, is truly the performer.
Worship is making God look good. You may call it adoration if you’d like, but that’s what it is really. And when a congregation loses such a perspective, it loses something very important. It will not be interested in exulting before God anymore, and it will affect an increasingly critical slant respecting the pastor’s “pulpit manner.”
What many churches need is a bigger view. Small churches can have, nevertheless, a big view of worship. And it is possible to be a very large church and still have a minuscule view of worship. It all depends upon what you think you are actually doing when you assemble for a public worship service.
To gain that big view all one need do is read Revelation 4 and 5. There the (big) church of the ages worships God in humble adoration because he is the Savior-king, and worthy of all praise. It’s all summed up in these closing words of chapter 5: “the elders fell down and worshiped.”
Of course, those words must not be wrenched from their context. John’s Apocalypse is God’s message for a persecuted church. Has that church problems? Yes? Well, then it needs to pay attention to the object of its vision. Perhaps it is focused on earth exclusively. If so, it will continue to see only the problems. What it needs is a view of the Prince of the kings of the earth with his white head and hair, blazing eyes, bronze feet, overpowering voice, sword-like tongue and brilliantly shining face! It needs to watch him move among his candlesticks.
And it needs to fall down and worship. Not to get anything at all from him. Rather, to give him his worth.
It was the 24 elders who worshiped. They are the whole church of God. There are 24 of them because there were 12 tribes of Israel and 12 apostles of Jesus, and there is one church of all time. These elders are “dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads” (4:4). That is, they are perfect and victorious in Jesus their Savior.
Still, they “lay their crowns before the throne and say: ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power’” (4:10, 11). They give worship, and God gets it.
They fell down and worshiped. They weren’t knocked down, like those who came to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he answered their request for identification with the words “l AM (he).”
These elders voluntarily submit. They fall down in humble adoration. Even the angels (who are sinless) do that. All the more, the elders!
What creates reverence? Not a Crystal Cathedral. Not a sign above the entrance to your “sanctuary” announcing: “This is the House of God—let all entering keep silence.” What creates reverence is gaining the view John had.
They did it when the Lamb took the book and began to open its seals. Jesus reveals and fulfills God’s comprehensive plan for the salvation of the church. The church is able to worship because of Jesus. You can enter a worship facility whether or not you belong to Jesus, but you cannot worship unless you belong to Jesus. The 24 elders could only worship because of the worthy Lamb, slain. He didn’t simply die—he was slain. God’s hand struck him down. Worship is the fruit of the root God planted when he punished Jesus instead of those elders.
They worshiped. I find it curious that whereas that word is common in the Gospels, Acts and Revelation, it is almost totally absent in the New Testament epistles. What is common to those former books? Isn’t it that in them Jesus is active personally? Does worship obtain its full reality only when the Lord Jesus Christ is personally present? I cannot say. But I do know that Jesus’ church worships him when, by his Spirit, he is with her today. In public worship believers anticipate the worship that is heaven.
Sometimes when they talk about worship services, folks speak of “not being blessed,” of “not getting much out of it,” or of “not having my needs met.” What do you do in church, anyway? Do you begin now to sing eternity’s song, together with the 24 elders?
Church of Jesus, when you worship, exult! True, my computer’s spell-checker doesn’t even know the word! It’s a good one, though. It’s very close to boast. Worship is boasting. Not in yourself, of course! It’s boasting in God—making him look good. True and acceptable worship in God’s sight is the fruit of his saving activity in the hearts and lives of his people.
Worship is God praising God through me!
Don’t get anything out of the worship service. Follow the 24 elders—they know what to do. God wants you to fall before him and, in the splendor of the white robe of Jesus’ righteousness, to worship him in holy array! Will he get—from you, and from your congregation—some enthusiastic singing, praying, listening, obeying?
Reprinted from New Horizons, December 1990.