We’re currently in the middle of a mini-series-within-a-series called “What is a Good Church?” – which is inside the “Burning Questions Series”. Now you know what happens when I give myself a few bumper-weeks in my sermon planning – we get series-within-series. I hope that isn’t confusing, because my intention is neither to confuse you nor bore you, but to teach you what the Bible says and point you to Jesus – and it would be a great crime for me to make that either boring or confusing for you.
Two weeks ago I did an extended introduction to the topic of “What is a Good Church?” where we discussed “Christian consumerism”, and we followed that up last week by talking about two mistakes that Christian Consumers make. The first being “using human standards to judge whether God’s church is good or not” and the second mistake being “crafting God’s church into our image.”
In the midst of all that I’ve been talking about four was that God, according to the Bible, defines a “good church”. A “good church” according to God’s Word is one with Biblical Discipleship, Loving Fellowship, Inspired Worship and Spirit-Led Evangelism. You’ll recall that I added those adjectives last week in hopes of helping the conversation, knowing they aren’t perfectly chosen and are open to interpretation.
Last week we talked about the first two, Biblical Discipleship and Loving Fellowship, and so this week I want to discuss the next one, Inspired Worship.
For those who are new this morning, I apologize. You’re sort of jumping in in the middle of a multi-part sermon. I made the case over the last couple weeks, and now I’m just going to jump into the next part. If you did miss the last couple sermons, you can go to my website and read and listen to them to catch up.
Please open up to our key-text in Acts 2:42-47 and let’s read it one more time so we can have it fresh in our minds. Remember, this is the description of the first, Christian church that developed after Peter’s first sermon on the day of Pentecost. God convicted thousands of people of their sin, the repented, got saved, and came under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and His Apostles.
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
Awe Upon Every Soul
Let’s talk first about God’s Biblical qualification that a “good church” is a “Worshipping” church. You’ll notice in this first church that “awe came upon every soul”, that they “attended the temple together”, and that they “praised God”. These are the marks of a worshipping church.
Look at that phrase used in verse 43: their “souls” were full of “awe”. That word “awe” is an interesting one. It’s the word PHOBOS, from where we get the term “Phobia”. It mostly translated as the word fear, but it also means terror, and panic! It’s the term for respect and reverence.
It is the word used in Luke 5:26 to describe after people heard Jesus claim to be God, forgive a lame man’s sin, and then command him to stand up and walk. “And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, ‘We have seen extraordinary things today.’” This describes more than surprise, more than interest, more than being impressed – it’s the feeling we get in the presence of something that truly shakes us to the core.
The other night I gave a talk to a group of kids about sharing their faith. As an illustration I used a bunch of things that people are afraid of – their phobias – spiders, heights, snakes, loud noises, needles, etc. We all know what happens when we bump up against one of our phobias. We tense up, we lose control of our bodies, our heart races, our fight-or-flight response is activated, adrenaline floods into our blood stream, we say and do things that we wouldn’t have done a moment ago. I once jumped out of a moving vehicle because a scary bug landed in the back seat. There have been multiple times when I have used my children as shields from bees. I’m not proud of it, but I was scared.
That’s the word we’re talking about here when we say that “awe came upon every soul.” This is where we talk about “Fearing the Lord”. Psalm 33:8, “Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!”
After Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died on the cross, taking the fullness of the wrath of the Father against Him, making the final payment for all who would believe in Him, it says,
“And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’” (Matthew 27:51-54)
This is the heart of worship that the church is to have. Certainly speak of God’s love, faithfulness, miracles, closeness, intimacy and the peace that is made between us and God through Jesus Christ. It is good that we give thanks to Him for all of these things – but the mark of a “good church” isn’t merely thanksgiving for all the gifts God has given us, but a sense of awe, fear, reverence, and deep respect for God, His Son, His Spirit and His Word.
For those who are saved, and have the Holy Spirit within is, the presence of God in our world, church, lives, and hearts, fills us we AWE and we are “inspired” – literally inspired by the Spirit of God and inspired by all of the Truth we know about Him (John 4:24) – to bring Him worship.
A Jealous God and a Consuming Fire
To emphasize this point about having awe in our hearts, I want to read a passage from Hebrews. Remember, the author is here writing to a group of people who wanted to turn away from following Jesus because it was causing them suffering and would soon force them to choose between life or death. They wanted to go back to the Jewish way, or the Roman way, and he reminds them that turning away from God is a terribly foolish thing to do.
He starts by speaking about the terrifying events of the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai – how Moses shuddered with fear, the thunder and clouds, and punishment of death that came to anyone who even set foot on the mountain, and says,
“See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ This phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:25-29)
It’s almost like the author of Hebrews is saying, “This isn’t a game. You don’t get to pick and choose who you worship or how you worship. The worship that is due to God because of who He is and what He’s done, is not optional. You ought not to be thinking of going to lesser gods or empty religion. You ought to be grateful because you have been given a greater gift than the Romans or even the Jews at Sinai. Your response to this God should be worship, reverence and awe. Why? Not because God is love – he doesn’t go there – because “our God is a consuming fire!”
Some of you may have Joshua 24:15 at home written on something. It records the words of Joshua to Israel telling them to choose between the idols of the nations around them or the One, True God. It says,
“Choose this day whom you will serve… as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Part of me wishes that this wasn’t written on so many cute things, because they are not cute words. Joshua didn’t give this option lightly. We must continue to read the next verses. Turn to Joshua 24 where the bible records this conversation between Israel and Joshua. Look how many times Joshua warns them to take their pledge seriously:
“Then the people answered, ‘Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. And the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.’
But Joshua said to the people, ‘You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.’ And the people said to Joshua, ‘No, but we will serve the LORD.’ Then Joshua said to the people, ‘You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD, to serve him.’ And they said, ‘We are witnesses.’ He said, ‘Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD, the God of Israel.’ And the people said to Joshua, ‘The LORD our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.’
So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and put in place statutes and rules for them at Shechem. And Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone and set it up there under the terebinth that was by the sanctuary of the LORD. And Joshua said to all the people, ‘Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the LORD that he spoke to us. Therefore it shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God.’ So Joshua sent the people away, every man to his inheritance.” (Joshua 24:15-28)
In the Bible, God reminds His people that He is a “jealous God” who doesn’t share worship with ANYONE. In the 10 Commandments, the Moral Law of God that stands for all people for all time, God says,
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image…You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:4-6)
Yes, God is where we put our hope, and where we find our strength. He is full of love, compassion and mercy – but we must not forget another side of His character: He is to be feared because he has wrath against sin. He does not take idolatry lightly and jealously pursues His people as a husband pursues his wife. In Hebrews 10:26-27 he said that those who would forsake their faith, or would continue to sin after being told about Jesus, should live in “fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”
Our church must remember this aspect of God – that He desires our full, uncompromised worship.
Fear and Repentance
Go back now to Acts 2:43 where “awe came upon every soul”.
Where did that awe come from? Back up a few verses to verse 36 and read the crescendo of Peter’s sermon,
“’Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.’ Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’ And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’” (Acts 2:36-41)
Their awe and fear of God was a result of coming face to face with their sin. Jesus, the Son of God, died because of their sin. They were the cause of the death of the God’s only begotten Son. And Jesus, the one who died, was “both Lord and Christ”. He was their king and their saviour, and they killed him.
Their response was not to shed a single tear and walk up the aisle while “Just as I Am” played softly in the background. They were terrified. The Holy Spirit entered their hearts and they saw why Jesus died – it was their fault. They saw their sin and rebellion against God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, and they were utterly afraid of what God would do. “Brothers… what shall we do?” was an acknowledgement of this. “Oh no! We are in serious trouble. We are doomed! God is right to be angry with us. We deserve Hell. We scorned His Son! Whatever can be done to save us?!”
Then, after telling them the bad news, Peter tells them what they must do: He demands that they “Repent”. That word means change your mind, change your priorities, change your ways, change your heart, change your allegiance, and come to the Son. Perhaps Psalm 2:10-12 jumped into their minds:
“Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”
Repent! Change your allegiance. How do you show your change of allegiance? By being “being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ”. Make it public. Make it known to all. And do it soon.
It is by your repentance and confession that you are saved. Later, Paul would write in Romans 10:9-10, “…if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Not just in your heart, but with your mouth. Show it to all that you’ve repented from your sin and come under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Why? Once you have repented and confessed your sin, you will receive “the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” This is the amazing grace of God! He hates sin, but offers forgiveness. He brings wrath, but also mercy upon those who would repent. He is a consuming fire for all his adversaries, but He put His Son through Hell and then offered Him as payment for our sins.
Then it gets better. We don’t just get forgiveness, but also the gift of the Holy Spirit, the very presence of God in our hearts, reminding us of all He has said and leading us every step of this life! We have access to the very voice of God every day. We are adopted into God’s family. And as Romans 8:17 says,
“Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”
Who He Is and What He’s Done
“If you will not worship God seven days a week, you do not worship Him one day a week. There is no such thing know in in heaven as Sunday worship unless it is accompanied by Monday worhsp and Tuesday worship and so on.” (AW Tozer)
Part of the reason for my emphasis this morning is that we sometimes don’t take God seriously enough, which is why we don’t worship Him enough.
As I said, God loves you and has given you every reason to worship Him. He is God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, the One who formed you in your mother’s womb and gives you every breath you take. He is the most powerful force in existence, able to manifest universes with a word, sustaining all of existence by His power. He is worthy of our reverence and fear. As Jesus said, “…do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28) God’s very nature, what He is, should draw us into awe-inspired worship. We should worship God for who He is.
And we should worship Him for what He’s done. He is also the friend of sinners, the one who traded His Son’s life for yours so you could be with Him. He is Love incarnate. He is the source of joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentles, and faithfulness. It is only in a relationship with Him that we have an abundant life.
He is always worthy of worship because of who He is and what He’s done.
A Good Church Worships
And so we come back to our question about “a good church”. What is a Good Church? One which has Inspired Worship. Not inspiring worship! This isn’t about whether the music, the song or the people inspire us – it’s about whether or not the church is inspired to worship because they have a holy reverence and thanksgiving for who God is and what He’s done.
This is the question I ask of myself and of this church. Is my life, and the lives of the Christians in this church lived, every day, as an act of worship? Is there a palpable fear, respect and spirit of thankfulness when we meet together? Do we speak often of who God is and what He’s done, or do we think we have something better to talk about?
Another important question: Are there any idols in our church? Is there anything that stands above the Word of God as our guiding light? Is there anything we hold as more important than giving worship to God?
Another question: Is there anything in this church that is keeping people from worshipping God? Are there disagreements, unforgiveness, slander, or sin among us that prevents us from being able to worship God?
A “good church” worships God, and that starts with every believer in the church committing themselves to a lifestyle of worship. The words of Romans 12:1 must convict us today:
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.”
Let’s go back to that Tozer quote: “If you will not worship God seven days a week, you do not worship Him one day a week”. Showing up and singing a few songs and trying to stay awake for a sermon is not worship. Worship is a lifestyle, every day. Remember, God is a jealous God. He doesn’t want to share you or your worship with anyone else. We must take worshipping God as seriously as we take the right reading of His Word because He takes His worship very seriously.
A good church knows this, and encourages everyone in the church to worship every day, because God is worthy. So let is speak, and sing, and read, and serve, and pray, and honour God in the way that people have, and should, be praising Him for all time, and into Eternity.
“Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.” (Psalm 145:3)
“For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods.” (Psalm 96:4)
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:11)
Let us be a worshipping church.
I watched this video again (more here) and it reminded me of my struggle with jealousy. I am a writer and a pastor, so this video hits me on both sides. Jon Acuff, who is a successful Christian author, is talking to Ed Stetzer talks about his struggles with envying other authors, and Stetzer talks about “Ministry Pornography”, which is a way of describing a pastor/minister’s struggle with being content in their own church in a world of mega-churches and rock-star preachers. I know I have struggled with both of those. And without even noticing, it effected my prayer life.
My prayers used to sound like this:
“Lord, I’m okay where I am, and thank you for the church I serve… but if you want to grow the church to 6000 that’d be okay too. I love writing, and I’m happy if you help just one person with what I’ve written… but if you want to give me a million readers, a national best seller, and have me speak at conferences, that’ll be okay too. Actually Lord, what’s wrong with the way I’m doing things? It’s all for your name! Father, send revival! Reveal to me the secret of having this kind of influence and success so more people can be saved. In your name, Amen.”
Have you ever prayed that way? I really believed I was being sincere, but in truth I was saying “Lord, I want influence, and I’m not satisfied with where you put me. I want a big church because I want to feel successful. I doubt myself, my call to ministry, and even your love for me sometimes, but I wouldn’t have those doubts if the church was bigger. I don’t like the way you define success, I want you to define it my way. Actually, I don’t really want revival for your name, I just want people to know my name.”
God doesn’t answer prayers like that.
Praise God that he has been working on my heart, and recently my prayers sound more like this:
“Lord, thank you for these amazing authors, pastors and churches who do so much for your kingdom! They are impacting their community, country, and even the world for your sake. They make great resources that I could never come up with myself. They answer questions on video and in books far better than I ever could, and I learn from them all the time. They make so many tools that make my life and ministry easier. Thank you for them! In truth, I have no idea what they are going through in their private life, but I’m sure that with that kind of influence comes some incredible spiritual attacks — Lord, protect them. They tell stories of the kind of heartache they get to see on a regular basis — things I have never seen, and don’t even know if I could deal with — Lord, grant them grace and wisdom. Every word they speak seems to come under criticism from somewhere — Lord, encourage them. I’ve watched some of them burn-out because of their passion and crazy schedule–Lord, touch them. In Jesus name, Amen.”
Maybe you’re not a pastor, but I would imagine that you know how it feels to envy someone for their possessions or influence. Ask God to change your prayers from selfish to thankful? I have found that the more I thank God, the less envy I feel.