The apostle Paul wanted to sing in the Spirit, but wanted to sing with the mind also (1 Cor. 14:15). In a similar way, we come here week after week to worship God in the Spirit of God. But it is important for us to understand what we are doing, and why we are doing it. Otherwise we will drift into a mindless routine—which is quite different from a Spirit- led routine.
And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words. For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ. As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving (Col. 2:4-7).
Overview of the Text
In verse 4, Paul warns against the seductive power of a certain kind of religious approach, the kind that always fails to approach Christ. Even though Paul was not present with the Colossians (v. 5), he was with them in spirit. He rejoiced as he beheld their order (taxis), and the rock solid nature of their faith in Jesus Christ. The word taxis is a military term, and should be understood as a kind of regimentation. But note that this order was both disciplined and alive. It was not the order of a row of gravestones, but rather the order of a military troop, arms at the ready. It was more than such order that pleased Paul, but it was certainly not less. Paul then urged the Colossians to walk in Christ Jesus in just the same way they had received Him (v. 6), which was of course by grace through faith. As they did so, they would be rooted and built up in the Christian faith, in just the way they had been taught. The overflow of this, when it is happening, is abundance of gratitude. As with all things of this nature, we measure whether or not it is happening by the fruit. That said, why do we do what we do?
The Structure of Our Worship
Consider first the broad outline of our worship service. We find five basic elements there:
Call to Worship—we invoke the name of God, and enter His gates with adoration and worship
Confession of Sin—we wipe our feet at the door
Consecration—we offer ourselves up to God as living sacrifices
Communion—we sit down for table fellowship with our God
Commissioning—we are sent out into the world.
The first and last elements “bookend” the service. The first invites us in from the world to assemble before the Lord to worship Him. The last sends us out into the world in order to function as ambassadors of Christ and of His gospel. The center three elements follow a basic biblical pattern of sacrifice. In the worship of the Older Covenant, God commonly required three kinds of sacrifices together. When they were offered together, they came in this order. First was the guilt offering (confession of sin: Lev. 17), then the ascension or burnt offering (consecration: Lev. 16:24-25), and then the peace offering (communion: Dt. 12:17-19). We see this overall pattern in Lev. 9 and 2 Chron. 29:20-36. Our name for worship that deliberately follows this basic pattern is called covenant renewal worship.
Filling It In
We find in various places of Scripture that certain particular practices are called for in New Covenant worship. One of the things we do therefore is look at the nature of that practice and decide where it would best fit within this structure. For example, the Bible requires the public reading of Scripture in worship (1 Tim. 4:13). So where do we put it? It seems to fit best under Consecration. The Bible commands us to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19). Where do we place the different kinds of songs? We are commanded to have preaching (1 Tim. 4:2). Where does it go? In doing this, we are seeking to be obedient while arranging our worship intelligently.
Posture and Demeanor
A very common temptation among the Reformed is to over-engineer the intellectual aspects of our faith. Reason and systematics have their place, but not every place. Reformed people need to be reminded that they have bodies, and that these too are involved in worship. This is why we lift up holy hands in the Gloria Patri (1 Tim. 2:8), and why we will kneel in confession as soon as it becomes logistically possible (Ps. 95:6). We stand in order to show deep respect for God’s Word (Neh. 8:5). Our overall demeanor is to be solemnity mixed with gladness. “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord” (Ps. 122:1).
Conversation Between God and His People
Worship is a time of meeting. During this time, God speaks to the people through His ordained representatives (as in the Scripture reading, assurance of pardon, or the sermon.) During this time, the people also speak to God, either through their appointed representatives (as in the prayers of petition), or all together with one voice (as with a hymn or psalm, or the creed). We should therefore learn how to think of the worship service as a large conversation, with a direction and theme, and not as a disparate collection of random spiritual artifacts, crammed into a shoebox. In the Call to Worship: God says, “Come, meet with Me.” We say, “First, let us praise Your majesty.” Having done so, God warns us through the Exhortation not to approach Him with unclean hearts. We respond by Confession. God responds by declaring that we have Assurance of Pardon. This is a conversation in which you all are called to actively participate. As you do, you are following the most important conversation in the world, which is between God and His people.
Worship is War
One other thing. And last, we return to the passage in Colossians. The order we are cultivating here is not the order of porcelain figurines in a china hutch, neatly arranged on a shelf. The order we are pursuing is alive and disciplined, the order of a well-trained military unit. And why? Because every Lord’s Day we go into battle. But as God’s people we fight on earth from the high ground of heaven.
We ascend into the heavenlies in our worship and meet with our God there (Heb. 12:22). But this heavenly worship is not something that has fearfully run away from the enemy on earth. Rather, as the book of Revelation shows in great detail, the worship of the saints in heaven accomplishes God’s judgments on earth. The twenty-four elders worship God in heaven (Rev. 4:10), and the seven seals are opened in heaven (Rev. 5:5). But this does not leave the earth untouched or unaffected.