The apostle Paul wanted to sing in the Spirit, but he also wanted to sing with the mind (1 Cor. 14:15). In a similar way, we come here week after week to worship God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ, empowered by 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 distinct from a Spirit-led, Spirit-blessed 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).
Summary 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 the spirit. He rejoiced as he beheld their order (taxis), and the rock solid nature of their faith in Jesus Christ. That 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 you could find in 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. So with that said, why do we do what we do in worship? And how does it relate to the worship of Jesus Christ?
The Structure of Our Worship:
Consider first the broad outline of our worship service. We find five basic elements:
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 the right worship that we have offered.
The central 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.
We call the worship that follows this basic pattern covenant renewal worship. But our relationship with God cannot expire, like a lease. We are not renewing anything in that sense. It is more like how food renews the body.
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 overall 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 that 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 that place is 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 kneel when we confess our sins (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). Middle English had a word for this demeanor, and it is one we seek to cultivate. It is called solempne.
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 very large conversation, with a direction and theme, and not as a disparate collection of random spiritual artifacts, crammed into a shoebox. You are not here as a spectator. You are not here to be watching. You are here to be partaking.
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 must be mentioned. So last, we return to our 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 unaffected by it.
How to Worship Jesus Christ:
We worship Jesus Christ when we magnify and adore Him in His performance of His office. That means that we worship Christ by coming through Him to the Father (John 14:6). In the verses just prior to our text, we are reminded of this. He wanted the Colossians comforted, knit together in love, and into all the riches of a full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ (Col. 2:2–3).
“For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father” (Eph. 2:18). We honor the Spirit by honoring the Son. We honor the Son by coming to the Father. But when we come to the Father, we do not leave the Son behind. We come to our Father as Christians, with the name of Jesus Christ in our mouths. “Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing” (Rev. 5:12).