Worship

Worship of our God is so extremely important. In fact, it is the goal of our lives. What we do on Sunday mornings in church (and hopefully the rest of the week as well!) is more important than the entire rest of the week. For we were made to worship God.

However, we cannot simply worship in any way we choose. God is to be approached and worshipped the way He tells us to do it. This principle is called the regulative principle of worship. That is, that we may only worship God in the way He has prescribed. No other way will do. Some people have misconceptions about this regulative principle. They think that whatever is not explicitly forbidden is allowed. This may be the Lutheran way of thinking about worship, but it is not the Reformed idea of worship. The Reformed understanding of worship is that whatever is not explicitly commanded is forbidden. This might sound strict. Well, it is. But it is also quite freeing, since we are not bound to the traditions of men. We only have to worship the way God has told us.

Reformed theologians usually distinguish between the elements of worship and the circumstances of worship. The elements are non-negotiables. They are essential to worship, since they have been instituted by God. They include preaching of the Word, prayer, offerings, singing of Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, and sacraments. There are also more occasional things that may lawfully be added, such as religious oaths, vows, solemn fastings, and thanksgivings (WCF 21.5). These are elements of worship.

The circumstances include whatever is extraneous to worship that is a matter of wisdom, such as the time and place of meeting, the use of instruments, the tunes used, clothing worn, things like that. It is important never to confuse the circumstances with the elements, or we will introduce destructive things to worship. Dancing and drama, for instance, are not circumstances, since they would be another way of preaching the Gospel than that of hearing the Word preached. It is important to realize here that there are some things that were commanded (or allowed) in the OT worship in the temple that are no longer binding in the NT. There is some dispute about where the lines of continuity and discontinuity lie here. For instance, those who favor Psalms-only singing without instruments will have quite a different take on Psalm 150 (with all its instruments) than someone who allowed instruments. There is room for disagreement here within the Reformed community.

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Starving for Righteousness

Matthew 5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteous- ness, for they shall be satisfied.”

Do you know what it is to be really starving for food? I don’t even mean “really hungry.” I mean that if you don’t get food you will literally die. I mean that kind of hunger that cannot be satisfied by anything other than food. I think that if most of us were really honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that we have hardly ever, if ever, experienced that kind of hunger. At most, we have felt somewhat faint. But I dare say that none of us has gone 40 days without food. We have not tested the limit to our endurance.

Now, all of the first four Beatitudes present us with something that we need: we need God’s riches, because we have none of our own, we need comfort, and thus we need to mourn, we need meekness in order to inherit the earth, and now we need righteousness as much as we need food. Can we live without food and water? Then neither can we live without righteousness.

So what is this desire? I think that if we are again honest with ourselves, we will have to admit that we don’t often desire righteousness as much as we desire food and water. We go to the refrigerator all the time to get a little snack, or we go the freezer for ice cream, but we will not go to the Word of God. Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” That was during the temptation to turn stones into bread. Surely, when Christ was preaching this Sermon on the Mount, He had His own temptation in mind when He spoke this Beatitude. Jesus must have been nearly dead with hunger. And yet, He desired righteousness more than food. That is true desire.

There is a very clear group of people who do not desire righteousness in this way. That group of people are those people who think that they already have that righteousness. Let me read Luke 18:9-14: “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.’” The Pharisee thought that he already had it. That was living proof that he did not. As Thomas Watson says, “There are none so empty of grace as he that thinks he is full. He has most need of righteousness that least wants it.” Alfred Plummer said this: “It is remarkable that it is the hunger and thirst for righteousness, and not the possession of it, that is pronounced blessed. To believe oneself to be in possession of righteousness, like the Pharisee in the parable, is fatal. To know oneself to be in want of it is not enough. One must feel the want of it, and have a passionate and persistent longing for it, in order to be accounted blessed by Christ.” Do we desire righteousness like a man dying of hunger desires food? Or do we desire a whole lot of other things more than righteousness?

The world tells us not to be fanatical about righteousness. “Don’t be a goody-two-shoes,” they will say. Don’t be a “Puritan,” with all the negative connotations that that word has. The world tells us to hunger after possessions, or pleasure, power, pride, or fame. These things the world desires as much as food. We are not to desire these things more than righteousness. We are to transfer our desire for these worldly things instead to God and to His righteousness. The world says “Don’t be a fanatic about righteousness.” Are we fanatic about food? Do we get grumpy if we don’t eat? Then why don’t we get grumpy if we are not righteous? The Bible says that we will die without righteousness, just as our physical body will die without food.

So how do we increase our appetite for righteousness? Well, we must eat. Just as eating more food will increase the appetite in the body, so also will eating more spiritual food increase our appetite for holiness and righteousness. How much do we read God’s Word? God loves to see His children hungrily feed on His Word, as if we cannot get enough of it.

Exercise also increases the appetite. Just as more exercise for the physical body means that we will need to eat more food, so also we need to exercise our spirituality more in order to increase our appetite. What does that mean? It means that we fight harder against sin in our lives. It means that we try to help others in their battle with sin. It means that we pray more. It means that we encourage other people. When we do that, God will give us a larger appetite.

Affliction can increase our appetite as well. We don’t have to look for it and pursue this one. However, when it comes, we must look for the good it will give to us, rather than complain about it. God sends us affliction in order to increase our appetite for God and His righteousness. We need to see that in order to see the silver lining in the cloud.

But now we must ask the question, “What is this righteousness for which we must hunger?” It means two things: imputed righteousness, and imparted righteousness. Let’s take these one at a time.

We must desire imputed righteousness. We are sinners who stand before an infinitely holy God. Our righteousness is like filthy rags. So if we are to stand before an infinitely holy God, we need a perfect righteousness. That righteousness that we need is Christ’s righteousness. Christ obeyed the law where we did not. Christ fulfilled every requirement of the law that we were supposed to fulfill. If we repent of our sin, and turn from it to Christ, then we will own Christ’s righteousness. It is like two books with removable covers. Our book has dirty pages on the inside, and a dirty cover, whereas Christ’s book is completely clean, inside and out. What happens is that the covers are switched, so that when God looks at our book, He sees the cover of the book of Jesus, instead of our cover. We are covered with the righteousness of Christ. That is imputed righteousness. That is Christ’s righteousness that is reckoned to our account. Instead of owing the bank millions of dollars that we could never repay, and having bounced checks all over the place, now we have Christ’s infinite wealth credited to our account. That is another analogy of imputed righteousness. We are united to Christ by faith. And in that union, we have a share in Christ, including a share in that righteousness which He earned. If any here do not believe in Jesus Christ, now is the time to realize that you need to hunger after that righteousness. It is not a righteousness that you can accomplish. It is only a righteousness that can be given to you. You need to trust in Jesus to receive that righteousness. Let the Holy Spirit quicken your dead heart. Dead people don’t need to eat, do they? But live people do. They need to feed on Christ. That is the first kind of righteousness. We must desire that righteousness more than anything else on earth. As Richard Baxter, a great Puritan, once said, “the difference between the Christian and the non-Christian is not their desire to avoid hell. Most people desire that. The difference lies in the fact that although the non-believer would rather have heaven than hell, the believer would rather have heaven than earth.” Do we desire this righteousness more than we desire anything on earth?

The second kind of righteousness is the imparted righteousness. To go back to the book analogy, once we have the book cover of Christ covering over our sinful book, Christ immediately begins to rewrite our book to look like the cover. Christ begins to impart righteousness to us. How does God do this? He gives us the means of grace. He gives us prayer, the Word of God, the Sacraments and the church, which consists of other believers. We neglect any of these to our peril. The really great thing, though, is that the more we use the means of grace, the more our appetite for righteousness will grow.

Here are some practical ways to do this. If you are in your tractor, there are two things that you can do. The first is to pray for God’s people. You have hours and hours and hours on your hands to do this. I often pray when I am driving from one place to another. It is uninterrupted time with the Lord. That alone can transform our lives. The second thing we can do is to buy a Bible on tape. Most tractors these days can play tapes or cd’s. There are many recordings of the complete Bible on tape and on cd. If you would like to purchase one, let me know, and I can give you some options. Of course, Christian radio can have many good things as well. But Christian radio can also have many bad things. To spend time with Lord alone is an amazing experience when you have hours to do it in. Christian radio is not more valuable than prayer. You might consider first building up your endurance as a prayer warrior. First spend ten minutes in constant prayer, not letting your mind wander. Then increase it the next time, and so on until you spend hours in prayer. Of course, and this is almost heretical, I know, but you don’t even have to close your eyes to pray. In fact, a very well-respected Reformed scholar has written a book called, “Pray With Your Eyes Open.” We close our eyes in order not to be distracted. However, one cannot do that in a tractor. Pray for other people, pray that God’s glory would be the most important goal in your life. Pray that revival would sweep this land. Pray for opportunities to share the gospel. That will give you an enormous appetite for holiness and righteousness. That appetite is what Jesus calls blessed.

Do we avoid junk food? There are many things that seem to satisfy our needs and desires, but the fact is that they do not. Shallow self-help books on how to run your Christian life are not true spiritual food. We should be more interested in God-help books than self-help books. We do not run this race alone, however much energy God requires us to spend. “We are to work out our salvation in fear and trembling, because it is God who works in us both to will and to do His good pleasure.” Anything else is junk food. Empty calories. I would say that most contemporary Christian music is junk food. I would say that most televangelists are junk food. Be discerning. Not all of them are bad. But we need to know instinctively whether someone is giving us real food or just junk food. If we eat junk food, we will only produce rotten fruit. In order for us to produce good fruit, we need good food. If we are not producing good fruit, we are not merely looking like inferior Christians. Rather, we are looking like non-Christians. So we need to pray to God that we would be made empty of our own righteousness, in order that God’s righteousness will prevail.

The promise is that we will be filled. This is a lovely promise indeed. What we really long for is the coming of the kingdom. When Jesus comes back, there will be a feast. Such a feast has never before been seen on earth, and it will never be equaled. God’s righteousness will win in the end over all unbelief. God will give famished souls the desires of their hearts. That thought of the new heavens and the new earth is to have an influence over every area of our lives. Knowing that we cannot be satisfied here on earth means that we look forward to the time when we will be satisfied. Our problem is that we are satisfied with far too little. We are too content here on earth with physical things. Our appetite needs to be reversed. We need to be content with our physical possessions, and profoundly discontent with our level of personal holiness. That means that we long for heaven and home. That is what it means to hunger and thirst after righteousness. That is what being full means.