Worship and the Great Commission (2)
Worship and evangelism are more closely linked than is often appreciated, as we saw last month in considering Joshua’s encounter with the Commander of the army of the Lord (Joshua 5:13 – 6:5).
What is the link? It is that only those who are members of a worshipping community are properly equipped (both personally and corporately) to fulfil the Great Commission.
The present article is intended to draw out more fully the lessons implicit in this passage in Joshua and apply them to ourselves.
1. God retains control
Although Joshua was the God-appointed leader of his people, the true Commander of God’s armies was God himself in the person of the pre-incarnate Christ. The Lord was ultimately in control. It is Christ who builds his church, not man, for without him we can do nothing (Matthew 16:18; John 15:5).
Paul declares: ‘I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase’ (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).
To recognise this is to give God the glory, acknowledging that we are ‘nothing’ and God is all – which is the foundation of all true worship. Contrariwise, a failure to render this worship to God will cause us to rely on our human abilities and effort, which will ultimately prove fruitless.
2. Christ is with us in the battle
The divine Commander was no backroom strategist directing affairs from a remote HQ. Here he stood, sword in hand, in enemy territory, ready to make war alongside his servants. So Christ is present with us in the forefront of the battle for the souls of men and it is he who directs our labours.
He has promised: ‘I am with you always, even to the end of the age’ and ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’ (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5-6). Christ remains among us in the person of the Holy Spirit, who is our constant companion in the work of the gospel.
As a direct result of this, the growing church is not just an organisation but ‘a holy temple, a habitation of God through the Spirit’ (Ephesians 2:21-22).
The prophet’s message to those who rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem was: ”Be strong … and work, for I am with you’, says the Lord of hosts’ (Haggai 2:4). We cannot separate evangelism and church-growth from the function of the church as a ‘holy temple’, that is, a place of spiritual worship where God dwells among his people.
3. Worship must precede work
Christ demanded Joshua’s worship before instructing him concerning the battle. So also he requires of us that worship must precede work – for unless we first learn to worship we shall not understand the power of God, recognise his strategies, or obey his commands.
We will be like an army that underestimates its resources, misinterprets its commander’s battle-plan, and ignores his orders. And that is surely a recipe for failure.
Paul explains how the gospel ‘works’ – not by the words, works or wisdom of men but by the power of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:1-5; 1 Thessalonians 1:5-8).
4. Preaching the real gospel
What was the difference between the worship Joshua initially offered to God and the worship God demanded of him? He had prostrated himself, submitted to his master’s primacy and was ready to hear what God would say. What more is needed?
Answer – the realisation that in Christ’s presence we stand on holy ground. In other words, our worship must rediscover an appreciation of the holiness of God. Unless we proclaim his holiness we shall not preach the real gospel, for we shall understand neither the nature of the God we declare, the seriousness of sin, nor the true meaning of the cross of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).
5. Evangelism itself contains elements of worship
The conquest of Jericho involved key elements of worship. Firstly, there was a patient waiting upon God – walking around the city for seven days while nothing seemed to happen.
We easily grow weary of well-doing, unless we habitually wait upon God in worship. ‘But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint’ (Isaiah 40:31).
6. Preaching Christ
Secondly, during this fallow period, the Israelites were not idle! The ark of the covenant was both heralded and paraded for all to see – seven days a week! So also, in evangelising the lost we must continue patiently and repeatedly to preach Christ.
In doing so we shall seek to display all the attributes of the Son of God pictured by the ark (royalty and holiness; a meeting place with God; a blood-sprinkled mercy seat; the incarnate keeper of the law; the manna from heaven; the budding rod of resurrection). This too is worship of the most biblical kind, in which Christ is heralded and displayed in his glory as the Son of God.
7. Expecting God to do great things
Thirdly, there was expectation – they looked in worship to God and waited in complete dependence upon him for the exercise of his majestic power. Those walls would never be breached by human effort, only by divine omnipotence. Such expectant waiting upon God for him to manifest his glory is also worship.
8. A worshipping church
We now turn to some related but more general points bearing on evangelism and the church. Firstly, evangelists are among Christ’s gifts to the church (Ephesians 4:11-12). ‘He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ’.
It is therefore in the church (the worshipping community) that evangelism has its source – the sending out of Barnabas and Saul by the church at Antioch is a clear example (Acts 13:2). For ‘how shall they preach unless they are sent?’ (Romans 10:15).
9. Worship in the Great Commission
Secondly, look again at the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20: ‘And when they saw him they worshipped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to me in heaven and in earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (emphasis added).
Note that it was to a worshipping people that the Commission was given. Had they all doubted there could surely have been no such entrustment! Then again, the Commission is prefaced by Christ’s claim to ‘all authority’ in heaven and earth. What greater incentive can there be to worship the Son of God?
Finally, they were to ‘make disciples’. Yet what is a disciple if not one who worships God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24)?
10. A worshipping community
Thirdly, it was as the early church praised God and fellowshipped together as a worshipping community that the Lord added to their number: ‘So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved’ (Acts 2:46-47).
In adding to the church, God actively seeks out those who will worship him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).
11. Evangelism calls men to worship
New Testament evangelism doesn’t just call men to believe but also to worship. Paul proclaimed a God who was to be worshipped: ‘the One whom you worship without knowing, him I proclaim to you’ (Acts 17:23). And again, his enemies accused him: ‘This fellow persuades men to worship God contrary to the law’ (Acts 18:13; emphasis added).
Finally, it is the nature of the everlasting gospel that it calls men to the worship of God: ‘Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth, saying with a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give glory to him, for the hour of his judgment has come; and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water” (Revelation 14:6-7; emphasis added).
Only those who are themselves worshippers can issue such a call!
Based on a paper given at the Verax Conference, Germany, in May 2010