And the twenty-four elders who sat before God on their thrones fell on their faces and worshipped God, saying, ‘We give you thanks, O Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was and who is to come, because you have taken your great power and reigned’ (Revelation 11:16-17).
Most people think about the book of Revelation as a crystal ball, and they study this book in order to interpret God’s future plan for the universe and the people who live on earth. This can lead to fanciful speculation.
Undoubtedly, Revelation is full of prophetic truths, for John tells us on the threshold of the book that he is about to speak of things ‘which must shortly take place’ (1:1). However the book of Revelation is also a book about worship.
Worship is mentioned twenty-four times. Ten times it refers to worship of the ‘beast’, once to worship of ‘devils’ and thirteen times to the worship of God. In the passage cited above, the twenty-four elders (which I believe represent the entire company of God’s redeemed people) are found worshipping and praising God – as the climactic seventh trumpet heralds the coming triumphant kingdom of Jesus Christ.
This reminds us that worship will have a prominent place in the glorified church. But the corporate worship of God’s people begins on earth. This third study will examine some crucial elements of worship revealed in Holy Scripture.
Worship and the fear of God
Firstly, worship involves fearing God. The psalmist David wrote, ‘But as for me, I will come into your house in the multitude of your mercy; in fear of you I will worship toward your holy temple’ (Psalm 5:7). Some people find it hard to comprehend how we can love and adore a being whom we also ‘fear’ at the very same time. But there are different kinds of fear.
There is the fear which the rat has for the cat – or which the thief has for the local police. We naturally tend to be afraid of anything that threatens our well-being.
But that is not the type of fear invoked when worship is related to the fear of God in the hearts of believers. Rather, it is a fear akin to awe, respect and admiration – in short, reverence.
There is no reason for a true believer to fear the Lord in the sense of being ‘afraid’ of him. Jesus Christ has been judged in the place of his people – and has removed their sin as a cause of condemnation.
We know God not as a heavenly cop but as our heavenly Father. And each of us, I imagine, can understand how we can both love an earthly father and revere him at the same time.
Nevertheless, to truly worship God we must have a holy awe of him – for he is ‘the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is holy’ (Isaiah 57:15). We know how awesome is his power and holiness. And though we come to him as those who have been reconciled to him through Christ’s atonement, we must still ‘fear’ him in a devotional sense.
Worship and thanksgiving
Secondly, worship involves thanksgiving. Once again we turn to the Psalms to receive proper instruction on what worship is. The 100th Psalm is known as ‘A psalm of thanksgiving’. It says:
‘Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise. Be thankful to him and bless his name’ (Psalm 100:4). Sinners of Adam’s race who have become recipients of God’s amazing grace will naturally be filled with thanksgiving and praise for what God has done for them.
The more they understand the nature of their God and his great works on their behalf, the more grateful they will be.
The ground of our thankfulness can be divided broadly into two categories. We are thankful to the Lord both for what he has done for usand for who he is.
Certainly it is natural, normal and inevitable that believers will praise the Lord for saving them. They know that they stand accepted by God, forgiven and adopted into God’s family, solely on the basis of God’s free grace. Grace means ‘unmerited favour’ – and that favour is ours because of God’s mysterious and sovereign love.
But we should also thank the Lord for who he is, as a cause for worship in itself. Yes, it is possible to separate in our minds the fact that we have benefited from God’s mercy and the fact of his inherent glory, which we behold with adoring wonder.
Reflecting on the many attributes of God – his eternality, omniscience and omnipotence; his holiness and sinless purity; his love and mercy – should draw from us supreme praise and worship.
Jonathan Edwards taught that loving God for his inherent worth is the only thing about true religion that cannot be counterfeited.
Worship and singing
Thirdly, where there is worship there is also singing. ‘All the earth shall worship you and sing praises to you; they shall sing praises to your name’ (Psalm 66:4). God’s people are a singing people. They sang the praises of God in the Old Testament worship around the tabernacle and temple.
Indeed, the very word ‘psalm’ (and the Psalms take up a significant portion of our Bible) means a song, sung with a musical instrument. One of the wonderful gifts of David, the primary psalmist, was his ability to compose songs of praise and lead the Israelites in worship through song.
In the New Testament, Paul admonished the church at Ephesus thus: ‘Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord’ (Ephesians 5:19).
Someone observed that there is never any singing at the funeral of an atheist. But when believers are called home to be with Christ there is normally music and congregational singing.
Music is one of God’s greatest gifts to humanity. It provides a natural way to express the deepest emotions of our souls. It is at once an outlet for our feelings and a source of cheer and hope.
Sometimes, of course, our songs reflect a mood of sadness or sorrow, but normally they enable our spirits to exult – particularly in the relationships we have with other people and ultimately with God himself. Poor is the one who has no song in his heart.
Worship and service
Finally, to worship is to serve. When our Lord was tempted by Satan to fall down and worship him, Jesus replied, ‘Away with you Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only you shall serve” (Matthew 4:10).
Thus we learn that worship is more than just a private exercise or emotion – it is also an active principle of service, leading a person to engage in works of righteousness and obedience.
The mature Christian life is a balance of heartfelt praise (personal and corporate) and public ministry. It is easy to go to the extreme either way in this regard.
Some believers appear to be very busy in their active endeavours in the world – but little interested in meetings for prayer and devotion. Like Martha in the well-known incident (Luke 10:38-42) they hurry about trying to do things for God but neglect to sit at the Master’s feet.
But the opposite extreme is also possible. Some Christians take to their ‘closet’ duties with great delight but shun the company of others and find it difficult to put their piety into action.
His servants shall serve him
How different was the life of the Lord Jesus Christ! On the one hand, he often drew aside into a private place (such as a mountain) to spend time communing with his Father. But he was also a man of action, always in homes, on the streets or in the temple, serving people and ministering to their needs.
Indeed, the word ‘minister’ means ‘one who serves’. Every Christian should be a minister in this sense. He or she should not only be one devoted to the person of Christ in private and public adoration, but also be actively involved in doing good to others (Ephesians 2:10).
Even in heaven there will be a place for energetic service to the Lord. In that place – where there is no ‘curse’ and where the Lamb sits upon his throne – the ransomed hosts ‘shall serve him’ (Revelation 22:3). I am looking forward to that day.