Horizontal worship


“Dear brothers and sisters, don’t be childish in your understanding of these things. Be innocent as babies when it comes to evil, but be mature in understanding matters of this kind.” (1 Corinthians 14:20 NLT).


It seems like such a buzzword these days. With a seemingly renewed emphasis within Christian circles, you can find countless books, attend numerous conferences and take your pick from a host of titles under the genre of “Praise and Worship.”

The so called “worship wars” have had a multifold effect on the modern church, polarizing saints who cling to different styles of worship and causing others to point to the emphasis on music in worship as evidence of lacking substance.

Amidst the many competing voices on the subject, Bob Sorge in his book, Exploring Worship, states, “. . . worship was never intended by God to be the discussion of textbooks but rather the communion with God experienced by his love ones” (pg. 67). While the irony of that statement is apparent, it does bear much truth.

There has been many a stance taken on worship and varying definitions given for the word, some of which are pretty good. Ultimately, however, it is God who has the sole right to stipulate what worship actually is, as both its object and inspiration. Psalm 15 gives such stipulations:

O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent?
Who shall dwell on your holy hill?

He who walks blamelessly and does what is right
and speaks truth in his heart;
who does not slander with his tongue
and does no evil to his neighbor,
nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
in whose eyes a vile person is despised,
but who honors those who fear the LORD;
who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
who does not put out his money at interest
and does not take a bribe against the innocent.

He who does these things shall never be moved.

This psalm of David begins with probably one of the most important questions one can ask: “God, who are those whom you invite to dwell in your presence; whose worship is truly acceptable?”

It is to be understood that the “tent” David is referring to is the one he pitched for the Ark of the Covenant, when it had been retrieved and brought to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:17), with the “holy hill” being an allusion to Mount Zion—the eventual location of Solomon’s temple. While David uses this imagery to denote the presence of God, it is clear that these have geographical significance to him; after all, Jerusalem was called the “city of David” (2 Sam. 5:6-9).

Jesus, however, educates us on the true nature of worship, which is not bound by location. He says to the Samaritan woman in John 4, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father . . . But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him” (v. 21, 23).

The presence of God is available to the worshiper at any time, in any place. Our Lord even goes as far as to say that the Father is looking for these people! Jesus’ brother James puts it this way, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us” (James 4:5) and “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (v. 8).

In drawing near to God, however, we must make sure that we are doing so God’s way. The qualifications that are detailed in Psalm 15, then, make this even more interesting.

For all its vertical considerations, and rightfully so, there is a horizontal element of worship that is very easily lost in translation. When the answer is given to David’s inquiry, what is described is a person who is in right standing with those around him: one who does good towards others, speaks truthfully, does not speak ill of anyone, is loyal, just, humble, faithful, generous and integral. It was not a matter of sacrifice or offering, but one who has a clean bill of health interpersonally.

Foundationally, we know that we are only able to approach God on the merit of Jesus Christ, who alone was able to perfectly keep the moral requirements outlined in Psalm 15. The writer of Hebrews articulates this, saying:

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22)

While we now have the right and means of approaching God through Christ, we still shoulder the responsibility of actually approaching him.  Christ’s atoning sacrifice absolves us from having to offer sacrifice for our sins, however, the notion of sacrifice itself is not done away with in the life of a believer; worship, in essence, is sacrifice (Genesis 22:2, 5).

Hebrews goes on to say, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (13:15-16). From this passage, we see that our vertical devotion to God is not removed from our horizontal treatment of our neighbor—he calls both our praise and deeds “sacrifice.”

This thread is one that runs through the entire bible, and even summarizes all its pages. Jesus says to an inquiring Jewish lawyer, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).

We quote it a lot, but I think the gravity of this statement is easily missed. Jesus says that loving our neighbor “is like” loving God! Essentially, our love for God is proportionate to our love for people. First John 4:20-21 says as much, stating, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.”

So what does this mean in terms of “corporate worship”? I’ve often thought that the most telling part of a worship service is not the response of the people while singing, but when it comes time to greet one another. The fact is that is it easier to sing to/about a God who you cannot see than it is to embrace a physical person; in some cases, people can just really like the song and may not necessarily be singing from their hearts (Matt. 15:8).

Even if the sacrifice of praise we are offering to the Lord is sincere, this is still not independent of our relational standing with one another. Jesus gives commentary on this matter, saying, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).

According to the Lord himself, it is more important to settle accounts with another brother or sister than it is to offer our spiritual sacrifices (1 Peter 2:5) to God.

Under the guise of “spirituality,” however, we often will resort to such tactics as “just focusing on God and no one else” in our gatherings. The point of gathering, though, is that we would be united with others, having the common goal of glorifying God and edifying each other. To miss this would cause us to be in error when we gather, much like the Corinthian church.

There were a litany of problems with this church, but chief among them was the rampant selfishness. From making a mockery of the fellowship meal, to getting drunk from communion, these parishioners were not bashful in displaying their desire to please themselves.

Though some of the logistical and cultural facets have changed, this problem has not disappeared from our churches. In charismatic circles, a particular issue that Paul raised to the Corinthians is still a problem today. He writes, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1).  While Paul does acknowledge “tongues” as a means of speaking to God (14:2) through prayer and song (v. 14-15), he admonishes those with this spiritual gift to “keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God” (v. 28) if there is no interpreter. The reasoning for this is simple: “no one understands them” (v. 2).

What God esteems is not one who speaks in a tongue, but those who “follow the way of love” (1 Cor. 14:1) by desiring spiritual gifts that will edify the church (v. 2) and not just themselves (v. 4). When gathering for corporate worship, we should be preoccupied with pursuing God in such a way that our brothers and sisters can offer a hearty “amen” to our thanksgiving (v. 16) and so be blessed.

As much as worship entails offering sacrifices to God, the end of the matter is that we are ourselves sacrifices. Romans 12:1 reads, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” How oft unnoticed, however, is that much of the rest of this chapter focuses on serving in the body of Christ and walking in love.

Could this be descriptive of what it means to be a “living sacrifice,” much like what we find in Psalm 15?

I would say so.

Remember those definitions of worship I mentioned earlier? One of them, offered by Bob Sorge, is “extravagant love and extreme obedience” (Exploring Worship, p. 66). Let us remember that to love God is to obey God, and our devotion is on display as his commandments become our footsteps:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35)


~ by christianballenger on June 23, 2014.

8 Responses to “Horizontal worship”

  1. The horizontal aspect of worship is further revealed in 1 Cor. 14, when Paul describes their gatherings (in homes) as where “each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation” (14:26); indeed “you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged” (14:31). Such prophecy is meant to instruct and encourage others in the faith.

    Similarly, Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman in Jn. 4 speak of worship in “spirit and truth.” Since the main gift Jesus promises his disciples later is the Spirit of truth (Jn. 14-16)–which will help them remember and pass on his words–I think Jesus is already telling the woman in 4:23-24 about this Spirit and truth. Wherever and whenever a disciple speaks the truth of Jesus, through the Spirit, there is worship.

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to read my thoughts and share yours as well! I read your most recent blog post on worship, so I have a little more perspective on your thinking. While I would agree that Jesus pointing the Samaritan woman to a time where those that worship the Father will do so in spirit and truth is an allusion to the eventual coming of the Spirit, I think the scope of this statement is broader than testifying to the truth of Christ.

      From the onset, John’s gospel tells the story of God’s presence. It starts, of course, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2). He continues, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt (lit. “tabernacled”) among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14).

      When Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that the time has “now” come for worship in spirit and truth, he is saying so because of his own presence on the earth. Jesus abiding among us makes worshiping on a mountain in Samaria or the temple in Jerusalem an empty exercise, unless of course he is present. Though Herod’s temple was the center of worship life for the Jewish people, Jesus seems to refer to himself as the true dwelling place of God’s presence: “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:19-21).

      To worship the Father in “spirit and truth” in the time of Christ meant acknowledging Jesus as he who reveals the divine attributes of the Father (John 10:30; 14:10-11), and the one who is the true path into the Father’s presence (14:6). This is contrasted with worship that is ignorant and stagnant (4:21-22). Worship as Jesus taught involves the inner person (spirit) and not ritual, and abiding in the truth of God as it is in Christ.

      While the aforementioned is also true of our dispensation, we have entered into the “coming” hour as the post-resurrection church. The time that Jesus foreshadows is the coming of his Spirit, of which he says, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17).

      The Spirit of truth was, indeed, with the disciples in the person of Christ. He says, then, the one who now dwells with you will soon dwell in you. This is the river of living water Jesus promises to those who would come to him and drink (John 7:37-38), much like he did to the Samaritan woman (4:13-14). While this promise has everything to do with testifying to the truth of Jesus (16:13), the major preoccupation is Jesus’ presence with his people. When speaking to his disciples about his imminent departure, they become sorrowful at his words (16:6). To remedy this, Jesus adds, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (16:7).

      It is advantageous to have Spirit of Christ in your heart rather than the living Christ in your midst because of the physical restraints of having a human body, even if he can walk on water and through walls. Christ in us, then, makes the church the temple of God (1 Timothy 3:5; 1 Peter 2:5), both corporately (1 Corinthians 3:16) and individually (1 Cor. 6:19). It is the individual aspect of this reality that allows for one to achieve the worship Christ spoke of, with the Spirit ministering both the presence and truth of God to the heart of the worshiper.

  2. Hello Christian,

    Thank you for your post on worship. It really brings me back to the central point of loving God through loving people.

    I have noticed recently that the purpose of all scripture is to enable us, as sons and daughters of God, to do good works. Of course good works will benefit others especially those of the household of God and should always be accompanied by the Good news. This appears to me to be love for others in action. Thereby we truly follow Jesus example.

    All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
    (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

    I have also noticed that Jesus loved the rich young man and said to him this one thing you lack.

    To follow Jesus example I perceive only one small thing that appears to lack in your excellent post.

    That is the part on tongues.

    Have you noticed that the gift is “kinds of tongues”?

    to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
    (1 Corinthians 12:10)

    This gift maybe used in a church meeting by two or at the most three people and each gift must be interpreted with a gift of interpretation.

    If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.
    (1 Corinthians 14:27-28)

    Therefore the gift is distinctly different from the ability given to every person to speak, pray or sing in tongues when they are baptized in the Holy Spirit.

    Have you noticed that Paul thanked God that he spoke in tongues more than all the brethren in the church at Corinth implying that everyone in the church had this ability?

    I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.
    (1 Corinthians 14:18-19)

    Notice also that Paul said when his spirit prayed he spoke in an unknown tongue because he did not understand what he spoke.

    For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful.
    (1 Corinthians 14:14)

    I can draw only one conclusion from both these scriptures and a number of others. That being the gift of kinds of tongues is not the same as the ability granted by the Holy Spirits baptism to speak in tongues.

    This principle is not unique to tongues. It is also somewhat like the difference between the faith we all receive to believe in Jesus and the gift of faith only some receive from the Holy Spirit.

    I really appreciate the wisdom God has given you in correctly dividing the word of truth. For this reason I have set this matter before you. If you see it in a different light I would appreciate your instruction.

    Yours in Christ,

  3. Wow, this was really rich, and good. I am sharing. So much is lost today. Thanks for this post. I will share/reblog. May God continue to bless you.

  4. Reblogged this on Musings and My Two Cents and commented:
    This is a great article on true worship.

  5. Barbara, my dear sister, you are an excellent writer! Wow! I really enjoyed reading your blog and I agree with everything you said. I will now be more focused on my hoizontal worship.

    One thing I have found at IBC is that the people are easy to love because they are so loving. Easier to love than my neighbor, who happens to be very hard to love. And, I agree, it is certainly easier to love God than to love one another.

    How often are you writing an installment to your blog? I want to tune in again for the next segment. I look forward to seeing you Sunday, since the RCG’s are this Wed. I am glad I will have all eternity to be your friend and to know you better.

    Love, Christine

    • Thank you so much for your kind words. I’m afraid you may have confused my blog with Barbara Fisher’s, though. Anyway, I am thankful that you took the time to read it. You are a welcome visitor!

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