“When we say that we should sing the Word, we mean that our singing ought to be biblical.” –– Ligon Duncan
In his message at TGC21, Ligon Duncan describes what the book of Hebrews means by “acceptable worship” in the life of the Christian. What does it practically look like? Duncan answers not only the “what” but also the “how.”
Worship is defined as “glorifying and enjoying God forever,” which is done in two ways: (1) gathering to worship with the body of Christ and (2) worshiping God in all of life with everything we have.
These two elements of worship work together, ensuring we’re not hypocrites with our hearts far from God as we enter the assembly of worship and encouraging us, while in the assembly, to also worship in private.
Most importantly, Duncan reminds us “acceptable worship” is worship according to the Scriptures—it’s filled by the Word and framed by the Word. Not only do we read God’s Word, but we pray it, preach it, and sing it. And we do it all with a heart of gratitude. This is acceptable worship.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
If you have your Bibles, please turn with me to Hebrews chapter 12, verses 28 and 29. This is the Word of God. Therefore, let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken. And Deus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and all, for our God is a consuming fire. Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy inspired and inerrant Word. May he readies eternal truth upon all our hearts. Here, we are exhorted to offer acceptable worship to our God with reverence and all because of who he is, and what he has done for us. But what does that mean? What is worship here? What is acceptable worship? How does God being a consuming fire fit in? And what is the relationship between our gratitude and our worship? Well, let’s begin with the first question what is worship? The Psalmist tells us succinctly worship is giving to the Lord the glory, do his name, Psalm 29, one and two, or we could say it’s glorifying and enjoying God forever. But in the Bible, worship is done in two general ways there is gathered worship where the people of God assemble to meet with him under his word, and to give Him the glory to his name. And there is worship in all of life, where we serve Him with all that we are in all that we do. And it is not that the Old Testament is interested in ceremonial and gathered worship and the New Testament is interested in worship in all of life, you find, gathered worship and worship and all of life in the Old Testament, and you find gathered worship and worship in all of life. In the New Testament, Jerry bridges, for instance, in his book, I exalt you, oh Lord, gives this example in Scripture, the word worship is used to denote both and overall way of life, and a specific activity. When the Prophet Jonah said, I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea in the land, Jonah, one nine, he was speaking about his whole manner of life. In contrast to John his words, the Psalmist says in Psalm 100, verse two, worship the Lord with gladness, come before him with joyful songs. The Psalmist is speaking there of a specific activity of praising God. This is the sense that we normally use the word worship today, these two concepts of worship a broad one and a more narrow, specific one, correspond to the two ways by which we glorify God, we glorify God by ascribing to Him the honor and adoration due to him because of his excellence, the narrow concept of worship, and we also glorify God by reflecting his glory to others, the broader way of life, manner of worship. And so when Psalm 100 tells us to enter his courts, with praise to Enter his gates, with thanksgiving, it’s clearly thinking of the people of God coming to the tabernacle or to the temple to worship that’s gathered worship. But when Paul in Romans 12 says that we are to present ourselves as a living sacrifice, as an offering of our spiritual worship. He’s speaking of worship, in all of life. So to say it a little differently. Worship is declaring with our lips and our lives, that God is more important than anything else to us. Now, Hebrews understands and speaks about both aspects of worship. For instance, in Hebrews 1025, the author of Hebrews warns us about neglecting to meet together he is very concerned that we assemble together and that we not forsake that assembling together that is gathered worship, congregational worship, public worship, what we do on the Lord’s Day. He’s very concerned that we would gather for worship but in the context of this passage, after he talks about acceptable worship of the Lord in reverence and all, what is what does he talk about next in Hebrews 13, one to five, just look, he speaks about brotherly love. He speaks about not neglecting hospitality to strangers, he speaks about remembering those in prison. He speaks about honoring the marriage, marriage, he speaks about keeping your life free from the love of money and being content, clearly things that pertain to worship in all of life. So the author of Hebrews knows about gathered worship and worship in all of life. How do those things relate to one another? Well, worship and all of life assures that when we gather to worship, we’re not worshiping as hypocrites. Remember the prophetic charge against Israel, you worship Me with your lips, but your lives your hearts are far from me, your your deeds, your behavior, show that you really aren’t worshiping Me with the whole of yourself. And gathered worship prepares us for worshiping God in all of life. Now, what is acceptable worship? First and foremost, acceptable worship is worship, by the book. It’s worship, according to the Scriptures. It is a word based worship. It’s filled with the Word of God, and it’s framed by the word of God. It’s directed by the word of God. It’s ordered by the word of God, and its substance is filled with the Word of God. And so our motto for gathered worship ought to be read the word, preach the Word, pray the Word, sing the word, see the word. We’re to read the word in public worship, there’s nothing more important than that. God’s holy, inspired, inerrant, authoritative word, the apostle Paul will tell Timothy in First Timothy, chapter four, verse 13, until I come give attention to the public reading of Scripture, and this is something that goes all the way back to the days of the Old Testament. In fact, we’re told in Exodus 24, verse seven, when the children of God had gathered around Sinai, that Moses took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And so from the very beginning, worship has been the reading of the word to the people of God, and our worship services ought to be filled up with the Bible, and we’re to preach the word. Not only do we preach the word because we know that faith comes by hearing Romans 10 414 and 17. But again, the apostle Paul tells Timothy and Second Timothy chapter four verse to preach the Word. And in Acts, chapter 20, verse 27, he tells the Ephesian elders, I declared to you the whole counsel of God, I preached the Word of God to you, and that’s a central feature of Bible believing worship, we read the Word and we preach the Word. And of course, we’re to pray the Word in public worship the Lord Jesus in Matthew chapter 21, verse 13, said, my father’s house is a house of prayer. Prayer has been at the core of worship from the very beginning or in early chapters of Genesis. Worship itself is called prayer crying out to God gives us the first examples of public worship in the book of Genesis. I’m a Presbyterian, but I love the name that the Anglicans give to the regular morning service of worship, in which they don’t administer communion. And they call it morning prayer.
Isn’t that a beautiful name for a worship, service and an appropriate name that’s rooted in the word of God? And then of course, in addition to reading the word preaching the word praying the word we are to sing the word we’re to come before His presence with singing. We’re to speak to one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. And in First Corinthians 14 When Paul is describing worship to the Corinthians and how it ought to be done. He says, Each one comes with a hymn singing the Word of God to God in public worship is part of the order of worship appointed in God’s word. Of course, that doesn’t mean that we can only sing the language of Scripture, though the Psalms and the rest of the Scripture provide us tremendous dots illogical resources. But when we say that we should sing the word we mean that our singing ought to be biblical, it ought to be shot through with the language and categories and theology of the Bible. It ought to reflect the themes and proportions of the Bible as well as its substance and weightiness, and we’re to see the word in worship. You remember Agustin called the sacraments are the ordinances, visible words. In other words, they were to be visible representations of what God’s Word of Promise is. And so baptism and the Lord’s Supper represent visibly the Word of God in His promises to his people. And that gathered worship, which is filled and formed by the word is meant to enable us to live in all of life worship, according to the principles and the general rules of the word. So the first thing we would say is acceptable worship is worship by the book, according to Scripture filled up with the word and formed and directed by the word. Well, what does it mean that we are to worship because of gratitude? Well, in this passage, we’re told that we have received a kingdom that cannot be shaken. And we are therefore to be grateful now Dr. Mohler will explain to you tomorrow, what that kingdom is that you have received, that cannot be shaken. But notice that this is to produce gratitude in us. We are to be grateful for the work of God on our behalf, the gift of God on our behalf, this kingdom that we have received that cannot be shaken by the shed blood of Jesus Christ that you just heard Dr. Piper talk about this is to produce in us gratitude and therefore acceptable worship will be worship that is grateful and grateful, especially for Christ. In fact, we cannot come to God in worship apart from Jesus name. But what does he mean when he speaks about our God being a consuming fire? Well, this is harkening back to the Old Testament idea, the fear of the Lord, yes, he said, we’ve come to Mount Zion, not to Mount Sinai, but our God is a consuming fire. Our God is awesome. And the eye of faith sees God as He is. And so we worship Him with reverence, and all, because our God is holy love, and that reverence and all is joined with love and hope, and therefore our worship is not slavish dread, but a respectful posture of a son to the just authority and station, have a father who loves him to honor Him as Lord and to love him as a father. And it’s the business of every Christian to cultivate a godly gospel, feeling old fear, reverence, and all of God our maker, for he is a consuming fire. God bless you all.