Christianity in its practical outworkings is a well-balanced combination of the passive and active sides of divine life in the soul. Every Christian is of necessity a receiver, not only at conversion, but all through his career. He must daily sit at Jesus’ feet and hear His Word (Luke 10:39), cultivating that quiet passivity of soul which ensures a receptive state. Otherwise he has nothing to impart.
On the other hand, having received, he finds himself constrained to give. Is he rejoicing in the knowledge of sins forgiven? His joy will not be complete until he has told the news to some one else. Has some fresh truth of Scripture burst upon his view? It will not be fully his until he has acted upon it. To practise any truth is to possess that truth indeed.
So the two things go hand in hand. A Christian resembles a reservoir, inasmuch as he must have an inlet and an outflow. If he becomes so enamored of the activities of Christianity that he is always attempting to give out without stopping to take in, spiritual emptiness and bankruptcy are the result. If he degenerates into a dreamy mystic, decrying all forms of Christian activity under cover of zeal for larger reception of divine truth, spiritual surfeit will supervene, and his ultimate loss will be great.
“From him that has not shall be taken away even that which he has” (Matt. 25:29). This was said of the servant who received a talent, but did not give it out to usury.
“For we must share if we would keep
That good thing from above;
Ceasing to give we cease to have,
Such is the law of love.”
All activities of a distinctly Christian character flow from one source: LOVE, the love of God known and produced in the soul. They range themselves under two heads. First, there are those activities which have God alone for their object and end. Second, those which, though God’s glory is their end, have man in some way as their immediate object.
Let us briefly consider these two things.
WORSHIP must stand first. It is a spiritual activity which, having God alone as its object, confers no tangible benefit upon any one in the world. Therefore, in this utilitarian age it is greatly neglected, and its true character little understood. Let Christians, be they few or many, assemble together, drawing consciously into the presence of God and pouring out their hearts in thanksgiving and worship, and there will be not a few ready to rebuke them and say, “Why was this waste of the ointment made?” They will be told to go out and do something that will confer a practical benefit upon somebody, and abandon that which does nobody good.
But things have gone even further than this. There are many professed ministers of Christ who so fully “mind earthly things” (Phil. 3:19) that they have no thought for “the things which are above” (Col. 3:1), which the believer is bidden to seek. Their aim is limited to the benefit of men, and that in the most material way. Mark the pitiful spiritual degradation to which they have sunk as witnessed by their activities. Here is a flagrant example.
“By training people in music, developing orators and athletes, starting ‘Bible classes – with heaps of fun,’ and making the church a social centre, the writer has created a new community spirit, and as a result land-values are going up.”
Thus an article in an American magazine describes how a church may be “run” so as to benefit the whole community.
Such activities are neither worship nor service. There is nothing in them for God, and nothing for the spiritual benefit of man. Such “ministers” and “churches” must have long ago practically banished the word worship from their vocabularies; the idea which the word properly conveys they probably never had.
What, then, is worship? In the Old Testament the term frequently occurs and is often used in a purely ceremonial sense. The Hebrew word most frequently used means literally “to bow oneself down.” In the New Testament the word gets the inward and spiritual meaning with which we are concerned, and signifies the up-flow of responsive love, in adoration, from the believer to God, now known as Father.
In John 4 the Lord Jesus, speaking to the woman of Samaria, carefully distinguishes between the “true worshippers” and the worshippers according to the ancient rites, whether at Jerusalem or Samaria, and instructs us as to the essentials for true worship. After speaking of the Father as the object of worship, He adds: “God is a Spirit; and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”
Do not these words plainly show that it is God as Father that we are to worship? and, further, that He is only to be worshipped according to what He has revealed Himself to be?
“In spirit,” for “Spirit” is what God Himself is. True worship, then, is not a matter of religious emotions roused by impressive ritual or sensuous music. “Spirit” is the highest part of man, and unless we worship in spirit we do not worship at all.
“In truth.” What is truth? We may answer Pilate’s famous question thus: The realities of God Himself, that which God has revealed Himself to be: this is truth. The One who stood, crowned with thorns that day, in the judgment hall was Himself the truth, though Pilate knew it not, nor cared to know. He, and He alone, could say: “I am . . . the Truth” (John 14:6), for He alone is the perfect revelation of God, and it is as Father that He has revealed Him. Therefore He said: “He that has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
The Father, then, is to be worshipped “in truth,” in the light of that revelation which has come to us in Christ. That which does not give Christ His right place is no true worship. Worshipping God and rejoicing in Christ Jesus go hand in hand (Phil. 3:3).
All this is of great importance. Let the soul firmly grasp the fact that true worship is “in spirit” and it will be delivered from the ritualistic idea which supposes that God can be worshipped by men’s hands, that the more imposing the ceremony, the more gorgeous the surroundings, the more acceptable the “worship” is.
On the other hand, to know that only worship “in truth” is acceptable to God is to have the rationalistic idea dispelled. Neither the torchlight of science nor the study of God’s handiwork in nature gives rise to worship. The knowledge of God Himself, revealed in Christ, is essential.
After worship comes SERVICE, the outcome of the gracious activity of divine love in the hearts of believers, leading them to an endless variety of labour for the glory of God and the good of souls.
Let us make no mistake here. The very essence of true service is that, while undertaken that others may be benefited, it is done for the pleasure and under the direction of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In service our one motive should be to please the Lord, who has in this Himself become our great Example. Speaking of the Father, He said: “I do always those things that please Him” (John 8:29). To do right things is not enough. Right things done with a wrong motive are wrong in the sight of heaven.
Neither is it enough to act even with a right motive, if we are acting simply on our own initiative and doing what seems right in our own eyes. A man employed in a workshop may be a good workman, but a poor servant. If he is opinionated and independent, he will be continually running counter to his master’s wishes and will give no end of trouble. Again, the Lord Jesus comes before us as our Example, saying: “My meat [food] is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34). Service, then, is not merely work, not even good work, Christian activity of the most scriptural sort, but rather such activity under the direction of the Lord.
If an illustration of our theme be wanted, John 12:1-9 presents us with an excellent one. “Martha served.” There was hard work connected with that supper, and many benefited by it, but she performed it for Him. “They made Him a supper.” That was true service done out of a full heart of gratitude to the One who had brought her brother from the tomb.
Lazarus “sat at the table with Him,” a type of that communion with the Master which alone gives point and character to either service or worship.
Mary took the costly ointment and anointed the feet of Jesus. Upon Him she lavished it all. It was the outflow of a heart concentrated upon Christ, though the odour of the ointment filled the house. The worship of the heart is fragrant everywhere.
In speaking of worship, do you intend to refer to your form of worship as compared with that of other people?
Not at all. I have no form of worship, whatever other people may have. To the Jews of old God gave what might be termed a “form of worship.” But it was of a national, outward, ceremonial sort, though acceptable to God, if carried out with all the heart. Alas! it was not so, and soon Jehovah had to say: “In vain do they worship Me.”
But the shadow dispensation has passed away and the substance has come. Christian worship is not national, not a mere matter of the lips, not a thing made up of certain ceremonies and observances. You can no more confine worship in forms than you can keep new wine in old bottles. The thing has been attempted times without number, for again and again have even true believers drifted back in mind and understanding to pre-Christian days. The result, however, must either be that if true worship be retained the forms are burst and discarded, or that if the forms be rigidly adhered to the new wine of true worship is spilled and quickly disappears.
You speak of worship and service Is there such a very great difference between them? Ought we not to worship God whenever we go to a service?
There is a very distinct difference. But just as we are speaking of worship and not “a form of worship,” so we are speaking of service, and not “a service.” The fact is, in the minds of many the whole subject is obscured and confused to a surprising degree, until no clear scriptural idea is left.
We have heard of a preacher who rose from his seat one Sunday morning and said: “Let us commence the worship of Almighty God by singing the hymn
“Come ye sinners poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore.”
To him “worship” evidently meant any kind of religious meeting. But it does not! It may be a true service to the Lord on the part of the preacher to conduct a meeting for the edification of believers or the conversion of sinners. It is no service (in the proper sense of the word) for the listeners. And for neither preacher nor hearers is it worship. Worship is not hearing sermons nor preaching them. Nor is it praying, or singing Gospel hymns. It is that up-flow of adoration which rises from a redeemed soul to God.
Are worship and service confined to any particular class, or may all Christians have part in them?
All Christians are both priests and servants. We read, for instance:
“Ye also . . . are built up . . . an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).
“Ye are . . . a royal priesthood . . . that ye should show forth the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
These words were written not to clergy, but to Christians. All such are a holy and a royal priesthood. Mark their activities! In the one character they OFFER UP spiritual sacrifices to God, i.e., worship. In the other they SHOW FORTH the praises of God, i.e., service.
In connection with service it is, of course, true that not every Christian has a gift according to 1 Corinthians 12, or is an evangelist, pastor, or teacher according to Ephesians 4. Yet every Christian can serve according to Romans 12. If he cannot prophesy or teach, he can show hospitality, or mercy; he can bless his persecutors, or weep in sympathy with a weeping saint, and thus be “serving the Lord.”
Are there any special qualifications needed for us to rightly worship or serve God?
As to worship, Hebrews 10:19-22 speaks of “boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,” and we are exhorted to draw near with “a true heart in full assurance of faith.” These are two important qualifications. Faith must be in active exercise, so that there is full assurance based upon the work of Christ, not a doubt or fear left. Then a true heart would indicate that sincerity and transparency of soul which is the result of a tender conscience and self-judgment.
As to service, read Acts 20:17-35. Here is one of the most eminent of Christ’s servants reviewing his career. Our service may be of the most insignificant description, yet the things that marked him should characterize us. Here are some of them: “humility of mind”; “many tears” – expressive of much exercise; “none of these things move me” – stability of soul; “I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel” – the strictest possible righteousness before the world; “I have shewed you all things” – the practice of what is preached. These are important qualifications indeed.
If a person recently converted desires to serve the Lord, how would you advise them to start?
I would encourage all young believers to serve the Lord by just doing that thing which, in His ordering of their lives, is next to hand. “Do the next thing,” is a very sound motto, albeit that, as a rule, it is the very thing we do not wish to do.
Years ago there was living in a mountainous district of Virginia a humble servant-girl who had never had more than three months’ schooling in her life. She earned four dollars a month. Out of this, one dollar went to her chapel, and one dollar to foreign missions. She was the largest local contributor in both these directions. The other two dollars went to her father, who was very poor and had a large family. She clothed herself by taking in sewing and sitting up late to do it.
An earnest minister visited the place. Accommodation was scarce, so her room was handed over to him. On the table lay her Bible. He opened it and found it marked on nearly every page. But what struck him most of all was her note against “Go ye into all the world” (Mark 16:15). In firm, clear letters it stood, “Oh, if I could!”
Next day he spoke to her about it, whereupon she broke into crying, and for the moment he could get nothing out of her. Later on he heard this story.
She was converted at the age of fourteen, and on reaching home found a paper, “China’s Call for the Gospel,” lying about. Where it came from nobody knew. That had coloured all her thoughts. For ten years she had prayed the Lord to send her to China.
But lately a change had come over her. Just two weeks before, she had come to the conclusion that she had made a mistake, and that, after all, the Lord’s plan for her was that she should be a missionary in the kitchen. At once her prayer became, “Make me willing to be a missionary for Thee in the kitchen,” and the Lord had answered that prayer.
For ten years she had longed for the big thing, while not neglecting smaller things, as her contributions showed. At last she became willing to accept the very little thing, to shine for the Lord in that narrow circle as kitchen-maid, and then the Lord despatched her to some very blessed service in China! For the minister became convinced that he was specially sent there of God to help her, and to China she ultimately went.
May service of that kind be greatly multiplied on every hand!
“He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much” (Luke 16:10).