Worship is the Center PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ben Merkle   
Friday, 20 August 2010 08:39

This article was originally delivered as the Convocation Address at the 2010 New Saint Andrews College Convocation.

King David writes to us in Ps. 30:11-12 “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, to the end that my glory may sing praise to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I give thanks to you forever.”

Throughout this Psalm, David describes the joy that he has in his salvation, the great pleasure of knowing that his soul has been raised from the grave, that the terrible heat of God’s fierce anger has been turned aside, that the Lord has had mercy on him, and that God has turned his mourning into dancing. And this great joy has led David to praise the Lord, to sing eternally of the great salvation of his God.

But David doesn’t just say that the salvation of the Lord has merely led to his response of praise. David insists that the Lord saved him for the very purpose of causing him to praise the Lord. He says - “you have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, to the end that my glory may sing praise to you and not be silent.” That phrase “to the end” could just as easily be translated “in order that” or “for the purpose of.”  The Lord has saved David in order that David would sing praise back to God.

Now that statement, the assertion that God has had mercy on us for the purpose of getting us to praise him, is a claim that can be quite offensive to the pride of the human heart. To say that God only saved us in order that we might glorify him, makes God, it would seem, into something of a narcissist. A non-Christian college student that I was speaking to once phrased the objection something like this – “Doesn’t it seem like the best deeds, the most noble deeds, are those that are done without regard to the attention that we will get for doing them? Isn’t it best to give for the sake of giving, rather than for the sake of being noticed as we give? Isn’t it best to perform a sacrificial good deed for the sake of the goodness of that deed, rather than for the reward that we might get for performing that good deed?” Thus, according to this student, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was a noble deed. But the moment that we are told to thank Jesus and praise him for his sacrifice, then the goodness of his sacrifice becomes soiled with a narcissistic self-centeredness. If he saved us for the sake of getting our praise, then doesn’t that lessen the goodness of his salvation?

Initially, there are elements of this argument that might feel a touch compelling. After all, wasn’t it Jesus who warned the scribes about looking for attention for their own piety – Lk. 20:45-47. Wasn’t it Jesus who taught that when we give, we are not to do it with the intention of being seen and should not even let our right hand know what our left is doing – Mt. 6:1-3. Wasn’t it Jesus who told us that we should pray secretly, not loving to be seen – Mt. 6:5-6. In short, Jesus taught us not to do our good deeds before men. But isn’t God doing exactly that? Hasn’t he done his good deeds for the sake of getting us to praise him? Is there an inconsistency here? Is God’s insistence that we praise him for his salvation a violation of his own standard?

Of course this is foolish talking and I’m sure that we could offer a whole host of answers to these objections. But let me give you a very brief shot at one answer to this, an answer that will set me up for an exhortation to our students.

First of all, notice that implicit in this objection is the presupposition that goodness is something external to God, something that should be done for “it’s own sake.” Goodness is set up all by itself as something that we should all venerate for no other reason than that it is goodness. But we all know, or we all will know by the end of this academic year, that it is impossible to have a transcendent standard of goodness that we ought to submit to, without a transcendent God to whom we must all submit. This is the error of our new atheists, those men who pound their pulpits of disbelief and go on tirades about the immorality of Christianity. They claim that to give children a Christian education is the same thing as child abuse. They maintain our faith poisons everything. They call us a wicked cult.

To which, the presuppositionalist answers - “Immoral, is that bad? Child abuse? Should we not do that? Wicked, is it wrong to be wicked? Says who?” A transcendent standard to which all men must answer is dependent on the existence of a transcendent being to whom we must all answer. You cannot have one without the other. This is the argument to which the new atheists have no answer other than to change the subject. Another way of putting this would be to say that morality is always personal. Things are right or wrong because someone has said that they are right or wrong. If you do away with the person, then you also do away with the morality. The new atheists, in their rejection of the person of God, have forfeited the ability to talk sensibly about right and wrong.

Now bring this back to our first question. Remember that the student who wanted Jesus to give himself as a sacrifice merely for the sake of the goodness of that action, had assumed that goodness was something external to God, something that should be done for its own sake. He wanted us to elevate morality and minimize the person. He wanted obedience, but no worship. But if morality must be personal, then obedience without worship is nonsense.

Remember that I mentioned that Jesus himself taught that we should not do our good deeds to be seen. The implication seemed to be that we should do our good deeds solely for the sake of the goodness of those good deeds, expecting nothing other than the satisfaction of knowing that we had done something good. But that is not actually what Jesus said in Mat. 6. When someone alludes generally to a verse, you really ought to make sure that you read the verse closely to see what it really says. Jesus says –

“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.”

It is not the case that Jesus is exhorting us to do something solely for the sake of some impersonal goodness. He is exhorting us to do our charitable deeds in secret so that it is clear that they are being done solely for the sake of the Father in Heaven. Our charitable deeds become good when they are done before our Father and for the sake of pleasing him. This is because, obedience is always personal. Good works are not good when done in some abstract impersonal vacuum. They are good when they are done for the sake of our heavenly Father.

All true obedience is not done for the sake of the action itself, but rather for the sake of the pleasure of the triune God, our lawgiver. The non-Christian wants to find a way of being good without this lawgiver. He wants to have goodness, without having to acknowledge the God who is that source of that goodness. He wants to have morality without having to have worship, without having to bow down. But this really is impossible. Rules require that there be a rule giver who is worthy to be obeyed. But acknowledging that the rule-giver is worthy to be obeyed is the beginning of worship. Once you have named the person behind the commandments, you have just said that there is someone out there, to whom all mankind must submit. That is worship.

So all real obedience begins with worship. You can’t have right and wrong without first having Hallelujah. You can’t have “thou shalt not steal” without having “though shalt have no other gods before me.” We began this talk by suggesting that the requirement to worship God seemed to be sort of at odds with the rest of God’s law. But now we see that actually worshipping God is the beginning and the necessary foundation for any obedience to God. Obedience starts with worship. Worship provides the context for all obedience.

And this all brings me to my exhortation. Students, you were made to be worshippers of the triune God. This is your purpose. This is your calling. It is what you are here for. Worship orients everything, it explains everything. It is only in the context of this worship that you can sensibly talk about right and wrong. It is only as worshippers of the Lord Jesus Christ that you can speak of works of righteousness. Because of this, worship is the center of everything, the foundation of your week. However, in the coming months it will be very easy to forget this. It will be easy for the pressures of the workload to distract you from your focus on our heavenly Father. It will be easy for the friendships and animosities that will bloom this year to dominate your thinking in such a way that you give little thought to your Savior. It will be a simple thing for the Spirit-filled worship of Sunday morning to become an afterthought, a jarring interruption breaking into your hectic life.  But let me urge you, on behalf of all your instructors, in the midst of all of your studies, in the midst of all the tasks that we are about to heap onto you, please don’t lose sight of what is the center. You are worshippers of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is your reasonable service. May God bless your studies this year and make you faithful laborers in his kingdom.

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Last Updated on Friday, 20 August 2010 08:51