Worship, Word, and Witness: Seeing Clearly

Worship, Word, Witness: Seeing Clearly


Today I’d like to take a few moments to look at the three words we use to describe our ministry here at Christ Church. Those words are WORSHIP, WORD, and WITNESS. It’s important that we understand clearly what we’re about, because it helps us understand why we do the things we do and how God has called us to express our life together in Christ. These three words are kind of like our spiritual DNA. They get at the core of who we are called to be as Christ Church.


At the end of his time on earth, right before Jesus ascended into heaven to be with the Father, he commissioned his disciples. He basically told them, “This is what I want you as my people, placing your faith in me, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to do now.” Turn to Matthew 28:19-20. This is what he said. Make disciples. That is the mission Christ has given his church. Go and make disciples. That’s it. Everything else describes what that looks like. Baptism, that’s entrance into the body of Christ, into the community. Observing, or obeying, the commands of Christ, that’s Christian growth, God’s spirit shaping us, molding us to look like, live like Christ, kind of like a potter shaping clay on a potting wheel.


Earlier in his ministry, someone sat down with Jesus and asked him, “Of ALL of the commandments, of ALL of the things the Bible says about God and how we are to live as the people of God, what one is the most important? If you could reduce it all down to one, what would it be, Jesus?” His answer is found in Matthew 22:37-40. Two commandments that sum up the entire Bible, which at that time was what we call the Old Testament: Love God and love others. Love God, that’s worship. And love others, that’s service, outreach, even evangelism.


So we’ve take those two passages, one is called the great commandment and the other is called the great commission, and we’ve distilled them down into these three words: WORSHIP, WORD, and WITNESS. Jesus said to go and make disciples, right? A disciple of Jesus is someone who WORSHIPS God, someone who is being actively shaped by the WORD of God, and someone who WITNESSES to the goodness, love, and grace of God that she or he has found in Christ. We witness to the love and grace of God sometimes with words, sharing our faith with someone interested in hearing about it. And also by serving, by meeting real, tangible needs in our community for the sake of Christ.


WORSHIP. In John 4:23-24, Jesus says … There are two key words here. The first is SPIRIT. Jesus is not talking about the Holy Spirit here. The Greek text is actually quite clear. It does not say “in THE spirit.” It says “in spirit.” He is talking about our human spirits. Those who really worship God are those who worship in spirit. And we are to worship in spirit because God is spirit. So what does it mean to worship God in spirit? The word spirit refers the deepest part of a person. We think of it as the part of the person that lives on after the body dies. To worship in spirit is to worship God with complete sincerity from the depth, the core of your being. It is to worship God with all that you are, your mind and your emotions, your will. It is to worship God regardless of circumstances, regardless of your situation. The writer of Hebrews encourages us to offer up our sacrifice of praise to God (Heb. 13:15). And sometimes worship IS a sacrifice. Sometimes it costs us something. It takes time. It takes energy. It requires us to set our agenda, our wants, and our needs aside to worship God. It requires us to take our attention off ourselves and direct it to God. Worship isn’t about you. Worship is about God, and true worshippers worship God with sincerity from the depth of their being. True worshipers worship God wholeheartedly. True worshipers worship God in spirit.


And also in truth. To worship in truth is to worship with right knowledge about God. It is to worship with the right view of God. We worship what is true about God. And how do we know what is true about God? By becoming people who know the Word of God. We must pay attention to God’s revelation of himself to us in the person of Jesus and in the pages of Scripture. If my view of God is off, my worship of God will be off. And most of us have mistaken views of God in some way, shape, or form. The 18 month Apprentice small group series that we encourage everyone to participate in is all about deconstructing our false narratives about God and about life and replacing them with the truth of Scripture. But really doing that takes more than 18 months. It takes a lifetime, and we’ll never have it fully right until we stand before him face to face. In his first letter John says “But we know that when Christ comes again, we will be like him. We will see him just as he is” (1 Jn. 3:2). But until that time, we must be people of the Word of God, people who allow the truth about God to permeate our minds and our hearts, challenging our preconceptions about life, about God.


We tend to think of worship as primarily an emotional activity. And it does involve the emotions. But emotions by themselves can lead us astray. When we worship God in spirit AND in truth, mind and emotion begin to work together. Rich Mullins was a musician and song writer best known as the writer of the song “Awesome God.” He used to talk about how people would come up to him after concerts and say, “Wow! The Holy Spirit really moved at that certain point in the song.” And Rich would respond by saying, “No actually, that’s where the kick drum and the bass came in.” It’s easy to mistake energy and emotion for worship. True worship, what today I am calling wholehearted worship, does involve the emotions, but it doesn’t stop with mere emotions. Wholehearted worship is more than mere sentiment. If we are truly worshipping wholeheartedly, in spirit and in truth, then every part of us, our minds, our wills, and our emotions are involved. It’s ok for our emotions to be stirred in worship. And it might be the Holy Spirit stirring our emotions. It might also be the worship team. Or the breakfast burrito you ate.


God is seeking wholehearted worshippers. People who worship him in spirit, with every part of their being, and in truth, worshipping him as he is, not as they would have him to be. Think about that for a minute. God is SEEKING your wholehearted worship. Look at John 4:23. Sometimes we hear about people “finding God.” Truth is, we don’t find God, he finds us. He is seeking us out. But not for the reason you might think. God isn’t some egotistical manic demanding to be worshipped. He is a God of love who desires your love, my love in return. In Exodus, in giving the Ten Commandments, each of which is a revelation of the character and nature of God, God tells the people not to make or bow down to any false idols, “for I the Lord your God am a jealous God” (Ex. 20:5). God, jealous? Yes, for you. For your affections. Like a lover whose beloved has rejected him for another, God is jealous for our wholehearted worship, for that is our expression of love to him. God is a God of love. In fact, John tells us that God is love. Not human love. The perfect love of a perfect, holy God. He is a God of love who seeks the best for his people. He seeks us out, to be loved by him and to love him in return.


WORD. And those who love God and are loved by God are transformed by the Word of God. Turn to Hebrews 4:12-13. Now it’s important to understand that we do not worship the Bible, we worship Christ. The Bible is God’s revelation of himself to us. It points us to Christ. It reveals Christ to us. When the Word of God is taught, studied, read, ingested, and meditated upon, the Holy Spirit uses it to transform us. It has power and authority in our lives. Why?


Because it is “living and active.” It is the living Word of God. It does something! Paul, in his second letter to Timothy, tells us that all Scripture is “breathed out by God” (2 Tim. 3:16). Some translations use the phrase “inspired by God” there. The words of Scripture find their source not in the minds of human beings, but in the mind of God. The word “active” can also be translated “effective.” The Word of God always accomplishes God’s purpose. Martin Luther said it this way: “The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.” The Word of God is living and active, and will effectively accomplishing God’s purpose for it.  And that living and active word penetrates our hearts, our minds, and our lives.

Look at V. 12. In the Bible, the heart is the seat of our sense of self. It is the core of who we are. And through the Word God probes the innermost recesses of our being. The Word of God penetrates to the core of who we are, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and cuts out the stuff God wants to remove so that the stuff he wants to grow has room to grow. God doesn’t play around. I often hear people talking about wanting sermons, devotionals, and Bible studies that make them feel good. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. God often uses his Word to bring comfort and hope into our lives. He also uses it to make us uncomfortable. To push us. To make us grow. And most importantly, to cut out of our hearts, out of the core of our deepest personality, the sin that must be removed. Sometimes healing hurts. Sometimes, when we put down the Word of God, when we leave church, we are bleeding and in deep pain, like a patient who has just undergone surgery. And that pain has come about not because the pastor is aiming at us, but because God, in his love, knows that to bring his hope and healing, he has to cut deep, right to the core of my sense of self. The Word of God does bring comfort and hope. It is filled with hope. But eventually God will use it to cut, and cut deep.


Look at V. 13. In the blink of an eye the focus shifts from the Word of God to God himself. In Genesis God breathes on the human form and it receives life. Because the Word of God is God-breathed, is enlivened by God’s live-giving breath, we cannot separate God from his Word, and the Word of God, penetrating to the very core of our being, leaves us open and bare before God. Nothing at all, no creature, is hidden from his sight. Jesus tells us that God sees even a single sparrow that falls and dies. The thought is both comforting and terrifying, to know that I will never slip from the sight of God, that I will never find myself in a place where he does not see me, is not acting in my eternal best interest. That means I will never be able to slip away from the sight of God, no matter how hard I try.


But God doesn’t just use his Word to show us our sin, show us what’s wrong with us. Through the Holy Spirit, he uses it to shape us, transform us into the people he created us to be. Paul tells his young protégé Timothy that the purpose of the living, penetrating, revealing Word of God is to bring us to maturity in Christ, “complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17).


WITNESS. And when we accept God’s love for us, and love him in return, and as we are transformed by the Word of God, we begin to share his love with others. Jesus wants us to tell his story. Look at Acts 1:8. A witness is one who can speak to the truth. In a courtroom, a witness is one who can speak to what they have seen, heard, and experienced directly. Hearsay is not permissible. A witness is one who can give an account not of what they think, what they suppose, but what they know. Jesus wants us to show and to tell his story, the story of his life, his death, and his resurrection, and what it means.


And it starts with those we already know and love. Jesus said “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Our witness for Christ is to spread to the ends of the earth, but it starts at home. Jerusalem was their own community. They were from Galilee, but they had spent the past several weeks with Christ in Jerusalem and had traveled there with him at other times as well. It was the hub of religious activity in Israel and a place with which they were very familiar. And it was where they were at the moment. Our witness starts right where we are with those we already know and love. We are to pray for, love, reach out to, and share Christ with those around us just as much as we try to facilitate that happening around the globe through our prayers and financial support. Christ is best shared in relationship.


Then their witness was to extend from Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria and from there to the ends of the earth. Jesus and the disciples had been rejected in Judea. Samaria was the home of the hated half-breed Samaritans. And the ends of the earth? That seemed to include Gentiles too! This was unheard of. The good news about Jesus wasn’t just for them. It wasn’t just for people like them. It was for all. Jesus was asking them to go back to places where they had experienced rejection. To cross boundaries that were taboo to cross. Philip is the one who crossed the big boundary and went into Samaria as a witness for Jesus. But the witness wouldn’t stop there. It would go on. By the end of the book of Acts it had gone as far as Rome itself, but even Rome wasn’t the end. The mission Christ left his church was to reach even farther, and it has. And the mission isn’t over. We are still called to witness to the truth of God in Christ. The book of Acts is the story of Christ at work in the world through his church, and it is the one book of the Bible that doesn’t have an ending. There is no conclusion. Look at Acts 28:30-31, the last verses in the book. Luke leaves us hanging. Why? Because the mission continues. God is still at work, reaching out through us offering hope and grace and mercy in Christ. The mission that began with Peter, Andrew, James and John, Philip, and Paul now rests upon us, for the message must go to the ends of the earth. This is a powerful witness that refuses to be stopped. It is a persistent witness that keeps going regardless of circumstances. It is a courageous witness willing to cross every social and cultural barrier, leaving none out. It is a passionate witness, a flame that burns in the hearts of all who call Christ their Lord and savior for their hearts burn with passion to reach all who can be reached. It is a tall order. But Jesus has not left us to fulfill it by ourselves.


In the last days Jesus spent with his disciples before the cross, he told them that he would soon be going away, and they were filled with sorrow. And to comfort them, he said to them “Let me assure you, it is better for you that I go away. I say this because when I go away I will send the Helper to you. But if I did not go, the Helper would not come” (Jn. 16:7). In Christ, the Word made flesh, God incarnate, Christ would die on behalf of all, but because he had limited himself to a human body, his earthly ministry was limited in time and space. But when he returned to the Father’s side, he would send the Holy Spirit. By definition, as spirit, not body, the Holy Spirit is able to be present everywhere, wherever people who place their faith in Christ may be found. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” The power, the driving force behind our witness for Christ is nothing less than the Holy Spirit of Christ filling our sails with a heavenly wind, transforming us so that our lives themselves bring glory to God and draw others to the cross of Christ as we speak in love, with kindness and courage, about the love of Christ.


Friends, God’s desire is that we become a people transformed by the Word of God, worshipping God in spirit and in truth, who with passion and conviction, share the love of Christ without discrimination, with courage, in word and in deed, in the power of the Holy Spirit. In our work and in our play, in activity and rest, in our neighborhoods, our workplaces, our homes, from Traverse City to the ends of the earth, in worship, word, and witness, may we bring honor and glory to Christ alone. Let us pray.