I got sidelined from the pulpit yesterday. Though I didn’t get it myself, three members of our family tested positive for COVID. Thankfully, no one has been seriously ill. Nevertheless, Tasmania’s rules mean seven days of quarantine for the entire household. That included yesterday, the Lord’s Day. On days like that, we’re thankful for live-streaming. In the afternoon, I was blessed to hear a colleague preach.
Retired pastor Rev. Keith Kleijn has been helping out in our neighbouring congregation of Legana. Normally we have an exchange on the third Sunday of every month. Even though I wasn’t able to participate, he agreed to spend one service in Launceston yesterday and delivered a catechism sermon on Lord’s Day 34. That Lord’s Day deals with the second commandment, how we are to worship God.
My colleague briefly raised a really good point about how preaching is worship. He’s not the first person to make such a point in general. John Piper’s Expository Exultation: Christian Preaching as Worship works that out beautifully, particularly in relation to the preacher himself. The preacher is to be worshipful as he’s preaching. But what about the congregation? How does the congregation worship during the preaching of God’s Word? Rev. Kleijn answered: one way is by listening attentively.
That’s right: listening to God is worship. We honour God as we pay attention to his Word, both as it’s read and as it’s preached. We’re not talking about merely hearing God, as if it would be just enough to have the sounds of his Word enter into our ears. We’re talking about listening intently and taking it in as we ought. When we do that, we demonstrate to God our esteem for him – we worship him.
Of course, we can and should go further in our worship during the administration of God’s Word. We do that with the appropriate response in our souls. If the preacher is showing the beauty and wonder of who God is and what he has done, we exult with him. If the preacher is proclaiming the gospel and calling for a response of faith, we worship by saying, “Yes, Lord, I believe!” If the Word preached calls for some change in our life, it is adoration for God to say, “This is what I want to do. Please help Lord to do it.”
John Piper helps us go one step even deeper. He writes in Expository Exultation:
The languishing coming to drink at the fountain of God’s life-giving word. That too is worship. It magnifies the necessity and desirableness of God. The soul-hungry come to eat at the banquet that is spread from the rich stores of Scripture. This also is worship.
Woe to the pastor who chastises his people for “coming to get” and not to give. If what the hungry people are coming to get is God, their hunger magnifies the worth of God’s soul-satisfying beauty. (p.100)
So there is a sense in which, if we are longing with expectation for the preaching, that we’re already worshipping before the service begins. After the service has begun, if we’re eager to get to the sermon, that too should be rightly considered as worship. Hungering and thirsting for God to speak to us gives him glory and shows his worth to us.
It’s often been said that one of the defining characteristics of Reformed worship is that the Word of God read and preached is at the centre. The administration of God’s Word is the climax, the high point. That makes sense because Reformed worship is covenantal and at the centre of the covenant is the Mediator, Jesus Christ. The central event of Reformed worship is the proclamation of that Mediator. Having preaching central also makes sense because Reformed worship is theocentric – it’s focussed on God. While there are moments where we’re communicating to God in the worship service, the most important thing is always for us to listen to him. If we do that properly, it’s worship.