In some sense, this worship value is pretty obvious. In the Old Testament in particular, the sacrificial system was how Israel worshiped God. They brought sacrifices to God as a reflection of faith and obedience. Their worship flowed out of their sacrifice.

Here are just a few examples:

The Passover lambs were sacrifices from the congregation of Israel.

Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb.Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.

Exodus 12:3-6

David refused to make a sacrifice or build an altar that cost him nothing.

18 And Gad came that day to David and said to him, “Go up, raise an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.” 19 So David went up at Gad’s word, as the Lord commanded. 20 And when Araunah looked down, he saw the king and his servants coming on toward him. And Araunah went out and paid homage to the king with his face to the ground. 21 And Araunah said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?” David said, “To buy the threshing floor from you, in order to build an altar to the Lord, that the plague may be averted from the people.” 22 Then Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take and offer up what seems good to him. Here are the oxen for the burnt offering and the threshing sledges and the yokes of the oxen for the wood. 23 All this, O king, Araunah gives to the king.” And Araunah said to the king, “May the Lord your God accept you.” 24 But the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver. 25 And David built there an altar to the Lord and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the Lord responded to the plea for the land, and the plague was averted from Israel.

2 Samuel 24:18-25

In another place David testified in confession:

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Psalm 51:17

It should go without saying that our worship is sacrificial. But note why and how our worship is sacrificial. We do not initiate the sacrifice of worship. God did and God does.

In Genesis 3, God sacrificed the first animal to cover Adam and Eve’s nakedness (Genesis 3:21). In Genesis 22, God commanded Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. While God stayed Abraham’s hand, the even foreshadowed the ultimate sacrifice God would make on behalf of sinners. The writer of Hebrews picks up on this theme when he describes Jesus’ death in sacrificial and atonement terminology.

11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. 16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship.22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. 23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own,26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself

Hebrews 9:11-26

In the book of Romans, Paul highlights worship as a response to the gospel of Jesus Christ when he describes the kind of worship that God accepts.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:1-2

Bryan Chapell offers a helpful insight about the kind of worship Paul describes in Romans 12.

He does not say that we should offer our bodies to God so that we will become acceptable ‘living sacrifices.’ Paul says that we should offer our ‘bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God’ (12:1). ‘Holy and pleasing’ are not descriptions of what we will become; they are declarations of what we are. Before we have performed our religious duties, God makes us holy and pleasing to himself. 

Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Worship109. 

Here are a few important applications from this worship value.

First, worship is sacrificial because Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for us makes worship possible. It is not our sacrifices to God that make our worship acceptable; it is Christ’s sacrifice for us that makes us acceptable.

Second, when we worship sacrificially, it means that we present ourselves as living sacrifices. The imagery in Romans 12 is that we offer our bodies, not in death, but in life to Christ. This is the goal of Christian living which springs from the glories of God and his gospel represented by the “therefore” of Romans 12:1 that Paul has been describing in the first eleven chapters.

Third, sacrificial worship at the very least requires our time, attention, offerings, and song.

  • Gathered congregational worship requires invested time with God’s people (see Hebrews 10:24-25). Personal, individual worship requires time with God (see Psalm 119:105).
  • When we worship personally (our quiet times) and corporately (with the congregation), our worship must be in spirit and in truth (John 4:23). At the very least, this means that our worship must be attentive or engaged. Instead of daydreaming, sacrificial worshipers are engaged internally (minds and souls) and externally (bodies and activities).
  • Sacrificial worship offers gifts back to God. God invites generous and cheerful giving (2 Corinthians 9:6-7). Part of the way that we worship is to give back to God out of thanks and gratitude for his sacrifice that brings us salvation.
  • One of the most regular commands of the Bible (especially in the Psalms) is the command to sing. Our songs to God are praises, testimonies, and affirmations about God and for God’s people. In this sense, they are elements of sacrifice in worship.

So, I ask you this week. Will you thank God that his sacrifice makes your worship possible? Will you worship God sacrificially out of thanksgiving and praise?

Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash

Biblical worship requires relationships that have both vertical and horizontal dimensions.

Worship begins with God, and God invites a response from us. Without a vertical dimension to worship, worship doesn’t happen.

Remember God initiates relationship with us. Numerous examples abound. God came down to walk with Adam and Eve in the garden (Genesis 3). The LORD initiated covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12 and 15). God gave Isaiah a vision of his holy splendor in heaven (Isaiah 6). The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1).

Because God initiates relationship (and by extension worship), then our worship activities build upon the relationship we have with God through Jesus Christ. In doctrinal terms, relational worship relies upon our union with Christ.

Because worship is vertical, proper worship depends upon a proper perspective of God and a proper relationship with God.

In his classic work The Knowledge of the Holy, A.W. Tozer affirms:

The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God. For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God.

Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy.

What we think about God forms the foundation for our worship of God. Tozer continues:

A right conception of God is basic not only to systematic theology but to practical Christian living as well. It is to worship what the foundation is to the temple; where it is inadequate or out of plumb the whole structure must sooner or later collapse. I believe there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God.

Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy.

Tozer underscores the necessity of making sure our view of God is true and accurate. In order for our perspective on God to be true, relational worship must be based upon Scripture. Scriptural Worship will be a subsequent post, but it is important that we grasp here that worship being relational depends upon a correct view of God.

In making sure the vertical dimension of worship is right, we should regularly seek God’s forgiveness. What keeps us from worshiping in a manner pleasing to God is our sinfulness.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

1 John 1:5-10

Relational worship not only contains a vertical dimension, but also a horizontal dimension. Because congregational (gathered) worship is so vital for God’s people, we must also be aware that our relationships with others (horizontal dimension) affect our worship of God (vertical dimension).

Jesus addressed this very concept in his Sermon on the Mount.

22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 

Matthew 5:22-24

The context for Jesus addressing anger is worship, “offering your gift at the altar.” Jesus expects that his followers will seek reconciliation with one another before continuing the worship of God.

Paul echoes Christ’s sentiment as he closed his second letter to the Church at Corinth.

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

2 Corinthians 13:11

So, how do we practice and apply this worship value?

  • Before entering gathered worship, confess sins and ready your heart to focus on God. In recognizing the vertical dimension of worship, thank and praise God for initiating relationship with us. We must ever be grateful that God would invite us to worship. Our thanksgiving and praise directed upward to God should help us to see our sinfulness and lead us to confession and repentance.
  • Before entering gathered worship, seek peace and reconciliation with others. Unreconciled relationships present one of the most harmful realities to gathered worship. As much as depends on you, pursue peace with one another. Forgive others quickly. Make things right if there is something wrong. I realize that reconciliation is a two-way responsibility. And some do not want to be reconciled. But as much as depends upon you, seek reconciliation. This is the lesson Jesus teaches in Matthew 5. It is vital for our worship to be relational and meaningful.
  • When worshiping, realize that both vertical and horizontal dimensions are at work. We sing praises to and about God, but we also address one another (Ephesians 5:18-21). Our praise and testimony in song is to exalt God deservedly and to encourage and strengthen one another helpfully. One of my favorite expressions of this has been how encouraging congregational singing has been to me from our worshipers at Wilkesboro Baptist Church.

This week when you gather for worship, look up. Worship is from, about, and to God. Also, look around. Our gathered worship is to encourage our fellow believers.

Photo by Carolina Jacomin on Unsplash