Why attend corporate worship?

Pastor Brad Nutt   -  


I am going to start by peppering you with a bunch of truths and questions.

God is glorious. How can we most glorify God together? God has promised his near presence to us. The wonder of the new covenant is that God dwells among us. How can we experience the most of God’s presence? God delights in revealing his character to us. It is his desire to show us his kindness, his love, his compassion, his power, his righteousness. How can we see him most clearly revealed? Our God has promised to sustain us with spiritual food, making us strong and courageous for the day of battle. How can we get the maximum spiritual benefits from the Lord? God has called us to love each other. He has called us to edify, encourage, and build up the body of Christ. How can we do the most good to our fellow believers? Sin is always lurking at our door seeking to pounce upon us. Our hearts often grow cold. Our hearts are strangely attracted to the things of this world. How can we best fight off temptation? How can we fight against the sinful inclinations of our hearts? Our God is a worker of miracles. Mighty deeds are recorded of him and he has not stopped doing these wonders, not even in our day. Where can we experience the Lord doing his mightiest works on earth? Great rewards are held out to us by our God––heaven, new creation, an enteral life to come. Where do we get closest to these rewards and realties in our present day? Where do we get to taste heaven on this side of glory?

That is a lot of questions. Enough questions to make our minds swirl. But here’s the thing, all of these questions have something in common, they all get at the heart of Christianity. Even more, they are all immensely practical. These questions really matter for us in the right here right now of our lives. So I ask you, do you have an answer to those questions?

Here’s the answer and it might surprise you, corporate worship.

How can we most glorify God together? By coming together corporately to lift up our praises and prayers to God. How can we experience the most of God’s presence? By coming together corporately banking upon the promises of Jesus, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20). How can we see God most clearly revealed? By gathering with fellow worshippers who have set their hearts like David’s, “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord” (Psalm 27:4). How can we get maximum spiritual benefits from the Lord? By going to the place where God has promised to meet us and do good to our souls––the preaching of the word, the administration of the sacraments, the fellowship of the saints. How can we do the most good to our fellow believers? By coming together and doing what Paul commands us to do in Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” How can we fight off sin and find salvation from the sinful inclinations of our hearts? Psalm 72 answers, “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped… until I went into the sanctuary of God.” Where can we experience the Lord doing his mightiest works on earth? Here in corporate worship God regularly performs his greatest wonders. Through the instrumentality of his word he raises the spiritually dead to life, he makes the profane holy, he removes the heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh. Where do we taste heaven on this side of glory? When we gather together the very king of heaven comes and dwells among us. Here and now in this assembly we get a foretaste of heaven as our king shares with us the good things that are to come.

Proposition Concerning Corporate Worship

This sermon is going to be structured around a simple proposition. I’m going to try to prove it from the Scriptures, particularly the psalms, and then with the help of church history attempt to apply it to our contemporary context.

Here’s the proposition: corporate worship is the most essential component of our discipleship in Christ.

Essential is a word that we better understand because of the pandemic. What does essential mean? It is a word that communicates value. When something is essential it is absolutely necessary for you. When something is essential you simply cannot live without it. For example, while getting a hair cut is good, no one would deny that it isn’t essential for your life. Many of us learned that we can carry on with our lives even if we look a bit like a caveman or a cavewoman. But on the other hand, getting groceries is absolutely essential. Your life will not carry on for very long unless you can get to the store and purchase what you need.

So what I am arguing for is this: while there are many disciplines in the Christian life––bible reading, secret/private prayer, family worship, meditation, Christian fellowship and friendship––there is a hierarchy of importance. Some disciplines are simply more important, more foundational, more shaping for our life in Christ than others. The discipline that is at the top of the list is corporate worship.

Brothers and sisters, if this proposition is true, it then has profound impact. It changes the way that we pray and what we pray for. It changes our spirituality and what we expect from God. It gets down to the brass tacks of our lives. It changes our schedule, our rhythm, our plans.

The Testimony of Scripture

Corporate worship is the most essential component of our discipleship in Christ. This needs some support from the Scriptures before we go and do anything else.

Our work in the Bible this morning is going to be a bit unique. What I am going to do is draw your attention to a theme in the Psalms and then ask a question. The question is this, how do we do that?

We began by reading Psalm 87 and this is where we are going to start our work. Listen again to what the psalmist says in verse 2, “The Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob.”

Immediately this verse should catch our attention. We are being told here what the God of the universe loves. In fact, this verse does something more than that. It tells us how our God loves. Our God does not love and value all things indiscriminately. God’s love is not like a big blanket that simply covers everything the same. Rather, the Lord loves some things more than other things. Some things are closer and more dear to our God than other things. In this case he loves “the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob.”

The psalmist wants us to picture a scale in our minds. On the one side of the scale are the gates of Jerusalem. Think here of the entrances that you would use to get in and out of the city––doors, passageways, walkways. Then on the other side of the scale are all the homes in the land of Israel. There would have been a lot of them, hundreds of thousands. To the Lord, the gates of Zion are far more important, far more dear to him than all the dwelling places of Jacob.

Now what is interesting is that this isn’t a stand alone text. We find other psalms speaking with similar language. The city of Jerusalem is highly prized. For example listen to Psalm 48:12-13, “Walk about Zion, go around her, number her towers, consider well her ramparts, go through her citadels.” Psalm 50:2 even calls Zion the perfection of beauty.

High praise for a city. But what is it about Jerusalem that makes it so lovey to God and his people?

Again, we need to go and listen to the Psalms.

Let’s start with Psalm 122. The psalmist says,

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord! Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem! Jerusalem––built as a city that is bound firmly together, to which the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, as he decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord.”

 And let’s also hear from Psalm 95,

Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise. Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker.”

These songs begin to bring the matter into focus. Jerusalem was the worship center for Israel. God commanded his people––it didn’t matter where they lived, north, south, east, west––to come and worship him there. It was in Jerusalem that the people would come specifically to sing, to pray, to offer sacrifice, to glorify the name of the Lord.

But there is more to Jerusalem than that. What makes Jerusalem so lovely is not just what the people of God do there––sing pray, offer sacrifices––, but what God does there. Psalm 132 tells us this about Jerusalem, “The Lord has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his dwelling place: “This is my resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it.” Psalm 76:2 adds, “His abode has been established in Salem, his dwelling place in Zion.”

The loveliness of Jerusalem, the worth of Jerusalem, is due to this fact, God dwells there. And its for this reason we get songs like Psalm 84 and Psalm 63 where the psalmist gives full vent to his passions.

How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God… A day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.”

 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirst for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.

With all of these songs linked together Psalm 87:2 doesn’t sound so strange anymore. It makes perfect sense why the Lord would “love the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob.” The temple in Jerusalem is where God chose to dwell among his people. Zion is the place where he commanded his people to go and worship him. The courts of the temple are where the spiritually alive longed to go and stay and live.

So it’s time for the question. How do we do that?

The many psalms that I have read deeply resonate with us––“I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’… Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker…  A day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere… My soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water…”

But how do we do that? How do we press into what we find in the psalms?

This is where we have to think hard. Making a journey to Jerusalem just isn’t feasible for us. Even more, it would be rather pointless to make the journey to Jerusalem. Our God no longer dwells there anymore. You can go to the temple mount as it stands today, but you won’t find God as the psalmist did. You won’t see his power or his glory. You won’t find your heart’s desires satisfied and filled up.

So I ask, where are the gates of Zion? Where is the house of the Lord? Where is that sacred and holy place where God dwells and all of his people are refreshed? Where shall we go to see the power and the glory of the Lord?

The answer is right here. Whenever and wherever the church gathers together corporately to worship God by receiving his word and singing his praises we find the gates of Zion, the very dwelling place of God.

This fact must be stressed. Brothers, sisters, you are the temple of the living God. God does not dwell in houses and building. He dwells in his people, his people corporate. The apostle Paul reminds us of this fact in 1 Corinthians 2:16, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you.” This is the wonder of the New Covenant. What the people of Old hungered and thirsted for, what they sought after, and strained after, saying, “Oh that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple” we have right here and right now in corporate worship. In fact, what we have right here right now is something greater, something more complete, than what Moses, Aaron, David, and Solomon experienced in their days. Here in this assembly Christ, our great and glorious king, has come and has set up his throne. Here in this moment Christ’s presence is to be known. Here in this place Christ’s gifts are to be received afresh.

And that is why we must insist that corporate worship is the most essential component of our discipleship in Christ.

Application: Some Help from an Old Friend

So how do we go about applying this? We get some help by turning to church history. In the 1680’s a man by the name of David Clarkson preached a sermon from Psalm 87:2 with the title “Public Worship to be Preferred before Private.” And really what he does throughout the sermon is press upon this basic point, corporate worship is the most important even in the life of the believer. This sermon from Clarkson has fueled much of what you have already heard. And it’s here at the end of this sermon that I want to closely follow Clarkson. He closed his sermon on Psalm 87:2 with two applications and I am going to borrow and reuse them.

Use #1: Reproof

You will have to excuse some of the language of Clarkson, he lived a long time ago. But what he says is extremely valuable. He says to his people, “How heinously do they sin who prefer things that are base and sinful before public ordinances, those who prefer their ease, their worldly employments, their lusts or unlawful recreations, before them.”

To translate that into simple english, to keep yourself from corporate worship without good cause is a great sin. Now it must be said, that this isn’t a particularly profound insight. If you sample the preaching of the church from the time of the Apostles throughout the history of the church this very statement would have been preached by pastors and teachers and believed by God’s people.

But Clarkson is helpful by pointing out to us the why. And this is where we tend to to go wrong. The demand of corporate worship can be put in a very legalistic way. You just need to check the box every week and then you are good to go. But Clarkson doesn’t connect corporate worship attendance to the matter of performance or checklists or attendance records. He, rather, ties it to the worth and glory of God.

He says, “The Lord is a jealous God, jealous especially over his worship. I you despise that worship, you are in danger; his jealousy will burn like fire against you. Now don’t you despise it, when you prefer your ease, worldly affairs, lusts, idleness, recreations before it? This is to profane the holy, the glorious name of God.”

This connection makes everything clear. When we absent ourselves from corporate worship what we ultimately do is say to our selves, our fellow believers, the watching world, and most importantly to God himself that he isn’t worth our time, our energy, our Sunday morning to go and gather to praise his name and hear his word as he has called us to in his word. What we say is that the gates of Zion are rather shabby and that there are far better places to be than the courts of the Lord.  What ultimately brings us to corporate worship or keeps us away from corporate worship is our view of God. Is he big, glorious, wonderful? Or is he small, boring, and inconsequential?

Use #2: Exhortation

So what do we need to do? How should we respond to this sermon?

One simple exhortation is that you should come to corporate worship. It should be the one event that is penciled in on your calendar. It should be the event that all the other events in your life rotate and work around.

But if we are listening to Clarkson and following along with the logic of the Scriptures, we need to do more than just that. Clarkson puts it like this––and this I think is the secret to getting the most out of corporate worship––

Get high thoughts of God. If you see God as great, and holy, and fearful, and glorious, it will help you to such thoughts of worship as becomes his great, and holy, and fearful name.

Clarkson goes on. He calls us to get a true understanding of corporate worship and tie those truths to our hearts. He says,

Get due apprehensions of the pre-eminence of public worship… Think upon this… Here is the sweetest enjoyment of God, the clearest discoveries of his glory, the powerful workings of the Spirit, the precious blood of Christ in its force and efficacy, the exceeding great and precious promise in their sweetest influences, spiritual life and strength, soul comforts and refreshments, the conversion of sinners, the edification of the body of Christ, the salvation souls. These are the glorious things that are spoken of public worship; get a high esteem of these, and public worship will be highly valued.

So brother, sister, I exhort you today, strive with God in prayer until he gives you a heart that prized him and his worship above all. This is where the battle of corporate worship is won and lost. Say to the Lord this day, “I want, I need the heart of Psalm 84. Teach me to say from the depths of my heart, “My soul longs, yes, faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.” Use the word of God to demolish your lows thoughts of God and the necessity of his worship. When worship seems small and unimportant, when recreations and other enjoyments seem great and attractive, go to the great texts of Scripture and let God himself argue with you. And know this, when God argues he wins. When you are weary and tired and worship seem like just another item on the list, do this, pick put the many promises of God and let them remind of the good character of our God. You come to the God of the gospel. You come to the God who gave his beloved Son for your sins. And this God has determined to pour our his riches upon you. So come know thing that God will not withhold from you one of his good gospel blessings.

Come and worship our great God!