Embodied Worship: Corporate Singing and Lives of Service

Embodied Worship: Corporate Singing and Lives of Service May 21, 2024

St Pauls Cathedral surrounded by hungry people
Worship should spill out of the church into the community.  Image: Adrian Warnock

Jesus wants our heart. He wants embodied worship which includes Sunday singing but also daily sacrifices for him as a cooperate body.

What is worship? Some say it’s simply singing songs together on Sunday morning. Others say that’s got nothing to do with it and that worship is all about us living our whole lives for Jesus. Some even argue that our worship is an individual act that can be carried out entirely independently of any other Christians by simply offering our own individual bodies to him as worship in our daily lives (see Roman 12:1).

Worship is about our devotion to Jesus as a corporate embodied people. That does include what happens together on Sundays as well as living as Christs body all week.  We often miss that the letters are written not to individuals but to church bodies.   So we see that Romans 12:1 and other similar verses are a call to corporate worship but that is not to say our worship stops when we leave the church building.

And so, dear brothers and sisters,  I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him (Romans 12:1, NLT)

It is as crazy to say that a friendship could be healthy without ever meeting your friend face to face as it is to say that meeting with the family of God is optional and unimportant.   It is true that going to McDonalds doesn’t make you a hamburger, and that going to church doesn’t make you a Christian.  But it is also true that you are as likely to find a Big Mac at a McDonalds as you are to find a Christian in a church.

The singing of songs and laying our bodies before him in worship is about us declaring our love for Jesus. Living our whole lives together as his body for him is about us demonstrating our love for him. We can’t say that corporate singing is nothing to do with worship. But we also can’t say it’s exclusively what worship means. Our whole bodies and our whole lives should be involved in worship.  There is “nothing neutral whatsoever about the bodies we bring to worship”  (David O Taylor, A Body of Praise, cited Gospel Coalition)

Making Jesus our “Lord” is how we become a Christian. This statement declares that He is in charge of you, your body, and how you will live for Him. Many today do not want to surrender the control of their lives to anyone, let alone to Jesus. The Bible is clear: you cannot be a Christian and carry on living for yourself. If Jesus is your Lord, you must obey Him and give Him your total allegiance.

Worship is about getting into the presence of God and that changes us. C.S. Lewis is widely cited as having said, “We only learn to behave ourselves in the presence of God and if the sense of that presence weakens, humanity tends to lark about”

Jack Hayford explains that worship shapes us: “Worship changes the worshiper into the image of the One worshiped” (widely cited). It changes us by stimulating our love for Jesus..

Jesus says if you love me you will keep my commandments. So we can’t live a selfish and sinful life all week and think that gathering with Gods people to sing songs and hear Gods word somehow erases that and makes us right with God.

Worship is the counter to our pre-occupation with our own needs.  The idea is that far from being too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good, if we are heavenly minded we can truly be of Earthly Use.  So we give time to God and devote ourselves to him and then go into world to serve him.

We’re here to be worshipers first and workers only second. We take a convert and immediately make a worker out of him. God never meant it to be so. God meant that a convert should learn to be a worshiper, and after that he can learn to be a worker.

Tozer, A.W. and Eggert, R. (1998) The Tozer Topical Reader. Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread, pp. 296–297.

William Temple explains this further:

“Worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by His Holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of imagination by his beauty; the opening of the heart to his love; the surrender of will to his purpose—and all of this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy for that self-centredness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin. Yes—worship in spirit and truth is the way to the solution of perplexity and to the liberation from sin.”

 William Temple, Readings in St. John’s Gospel (Macmillan, 1947), 68. Cf. similar passage in The Hope of a New World (1940), 30. cited in Stott, J. (2018) The Preacher’s Notebook: The Collected Quotes, Illustrations, and Prayers of John Stott. Edited by M. Meynell. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Thus corporate embodied worship is all about countering our self centredness.  As we sing our focus shifts from our own needs to the glory of Jesus.  Our love for him dethrones our love for ourselves, and sends us as a body into the World to love the lost. Our love for Jesus makes us as a body want to demonstrate love others for his sake,  We love and serve the whole world but especially those who are also believers  

Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith. (Galatians 6:10)

We are not looking only for individuals to go off on their own mission, but also for congregations to together demonstrate their love for one another and for the lost all week in an embodied form,  living as a body for Jesus together.  Of course we want to demonstrate to the World that we love them, but it is even more important to demonstrate that we are the Family of God and it is THAT which will attract and draw people to Jesus.

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 16:34-35, NLT)

The Body of Christ must as a minimum care for each other. This includes of course special care for those who are suffering sickness and perhaps cannot attend the regular services as a result.  How can we help those who are struggling to still feel connected to the corporate worshiping body of Christ?

Reaching out into the world to demonstrate the love of Christ and share the gospel is part of our mission to spread the worship of Jesus:

God is looking for worshipers. And if the religious elite are too proud or too busy to learn to worship him, he seeks the worship of those whose lives are trapped in moral ruin.

Erwin W. Lutzer Draper’s Book of Quotations for the Christian World

Social Action performed by a body of people who love the World out of an outflow of their love for each other and Jesus will change the World.  Running food banks and other such activities can function as authentic worship too, provided we are doing it out of a heart of love for Christ and we are loving the needy for his sake. It could otherwise just be a dead work of trying to impress him or others with how holy we are. Or it could just be done out of guilt or a number of other motives.

Jesus wants our heart. He wants embodied worship which means Sunday singing, but also daily sacrifices for him as a cooperate body. I will let Billy Graham have the final word on worship for now:

The highest form of worship is the worship of unselfish Christian service. The greatest form of praise is the sound of consecrated feet seeking out the lost and helpless. Billy Graham

in Federer, W.J. (2001) Great Quotations: A Collection of Passages, Phrases, and Quotations Influencing Early and Modern World History Referenced according to their Sources in Literature, Memoirs, Letters, Governmental Documents, Speeches, Charters, Court Decisions and Constitutions. St. Louis, MO: AmeriSearch.

 

Read More

Worship: Are Physical Expressions and Emotions Essential?

Ten Commandments of Jesus

Explaining the Gospel in an age of Biblical illiteracy

Jesus’ Gospel of Social Justice

Jesus Commands: Worship Me

Our Mission from the Risen Christ: Evangelism Today

About Adrian Warnock
Adrian Warnock is a medical doctor. He worked as a psychiatrist and in the pharmaceutical industry on clinical trials. He has been a Christian writer since 2003 and is a published author. Alongside his career Adrian also served on a church leadership team. He was diagnosed with blood cancer in May 2017 and is the founder of Blood Cancer Uncensored an online patient support group. Adrian is passionate about helping people learn to approach suffering with hope and compassion. Adrian qualified in 1995 with an MB BS medical degree from London University (in the USA this would be called an MD). Adrian also has post graduate qualifications in both Psychiatry (MRCPsych) and Pharmaceutical Medicine (MFFM and DipPharmMed). He studied theology through courses organised by Newfrontiers. You can read more about the author here.
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