God’s Vision for Our Worship
1. Continuing with the series of messages, “Rediscovering God’s Vision for Open Door,” today we focus on His vision for our worship. The Bible reading we just heard is not just about worship. It focuses on joy, peace between people, inner peace, peace with God, prayer, and our thought life. But all of those relate to worship in important ways. And they give us a chance to look at worship, this thing we come here to do every week, in the context of our whole life of faith, as a church, as families, and as individuals. So I don’t feel led to teach you mainly techniques or traditions or even the particular content of worship today. Instead, let’s look at how the worship God teaches us links up with the other parts of our lives. That can help us gain a good understanding of ways we can know God more deeply through worship that has meaning and gives us power and guidance in our daily lives.
2. In v. 1 Paul tells the Philippians to “stand firm in the Lord's strength.” Wait a minute. Didn’t he just tell us in the last chapter to run the race of life, forgetting what lies behind and pressing toward the goal? How can he now tell us to stand still? Well, maybe there’s enough distance between the last chapter and this one, so that we can’t accuse him too sternly of mixing metaphors. But there also may be something else worth seeing here. Maybe he has in mind something like this.
3. Have you ever seen the cable cars that run up and down the hills of San Francisco in the U.S.? If you have ever been there, maybe you have heard the cables moving under the streets. Those cable cars actually cannot run by themselves. They have no engine. They can only move ahead if they are firmly joined to the cables below them. There is a man inside the car, called a grip man. He pulls certain levers when the time is right, and the car then grabs the cable.
4. The cable car never moves in relation to the cable. It simply stands firm. But the cable below it moves, and as it does, the car can get over even the steepest hills on its route through San Francisco.
5. This is a picture of our lives as followers of Christ. We do not have what it takes to get over the troubles and challenges of life by ourselves. The obstacles, demands, and pressures will sooner or later be too much. What we need is not just to try harder and harder. The key point is to get and keep a firm grip on Christ. He is able to pull us ahead through even the most difficult of days. We can be ready, adequate to face any challenge that life brings. We need only to keep making that choice to stand firm in Him.
6. In vv. 2-3 Paul writes about two people in the church, Euodia and Syntyche, who are not getting along. Anything that breaks the peace of God’s church is a problem, but the wording here suggests that these ladies may have been in leadership on some level. Paul says (v. 3), “They have served at my side. They have helped me spread the good news.” He also notes, “Their names are all written in the Book of Life.” That’s true for all who accept by faith the gift of salvation in Christ, God teaches in the Bible. But Paul seems to be using the idea of the wrestlers in the Olympic games, whose names were all recorded in a book. The pain he feels when they can’t live in peace is especially strong because they have wrestled against the hate, sickness, injustice, and other sins and suffering in this world together. They have been to battle together, so it breaks his heart and God’s to see them fighting not for justice and truth but against each other. Looking back at what we have done together to build and serve God’s church can give us a strong reason and motivation to worship in peace. It can also be profoundly sad when we see how much that unhealthy conflict in the church costs us personally and damages God’s work in this world.
7. Paul says, “I want them to agree with each other because they belong to the Lord.” Other translations put it, “agree in the Lord.” The key words are “in the Lord.” This does not mean they have to have the same opinion on every important matter. It does not mean they have to pretend to be happy with each other when they are not. It does mean that they both willingly put their feelings and opinions under those of God and of the church as a whole. They both accept the idea that they could be mistaken, could be misunderstanding God’s leading and the church’s needs less than perfectly. It means they agree to hold this belief in common: our Father will not lead His children in ways that conflict with each other when they have humbly submitted their wills to His.
8. Today, too, we will have conflict if we are in human relationships deep enough to mean something important. The only way to have no conflict is to have no relationship. Keeping relationships shallow and distant may be more comfortable for a while, but it will stop us from being the family of faith God calls us to be. What God wants far more is for us to learn to “agree in the Lord.” God, please help us to accept this teaching and live it out in all our relationships.
9. In v. 4, the New International Readers Version (NIRV) says, “be joyful because you belong to the Lord.” That is maybe an easier way to say it than the original. It says rejoice in the Lord. When we meet God in worship, we realize His greatness. He is everywhere, and we live in Him and His world. So, yes, we belong to Him. We often forget that we are surrounded by God every moment of every day, and worship reminds us of where we are in our most important relationship. We are in the Lord.
10. Part of our vision we at Open Door believe God has for us is to be “a church where people can enjoy worshiping and all, including guests, can understand the worship and want to take part in it.” When we put those words in print, we were in one sense responding to the impression many people have of church as boring and lifeless. The worship Christ taught His people is not like that. When we actually encounter the living God, it doesn’t lead us to be that kind of people. In fact, that is where we find our deepest joy.
11. We also noticed that for many people, church worship is difficult to understand. Even for people who are open and actively trying to understand it, especially for non-Christians, it can feel confusing and difficult to access. But we feel God leading us to make the message clear and as easy as possible to understand. Taking down the barriers to the gospel is one of the goals we have taken in our church’s approach to worship.
12. Why do we do this? As we have already learned, Paul tells us in Philippians 1:9-10, “I pray that your love will grow more and more. And let it be based on knowledge and understanding. Then you will be able to know what is best.”
13. We want to understand God and grow deeper in love with Him by spending time with Him in worship. Just like other love relationships, we don’t only spend time with our Life Partner, our Lover, when we have business to conduct. Just being together is enough. In fact, it’s the whole point of being here. We want to know Him more. Our worship doesn’t start with us. It starts with God. When we realize that we are deeply and completely understood by God, we have reason to worship. We want to give Him our thanks and learn to follow Him more closely. We understand because we are first understood. Then as we approach in faith the source of understanding, we come to know more deeply Him, our world, and those to whom He sends us. Knowledge of God and what He is doing leads us to truer and more life-giving worship.
14. So it makes a lot of difference what we choose to put in our minds. Paul tells us in v. 8:
Finally, my brothers and sisters, always think about what is true. Think about what is noble, right and pure. Think about what is lovely and worthy of respect. If anything is excellent or worthy of praise, think about those kinds of things.
15. These are well-known words. Some universities, such as Tokyo Woman’s Christian University（東京女子大学）and Northwestern University (in Chicago, USA) take as their motto part of an older translation: whatsoever things are true. A Christian view of the world does not set science and faith against each other. Just the opposite, Christians have very strong motivations to learn everything possible. We want to learn about His world as part of coming to know and love and worship and obey Him better. We do not need to be afraid of discoveries of science and avoid listening to them so that they will not be a threat to our faith. It is true that there are people who enjoy threatening the faith of others without good reason. They may try to use scientific facts or discoveries as weapons to damage or destroy people’s faith. But in the end, they are either misunderstanding or misusing science or Christian faith or both. As people of faith, we can welcome and accept “whatsoever is true.” All truth is God’s truth, whether it is the truth written in the Bible or in biology texts or history books or news reports or anyplace at all.
16. Well, what kinds of things are true, noble, right, etc.? Christ is true, noble, right, pure, and lovely. What has He been teaching, showing, or giving you recently that is worthy of respect, excellent, or worthy of praise? Setting your mind on these things can lead you and me into real worship. When we are really aware of Him, our worship becomes live-giving and energizing, not just a routine we have to finish so that we can eat lunch, chat, and go home.
17. Filling your mind with Christ, for example in worship, can also free you from the damage that comes when you fill it with the wrong things. As people living in the Information Age, there is never a shortage of things to put in our minds. We have the habit of keeping a steady stream of words, pictures, sounds, and so on flowing into our eyes and ear a very large percentage of the hours we are awake. We may even be unable to stop—addicted and enslaved to the media. We may have no space in our minds and schedules for Christ not because we actively think, “I’m going to keep Him out” but because we already have them crammed full of work to do, programs to watch, games to play, and messages to and from friends on social networks, and so on. Or we may make the choice to fill our minds with things that are not victimless but damaging in themselves, for example the online pornography that the Internet has made so easy to access.
18. In this kind of world, we need not only more information but also filters to avoid information overload and damage from the bad things we put in our minds. God calls us to something higher. He asks us to make the choice to set aside the things that get in the way of a lively, healthy relationship with Him. Without doing that, it will be very difficult for us to know God more deeply and so to freely and joyfully worship Him from our hearts.
19. Coming to know God better through worship does not only happen for Christians. It can also happen for non-Christians, and that is one reason we believe it is important to invite people who are not yet believers in God to join us in worship.
20. Some years ago, our church took as our approach to our work the Open Door Chapel Mission Policy（オープンドアチャペル宣教方針）. Part of what we said is the following.
We think that more than anything, Sunday worship and the ordinances [baptism and the Lord’s Supper] are significant as mission opportunities. Therefore, we pray that non-believers will attend worship, and we lead them to do so. It is our hope that in gathering together, praying, singing praises, hearing the word, and giving our worship to God, people will encounter the Savior, Jesus Christ.
Prayer comprises a significant part of doing God’s work. Therefore, for the work of ministry, as well, prayer is absolutely indispensible.
21. Paul tells us in vv. 6-7, “Don't worry about anything. Instead, tell God about everything. Ask and pray. Give thanks to him. Then God's peace will watch over your hearts and your minds because you belong to Christ Jesus.”
22. We come to worship in order to be closer to God. We encounter God in worship, but it does not begin there. True worship grows out of Christ-like daily life. When we have been in the habit of praying Monday through Saturday, our praying on Sunday will be more natural and our awareness of God greater. Christians are taught to make a habit of a quiet time each day, including prayer, Bible study, and other spiritual disciplines.
23. Worship does not begin in the church building. Neither does it end when we walk out of this room. If our worship is real and effective, if we are doing it in a way that actually meets our needs, if it is the kind of worship God teaches us in the Bible, it will not end with the last amen on Sunday. If we really become closer to God through being in His house in worship, we will be, for example, more peaceful people on Monday through Saturday. We will apply what we learn here to real life situations in the way we speak to people, how we spend our time, and so on. For example, we will say thank you a lot and mean it.
24. That’s one thing Paul means when he says, “Follow my example. The God who gives peace will be with you.” Other translations say The God of peace here. In v. 7, Paul has talked about “God’s peace.” Now in v. 9 he moves from the peace of God to the God of peace. Peace that is not just something we can go out and get with no connection to God. He is the giver of peace. We might look for peace as a feeling or a political agreement or a situation where no fights are happening. But the peace of the God of the Bible is all about a relationship with Him. He is the source of peace. When we are in right relationship with Him, peace with other people and inside our own hearts becomes possible. If we just seek peace, we won’t find it. If we seek the God of peace, we can always find peace as a by-product of that relationship.
25. As our daily lives become fuller and fuller of things like this peace and the good things our worship leads us to do, we will again in turn be led back to worship. As Paul writes in Philippians 1:11, “You will be filled with the fruit of right living produced by Jesus Christ. All of those things bring glory and praise to God.”
26. Let’s pray.
27. God in heaven, you created us with a deep need to worship. We need to live in connection with something so mighty and beautiful and good that building our whole lives around it is the only way to be in this world that makes sense. We find that in you. Yet you are so great, and we are so small, weak, and self-centered. So we ask you to give us hearts that are open to you, hungry for you. In worship here and at home in our quiet time with you, teach us to know you more deeply and love you more passionately. Make all parts of our lives honoring and pleasing to you, so that everything we do, say, and are will become worship of you. In Christ’s name, amen.
Steadman, R. C. (1963). “Standing While Running.” Ray Steadman.org: Authentic Christianity. Philippians: Christ, Our Confidence Strength. Retrieved April 17, 2015 from http://www.raystedman.org /new-testament/philippians
Wesley, J. (1754-1765). Wesley’s Explanatory Notes. Retrieved April 10, 2015 from http://www.biblestudytools.com