The Stewardship of Worship
Revelation 5:12-13—Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!
Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!
The life and authority of Christ continues by regular acts of worship. Our stewardship is to maintain a first love relationship with Jesus through Scripture-based adoration. In action, we should constantly remind the flock that worship is a lifestyle where we do all things for an audience of ONE. This simple yet powerful approach was perfectly modeled by Jesus Himself.
This reality is only meant to discuss the subject of worship as it relates to the church’s first love relationship with Jesus. All churches begin to lose the power of grace through faith when they leave their first love. A reviving brings new life, new life leads to new ministries, new ministries lead to new busy schedules, new initiatives, new ideas, new standards, and with good intent, we “leave town without Jesus.” He gets lost because of “the company” (Luke 2:44). The reality of church life is that we will always find ourselves fighting for first love. Our ministries will not drift into first love. Even a “purpose-driven” church must be very careful to assure that love for Jesus drives their intentions. Sometimes our ambition can become our worst enemy, especially if the Lord graces us with bountiful resources.
The Ephesian church had enjoyed great grace from God. The apostle Paul, along with Timothy and the apostle John, had started the church at Ephesus. Paul was greatly loved by the church there. When he was about to leave after reporting to them for the last time, they hugged him and kissed him and cried because he said he would never see them again (Acts 20:36-38).
The Lord Jesus, the Head of the church, our Lead Pastor, gives His assessment of this great church.
Revelation 2:2-3—I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.
These were a suffering people who were patient, hated evil, tried false apostles, persevered, worked hard without quitting for Jesus’s name. From the outside, they looked almost perfect. But Jesus knew their hearts were growing cold toward Him and described them as having left their first love. Something we need to remember here is that when our love for Jesus cools, so does our love for each other. If we are honest, we must admit that Jesus is easier to love than people. Often, we fail to recognize that our interrupted love for Jesus compromised our church’s ministry and outreach.
Jesus, with His omnisciently accurate assessment, faithfully reveals to the Ephesian church their problems, then tells them what to do about it.
Revelation 2:4-5—Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.
He gives them a divinely solemn ultimatum. They could remember, repent, and return their hearts to Him, or He would remove their candlestick! That’s scary! While we might excuse a cold heart for Jesus as an “acceptable sin,” He sees it as a reason to close a church down!
Here are some general observations:
1. A church can appear to be doing everything right and still be in trouble.
2. Leaving our first love is a sin and grieves Jesus.
3. Leaving our first love can lead to the removal of our witness as a church.
4. We can listen and change and be blessed (Revelation 2:7).
5. The Lord Himself knows all the intimate details. This should always be a great comfort to any leader. It should also be a call to prayer.
This raises two major questions in my mind. What is first love, and what are first works?
Anything I’ve ever read or heard about first love called back to the way someone may have felt when they were saved. Early on they had the joy of being forgiven, the relief of escaping eternal damnation, the hope of a new beginning: in other words, a clean slate. A combination of these provided somewhat of a spiritual honeymoon that cooled over time for some reason. The idea I had before was that I needed to go back to those early feelings when I first “fell in love” with Jesus. That idea doesn’t work for me for several reasons.
1. Feelings can’t drive the spiritual train. The truth of Scripture must inform our spirits which then encourages our hears in love toward Jesus.
2. Feelings were not a major part in my conversion. It was more of a surrender of will to Him!
3. I love Jesus more today than I ever have. I don’t want to go back. In fact, if done right, the Christian life centered in God’s Word and understanding should cause our love for Jesus to increase over time. Growing in grace and knowledge is a treasure that constantly awards unending dividends.
What is first love then? Here’s my definition. First love happens when we find in another what is desperately needed in ourselves. The greater the desperation, the greater the appreciation and adoration. There is no greater demonstration of this than the scene at the cross. It was a show-down. Three major doctrinal realities converge at the cross.
1. The holiness of God accompanied with all its perfect justice, its all-consuming fire and wrath
2. The total depravity of man accompanied with its clear demonstration of rebellion and ignorance
3. The unconditional love, mercy, and forgiveness of God as His innocent Lamb is willingly caught in the thicket for us!
Fast forward to the most vulnerable day of our lives when we stand before His holiness. What will our “felt-need” be? It will be to be robed in appreciation throughout eternity with an attitude of first love knowing first-hand how desperate we really were. That desperation needs to be studied in the Scriptures, reviewed in our fellowship, and demonstrated in our lifestyle of worship.
What are first works? A picture is worth a thousand words, so the scene I would like to relate here is that of the sinner woman who crushed a Pharisee’s arrogance after he invited Jesus to dinner (Luke 7:36-50). Luke relates to us twice in the narrative that she was a noted sinner. Her worship was described as follows: “And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil” (v. 37-38).
Luke’s description of her actions and the intensity of the verbs used here lets us know that she made a scene to express her desperate need and loving appreciation. As leaders, we must cultivate this kind of worship as the lifestyle of our church.
Expressions may vary, but our hearts should be hot with love.
Jesus observed the bewilderment of the Pharisee and engaged him in a dialogue in which He explained the difference between the Pharisee’s lack of respect for Jesus and the sinner woman’s lavish gestures, i.e., the Pharisee’s rationalizing his deep need of forgiveness while the sinful woman seemingly recognized her need for forgiveness. Jesus summarized His analysis of the situation with this, “But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little” (v. 47). A good servant-leader is always reminding himself and those he leads of how much they have been forgiven. From this story, I would suggest that the first works Jesus seeks in believers is a heart condition that reflects our deep need of Him in the light of the blazing holiness of God and the relief believers experience having learned that Jesus paid it all. My heart leaps afresh as I write this. Roy Hession says, “The gospel is good new for bad people.” That should make us worship and turn every act of service into a sweet gesture of thanksgiving. From the example of this woman, let me suggest three practices that may partially describe the place to which Jesus would like us to return.
1. Honest, humble repentance: The Lord sees repenters as those who worship Him with the ongoing admission of their need.
2. Demonstrative faith: The Lord sees believers as those who worship Him with ongoing trust in Christ as their only hope.
3. Extravagant thanksgiving: The Lord sees givers as those who take every opportunity to worship with obedient acts of service and sacrifice as an ongoing expression of gratefulness. They have moved from dead works of obligation to the fragrance of adoration.
If we are going to cooperate with Jesus as He fills the church with His life, we must teach our people this style of worship. This is the heart of worship, and it goes much deeper than the emotions we experience over a favorite style of music.
Revelation chapter 5 puts this entire idea in context where we see God on the throne with the title deed of the universe in His right hand. He instructs a strong angel to ask a question that paralyzes everyone.
“Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?” (v. 2) No one spoke, no one was able to open the book, or even look at it. John wept much as everyone stood silent with shamed faces. One elder broke the silence, comforted their hearts, and introduced Jesus by calling Him, “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals” (v.5). The “Slain Lamb” appeared in the middle of the throne and took the book so that God’s plan for the ages would move forward. If we let our biblical imagination work here, we realize this is a breath-taking moment. At that point, everyone celestial and everyone terrestrial yet redeemed begins to worship. New songs of worthiness and redemption burst forth.
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!” (v. 12). This is the perfect revelation of the first-love worship of the sufficiency of Christ, and we must do our best to imitate it in our churches. If this scene of heavenly beings reveals such thankfulness, how much more should we on earth feel the need to respond in like manner?
How do we lead our congregations to revive and maintain their first love? By reminding ourselves of the ongoing, intentional focus on the person and cross-work of Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself gave the church a way to do this when He instituted the Lord’s Supper.
Luke 22:19-20 (emphasis added)—And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.
The Lord knows how prone we are to forget the gravity of our lostness and the sacrifice for our salvation, so He built in a simple yet significant way for us to be reminded. I have found the more intense church life becomes the more frequent the Lord’s Supper should be practiced.
At times it should be made a priority of the day, the center piece of the worship event. When Paul reviews this with the Corinthian church, he emphasizes the word “remembrance.” He also clearly states that, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (I Corinthians 11:26). He knew that the best way to remember was to review again and again until Jesus returns.
He also spoke of the attitudes to be displayed during this time of remembrance. Respectfulness (v. 27), self-examination (v. 28), reverence, fear of God and discernment (v. 29-30) all create a sacred biblical moment as we pause in quietness remembering the Lamb at Calvary. Make these moments a priority as often as you are led. An intentional review of the past can help sanctify the present and set us on course for future ministry. These are times when you as a leader can call your ministry to a stop and give everyone a chance to tell Jesus of their love. Your people are constantly fighting the rush of “the everyday” and will benefit greatly from these sacred breaks. Give your congregation “Selah” moments for remembrance and reflection. You may have to trim your message and cut some music, but the benefits will protect you from Jesus coming and shutting the ministry down completely! We have authority through Jesus to defeat the attacks of Satan, but when Jesus sets His face against us, we will be gone (Revelation 2:5).
In summary, the loving worship of Jesus can never be separate from the understanding of Scripture. The Bible does allow us to have objective truth (logos) and subjective reality (rhema), but we will never enjoy first love in our spirits without the Word of God.
When Jesus met the woman at the well (John 4), He said to her that the Father was seeking true worshipers (v. 23). In His dialogue with her, He exposed three categories of worshipers:
1. Ignorant worshipers— “You worship what you do not know . . .” (v. 22a)
2. Knowledgeable worshipers— “We know what we worship . . .” (v. 22b)
3. True worshipers— “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth . . .” (v. 23)
That’s our goal. In this stewardship, we must lead our flock to become true worshipers who love Jesus through obedience and adoration.
From Belief to Behavior
• Make much of the Lord’s Supper.
• Take time to remember, repent, and return.
• Remember obedience is God’s love language.
• Use words like “in love” with Jesus.
• Sing to Him (no performances, please)
• Write love letters to Him together.
• Pastors, worship Jesus with your sermons.