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Help for Humanly Impossible Acts

This sponsored post is from Crossway, adapted from Expository Exultation: Christian Preaching as Worship by John Piper—a new book about preaching as a means of awakening worship and seeing, savoring, and showing of the glory of Christ.

Beauty of Corporate Worship

It is beautifully fitting that Christian people gather for corporate worship every week. When they do, they give united expression to their truth-rooted knowledge of the triune God and their treasure-rooted affections for all God is for them in Jesus. They have seen with the eyes of their hearts (Eph. 1:18) the supreme beauty of God and his ways. And they have come to cherish the supreme worth of this treasure (Matt. 13:44; Phil. 3:8). And when they have completed their corporate exaltation of the glories of God, they continue that worship in a thousand daily tasks where the supreme worth of Christ governs their lives. This is what it means to be Christian.

Why We Need Help in Worship

But it is not as though Christians experience steady-state fullness that is ready every Lord’s Day to brim over in joyful praise as they gather for worship. God is glorified in worship not only by those who come full but also by those who come desperately needy and pinning all their hopes on meeting God. The same heart of worship that says, “Thank you,” and, “Praise you,” when full, also says, “I need you, I long for you, I thirst for you,” when empty. It is the same savoring, the same treasuring.

Corporate worship is not a gathering only for overflow. The full may overflow. That is worship. The languishing comes to drink at the fountain of God’s life-giving word. That too is worship. It magnifies the necessity and desirableness of God. The soul-hungry come to eat at the banquet that is spread from the rich stores of Scripture. This also is worship.

Woe to the pastor who chastises his people for “coming to get” and not to give. If what the hungry people are coming to get is God, their hunger magnifies the worth of God’s soul-satisfying beauty. If they are returning week after week for entertainment, the pastor had better look in the mirror for the cause, not in the people.

In view of this normal neediness of real Christians, God has designed us to depend on other humans to awaken and sustain and strengthen our worship—our knowing and treasuring God. This is clear from many considerations in the New Testament.

God’s Design: Hearts Sustained through Humans

First, God has appointed that there be pastors and teachers in the church (Eph. 4:11). He has required that they be “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2). This means that God designs for us to be helped by other human ministers of the word, not just by our own private reading and praying.

Second, it is clear that we need other ministers from the example Paul set in strengthening the churches he started:

They returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:21–22)

God did not design Christians to be strong in faith and fervent in worship without other Christian ministers strengthening their souls.

Third, it is clear that our perseverance in joyful, faithful holiness and worship depends on other Christians exhorting us again and again with the truth of God’s word:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Heb. 3:12–13)

Escaping hardness of heart and persevering in joyful, sin-mortifying faith depend on the exhortation of other believers. We are not designed to survive without the ministry of the word from others.

Fourth, it is clear that we stand in need of others who minister to us because God designed the body of Christ this way and Paul said we need each other:

God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” (1 Cor. 12:18–21)

It is clear from Paul’s use of the word need in 1 Corinthians 12:21 that he does not see the Christian’s dependence on other Christians as a defect in our dependence on God. Total dependence on God’s grace does not mean no dependence on God’s means of grace. If God wills that our dependence on him sometimes be direct and unmediated and sometimes be indirect and mediated then we are no less totally dependent on God in either case. Our physical lives depend on God and on food that he gives. Our emotional resources for patience depend on the Spirit and on the refreshing sleep that he gives. Our spiritual strength depends on God’s word and on the ministers whom he sends to us.

Fifth, it is plain from Scripture that we need the ministry of the word from other Christians, because Paul commanded Timothy, “Preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2). That is not a pointless command. Preaching is commanded because preaching is needed.

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