Is corporate worship the most important form of worship?
Yes, consider the Psalmist’ confession in Psalm 84:1 How lovely are your tabernacles, O LORD of hosts! You could translate this as the KJV: How amicable – or how dear or how precious! To the author of this Psalm, the gathering place of the Lord’s people was lovely to his memory, to his mind, to his heart, to his eye, and to his whole soul. Why did he make this confession? What was so lovely about the tabernacle of the Lord? Here the Psalmist is not speaking of the physical structure of the tabernacle as such, but of the spiritualblessing enjoyed in the tabernacle. Several reasons could be given for the loveliness of the tabernacle:
First, the Psalmist makes this confession because the tabernacle was a special place of the worship of the Lord. The Psalmist’s heart delighted in the worship of the Lord and therefore the place that was set apart for the corporate worship was of special delight to him! He had learned by his service in the tabernacle that there were blessings experienced in the worship of the LORD. In fact, it was because of his commitment to the LORD that he delighted in his worship!
He wasn’t satisfied as some in our day who claim that that participation in private and family worship is sufficient. He loved to come to the tabernacle to worship the Lord. He valued and delighted in the corporate gathering of the people of God and serving the LORD with one voice, one heart, and one mind in one place! Our confession should include this same desire!
There is a great deal of talk these days about how worship is not what we do on Sunday, but how we live our lives every day of the week. However, the worship service on the Lord’s Day is the climax of a week of worship! The Psalmist is not satisfied with his life of devotion independent of the gathering together in corporate worship of the LORD. Neither should we. In fact, there is no tension between our daily worship of the Lord and our service to him on the Lord’s Day. Proper daily worship will always lead one to attend the gathering of God’s people on the Lord’s Day.
Second, the Psalmist makes this confession because the tabernacle was the place where sacrifices to the Lord were held. Now, at first it may seem rather odd that someone would delight in the sacrifices of God. There was nothing pretty about these sacrifices – the blood of animals was shed and their flesh was burned on the altar! But why would one delight in the sacrifices? Because it was a reminder that atonement can be made for sin against God! It answers the cry for pardon present in every human heart! The Psalmist knew of the reality of his sin. He understood that the only way in which he could live in communion with the Lord was if payment was made for his sin. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness! Seeing the shedding of the blood of the sacrificial animal assured him of his forgiveness. Now while the blood of the animals sacrificed in the OT could not be efficacious, yet it served as a type of the sacrifice of Christ.
Today, we do not offer up sacrifices, yet it is the central theme of the preaching that Christ died as the Lamb of God for sinners! Each week, in some way, we reflect on the one perfect sacrifice of Christ for sinners. It is also the central theme of the sacraments. Each time baptism is administered we are reminded that our sins need to be washed away by the blood of Christ. Each time the Lord’s Supper is administered we are reminded that Christ’s blood was shed and his body was broken for me! In the preaching, it is God who is declaring that our sins are forgiven through the blood of Christ! That’s what we hear every week! That’s the good news of the gospel of Christ! Who does not want to hear this message? The Psalmist longed to see the shadows and types! We may hear of the reality that Christ has died for our sins!
Every one of you that is deeply conscious of your guilt and sin, and who longs for continuous assurances of pardon, will passionately desire to enter into the courts of the Lord where you may hear of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the World. Similarly, when the sacraments are administered you may see the elements which remind you of the one sacrifice of Christ! If you don’t need to hear that as often as possible, maybe you don’t really know of your need for cleansing! Don’t you need to be repeatedly reminded of the all-sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice for you? That’s why gathering together is so lovely, isn’t it?
Third, and perhaps most importantly, the Psalmist makes this confession because the tabernacle was the place where the Lord dwelt in a particular sense. In the OT we read of the presence of God coming down upon the tabernacle in the wilderness! In Exodus 40 we read:
Exodus 40: 34-35 Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle of meeting, because the cloud rested above it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.
Then it was within the most holy place where the glory of God dwelt. The Psalmist knowing that the closest place to the Lord, in an earthly sense, was in the tabernacle of God.
Now in the NT we know that the Lord Jesus has come and tabernacled with us! He made his dwelling with man! John tells us:
John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt – tabernacled - among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth!
Today, while it is true that the Lord is omnipresent – in a spiritual sense he is particularly with us when we are sitting under the preaching of the gospel. Here we hear not only about the Lord, but we hear from the LORD! Here in the worship service the Lord speaks in a unique way, which is not true of any other time (Romans 10:14-17)! That makes the gathering place of the people of God a lovely place!
And so, the Psalmist confesses the loveliness; the beauty; the preciousness of being in God’s dwelling place – his holy tabernacle. He expresses his delight to be gathered together with the people of God in the worship of God! Let that be our confession as well. That is so important in our day and age. There are more and more who no longer have this desire to gather with the people of God for the worship of the Lord. Maybe that is true of you! In essence, when someone doesn’t delight in the gathering together in corporate worship it implies that they don’t see the value of the worship the Lord. Perhaps you are routinely absent from the Lord’s house. What does that show about your focus in life? What is most important in your life? What do you normally do instead of coming to the Lord’s house? Many say that they can worship God in other places just as well as they do among his people.
That is doubtful – but let me just ask you who regularly absent yourself from the worship services: “How do you spend your time when you are not there? Do you spend it singing the Psalms with your family? Do you spend it instructing your children in the things of God? Do you spend it in prayer and Bible reading? Do you spend it in Bible study and meditation?” If you don’t isn’t it true that you simply spend it in service to yourself? Aren’t you involved in personal recreation or sports or sleep? Some may say: It’s a family day – which may sound so nice – but in reality, it is the Lord’s Day! Some may say: ‘But I worship God by enjoying his creation – by going to the mountains!’ But do we not confess that God reveals himself more clearly & fully in his Word? Why then would you choose a revelation of God that is not as clear? Don’t most of us already have one day per week to participate in recreation? Is it then necessary to have another day for ourselves – thereby robbing God of the day he has given to us to worship? Past generations had far less recreational time – most worked 6 days a week – every week of the year – but still attended the worship services twice every Sunday.
We don’t have a temple to go to anymore – but we can worship, because God’s house is not a beautiful building built by Solomon in Jerusalem. God’s house is you. And wherever God’s people gather, whether we gather here in this place of worship or whether we gather in a parking lot or whether we gather in a gymnasium, when God’s people gather to worship the living God, you are God’s house. And the psalmist is confessing that the most beautiful place in the whole earth is in the temple of the Lord with the people of God, praising Him. And for the new covenant believer, what we say is that there is no place that we would rather be – not than in the temple in Jerusalem – but there’s no place that we would rather be than with the people of God, worshiping God.
Ultimately, the loveliness of worshipping the Lord has an eschatological focus. It is pointing ahead to the time when our communion with God will no longer be intermittent, nor strained by our sin, but will be perfect in every way. When we are the presence of the Lord Jesus we will understand his loveliness in ways which we cannot understand now.