by John M. Frame
[In Covenant 4:3 (Mar., 2001), 1-2.]
Tempted by Satan, Jesus quotes from Deut. 6:13, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only” (Matt. 4:10). Our worship is directed to one person only, the one, true God. In that sense, our worship isvertical, not horizontal. We come to the worship services to adore the true God alone, not anything or anyone in the creation.
So some have suggested that in worship we should be so full of thoughts about God that we should pay no attention to the other worshipers. But I think this is wrong. As we worship God, we come, not merely as individuals, but as a congregation, as the people of God. Worship should strengthen our love both to God and to our fellow believers. Scripture readings and sermons remind us regularly of how God’s grace in Christ motivates us to serve one another: “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 John 3:16).
Even in the very act of worship, God calls us to serve one another. Hymns, teaching, and other elements of worship “must be done for the strengthening of the church” (1 Cor. 14:26). In worship, God does call us to think of one another. We should see that the rich don’t get all the good seats (James 2:1-4). And at communion, we should make sure that no believer is excluded (1 Cor. 11:22-23).
Even at the first Lord’s Supper, the disciples had an argument over who was the greatest (Luke 22:24). Jesus replied that in his kingdom, the greatest is the one who serves others. He himself had served the bread and the wine, as he himself would perform the greatest possible service, the giving of his very life, for his people. Indeed (and this fact boggles the mind), even after Jesus returns in glory, when we partake of the great wedding feast that the Lord’s Supper foreshadows, he will be there as a servant: “he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at table, and will come and wait on them” (Luke 12:37).
So worship is not a time for us to cut ourselves off from one another in order to meditate on God as individuals. At worship, as everywhere else, God calls us to serve him by serving one another. It is a time to pray for one another’s needs. It is a time to look around and see that everybody has a seat, has the bread and wine. It is a time to welcome strangers and explain to them what is going on, to help them find bulletins, bathrooms, nursery facilities. In worship, what we do must be intelligible, so that it will build people up, not confuse them (1 Cor. 14:26). Indeed, even when unbelievers come to our services, they should know that “God is really among you” (1 Cor. 14:25).
So worship has a horizontal dimension, not only a vertical one. Our object of worship is exclusively vertical: our sovereign Father who dwells in heaven. But our concerns are both vertical and horizontal. For we do not worship our Father rightly unless we share his love for human beings made in his image. Jesus says, “by this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).