Last week we saw that since all who are in Christ are priests who are able to draw near and offer sacrifices to God, therefore, all believers should be active participants in worship.
But there is a second biblical reason that all believers should actively participate in corporate worship, and it is connected to the formative purpose of corporate worship. In previous posts I have stressed the fact that what we do when we gather for corporate worship is not only expression toward God, but rather, corporate worship is a weekly time in which we cultivate our communion with God through renewing our gospel vows, and the Word-centered elements of our worship help to continually sanctify us and mature us in our relationship with God.
In Ephesians 4, Paul continues to discuss this nature and purpose of the church and in particular emphasize the importance of all the members of God’s temple working together to accomplish the purpose for which God created the church. Only here, instead of using the temple metaphor, Paul uses the metaphor of a body:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.
Notice that Paul begins by affirming the existence of God-called, set apart leaders of the church—apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherds and teachers. The medieval church was not wrong to insist that some men are especially called out by God and equipped to lead God’s people, first the twelve apostles and prophets who declared the Word of God before the full Bible was completed and served as the foundation of the church, then evangelists, which are church planters like Paul and Barnabas and Silas, and finally pastors, who teach the Word of God and shepherd his people.
But notice also the purpose of these church leaders. Their purpose is not to minister on behalf of the people; their purpose is not to worship on behalf of the people. Rather, as Paul says in verse 12, their purpose is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” That word saints is used in the New Testament to connote the set apart, priestly role of all believers, which is why Paul opens his letter to the Ephesians with “to the saints who are in Ephesus.” Church leaders exist, not to minister on behalf the people; since all Christians are saints, all Christians are priests who are able to minister, church leaders exist to equip those saints for the work of ministry.
For what purpose? “For building up the body of Christ,” he says at the end of verse 12. Now, instead of describing the church with the image of a temple, he describes us as a body. And the purpose of the ministry of all the saints, is to contribute to the building up of that body. Keep reading in verse 13:
until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.
Again, this highlights the formative purpose of the church generally and corporate worship specifically. We gather so that our communion with God might grow and mature, but this is not an individualistic sort of thing. Yes, we can and should nurture our fellowship with God through personal times of Bible reading and prayer throughout the week; but we need also the gathered church for our sanctification, where God-called leaders equip us, and where every member participates in the ministry of building up one another.
This is why, by the way, in order for our personal communion with God to deepen and mature as God intends, we must gather with the church. You cannot do it on your own. Your fellowship with God will not grow through only personal Bible reading and prayer, we all need each other, so that (verse 16) “the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” It is the whole body together, comprised of many members, that grows together in maturity and communion with God. And so, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb 10:24 –25). This is why we gather: to stimulate one another in our relationship with God individually and corporately.
We need each other to grow in our relationship with God because, as Paul further develops 1 Corinthians 12, the Holy Spirit empowers every member of the church with unique gifts in order to build up the body. Notice was he says in verse 4:
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
Then after he lists different kinds of giftings, he says in verse 11, “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” Giftedness for service within the church is not reserved only for those church leaders whom God has called or for a select few, “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” “For,” Paul says in verse 12, “just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” And just as an eye needs a hand and a foot needs a leg, so each of us need each other, with our unique and diverse giftedness, in order to grow in our relationship with God.
This is true for our Christian lives in general, but it is particularly true for the corporate gatherings of the church, which is exactly how Paul applies the principle in 1 Corinthians 14. In a chapter specifically about what we should be doing in the corporate worship services of our church, Paul emphasizes over and over again the purpose of our services: “In church” (v. 19), “when you come together” (v. 26), Paul says, everything should be done for “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (v. 3), to “build up the church” (v. 4). “Let all things” in a worship service, Paul says in verse 26, “be done for building up.” Corporate worship is formational, but it is not individualistic formation, it is corporate formation.
And so every member should be actively involved in corporate worship, for the glory of God, to the benefit of our own individual fellowship with God, and for the building up of the entire body.