When the minister calls you to worship on any given Lord’s Day, undoubtedly he seeks to draw your heart’s attention heavenward, as he should. He uses texts of Scripture to call you to praise the Lord and to shout joyfully to Him. As Paul told the church at Colossae, as those who “have been raised with Christ,” we are to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1). In worship, we are to heed his admonition when he says, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). Our worship is “vertical” as we glorify and commune with our triune God.

Yet, we must not miss the needed “horizontal” nature of worship as well. Setting our minds on things above, and not on earthly things, does not mean we are to ignore the others around us who are worshiping with us. In worship, we are not only to fulfill the great commandment to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We are also to love our neighbor who is there with us in worship. As the congregation arrives on Sunday morning, it is gathering for corporate worship. Thus, we need to be sure that we are putting the corporate into our corporate worship! In looking up, we must also look around.

Obviously, we think of this before and after worship. Christians enjoy seeing their brothers and sisters in Christ, greeting them and catching up with them, whether in the sanctuary before the service or over a cup of coffee afterward. But what about during the service? It is especially during the service that we are to be mindful of one another.

Do the Scriptures encourage this horizontal dimension of worship? They most definitely do. For example, think through how, as we participate in the various elements in worship, each element encourages this viewpoint.

When we are called to worship, we are called not as individuals but as the body of Christ, a temple of living stones who together offer sacrifices to the Lord (1 Cor. 3:16; 1 Peter 2:4–5). Many of our calls to worship emphasize moving beyond a mere personal sense of worshiping God to this corporate aspect. Listen to a few of these admonitions.

  • I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together! (Ps. 34:1–3)
  • Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! (Ps. 95:1–2)
  • And 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)

Then, as we pray in worship, though the singular voice of the minister may be the only one audibly heard as he leads in prayer, yet all of God’s people are to join in with one heart as he prays. Most notably, the prayer the Lord Jesus gave to instruct us about prayer also teaches us this truth. Think of all the first-person-plural pronouns in the Lord’s Prayer. “Our Father in heaven.” “Give us this day our daily bread.” “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”; “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Clearly, we are to pray as one body consisting of many parts, not just asking the Lord to supply my daily needs or forgive my sins, but praying that for others as well. The church should also have times of prayer where everyone is lifting their voices to God (see Acts 4:24–31).

Many of our calls to worship emphasize moving beyond a mere personal sense of worshiping God to this corporate aspect.

Next, consider our singing. When the New Testament commands us to sing, the Apostle tells us that we are not only to sing to God, but we are also to address one another intentionally in song. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16; see also Eph. 5:19). Again, the author of Hebrews urges us to think corporately as we praise God. “Through [Christ] then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (Heb. 13:15).

As tithes and offerings are given, they are to be viewed as a joint collection by God’s people. As the psalmist urges families to ascribe to God the glory due His name, he calls them to bring an offering for that purpose (Ps. 96:7–8). These offerings were used for the work and ministry of the church, a true “collection for the saints” (1 Cor. 16:1). Our giving shows the church’s connectivity, as it is used for such things as caring for our minister, doing mercy work, and supporting missionaries.

Perhaps one place we need to renew our sense of the horizontal in worship is when the Bible is being read and preached. You are not there merely listening to it by yourself. You are to hear God’s Word not only for its personal benefit, but you are also to listen as a fellow member of the body of Christ. Each person is to “hear what the Spirit says to the churches(Rev. 2:7, emphasis added). Understanding this corporate dynamic affects how we listen to God’s Word.

For example, recall that Paul asks the Corinthian church, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16). Both of the original languages of the Bible, Hebrew in the Old Testament and Greek in the New, make a distinction between the second-person singular and second-person plural, a distinction that is not immediately clear in our English translations. In this verse, the Greek makes it clear that each of the three uses of “you” is plural. Paul is telling the congregation at Corinth that it together constitutes the temple of God. In an article in Tabletalk, Gabe Fluhrer makes a similar point. In Jesus’ discourse on the Holy Spirit in the gospel of John, he states: “Interestingly, the personal pronoun ‘you’ is used almost thirty times in John 14:15–31 and not once is it in the singular form. It is always plural. Why? Because Jesus is promising the guidance of the Spirit not just to individuals but to His church.”1

Seeing this important truth opens up the Bible to wider and deeper applications. As the above example shows, considering the church and not just my individual self as the temple of God (which many professing Christians do) emphasizes such things as the importance of being at worship, learning from others, and serving together in the church. Recognizing that many of the epistles were written to congregations or to ministers that served them can help us apply the Word more fully to the entire body of Christ.

Finally, even as we come to the end of the service at the time for the benediction, we should be thinking of everyone around us and not just ourselves as we receive God’s blessing. The familiar blessing of God taken from the end of 2 Corinthians could be heard merely as a personal blessing. Yet it is deliberately stated to conclude with a corporate sense of blessing. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all(2 Cor. 13:14, emphasis added). From the beginning of the service to the end and beyond, the vertical blessing of our triune God flows down and spreads through the entire body of Christ. What a beautiful picture of the horizontal dimension of worship.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on June 29, 2020.

  1. Gabe Fluhrer, “Doing Theology Together under the Leading of the Holy Spirit,” Tabletalk, February 2018, 25. ↩︎

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