For Our Mutual Good
Exaltation is the vertical dimension of our corporate response to God’s initiating grace. Edification is the horizontal dimension. Both take place at the same time. As we exalt God, we edify one another.
Hundreds of the great hymns of the faith give us words to praise God and encourage the body of Christ at the same time. “A mighty fortress is our God.” “How deep the Father’s love for us.” “What a friend we have in Jesus.”
These songs reflect the biblical teaching that those who are filled with the Spirit show it by “addressing one another” when we make melody to the Lord (Eph. 5:19). Our unity and our praise are connected: “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another [edification], in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ [exaltation]” (Rom. 15:5–6).
When you think about it, we’re familiar with the idea of addressing multiple audiences at once. At bedtime, when the whole family is around, I might say something like this to my wife, while winking at our daughter: “Someone did a great job of obeying my instructions while we were at the park today!” I inform my wife, but my daughter knows that I want her to receive encouragement from my report.
Corporate worship is similar. While we address our worship to God, we simultaneously spur one another on: Listen to these praises! Delight your soul in the Lord! Take comfort in his promises!
This is one reason why Paul insists that everything said or sung in a church service should be intelligible to everyone there (1 Cor. 14:2–5). The whole church should benefit spiritually from every word, every song, every prayer.
This is also why Paul tells the church at Corinth to use their gifts to build up the whole body. Some in that congregation, it seems, craved the “flashy” gifts of the Spirit. Paul corrects them. The gifts you use in corporate worship aren’t mainly for you, he teaches in 1 Corinthians 14. They’re for everyone.
We gather to love one another as Christ has loved us.
Here’s how Paul says the same thing one chapter earlier: “the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13). Should you take the Lord’s Supper before the whole body has gathered (1 Cor. 11:21)? No, because love is patient (1 Cor. 13:4). Should you look down on those with seemingly less important gifts (1 Cor. 12:21–25)? No, because love does not envy or boast (1 Cor. 13:4). Should you ignore those who are suffering (1 Cor. 12:26)? No, because love bears all things, hopes all things (1 Cor. 13:7). Should you take pride in speaking in tongues (1 Cor. 14:2)? No, because tongues will cease, but love never ends (1 Cor. 13:8).
We gather to love one another as Christ has loved us. This truth revolutionizes our approach to the Sunday service:
- Songs of praise to God are also tools for teaching each other God’s Word (Col. 3:16–17). When you become a church member, you also become a Sunday school teacher—by opening your mouth in congregational singing.
- We attend church to receive from God, but also to pour out service to others. Church members should arrive in prayerful expectation that God intends to use them to bless someone else in need.
- We don’t just think about our own lives during corporate prayer, but we apply the prayers to brothers and sisters whom we love. As the pastor prays that we’d share the gospel with others, I pray that would be especially true of Emily, who recently told me about a non-Christian coworker she has been hoping to talk with about Jesus. As he prays that families and single members would build thriving relationships together, I pray that would happen between Tony and the Smiths.
- Everyone has a job to do. A church where folks sit back and passively absorb whatever’s happening “up front” is a church that subtly undermines the priority of mutual edification. For sure, the elders whom God has called to lead his flock should take the initiative to prepare the meal. But we all get to serve it to one another—even if our part is as seemingly insignificant as joining in a corporate reading of Scripture, singing along to the hymns, and passing the bread and the cup to the person next to us.
- There’s no room for anonymity when the church meets. David Peterson, meditating on 1 Corinthians 14, argues that it is inappropriate to design our gatherings “primarily to facilitate private communion with God.”1 Very practically, therefore, I appreciate being part of a church where the lights stay on. I also like how our seats are arranged in a semi-circle. We can see one another’s faces and hear one another’s voices. The Bible doesn’t require these practical and architectural decisions, of course. But these details say something loud and clear: “This is a church where we minister to one another.”
Exaltation and edification are mutually reinforcing. We can’t separate them. Glorifying God encourages others, and loving our brothers and sisters brings delight to God. The vertical and horizontal belong together, every Sunday.
- David Peterson, Engaging with God: A Biblical Theology of Worship (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1992), 214.
This article is adapted from Corporate Worship: How the Church Gathers as God’s People by Matt Merker.
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