Worship/Holiness before Service

by Tim Isbell  (March 2014)

Sometimes we get things backward and don't realize it until someone points it out. Such times remind me of Samuel Johnson's advice: "People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed." 

Recently Dr. John Calhoun borrowed an A.W. Tozer writing to tell Northern California Nazarene ministry leaders that worship and holiness are a higher priority than acts of service. 

Especially in our pragmatic, action-oriented culture, we need to receive this reminder. Enough so that I decided to pass it along to you.

A reminder from A.W. Tozer

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit,...that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.—Titus 3:5-7

To teach that the filling with the Holy Spirit is given to the Christian to provide "power for service" is to teach truth, but not the whole truth. Power for service is but one effect of the experience, and I do not hesitate to say that it is the least of several effects. It is least for the very reason that it touches service, presumably service to mankind; and contrary to the popular belief, "to serve this present age" is not the Christian's first duty, nor the chief end of man *....

The primary work of the Holy Spirit is to restore the lost soul to intimate fellowship with God through the washing of regeneration.... God wants worshipers before workers; indeed the only acceptable workers are those who have learned the lost art of worship. It is inconceivable that a sovereign and holy God should be so hard up for workers that He would press into service anyone who had been empowered regardless of his moral qualifications. The very stones would praise Him if the need arose and a thousand legions of angels would leap to do His will.

Gifts and power for service the Spirit surely desires to impart; but holiness and spiritual worship come first.

I inserted the "*" above to notate that A.W. Tozer is referring to the first question in the Westminster Catechism.

  • The question: "What is the chief end of man?"
  • The answer: "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever."

For a very helpful understanding of this question/answer, see Desiring God, Meditations of a Christian Hedonist by John Piper. Several years ago I preached a sermon series based on Piper's concepts. I haven't posted it yet, but I expect to in the next few months. Until then, you can Contact Tim (see left column), and I'll get the notes to you in the original form.



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