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Lesson 7: Worship— A Joyful Celebration (2 Samuel 6)

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That wise theologian, Erma Bombeck, reported an experience she had in church. A row or two in front of her sat a mother with a normal five-year-old boy, which means, he couldn’t sit still. As he squirmed and looked over the pew at those behind him, he was smiling. Then Erma heard the mother sternly whisper, “Stop smiling! Don’t you know that we’re in church?”

Is God pleased or saddened when His people are stern, stiff, and untouched in their emotions when they worship Him? Would anyone visiting our church be able to figure out by watching us that one of the fruits which our God produces in us is great joy?

As we saw last week in 2 Samuel 6, worship should be a reverent response to God’s holy presence. We dare not be flippant or treat God as commonplace. But we would err to conclude that reverence doesn’t mix with a joyful celebration. Granted, we don’t normally link celebration with reverence. A celebration evokes images of a wild, raucous, noisy event, whereas reverence brings to mind soberness and silence. While there is a place for silence and soberness in public worship, a second look at 2 Samuel 6 shows that true corporate worship can be both reverent and joyful:

Worship should be a joyful celebration before the Lord in accordance with His truth.

1. Worship should be a joyful celebration.

The Hebrew word for celebrate (6:5, 21) comes from a root word meaning to laugh. Our God wants His people to be filled with a holy joy in His presence. Note three things about this joyful celebration as David brought the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem:

A. The celebration of worship should be done with intensity.

Note 6:14, “dancing ... with all his might”; 6:15, “with shouting and the sound of trumpet.” David really got into worship! He wasn’t sitting there looking out the window or reading the bulletin. He wasn’t mumbling through some hymn while he thought about what he had to do that week. He was excited about God and he put all of his faculties--mental, emotional, and physical--into the act of worship. Corporate worship should be done with intensity. Apathy in worship is sin. We’re gathering in God’s holy presence. The risen Savior is here. That’s worth getting excited about!

I find that I’ve got to fight my sinful tendency toward apathy when I worship. It’s easy to slide into a routine, “ho hum” form of worship where I am not giving the Lord the full intensity of my being that He rightly deserves. Remember the Lord’s warning to the church in Laodicea: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I would that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth” (Rev. 3:15-16). I pray that God would not say such a thing of this church!

What was Laodicea’s problem? For one thing, they didn’t see themselves as God saw them. They thought they were doing fine. They didn’t see their great need for God. Their view was, “We’re rich, we’ve become wealthy, and we don’t need anything”; but God’s view was: “You’re wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17). One of the things that helps me be more intense in my worship is to see how much I need the Lord. With David (Ps. 63:1) I need to cry to God, “I shall seek You earnestly; my soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”

Love, whether with the Lord or in marriage, is like a fire in your hearth--it needs to be tended or it will die out. As with the church in Ephesus, it’s easy to lose that first love for the Lord (Rev. 2:4). You don’t recover by trying to work up the feelings. Feelings must always be a response to God’s truth. So when my heart is cold and the feelings of love for God are not there, I need to remember what He has done for me in Christ, seek Him in His Word, and turn from any sin in my own life.

The Lord is pleased when we are intense in worship. Love needs to be expressed. I heard of a couple who went to a marriage counselor. The wife complained that her husband never told her that he loved her. He snarled, “I told you that 20 years ago and I haven’t taken it back.” That’s not good enough! Love has to be expressed often and with feeling.

A lot of couples fall into a perfunctory relationship. They go through the motions of a good-bye kiss- each morning, but there’s no passion. I fear that there are too many Christians who are like that toward the Lord. They aren’t expressive with their love. They go to church and go through the motions, but there’s no passion. It’s like a peck on the cheek toward the Lord. Our worship needs passion!

I also find that the act of worship is a lot like studying: You need to work on concentration. You must mentally set your goal before you: “I am here to meet with God and to express my love to Him.” Then you focus your thoughts along those lines. When distractions interrupt, you deal with them and then return your thoughts to the Lord. May I encourage you, when you come to worship God, do it with intensity! Don’t mess around with worship. The Lord deserves your all.

B. The celebration of worship should be done with variety.

Look at the description of this worship service: There were all kinds of musical instruments (6:5; some churches think that the piano and organ are ordained of God!); offerings and sacrifices (6:13, 17); dancing (6:14, 16; of all things!); shouting and trumpets (6:15; this is getting out of hand!); and even eating (6:19)! There was something for everyone! It sounds more like a Disneyland Parade than like our staid idea of a worship service!

Before you panic, Relax! My point is not that we must include all of these elements in our worship. We won’t be offering any animal sacrifices here, although we should offer up sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, of doing good and sharing (Heb. 13:15-16). And, while some churches have dancing in their worship, there is no New Testament example of this. In my opinion, it may be taking the Hebrew forms of worship a bit far to transport dancing into the church. But the point is that we should be open to some variety and new things in worship. Traditions have their place, but they can sometimes kill the spontaneity of celebration.

C. The celebration of worship should be done with gladness and joy.

Even if you couldn’t understand Hebrew, you could tell just by watching David and company bringing the ark into Jerusalem that they were happy about something. You can’t hide genuine joy--it’s got to be expressed. I agree with the late David Watson, an English Anglican pastor, who wrote,

What is clear from the Scriptures is that worship should be a delight, not a duty. The great Jewish feasts were times of exuberant joy and heartfelt celebration. Some of them contained an element of sorrow and repentance for sin; but this led to the joy of knowing God’s forgiveness and mercy. They were always intended to be great and glorious festivals....

Infectious joyful delight in God’s presence needs urgently to be recaptured by the church of today. If emerging from our inhibitions and stiff formality is not easy for some of us, we need to remember that true worship demands sacrifice (I Believe in the Church [Eerdmans], pp. 196, 197).

I know what some of you are thinking: “Steve, I’m just not an expressive person. I always stay calm and don’t show my emotions like you’re talking about.” Nonsense! Two Sundays ago some of you were literally jumping up and down and screaming at the top of your lungs, you were so excited about the Super Bowl. Or if you were to get an unexpected pay raise, you wouldn’t walk into the house and calmly say, “Honey, you’ll be pleased to hear that my pay has been substantially increased.” You’d burst into the house, grab your wife into your arms, and with a smile on your face you’d exclaim, “Guess what? I got a great pay raise!” And you’d dance with joy around the room.

Our problem is not that we’re not expressive people. Our problem is that we’re not excited enough about the Lord. If we’d focus on the greatness of our God and on the blessings He has graciously heaped on us in Christ, our worship would be a lot more joyous. As we saw last week, worship must be reverent; but also, it should be a joyous celebration.

2. Worship should be before the Lord.

The phrase, “before the Lord” occurs six times in this chapter: 6:5, 14, 16, 17, 21 (twice). The point is, we’re not to be caught up with the celebration, but with the Lord. We’re not to be worship-centered, but God-centered. We don’t want to go away just thinking, “That was great worship,” but rather, “We have a great God!” To be caught up with worship for worship’s sake would be like a young man who is in love with love. Any girl will do, so long as he feels love, because he is more interested in the feeling of love than in the one loved. We want to avoid that trap in worship. We worship before the Lord. It should be a celebration, but our focus is not on the celebration, but on the Lord. There are two implications of this truth:

A. Worship is not the same as entertainment.

Worship focuses the congregation on the Lord. Entertainment focuses people on the performance or on the entertainer. Worship leaders need great skill so that the people aren’t distracted by mistakes or other things that call attention away from the Lord. But the worship leader (as opposed to the entertainer) leads people into the Lord’s presence.

Robert Rayburn (O Come, Let Us Worship [Baker], pp. 40-41) tells of an experience he had in a church:

Not long ago in a morning service I listened to a group of attractive young singers whose voices blended admirably and who were undoubtedly splendid Christians. Their music, however, was presented in a very theatrical way. When the young men sang of their love for Jesus, each young woman turned to gaze with almost adoring eyes upon the young man nearest to her, as though he were singing a tender love song especially for her. It was impossible for me to watch this performance and offer worship to God while the music was being sung. The music was sentimental and entertaining, but it did nothing to stir the hearts of the listener beyond sheer pleasure in the appeal of the young singers. To have exclaimed to them following the service, “I really enjoyed your music,” would have been possible. To have said that they enabled me to worship God meaningfully as they sang would have been impossible.

I realize that sometimes it’s a fine line, and I don’t mean to press it too far. But what we want is not to be entertained, but to be led into the Lord’s presence. Worship must be done “before the Lord.”

B. Worshipers should be more concerned about what God thinks than about what people think.

How could a man who was king get so carried away that he lost his sense of propriety and danced in the streets wearing a linen ephod? We need not conclude that David was indecent, but his enthusiasm embarrassed his wife, Michal (6:20). She was concerned about what people would think. It didn’t fit the image of a warrior-king.

But David was concerned about what the Lord thought. He states it twice (6:21), so we don’t miss it: He was celebrating “before the Lord,” not before the people. That’s the key! We need to be concerned about what the Lord thinks, not what those around us think. We need to be considerate of others, so that we don’t cause distractions. It’s kind of like showing affection to your mate in public: You need to be appropriate, but you can still be expressive.

If you love the Lord, then you need to express it. Sing with all your might! Clap! Lift your hands! Stand to honor Him! Get on your knees before Him! Who cares what anyone else thinks? I used to be afraid to lift my hands in worship. I finally had to say, “I don’t care. I’m not doing it for people. I’m doing it for the Lord. I care what You think, Lord. I want to tell You that I love You.”

So worship should be a joyful celebration before the Lord. Finally,

3. Worship should be in accordance with God’s truth.

David got into trouble the first time because he tried to bring the ark to Jerusalem, but he didn’t follow the instructions in God’s Word. God specifically told Moses how the ark was to be carried: by the Levites with poles slipped through rings on the side. But they put it on a cart, and when the oxen nearly upset it and Uzzah touched it, God struck him dead. As I noted last week, they got the idea of putting the ark on a cart from the Philistines (1 Sam. 6:7 ff.)! From the world! After that didn’t work, David went home, read his “Bible” and discovered that the ark of God wasn’t supposed to be on a cart. So he changed his worship. Three implications:

A. Worshiping according to God’s truth means that we follow the Word, not the world.

Like David’s ark on an oxcart, all too often the church gets its ideas about worship from the world, not from God’s Word. We live in a day in which the church has become like the local shopping mall, trying to provide whatever the customers want. Chuck Colson, in his recent book, The Body (excerpted in Christianity Today [11/23/92]) attacks this cater-to-the-consumer mentality on the part of American churches and churchgoers. He points out how if the customer is king, then the church has to set aside truth and instead develop the right marketing strategy. You fall into the trap of trying to make people happy instead of what God has called us to, helping people become holy. But the preaching of God’s truth with a view to obedience must be central to our worship.

B. Worshiping according to God’s truth means that we repent and change when we’re wrong.

Think of how humiliating it was for David when Uzzah was struck dead and the first celebration came grinding to a halt. The ark went to Obed-edom’s house and 30,000 people went home under a cloud of gloom. Most of us would have stopped right there. We wouldn’t have dared to try something like that again. “Oh, no! I tried it once and it was an embarrassing failure!” But not David. He found out where he was wrong and he was willing to change.

That takes humility. Pride keeps us from admitting that we were wrong. We won’t change because we lose face. But like David, we need to be open to God’s correction and willing to change in obedience to Him when we’re wrong.

C. Worshiping according to God’s truth means that we come to Him by the way of His ordained sacrifice.

There is a difference between David’s unsuccessful attempt to bring up the ark and his successful attempt. The first time there was no mention of blood sacrifice; the second time, there was a sacrifice at the beginning (6:13) and at the end (6:17). On the first attempt with no sacrifice, a man died who dared to approach the ark of God’s presence. But on the second attempt the ark was brought to its resting place with sacrifice.

This illustrates what the rest of Scripture explicitly tells us, that the only way into the presence of God is through the acceptable blood sacrifice of a substitute. The only way that we who are sinners dare to draw near to the holy God in worship is through the sacrifice of His Son.

This means that Christ and His death on the cross must be central to our worship. That’s why the frequent observance of the Lord’s Supper is so important: It keeps us focused on the sacrifice which God provided so that we can draw near. It reminds us that our worship must be reverent, because it required the death of God’s Son. But it can also be a joyous celebration, because through Christ’s death we have access to God’s presence!


A little boy sitting in church saw a large flag bearing a number of gold stars. Turning to his father, he whispered, “Daddy, why does that flag have all those stars on it?” “To remind us of those who died in the service,” his dad replied. A puzzled look came over the boy’s face. After thinking for a few moments, he asked, “Daddy, did they die in the morning or evening service?”

I hope no one dies, either from boredom or from irreverence, in our worship services. Rather, I ask you to come to express your love to the Lord in a joyful celebration before Him in accordance with His truth. Join David in determining, “I will celebrate before the Lord!”

Discussion Questions

  1. How do you recover the feelings of love for the Lord when the relationship has gone kind of flat?
  2. Where does personality fit in with being expressive in worship? Is pride a big factor?
  3. What factors tend to kill genuine worship? What factors enhance it? Describe the best corporate worship you’ve experienced.
  4. What are some consequences when the church capitulates to consumerism?

Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Character Study, Worship