Marks of the Church
Marks of the Church
Main Idea: God is glorified in a joyful people who are eager to know him and make him known.
I. Rejoice (100:1-2)!
A. The volume of worship is loud.
B. The call to worship is global.
C. The spirit of worship is joyful.
D. The scope of worship is total.
II. Know the Lord (100:3-4)!
A. He is God.
B. He made us.
C. We are his.
III. Spread the Word (100:5)!
A. We take the gospel to every nation.
B. We transfer the gospel to every generation.
What comes to mind when you think “church”? I got into a conversation recently with someone who is skeptical about Christianity. At several points his negative feelings about Christianity came through. To him Christians are ignorant and judgmental. Sadly he might have proof from his own experience to back up his evaluation.
What about you? If you had to give three verbs that capture the essence of what it is to be God’s people, what would you say?
Psalm 100 is God’s own answer to the question. This passage paints a picture of the church, and wherever the church in modern times bears little reflection to this passage, we have lost our way. This is the kind of community Jesus is building. The kind of people Jesus meant to unleash on the world. It doesn’t say everything, but I believe we can hear three clear imperatives that point to the essence of what it means to be God’s people.
There’s a call to worship that in verse 1 goes out to the whole world. But it doesn’t stay broad. In verse 3 it’s clearly the community of faith that’s in view. Notice four realities right there in the first two verses:
The Volume of Worship Is Loud
Growing up, how many of you would have been considered a loud child? That was me. My mom always used to say, “Matt, your voice carries.” Now I know what she was talking about because we have a child like that.
When the boys were little, I chose an evening for YouTube clips of Pavarotti. I saved my favorite song for last—Pavarotti’s 1994 performance of “Nessun Dorma”—and my sons were wide-eyed. That’s when our second son started doing Pavarotti impressions. He was too young to pronounce Pavarotti, so he just called it his “pow-ful voice.” And it was so loud. Even just recently he and I were singing at the piano in the house. It was 9:30 at night, and I was convinced our neighbors could hear my son’s voice inside their houses! His voice carries!
The enthusiasm of Israelite worship is illustrated throughout Psalms 93–100. Shouts are raised. Praises chanted and sung while musical instruments are played and horns blown. The noise of the Temple worship was legendary. (Psalms 51–100, 525)
Some places in the Psalms call for us to “be still, and know that [he is] God” (46:10 ESV), to come before him with a sense of reverent awe. And then there are psalms like this one. In verse 1 God has his hand on the volume knob, and he’s cranking it up! “Shout triumphantly.” Make a joyful noise! Turn it up!
The Call to Worship Is Global
As the one true God and maker of heaven and earth, God has the right to command worship from all peoples. This is where history is going. The terminal moment in history as we know it will find all of creation standing in awe of the glory of God. Those who have trusted Christ will stand on the new earth and look out, and there will be a sea of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation—your brothers and sisters in faith—with one voice singing the praises of Jesus Christ.
This call to worship is meant to ring out to the farthest reaches of the earth. And the nations will hear it. As the prophet Habakkuk wrote, “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord’s glory, as the water covers the sea” (Hab 2:14). The Great Commission isn’t wishful thinking; it’s where history is going.
The Spirit of Worship Is Joyful
In verse 1 it’s not just noise; it’s a triumphant shout, a “joyful noise” (ESV). And in verse 2 it’s not just serving and songs; it’s “joyful songs” and serving “with gladness.” Stop and consider: Does this passage describe you? Does it describe us? Psalm 100 isn’t a passage for other churches; it’s here for every church. God means for his people to be marked by joy.
In a popular TV show called MythBusters a team of science whizzes work out various crazy experiments, often involving blowing things up in the name of science. At the beginning of every show, they say the same thing: “Don’t try this at home. Leave it to the experts.” There’s no label like that attached to Psalm 100. This is a “try this at home” passage.
Yes, we acknowledge our sin in light of God’s holiness. But along with that, every Sunday we remember the good news of what God has done about it. Jesus came, lived, and died to save us from our sin, to claim us for God, and to bring us into God’s forever family. For all who hide in Jesus—for all who have trusted in his perfect work on the cross—we can celebrate good news every Sunday.
If the truth of the gospel gets into our bloodstream, our worship will have an unmistakable note of joy. Christian friend, your future couldn’t be brighter. Here’s your story as a believer: “One who is righteous has many adversities, but the Lord rescues him from them all” (Ps 34:19). Joy will catch you in the end—joy Peter describes as “inexpressible and glorious” (1 Pet 1:8).
The Scope of Worship Is Total
Worship lays claim to everything we do. Paul writes, “And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3:17) and, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31).
For the Christian all of life is meant to be an act of worship. I love the old hymn “Take My Life and Let It Be Consecrated” because it connects worship to my lips, my hands, my feet, and how I spend my money and my time.
Take my silver and my gold—Not a mite, would I withhold;
Take my intellect and use Every power as Thou shalt choose. (Havergal, “Take My Life”)
This term serve in verse 2 is a comprehensive term in Hebrew. It’s used in the Old Testament to describe formal acts of praise in the temple, but it’s also used to describe ordinary work in Genesis 2. What does this mean? It means serving the Lord with gladness isn’t just about what we do when we gather. It’s an all-of-life worship. What you do the other six days of the week matters to God. Paul writes, “Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ” (Col 3:23-24). Does it change anything if you wake up tomorrow thinking, I don’t merely work for this retail store. I don’t merely work for this financial institution. I’m not just rearing children, I’m not just working toward my undergraduate degree. I’m serving the Lord Christ?
What comes to mind when you think “church”? We ask God that question in Psalm 100, and he doesn’t borrow the words of the skeptic: ignorant and judgmental. Instead, joy looms large in God’s description of and intention for his people. God has given us a reason to be glad. He wants us to be marked by joy.
Know the Lord!
The CSB translates verse 3, “Acknowledge that the Lord is God.” The word acknowledge carries the sense of recognizing something—not just mentally nodding yes but taking it on board. That’s helpful. However, I love an earlier translation on this one: “Know that the Lord, he is God” (ESV). Notice three truths right here in verse 3:
He Is God
Look at how much this psalm is focused on God: “to the Lord” (v. 1); “Serve the Lord”; “Come before him” (v. 2); “Acknowledge . . . the Lord”; “He made”; “We are his”; “his people”; “his pasture” (v. 3); “his gates”; “his courts”; “to him”; “his name” (v. 4); “Lord is good”; “his faithful love”; “his faithfulness” (v. 5). It’s all about him.
Think about gathered worship for a moment. The reason we want our songs and sermons to be God centered isn’t because God-centeredness is trending. It’s because God is at the center of the universe. There’s no one better to talk about. Gathered worship is a great reminder to me that the universe doesn’t orbit around me. I’m not in control. I’m not sovereign. I’m not the one the world was waiting for. As the preacher J. Vernon McGee used to say, “This is God’s universe and he does things his way. You may have a better way, but you don’t have a universe.”
God runs the universe, and that’s good. God is God, and I’m not. In one way or another, we acknowledge that and sing that truth every Sunday. He is God.
He Made Us
The road of dependence only travels in one direction. We need God. He doesn’t need us. He made us. We didn’t make him. We didn’t make ourselves. We exist because God graciously decided we would. You’re breathing right now because God is saying yes to your existence, now and now and now again.
Human history tells a story of the human thirst for transcendence. There’s an insatiable desire in us to experience something way bigger than we are—to be out of our depth, to be lost in wonder. We find experiences in this world that are meant to point us further up and further in. The truth that awaits us at the core of reality is that God is the one we were made to know and experience.
This psalm isn’t just restating the obvious: God made the world and everything and everyone in it. The psalmist goes on to clarify that God has claimed a people for himself.
We Are His
He uses the imagery of sheep—a flock (v. 3). In the Old Testament these descriptions fit the people of Israel. However, early in the Old Testament it becomes clear that, from the beginning, God intended to gather a multiethnic family (Gen 12:3; 22:18). God would send Messiah—Jesus Christ—to purchase a people from every nation, tribe, and tongue (Rev 7:9). Paul addresses the believers in Corinth, reminding them they are not their own, for they “were bought at a price” (1 Cor 6:20). This means Christians are twice claimed: we are debtors to our Creator who gave us life and sustains us by his providence, and we are debtors to our Redeemer who bought us with his blood and saved us from the judgment we deserve for our sin.
Think about that in relation to your life right now. We look within—at battles and turmoil of heart and mind. We look around—at suffering in friends’ lives and in the world. Don’t we feel that we are out of our depth? Don’t we feel the need for a God of grace and power? Here is Psalm 100 telling us we’ve got one!
Christian friends, we don’t gather to worship a souped-up version of ourselves. God is a God of sovereignty and providence. He sets the dates for the rise and fall of every kingdom in world history. Think about this in relation to your life, your struggles, your cares, and your anxious thoughts. Does the thing you fear the most—the thing that keeps you up at night—have on its resume, “Maker of heaven and earth”? This is our God. Trust him. Cast your cares on him. Be still and know that he is God. Our world has enough mirrors. What we need is a window to see out—to see God in his high and holy place.
In Psalm 100 everything is under God’s authority. The gates are his. The courts are his. The songs are his. The earth is his. We are his. Gathered worship isn’t an exercise in navel-gazing. It’s not, “Let’s all circle up and try to see the inner workings of our hearts so we can feel appropriately terrible, and maybe the guilt will motivate us to do something better with our lives.” That’s what church can be if we don’t keep good news front and center! This is why the last word as we leave gathered worship on Sunday must not be, “Do more! Do more!” That will either crush you because you can’t pull it off, or it will inflate you beyond tolerable limits because you think you’re pulling it off.
There’s a better way. The big reveal we wait to uncover every Sunday is some version of this: Jesus is the one we need! You reply, “You said that last week.” Right! And we’ll say it again next week! We say it again and again, until the truth of it breaks in on us—until the truth breaks through darkness, sin, addiction, boredom, suicidal thoughts, nominalism, shame, and guilt. We speak this good news—this gospel about what God has done in Christ—until it becomes our new favorite thing to hear and say.
Every Sunday as the church we’re inviting one another to know the Lord. Paul prayed for the early Christians that they would know the Lord, “being rooted and built up in him” (Col 2:7), “growing in the knowledge of God” (Col 1:10). As a church, therefore, it’s our business to know God better and better. The better we know him the more we love him. The more we love him the more we trust him. The more we trust him the more we obey him.
Spread the Word!
What we’re seeing here is the threefold task of the church: worship, nurture, and mission. A people praising God. A people growing in the knowledge of God. A people taking the gospel to the city and the world. We see this truth develop in at least two areas.
We Take the Gospel to Every Nation
God wants this life of rejoicing to impact the whole world. How do we know? It’s where our psalm began (v. 1). Derek Kidner said that verse 1 “claims the world for God” (Psalms 73–150, 356). This psalm of joy is also a song that pulsates with mission. Missions is a joy project. Romans 10 is a compelling picture of missions—happy feet bringing good news to the nations. The Great Commission is joy in tennis shoes—joy on the run.
We Transfer the Gospel to Every Generation
This psalm ends with God’s faithfulness being seen by generation after generation. As the church we have a passion for every nation and every generation. It’s not one at the expense of the other. This is why we encourage family worship, where parents gather the children around the table or in the living room, if only briefly, to talk to God (prayer) and to hear God talk to us (Scripture).
This is why our church does kids’ ministry the way we do. Our hope is to reinforce what Christian parents are doing at home, to come alongside parents in the effort to fill up our kids’ hearts with love for Jesus. We want to help the next generation know the Lord.
This is why we encourage families to attend worship together. This way children grow up seeing mom and dad worshiping, singing, praying, listening to the preaching of God’s Word, taking it in eagerly, giving in the offering. These are means of grace that God uses to show our children how beautiful and glorious God is—how worthy he is of everything.
In each of these, we are building a framework of understanding. We are telling our children and the nations who God is. Who they are. Why they exist. What’s wrong on the inside. What’s wrong with the world. And how the one true and living God, as revealed in the story of the gospel, makes all things new.
When a cynical culture hears the word church, all kinds of words come to mind: ignorant, judgmental, lame, boring, rules, religion, irrelevant. God has a different list: joyful, gladness, songs, thanksgiving. Nations worshiping. Children and their children’s children knowing God’s faithfulness. What kind of church do we want to be?
Reflect and Discuss
- What descriptions do you most often hear when non-Christians talk about Christians? In what way does that shed light on the church’s call to reflect God’s character?
- Does your approach to gathered worship include both reverent stillness and enthusiastic joy? Which one seems more prominent and why?
- What are some ways Christians and local churches can display God’s passion for all nations?
- What kinds of unhealthy habits/ideas grow when someone neglects gathered worship?
- What kinds of unhealthy habits/ideas grow when someone neglects all-of-life worship?
- How would you help someone grasp worship as involving the whole of one’s life?
- How are you leveraging your time, talent, and treasure to invest the gospel in generations coming after you?
- How are you leveraging your time, talent, and treasure to take the gospel to the nations?
- What do you think it looks like for gathered worship to be centered on God and his glory?
- Which of these marks of the church are most lacking in your life? On the other hand, in which area have you seen growth, by God’s grace? What might be a good next step to cultivate these marks of spiritual health?