1 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” 4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 15:1-6 ESV).
God did give us commands in the OT on how to worship him—commands he expects us, his NT people, to obey.
To prove that claim (after my study on Matthew 15:1-9), I’m going to briefly describe and apply three NT passages: Romans 15:1-6, 1 Corinthians 9:3-14, and 1 Corinthians 10:1-13.
1. Romans 15:1-6
Paul’s topic in Romans 15:1-6 isn’t about worship, but his point in verse 4 applies not only to worship but to all applications of the OT in the NT era. At the beginning of Romans 15, Paul is still dealing with the same broader topic of relationships in the church between the “weak” and the “strong,” specifically with regard to the issue of eating meat prohibited under the OT Law. Believers on both sides of the issue were to pursue peace (14:19) and seek to please each other instead of themselves (15:2).
In verse 3, Paul supports this last exhortation by quoting from Psalm 69:9, and placing the words in the mouth of Christ instead of David, as the perfect fulfillment of David’s attitude and actions in the psalm.
Paul then digs a little deeper, laying one further Ground below his quotation, explaining why he quoted from the OT to exhort the believers. In doing so, he makes a massive claim for the OT that has an instant practical application for our theology of worship: Everything written in the OT was written specifically for the instruction of NT believers.
“Whatever” was written (4a) is pretty comprehensive! And “our instruction” is obviously referring not only to Jewish believers but Gentiles too, since Paul is writing to a mixed church (1:13 makes this very clear). Of course, NT believers weren’t the original audience of the psalms, but Paul disabuses us of any notion that the OT was written for Israel, and that we modern Gentile Christians are only a secondary audience, reading “someone else’s mail,” as it were.
So why was the OT written? To instruct us. And why should we read it and follow it? So that we can “have hope” as we endured and stuck closely to the encouragement of the Scriptures (4c-e).
2. 1 Corinthians 9:3-14.
From chapters 8-11 of 1 Corinthians, Paul instructs the Corinthians on how to resolve the controversy about eating meat that had been offered to idols. In chapter 9, he is supporting his advice by his personal example as an apostle.
Verses 4-12 are structured as a Bilateral, with 4-7 and 11-12 functioning as the main point, supported by 8-10. Paul had a right to financial support as an apostle because of Deuteronomy 25:4, which he quotes in verse 9.
The significance of verses 9-10 for our discussion on worship cannot be overstated: Paul clearly says that God’s command in the Law “was written for our sake”—that is, for those who were to obey the Law, not for animals. Paul includes his post-resurrection, Gentile audience in the group for whom this law was written!
I’m not saying that modern-day believers in the church are under the Old Covenant as a covenant; what I’m saying is that verses 8-9 make clear that the OT’s validity and authority did not expire with the dawning of the New Covenant era.
3. 1 Corinthians 10:1-13
In chapter 10 of 1 Corinthians, Paul uses the sinful example of OT Israel to warn the church against sinning in idolatry.
It is striking that, in doing so, Paul calls OT Israel “our fathers”—the ancestors of Gentile believers! Even though they were part of God’s people delivered from Egypt, God killed many of them because of their idolatry, sexual immorality, and putting Christ to the test. And these accounts were written not only for OT believers but also “for our instruction” (11b). Paul is specifically referring to NT believers, since he calls his audience those “on whom the end of the ages has come” (11b).
At the heart of his argument is the assumption of the continuing validity and authority of the OT writings for NT believers.
Therefore, when dealing with the issue of worship in the church, we must search the OT to learn God’s will in this matter. The Mosaic Law and its commands, far from being obsolete, speak to our current situation and should guide us in our daily church life.
Next, I will look at 2 Timothy 3:10-17, which is one final text that describes the importance of the OT for us today. Then I will turn to the instructions of the NT regarding worship.