12 — What We Believe About Worship (Part 2)

After the Exodus, God commanded regular and special assemblies to remember what He had done for His people and to honor Him. Wherever they were, whatever they were doing, they were to drop everything and gather as the blessed people. Just giving Him that priority was the beginning of those worship seasons.

Jesus required his followers to remember what God had done for them in a special memorial[1] made up of unleavened bread and wine. Paul called it “the Lord’s Supper.” Early Christians gathered for this purpose on the first day of the week,[2] the day of the completion of Christ’s saving act (his resurrection which declared him to Be God’s son).[3]

The focal point of our Sunday assembly is the Lord’s Supper. It’s observance, accompanied by prayer, is the only required act. Early Christians expanded on this worship of God by reading and teaching God’s word (another manner of worship) and singing hymns of praise to Him. But the Supper is paramount.

The bread represents the body of Christ and by each of us eating it, we remember that Christ, through His sacrifice, has not only made us a part of himself, but has united us all in his body.[4] The unity with Him we have as a group requires us to be united with one another. The fact that the bread is unleavened reminds us that God has, in Christ, made us pure and we are to behave that way every day.[5]

The wine reminds us that our place before God did not come cheap. It cost the blood of Christ. In addition, it reminds us that in drinking it, we have entered into a special relationship with God, a covenant, that in God’s eyes, separates us from the world and makes us special to Him. It is a reminder to be supremely thankful and humble, and to keep a close watch on our behavior because God has made us to be His people.

The worship assembly is not something to be taken lightly, but is to have such priority in our lives that each day is lived in view of the next meeting of God’s gathered people.

Footnotes:

[1] Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:17-20

[2] It is the “first day of the week” that is given prominence in the New Testament. See Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2, 9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1, 19; Acts 20:7.

[3] Romans 1:4

[4] 1 Corinthians 1:17 – 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

[5] Paul uses this thought in 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 when he refers to the Corinthian Christians’ behavior – 6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

11 — What We Believe About Worship (Part 1)

Whatever we do with our lives to intentionally honor God above all else is worship. It is, in fact, the very definition of worship.[1]

God deserves this preeminence in our lives for two reasons: First, He is the creator and sustainer of all things, the embodiment of holiness, the absolute universal sovereign.[2] Repeatedly in the Bible, the call to honor God is for this reason and because His status is absolute, nothing else and no one else is as deserving of this honor[3] and all people are expected to give it. Second, God’s people are called to place Him first because of what He has done for us in particular.

It is for this latter reason, and to keep us in mind of it, that God calls His people to assemble at special times for particular worship. In the Old Testament there were three specific times to do this[4] and each time was in memory of what God had done in saving His people in the Exodus. The same rationale applied in the New Testament where the greatest saving act of all was the exodus Jesus accomplished at Jerusalem in his death and resurrection.[5] His action frees believers from sin and he commanded we remember it with a special observance of bread and wine. Christians gathered on the day of that event, Sunday, to remember it with the Lord’s Supper.[6] This is why we also gather.[7] While Christians tended to gather for worship most days of the week,[8] the first day was always something special because of that observance. Sunday is preeminently the Lord’s Day and by devoting it to Him, we give Him worship.

We do not take this time lightly. In fact, every day of our lives is lived in view of the coming Sunday in preparation for this worship. The Old Testament was very specific that each day should be lived in honor of God with our behavior so that the special gathering of God’s people for worship would not be seen as hypocritical.[9] So, in the New Testament, we are urged not to be neglectful in our daily lives as our day of assembly approaches.[10]

Footnotes:

[1] There are, in fact, some twenty different Hebrew and Greek words in the Bible to refer to worship. They involve respect, awe, obedience, subservience, and thanksgiving. The English word “worship” means to give something worth or value and when we give God first place in our lives, that’s giving Him worth above all others. Paul wrote that our lives should be “living sacrifices,” that is, the entirety of our lives should be spent honoring God (Romans 12:1).

[2] See Psalm 96 for example – 1 Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. 2 Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. 3 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. 4 For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. 5 For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens. 6 Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and glory are in his sanctuary. 7 Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. 8 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come into his courts. 9 Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth. 10 Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.” The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity. 11 Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it. 12 Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy. 13 Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness.

[3] Luke 4:8 and Deuteronomy 6:13

[4] The Passover, Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles (Deuteronomy 16:16-17).

[5] Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection is described in the Greek text of Luke 9:28 as an “exodus” (or “departure” in the New International Version).

[6] Paul uses this term, “Lord’s Supper” in 1 Corinthians 11:20.

[7] Christians should give up the explanation that because first century Christians gathered on the first day of the week, we should too. Early Christians gathered on the first day of the week for a reason. That should be our reason too – not that we are just doing what they did.

[8] Acts 2:46

[9] See for example Isaiah 1:11-17.

[10] Hebrews 10:22-25 – 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

10 — What We Believe About the Christian Life (Part 3)

The guiding principle for all Christian living is this: We must live to please the Lord.

This includes living a devotional life that begins, first and foremost, with a focus on scripture, the Bible.[1]  No one is born knowing what pleases the Lord, and no one can know it without coming into contact with the book that makes God’s will known.

This focus on Scripture must be comprehensive, for it is all of the Bible that guides us into the will of God.[2]  As we read, we will need to be introspective, thinking about how the word of God applies in our lives and that will lead us to prayer.  We cannot possibly be what God has called us to be without His help.[3]  While doing these things, we must challenge ourselves to adopt practices that will facilitate becoming more Christlike in our behavior.

Pleasing God requires living in community with Christian people.  God has made us to be His people, separating us from all others in His eyes.  He has not just saved you, but in saving you He adopted you into His family.  We must find our place in that family and serve.[4]  As one writer puts it: There are two things we cannot do alone: One is to be married, and the other is to be a Christian. [5]

Since we are the “pillar and ground of truth” for the world,[6] we must live responsibly, adhering to sexual purity and ethical behavior.  The Psalmist reminds us who can live in the house (family) of God: he whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, speaks the truth from his heart, has no slander on his tongue, does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman.  It is the person who despises that which is vile, honors those who fear the Lord, keeps his word even when it hurts, and who lends his money without interest and does not accept a bribe against the innocent.[8]

Footnotes

[1] The focus begins with scripture and not with God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit, for nothing can be known about the will of God for our lives – or much about God for that matter – without the revelation of scripture.

[2] 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

[3] The New Testament letters are full of reminders that it is God who works in us to desire and act according to His good purpose (cf. Philippians 2:13).

[4] In writing about this relationship in the body of Christ, Paul emphasizes this point writing: From [Christ] the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:16).

[5] Paul Tournier, cited by Philip Yancy, Church: Why Bother? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998) p. 37.

[6] 1 Timothy 3:15

[7] Psalm 5:1-4

9 — What We Believe About the Christian Life (Part 2)

In his earliest letter, the Apostle Paul reviewed elementary Christian teaching with some of his new converts. As he came to the end of that letter he wrote: “Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.”

We believe that the Christian life is first and foremost about pleasing the Lord. Not ourselves. Not our neighbors. Not even our spouses.

Scripture emphasizes this repeatedly.

In his second Corinthian letter Paul wrote: “we make it our goal to please [Christ], . . . For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”

To the Galatians he wrote: “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

And to the Colossians he wrote: “. . . we have not stopped praying for you . . . in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way . . .”

The example of Jesus is that he did not live to please Himself, sought to please His heavenly Father[1] and that led him to seek the best interests of others before his own. Why? Because that’s what was pleasing to God.

Whatever we believe about the Christian life, everything must fall under this heading. Our eternal destiny depends on it.[2] It is why the Christian life can never be about check lists or rote or ritualistic behavior. Pleasing God can never be accomplished while on auto-pilot.

Footnotes:

[1] This fact means that everything comes before pleasing self. So Paul writes in Romans 15:1-3 “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”

[2] Galatians 6:8