When I say to you the words, "Regular Worship", what image or thought comes into your mind? If you're like most people you will have probably thought one of two things:
- Regularly attending the worship service. Being here every Sunday or attending all of the services on Sunday and Wednesdays.
- Or you may have thought of the regular way we have our services - the same time, prayers, communion, preaching, etc.
If I were to ask, "Why regular worship?" the answer may come back in several ways:
- Cause God says you have to
- Compliments your life, good for you, completes your personality
- Cause we have a command and example to do so in the New Testament
Now I'm not saying that regular worship isn't about what we do here on Sundays and Wednesdays; and I won't dispute the fact that the Bible demonstrates and instructs us to practice public worship on a regular basis. What I do want to show you is that the Bible speaks of worship in grander and broader terms than just mandatory and regular worship period and demanding that we stick to it.
The place and time and manner of worship are merely servants of a great and wonderful reality we sometimes miss because we are locked into a habit regulated by time and tradition. In this lesson I'd like for us to look at the bigger picture that God has designed for New Testament worship. Open your Bibles to Hebrews 10.
The Reasons for Worship
Saying that the reason we should worship God regularly is because we have to; it's good for us; we have an example of how to do it - misses the point altogether. It's like saying that the reason you married your spouse is because your parents married, or you saw how weddings were performed in a magazine. In Hebrews chapter 10 the author of this epistle puts forth the two prime reasons for our worship to God and 4 actions that stem from this that define what our worship is to be about.
Reason #1 - Confidence
19Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh,
- Hebrews 10:19-20
Now, you wouldn't think that confidence would be one of the major reasons why a person would worship God regularly - but it is!
Let's say a certain man is the president of a company, a big company with a 1,000 employees. People need an appointment to see him, his employees are polite and show respect. His suppliers return his calls and no one would like to be called into his office unless it was for good news - and even then you'd be a little nervous when around him. Now this same man goes home to his family, his little girl runs and jumps into his lap, his son ambushes him with his new water gun without fear.
What's the difference here? Same man, same job, same position. The difference is that the kids have confidence because their relationship with this man is different - he is father, not boss. Because he is their father, because he has shown his love, they have the confidence to approach him at will and without fear. They don't do it cause they have to or they read about it in a book - they do it because they have confidence based on his love, he's our dad!
In verses 19-20 the writer explains that Christians can now approach God with confidence because of what Jesus did. Confidence is why we approach. Jesus' sacrifice is why we have confidence.
Before, in the Old Testament, the people could only worship from afar. It wasn't that they didn't want to worship but rather they were kept at a distance. The intricate system of sacrifice and ceremony in the Old Testament. The multi-layered system of priests and Levites guarding the approach to the place for worship. The warnings from God Himself to keep back, not to touch…continually reminded them of their unworthiness, their sin, their distance from God.
But now, the author explains in the first 10 chapters of Hebrews and summarizes here in these verses - we can have confidence to approach God, not simply in a building designed for worship, but at the very presence of His being - why? Because Jesus Christ, with His death on the cross, with the offering of His life, has removed the sins that barred our entry into the presence of God.
In the Old Testament the priests entered the holy of holies, which represented the presence of God, and they offered the blood of a dead animal as a ritual sacrifice. This didn't give worshippers any confidence, any boldness. It simply reminded them of their sinfulness, of the overriding presence of death in their lives.
The Hebrew writer says that Jesus goes before God Himself, not just a place that represents God - and He offers a living sacrifice (not a dead one), He offers Himself. And the result is different, the worshipper now has a way to enter in before God without fear, without disgrace. Because of what Jesus has accomplished, His disciples have confidence to come before God whenever they please!! They are not limited by sin, ritual, culture, physical ability or position in society - with none of these in the way there is great confidence to come forth.
We worship because we have confidence and:
Reason #2 - Connection to God
and since we have a great priest over the house of God,
- Hebrews 10:21
Remember that it wasn't because the Jews didn't want to worship, they were limited in their worship - no matter what they wanted to do their only link to God were the priests. The priests were the intermediaries between God and the people. They offered the sacrifices that expressed repentance, joy, thankfulness, etc. Only they were allowed to enter the place where God was.
The problem with priests was that regardless of their high position and priestly garments, underneath they were just like everyone else - sinners condemned to die. They could represent the people but they couldn't improve the people, or bring the people closer to God.
The Hebrew writer says that Jesus is the connection that people now have that will make a difference. The ordinary priests understood the people, but would do nothing for them because they shared in their sins. Jesus, however, as the great priest could also sympathize with human weakness, but because He never sinned, could do much more on behalf of the people.
- He could remove the guilt and condemnation upon them because of sin.
- He could usher them into the very throne room of God.
Christians have a heavenly connection in Jesus Christ that enables them to go where no man had ever gone before, that is into the true holy place where God dwells.
I suppose that my concern with our concept of regular worship (Sun / Wed / Sun / Wed) is that it is too narrow and because of this becomes confusing spiritually:
- We become bored with the routine and blame God for it; when in reality we have created this stifling model, not God.
- Or we begin to tinker with the worship "formula" to try to jazz it up hoping to make it more relevant or exciting and often end up compromising scripture.
The writer of Hebrews lays out the primary reasons for our desire to come to God:
- Confidence that He will receive us
- A connection that brings us to Him
He then explains a broader concept of the worship produced by this type of heavenly motivation - a concept that goes beyond the boundaries of our weekly routine of public gatherings; his concept of regular worship includes:
1. Getting Closer to God
let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
- Hebrews 10:22
You have to read this sentence in reverse to get the full meaning. The conscience is cleansed of guilt and fear when the body experiences baptism. Peter says it this way,
...baptism now saves you - not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience.
- I Peter 3:21
The mind is sure that what is happening is happening because of faith in Christ and what He did - and no other reason. The heart is sincere - literally means a "true" heart. No ulterior motives, just a sincere desire to worship. The whole being comes close to God as a result of what Jesus has done.
Not just coming to the place where God is worshipped, but a coming near to the God who is worshipped in this place. What good is being in the "house" of worship if one doesn't actually come near to the One who is worshipped? And so regular worship includes a coming into the presence of God not regulated by time or place but rather by distance. Regular worship means one comes nearer to God Himself, and one comes nearer to God by having faith, sincerity and clear conscience through Christ and Christ alone.
Regular worship includes drawing near and:
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful;
- Hebrews 10:23
Many elderly Christians confined to hospitals and nursing homes often apologize to me for their inability to be present in the church building for public worship. This attitude is commendable but a result of the narrow definition of regular worship we have labored under for a long time.
The Hebrew writer includes the perseverance of the Saints in the faith as an aspect of our worship. We don't hang on to our faith. We continue to confess our faith regardless of circumstances - this to is worship!
The writer says that proclaiming the reasons for our confidence, the identity of our connection - despite the pressure to the contrary - this too is part of the worship, the drawing near to God. It's amazing that the same elderly saints who are confined because of illness or age will feel badly about not being in the building for services - but they boldly confess their abiding faith in Jesus despite their difficult circumstances. They need to understand that this perseverance is as sweet an aroma of worship as their presence in the pew on Sunday morning.
And so regular worship in a broader sense includes Drawing Near, Perseverance and:
3. Providing a Godly Example
and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,
- Hebrews 10:24
This short verse encompasses the whole of Christian conduct - love and service. Love identifies whose you are to others:
By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
- John 13:35
Service (good deeds) identifies and honors the God you serve:
Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
- Matthew 5:16
Paul re-inforces love and service as a key ingredient of "regular worship" in Romans 12:1 where he says:
I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God which is your spiritual service of worship.
For the Christian every act of love and service is considered worship to God. And this is as it should be because God deserves no less than our total lives in worship to Him - it is a liberating thought that our daily lives contain the same opportunities for acceptable worship as the public worship times.
So drawing near, perseverance / love and service on a daily basis. Finally, regular worship includes:
4. Assembling With The Saints
not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
- Hebrews 10:25
The "let us" is understood here. The previous exhortations were positive in nature and this one is said in a negative way: Let us not .. forsake the assembling…
Our mistake at times is that we read only this verse and reduce worship to only this activity - gathering together as a group to sing, take communion, teach the word, share fellowship, pray and share our resources. My point is that assembling together is worship, but it's not the only worship!
- Yes, we must do this regularly
- Yes, we must encourage one another to be faithful to this
- Yes, we must assemble as a way to prepare for the coming of the day of judgment
However, doing only this without an effort:
- to draw close to God as an individual
- to persevere in hope
- to practice brotherly love and service on a daily basis…
These will diminish the effectiveness and meaning of the general assembly on Sundays and Wednesdays. What makes the assembling of ourselves together for worship meaningful and satisfying is not the fact that we do it often. For example: "I like church service cause I come every Sun & Wed" or "And if you come more often you will grow to like it too." No, what makes the church service satisfying and meaningful and desirable is the fact that Christians:
- who are drawing near to God each day in prayer and private praise and Bible reading.
- those who have paid a price for clinging to the hope they have in Jesus.
- brethren who are active in acts of love and service throughout the week.
Christians who regularly worship God in these ways are happy and eager to be in the company of fellow disciples who also regularly worship the Lord. Birds of a feather like to flock together! Christians who worship regularly like to assemble regularly.
For these "regular worshippers" the assembly is yet one more way they can do what they love to do - worship the Lord. They don't like it cause they do it often. They don't like it cause they don't have anything else to do. They don't do it cause they read it in the Bible or the Apostles gave an example. They assemble for worship cause that's what their lives are about, worship to God - and this is simply one way they can share that joy, that need with those who share the same love and need.
So what have you seen in the mirror concerning worship?
- You've seen that the assembly is one of several ways to express worship to the Lord.
- you've seen that the motivation for worship is the confidence to draw near to God and the connection to actually come into His presence,
- not rules about having to be in a certain place on certain days.
- You've seen that regular worship is not just a part of a Christian's life, it's his entire life.
- You've seen that unless you worship God regularly every day - church services will not give you much satisfaction or joy.
Now I want you to see one last thing: If you don't worship God regularly while you are on earth - you will be eternally denied that privilege in heaven. You see, God will not accept your worship of Him face to face in heaven unless you worship Him by faith while on earth. Some think that they can give their heart and soul to this world and its activities with a token hour or two invested in religious ceremonies on Sundays to satisfy God's desire for our love. That's not worship, that's gambling / hedging your bet.
But, God deserves that we love Him with our whole heart and mind and soul - that has never changed.
The Hebrew writer describes our journey to that point in terms of regular worship in its many forms. I encourage all those who have had the habit of assembling with the saints to make sure that you also cultivate the habit of drawing near to God, the habit of persevering in your faith, and the habit of love and good deeds - so that your worship will be complete and acceptable to God and satisfying for you. And for those who are not in the habit of regular worship or have gotten out of the habit of assembling with the saints - please realize that you've fallen further away from God than you realize.
Let's examine ourselves brethren and make sure that we see the reflection of a church that truly worships God in a way that is pleasing to Him and edifying for us - God bless you.