Category Archives: Love for God

Why the Church Must Meet

Ten Commandments

Throughout the COVID crisis, the church has faced pressures from without and within. From without there has been an unfair restriction placed on the church. As has been seen in Nevada, casinos and the gambling industry have been granted greater leniency than churches, and the Supreme Court of the United States upheld Nevada’s law with a 5-4 decision. And that is just one example. Others, such as liquor stores, home improvement stores, and grocery stores, continue servicing their clientele, having been deemed necessities, while the church has been denied that status. The church has largely acquiesced to the executive orders of the civil magistrate based on the Biblical injunction to honor the civil magistrate and to extend love to our fellow man by protecting them from COVID. And yet, is the prevailing wisdom truly the best way to honor God and love our neighbor?

Especially at the beginning of the COVID scare back in March and April, many churches were willing to temporarily suspend in-person worship, opting for live-streamed services instead. The nation, and the world really, wrestled to understand what COVID was. Over time, as information has been gathered, and the “curve” seemed to flatten, doors were cautiously re-opened. Some members still have stayed away from in-person worship. But is it really wise and God-honoring to neglect gathering together to worship of the Lord?

The foundation of my concern rests on the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3). Here God claims the preeminent place in the hearts of His people. That unique place is reinforced in the summaries of the 10 commandments given in the gospels: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39). Currently the church has focused on the commandments that help it love its neighbor, at the expense of the commandments that direct it to love God.

The church is failing to examine the Scriptures to see if the church is ever described as forfeiting gathering there. Perhaps there are examples in Scripture where the church ceased meeting to avoid a particular danger. COVID is not the only danger in the world. Surely there must be some instance where the New Testament church closed its doors. An examination of Acts shows this did not happen even when the church was under a danger far graver than COVID-19.

Perhaps the most pressing danger facing the apostolic church at its formation was persecution. The church was small, and people were being killed for their profession of faith in Christ. And yet Scripture testifies that persecution did not have the intended effect of suppressing the worship of God’s people.

  • In John 20:19, even though the disciples were afraid of the Jews, they were still gathering.
  • In Acts 4:31, after Peter and John were released from being arrested for preaching the gospel, they “went to their friends.” (v. 23), who were all “gathered together.”
  • In Acts 8:4, after the disciples are scattered because of the death of Stephen and subsequent persecution, they continue to preach the word of God wherever they go. There is an identifiable group that forms in Samaria, to which the apostles send Peter and John (Act 8:15).
  • In Acts 12:12, Peter’s arrest and subsequent unjust imprisonment prompts the church to “gather together” to pray for him.

In other words, even the danger of persecution does not cause the early church to forfeit meeting together. That is because the worship of God is paramount. It should supersede all other earthly activity, because it is the one activity that anticipates heaven. When a church, or members of a church, do not meet together to avoid COVID, a statement is made. Implicitly or explicitly the church, or a part of it, is saying that it is more important to avoid contracting COVID than it is to worship the Lord. And yet in Hebrews 10:24-25, it is the gathering of the saints that is seen as essential to the sanctification of the believer, and not to be neglected: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 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.”

I will say it as strongly as this. When the church forsakes worship for a disease like COVID, it is showing love for self, not for God. It is recreating God in its own image, preferring the temporary physical health that isolating may provide, to the praise of the God who made and redeemed His people. This is not saying anything about modified worship, worship out of doors, the use of masks in worship. I have opinions about all those things, but they are not the focus of what is being said here. The point today is that Christians are not loving God by staying away from church because He commands the assembly of His people, and to show love for God is to walk according to His commandments (John 14:15, 1 John 5:3, 2 John 6). God must be loved more that anything in this life. But there is a second principle that flows from this central point.

One of the reasons given for suspending in-person worship is that the church must love its neighbor. However, right now the world is constantly coming face-to-face with death, the very reminder of the coming judgment. They are constantly being told that their death is just around the corner and it is terrifying the world. And yet when the church ceases to meet, these hopeless and lost souls have only the equivalent of a TV show to sustain and comfort them. No doubt they may hear truth, but they will not experience it in the context that God designed: a living, communing body of believers. It is neither loving, nor caring to close the doors of the very place where hope in times of panic can be found, where fellowship can be experience, and where the splendor of heaven is anticipated each Lord’s Day.

My dear friends, the church must consider carefully what it does today. Its actions are making a statement. The next generation of the church is watching the decisions of today. And they are seeing a church that prefers temporary, physical health over the worship of the Lord. And they are learning. The church is folding on an issue that does not pose a significant risk. And if it folds today, what will it do when a real crisis comes along.

In my county, there are 202,403 people. In this county, there has definitely been an increase of reported cases in recent weeks. As of today (August 3, 2020), the total number of people infected with COVID as reported by the Georgia Department of Public Health is 3,719, of which 1,485 (40%) were diagnosed in the last 2 weeks. And yet the number of deaths remains relatively low at 83. The church has to consider the math. A Richmond County resident has a 1.84% chance of contracting COVID. That means 98 out of 100 people will never get this disease. Even more staggering, only 4 out of 10,000 will die of this disease. That means a Richmond County resident has a 99.96% chance of living through COVID. That is not to minimize the tragedy of death, but rather to show just how low the risk is. The risk of dying from COVID is lower that many elective surgeries! 

The church of Christ has been purchased for worship. It has been set apart to worship the Lord. And it is never free to cease to be what it was created by God to be: the body of Christ established on earth to sanctify the saints and call sinners to repentance. To change or deny that work is to have other gods before the Lord.

The Worship of God’s People

bell tower

Having considered worship through our work and family worship, I want to conclude with some brief thoughts about corporate worship. In our worship at work we, as individual members of Christ’s body, live out our faith before a watching world. In our worship at home we, as parents, are responsible to lead our families in worshiping God. Yet when we worship corporately, in church, we are called to gather by God as his body to express our joyful praise and be fed spiritually.

Now some may expect a presbyterian pastor to begin a discussion about the Regulative Principle of Worship at this time. This doctrine teaches that God’s specific commands regarding worship forms our understanding of what should be included in corporate worship. I certainly agree with that theological statement, but I should prefer to take another angle in discussing corporate worship today. I want to consider several reasons corporate worship is significant.

  1. God commands it. In a day where individualistic worship on a deer stand is seen as a viable alternative to church, it is important to reiterate that God’s people gather for worship. Hebrews 10:25 commands us not to neglect “to meet together, as is the habit of some”. The book of Acts is replete with examples of believers coming together for worship (Cf. Acts 2:42; 20:7). This pattern serves as a stark contrast to today’s view where church attendance is one of the optional activities of our week, rather than that around which we build our week.
  2. It is the delight of God’s people. The believer’s relationship with God flows from God’s pre-existing relationship with them. The Christian knows of God’s love for him and is therefore glad to come together with his new family, filled with adopted sons and daughters of the Lord, in order to praise and thank him for his precious gift to them. That is why David sings, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” (Ps. 122:1). But what do our children see in us? Is corporate worship a joyful event for you, or is it something we simply do, or even worse, endure? The gathered worship of God’s people should be a joyful time when we come to delight ourselves in drawing near to God with the rest of the body of Christ.
  3. It is for our good. In corporate worship the ways that God shares his gracious gifts with his people are all present. Romans 10:14 stresses the importance of preaching, the central element of the worship service of any church worth its salt. Hebrews 10:24 describes links corporate assembly as one of the ways we stir each other up “to love and good works”.

With the Bible’s emphasis on corporate worship grounded in God’s command and the joy and upbuilding of his people, I would like to humbly suggest a change in our view of church. First, recognize corporate worship as the gift it is. God has given you a time to express your thanks to him and will feed your soul in the process. Second, if your church has morning and evening worship services, attend both. Do not satisfy yourself with worshiping God in his church 50% of the time. If you knew there was an ATM that dispensed $10,000 two times per day I am guessing you would make sure you were there on time each time.

To neglect the attendance of corporate worship makes a statement about how much you value it. So as God’s people, let us join with David’s joyful procession to the Lord’s house and take our families with us.

What Is Worship?

folded-hands-in-prayer

What is worship? We have many arguments in the church over what worship should look like, but what is worship actually? For many in contemporary evangelicalism, it seems that worship has become the time during the church service when we sing together. From my conversations with people across a broad spectrum of Christian churches, it seems to me people now associate worship with an emotional experience brought on as they are moved by the music and/or words of a song. But does this recent conception of worship accurately reflect what the Bible says about worship? To find the answer let us look at Scripture together.

The first instance of the word “worship” in the ESV translation of the Bible is found in Genesis 22:5 where Abraham takes Isaac to Mt. Moriah at God’s command in order to offer him as a sacrifice. He tells his servants to wait for him at a certain location while he and Isaac go further to worship. In this particular instance it seems unlikely the servants were expecting Abraham to walk a little further and sing some songs with Isaac and return refreshed after an emotional encounter. In fact, the whole trip was based around sacrifice. This is why Isaac asks about the details of the sacrifice in v. 7. So worship is at least not exclusively singing during church services.

Though 22:5 is the first instance where the English word for worship is recorded in the ESV, the Hebrew word translated as such is used much earlier. In Genesis 18 and 19 the Lord appears to Abraham and Lot accompanied by two angels. Both men meet these messengers by bowing before them (Cf. Gen. 18:2; 19:1). The Hebrew word translated “bowed” in the ESV is the same word translated “worship” in Gen. 22:5. Certainly Abraham and Lot were not singing a moving song to the angels in their tents. Instead, this act of deference was intended by these men to honor their guests. So worship is an expression of humility in the presence of God.

God was careful to define the exclusivity of worship to the people of Israel. He commanded his people to destroy the idols of the land of Canaan when they took possession of it. He does so because he requires worship to be show to him alone (Cf. Ex. 34:14). Worship is then described as sacrifice in the following verses. Sacrifice was an acknowledgment of the deity’s power over his worshipers. It had nothing to do with singing, or an emotional response.

So what is worship? The apostle Paul clarifies this term for us in Romans 12:1-2. There he commands the brothers to present their bodies as a living sacrifice, which is their spiritual act of worship. Unless you are always singing, worship cannot be exclusively viewed as our corporate singing at church. Worship, rather, is a humble serving the Lord in all of life because he is the only one deserving of honor. The worshiper defers to the Lord and ascribes glory to him. Worship, then, is not primarily about the person but about the Lord. This word should not be reserved only for singing during our services, but should be applied in all of life. We will worship the Lord at work, in our homes, and in our churches.

In the next few weeks we want to consider how worship in each of those domains is properly expressed.

Love from God, Love to Man

holding hands

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and  your neighbor as yourself.” – Luke 10:27

The proper expression of love starts with an understanding of God’s love for his people. Love, properly understood, is always expressed in relation to God. It is by understanding the love of Christ at the cross that the depth of man’s love for God finds its proper mooring.

Loving people is not arbitrary self-expression based on a fluttering heart. It is constrained by God’s affirmation of proper and good interaction between people. His guide is given in the Decalogue with the last six commandments forming God’s prescriptions for human relationships.

Honor your father and your mother. Beyond family relationships, this commandment addresses any authority relationships. Those in authority are honored because all authority is from God. Respect for men is actually a secondary result flowing from respect for God. For those in authority, there is also a recognition that any authority is given by God in trust. Human authority does not act autonomously because it is a position of stewardship.

You shall not murder. Angry passions may never rule over a man. That does not mean they never do, but it does mean that when they do, man sins. Jesus taught that “everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” (Matt. 5:21, ESV). By despising God’s creatures made in his image, passions of unrighteous anger actually dishonor God.

You shall not commit adultery. Adultery is the violation of the covenant made between a man and a woman. The lusts of the flesh may not reign in relationships between neighbors. Beyond physical violations of this commandment, Jesus again teaches us that “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt. 5:28, ESV). God has reserved physical intimacy for marriage covenants. To disregard God’s design is to dishonor him.

You shall not steal. Passions over another man’s possessions should never direct men. When men are led to the point of thievery, they blame God for not giving them what they want. But God has given us his Son, our Savior, a far greater gift than any material possession.

You shall not bear false witness. The Bible teaches that God does not lie, neither is it possible for him to do so (Heb. 6:18). His character assures his people of the certainty of his promise of salvation. As the Savior does, so should his people.

You shall not covet. God is the giver of all things. Man’s heart quickly shows in what way he receives his gifts. If he longs he covets his neighbor’s house, he show himself to be like Israel in the desert, wanting what he does not have. To covet is to charge God with neglect. And yet man’s contentment toward him is so often expressed through his thoughts his neighbor’s possessions.

Love always requires an object. In fact, love is an expression of feelings of affection according to God’s law with the other’s best interest at heart. They originate in our understanding of his love for us, apart from which we would be dead in our sins. But he has given us life. Now we must go and serve him and our fellow man according to his desires.

Responding to God’s Love

Heart Tree

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” – 1 John 4:10

Well, after a length hiatus from the blog, we pick up just where we left off. Last year we were in the middle of looking at what love is in light of who God is. God is love, therefore our understanding of love must be derived from him. The love of God for his people is most clearly expressed in sending his Son to suffer and die in our place. In his work, Christ was completely pure, without sin or thought of himself. He came exclusively to do the will of the Father for his glory. When this act of pure love is applied to one of God’s creatures and his or her heart is renewed, love for God is a necessary result. From this newly awakened love toward God flows our love for our fellow man as well.

In the last post love was defined as follows: an expression of feelings of affection according to God’s law with the other’s best interest at heart. The goal of this definition is to keep love from being a nebulous fuzzy feeling. Love is an expression, and as such can be expressed well or poorly. To properly consider love, we first have to think about how man might properly express his love for his Savior. Since love is expressed according to God’s law, we can easily define proper love from man to his Savior by considering the first table of the law, or the first four commandments:

Having no other gods before him. The first commandment is not dealing with ranking, but geography. There are to be no other gods in the Lord’s presence. Since God is omnipresent, or present everywhere, there are to be no other gods, period. That means that to love God is to hold him as pre-eminent in every part of our lives. Anything that pushes God to the background is an act of hatred toward him.

Not making an idol. The second commandment deals with how we serve God. To love God is to serve him as he has commanded. If God says no drunkenness, that is how we will serve him. If God says keep the marriage bed pure, that is what we will do. We do it because God has loved us first, and our gratitude is expressed in our total obedience.

Not taking his name in vain. To love God is to acknowledge him as high and exalted by honoring his name. To make God’s name common, or even a curse word, is to insult him. But we can insult God with our actions as well. When we cause others to speak ill of God because of our actions, we cheapen his work as Redeemer.

Honoring the Sabbath. To love God is to recognize him as your Creator, and the One who led you out of your enslavement to sin. These are the things the Sabbath points to, as well as the future rest that will be ours in heaven. To treat the Lord’s Day as another day for recreation is to slight the picture of the eternal rest we will enjoy in heaven.

So love, originating from God is expressed properly by his people in following his commandments. And all the people who are saved will inevitably love their Savior.