Why are you here this morning? Please answer that question in your own mind. Why did you come here today? Was it out of obligation, habit, or out of a desire to worship God?
Gathering together for corporate worship is a duty of all believers. Throughout the New Testament we see that the church gathered corporately to worship God.
1 Corinthians 11:18 (NKJV) For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it.
"When ye come together as a church" is literally, "When you come together in an assembly." Paul is speaking here of a church meeting for worship. This phrase is used several times in 1 Corinthians (11:20, 33-34; 14:26). It anticipates the coming together of the Christian Church for corporate worship.
In the 20th chapter of Acts, we see all the Christians in the city of Troas meeting on Sunday for the Lord's Supper and teaching.
Acts 20:7 (NKJV) Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.
In the book of Hebrews, the believers are exhorted to "not forsake the assembling."
Hebrews 10:25 (NKJV) not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
As you look at the whole of the New Testament you discover that there were a variety of things that happened when the church gathered together. 1 Corinthians 11 tells us they celebrated in the Lord's Supper. Chapter 16 tells us that they gathered together and took up their offerings. In 1 Timothy chapter 2:1-8, you discover that when the church gathered together they were instructed to pray for those in authority and for their unsaved friends and neighbors. In Acts 14:27, you see that Paul shared what happened on his missionary journey. He shared what God was doing in his life. All of those are ingredients in the church meeting.
The New Testament believers assembled together on the first day of the week to worship God. Following this tradition, we also meet together on Sunday to worship. That should be the reason you are here - to worship God. So, let me ask you,
"WHAT IS WORSHIP?"
The word "worship" means: "Honor paid to a superior being." It means: "To give honor, homage, respect, adoration, praise, and glory to God."
The Hebrew word for worship is a powerful one. It describes the physical act of actually prostrating yourself on the floor before a sovereign - someone who has complete control over you.
The English word "worship" is derived from the Anglo-Saxon "weorthscipe" - "worth" and "ship" meaning: "one worthy of reverence and honor." So, we see that worship is an honoring of God.
In order to honor God, we must know him, and the only way we can get to know God is through a study of his Word. That is why we study the Bible when we gather. The Bible teaches us that God is Holy and we are to fear Him. Would you classify yourself as a God fearing man or woman? As God dealt with the children of Israel, he continually stressed that they were to fear Him.
Deuteronomy 4:10 (NKJV) "especially concerning the day you stood before the LORD your God in Horeb, when the LORD said to me, 'Gather the people to Me, and I will let them hear My words, that they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children.'
Deuteronomy 5:29 (NKJV) 'Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!
The fear of God is not strictly an Old Testament concept, it is very much part of the New Covenant. Speaking of the New Covenant that was to come, Jeremiah said:
Jeremiah 32:40 (NKJV) 'And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me.
In the New Testament, we see an ever-increasing fear of the Lord Jesus the more men come to understand who He is. The disciples feared when they witnessed the stilling of the storm:
Mark 4:41 (NKJV) And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, "Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!"
Paul and Peter both speak of "the fear of the Lord." Referring to those people who did not know God, Paul said:
Romans 3:18 (NKJV) "There is no fear of God before their eyes."
Speaking of believers, Paul said:
2 Corinthians 7:1 (NKJV) Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
Ephesians 5:21 (NKJV) submitting to one another in the fear of God.
Speaking to believers, Peter said:
1 Peter 1:17 (NKJV) And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear;
1 Peter 2:17 (NKJV) Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
Speaking of Christ, Isaiah said:
Isaiah 11:3 (NKJV) His delight is in the fear of the LORD, And He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, Nor decide by the hearing of His ears;
If Jesus, in his humanity, delighted in the fear of God, surely we need to work on having this attitude in our lives.
The Bible uses the term "fear of God" in two distinct ways: that of anxious dread, and that of veneration, reverence, and awe. Fear, as anxious dread, is produced by the realization of God's impending judgment upon sin. For the child of God, the primary meaning of the fear of God is: reverence and honor. It focuses not upon the wrath of God, but upon the majesty, holiness and glory of God. It could be compared to the awe that an ordinary citizen would feel in the presence of a great king. Notice how John responded when he saw Christ in all his glory:
Revelation 1:17 (NKJV) And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, "Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last.
The reverent Christian first see's God in His transcendent glory, majesty, and holiness. In our day, we have magnified the Love of God almost to the exclusion of the fear of God.
Hebrews 12:28-29 (NKJV) Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. 29 For our God is a consuming fire.
Do you ever think of God in that light - a consuming fire? Let's look at an illustration of this:
Leviticus 10:1-3 (NKJV) Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. 2 So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. 3 And Moses said to Aaron, "This is what the LORD spoke, saying: 'By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; And before all the people I must be glorified [or honored].' " So Aaron held his peace.
This is one of those passages that leaves all of us feeling just a little uncomfortable. God seems so stern and unfair. We almost try explain it all away - "This must be one of those 'Old Testament God of wrath, as opposed to the New Testament God of love and grace' kind of stories." We forget about Annanias and Saphira in the book of Acts. We forget that our God is a consuming fire.
Perhaps the words from verse three ought to become the church's theme for worship and should be inscribed above the doors of every church in the nation:
Leviticus 10:3 (NASB) ..."By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, And before all the people I will be honored..."
The Bible teaches that God is holy, and that He is to be honored. We desperately need to recover a sense of awe and reverence for God in our day. We must begin to view him in the infinite majesty that belongs to Him, who is the Creator and Supreme Sovereign of the universe. There is an infinite gap in worth and dignity between God, the Creator, and man, the creature. The fear of God is a heartfelt recognition of this gap - not a put down of man but the exaltation of God.
When we gather for corporate worship, do we HONOR God? Is there a sense of reverence as we meet together to worship? Do you stand with reverence and awe before the power and holiness of God, who is a consuming fire?
God is truly worthy of our honor, there is no living being as awesome as God, because there is no living being like God. And I'm not just talking about the fact that he created the world by the word of his mouth, or the fact that He's all-powerful and all-knowing and all-present. Those things are awesome, all right, but when I say there is no living being like God, what comes to my mind is the kind of love that would say to sinful people like me and you, "I love you so much that I'll die on a cross to pay the penalty for your disobedience."
I've never met a person who would willingly suffer for someone who had utterly scorned them as we, in our disobedience, have utterly scorned God. That's what makes God awesome. And that's why God deserves to be honored. That's why our worship service should be characterized by reverence and honor.
The honor of God is so important that Jesus taught his followers to put it at the top of their prayer list. Remember the opening line of the Lord's Prayer?
Matthew 6:9 (NKJV) "In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.
"Hallowed" is just a fancy way of saying, "honored." "Our Father in Heaven, may your name be honored."
The phrase, "Hallowed be thy name," is a petition for a right posture of heart before God. The object of this petition is to set God's name apart as holy, to sanctify that name, to honor that name.
One pastor said this, "Over the years, I have come to this conclusion: how a church goes about its business reflects what its people really believe about the nature of their God. Let me say that again. How a church goes about its business reflects what its people really believe about the nature of their God. Show me a church that does just enough to get by, and I'll I show you a group of people who don't have a very high opinion of their God."
Does that describe us, here at BBC? Does it describe you? Is our worship characterized by a reverence and honor for God?
OUR SONG SERVICE IS WORSHIP:
In the ninety-fifth psalm, there is an appeal made, an exhortation to join in worship.
Psalms 95:1 (NKJV) Oh come, let us sing to the LORD! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.
Now there is special reason why worship involves singing together. Notice that the exhortation in verse 2 is to let singing be an expression of thanksgiving and praise.
2 Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.
Thanksgiving and praise are to be the major elements expressed in our singing. We certainly honor God by giving him thanks. We can give thanks and praise God individually, but singing is something we can do together. So through the ages the believers in God, both of the Old and New Testament, have sung their praises and thanksgivings. This is very important. It is the reason we should be careful not to sing in a casual manner. There is nothing more conducive to dullness in a service than half-hearted singing.
Our praise team always does a great job with the music. But the purpose is not to listen to them perform. It's to celebrate as a congregation and to personally express our admiration and devotion to God. At times during our song services, I feel like the Psalm writer who said,
Psalms 107:21 (KJV) Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!
Our music here is not a filler, or just some traditional thing that we do, it is worship!
Turn with me to the book of Malachi, go to Matthew and make a left. In this section of Scripture, we see God confronting the priests who were in charge of the temple in Jerusalem because they failed to honor him in their worship.
Malachi 1:6-8 (NKJV) "A son honors his father, And a servant his master. If then I am the Father, Where is My honor? And if I am a Master, Where is My reverence? Says the LORD of hosts To you priests who despise My name. Yet you say, 'In what way have we despised Your name?' 7 "You offer defiled food on My altar. But say, 'In what way have we defiled You?' By saying, 'The table of the LORD is contemptible.' 8 And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, Is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and sick, Is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably?" Says the LORD of hosts.
Malachi 1:13-14 (NKJV) You also say, 'Oh, what a weariness!' And you sneer at it," Says the LORD of hosts. "And you bring the stolen, the lame, and the sick; Thus you bring an offering! Should I accept this from your hand?" Says the LORD. 14 "But cursed be the deceiver Who has in his flock a male, And takes a vow, But sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished; For I am a great King," Says the LORD of hosts, "And My name is to be feared among the nations.
It's pretty obvious, isn't it, that God and the priests are operating according to different standards? God wants the best that people have to offer. That wasn't news to these priests. God had made that clear throughout the history of the nation of Israel, for hundreds of years before this event took place.
But in spite of that, the priests are telling people, "Whatever you want to offer to God is good enough. After all, it's only church. God will understand if you short-change him. Frankly, He's just pleased as punch that you offer anything at all."
And God is angry at the priests for saying such a thing! Why is God so angry? Look at verse 14. God tells them why He's angry. He says, "I am a great King and my name is to be feared among the nations." God wants to be honored by the world he created. He deserves to be honored, and that honor comes through the worship of his people, and these people just don't care!
This passage is fundamentally about WORSHIP - coming before the Lord and pleasing Him. And that relates to us today. That's what we're doing here. This gathering is set apart for the purpose of worshiping God.
I think we can measure the honor and reverence of our church by asking ourselves three questions:
1. What's the quality of my service to God?
Honoring God through our service means giving our best, whether it's singing or playing in the praise team, or handing out programs, or working in the nursery, or giving the message. It means constantly striving to do whatever you're doing to the best of your ability.
Now, the only person who really knows if you're doing that is you. It is very possible for you to give a half-hearted effort, and no one would know. It's possible for some of us to show up unprepared and wing it, just on pure talent. And you know what? God is grieved because we're giving less than our best.
When you think about how you serve God, would you describe yourself as doing the best you can, constantly trying to improve? Or is your service a half-hearted effort?
Seldom is it convenient to bring God that "perfect gift," that "unblemished sacrifice." Seldom is it convenient or completely painless to give an absolute 100% effort at anything; very rarely is it a "breeze" to give that proverbial "110 percent." It seems that this principle is multiplied tenfold when it comes to rendering service to God. We can always find an excuse, without trying very hard in most cases, for giving only a half-hearted effort (if any effort at all!). Bringing God our best can be inconvenient in terms of what we have to give up, and it can be inconvenient in terms of the time that's required!
The message which God is trying to get across here - to the Israelites and to you and me - is that bringing our acceptable sacrifices and offerings to him is not an optional task. It's not an extra-credit assignment. As God's children, and as God's servants, you and I have a responsibility to bring our best to Him, even when it is inconvenient.
God's second measure of honor and reverence is:
2. How well do we obey Him?
Are we turning up our noses at some of the things God says we're to do and not to do? There ought to be a moral quality about the people of this church that sets us apart from the society in which we live. We ought to be known as people of character.
When you think about how you obey what you know God wants you to do or not to do, are you giving it your best effort? Can you say, "I'm trying, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to become more of what God wants me to be tomorrow than I was today?"
The final measure of honor and reverence revealed by God is this:
3. What do we give to Him?
Now, as far as I'm aware, no one has ever contributed a lamb of any sort to the church - stolen, lame, sick or otherwise. So, there's no way we can be guilty of the exact sin of the people of Malachi's day. But we can be guilty of the heart issue. See, the problem was that they were bringing leftovers. They went through their flocks and decided what they wanted for themselves, and said, "Ok, God you can have what's left."
We give God the leftovers when we spend money on whatever we want, and we get to the end of the month, and if there's some left for God, so much the better. And God is grieved and angered that some of us are still doing that. God is not interested in the amount so much as He is in being first.
I wonder, when you consider what you give financially to God's work, could it be called doing your best?
Those are tough questions, but, as was said earlier, "How a church goes about its business reflects what its people really believe about the nature of God." If we believe God is awesome and should be honored, we'll settle for nothing less than excellence as individuals and as a church.
So, what will it take for us to become a church of honor and reverence? Two things:
1. First of all, it requires an attitude adjustment that says "Church is a big deal."
An attitude adjustment is exactly what some of us need, because - even though we claim to be followers of Christ - as far as we're concerned, "It's only church. What's the big deal?"
So, let me be crystal clear. Church is a big deal to God. We are meeting to worship; to give honor to God. What more do we need to know? Let's make sure that our attitudes line up with God's on this.
Practical points: If church is important, if it is in fact a corporate worship of the living God, if it is a gathering to honor God then:
Attendance is important: We should be here to join in the worship. It is amazing to me the excuses that people have for not attending our meetings. What is more important than worshiping God?
Be on Time: We are not coming here for bingo or some other insignificant thing - we come here to worship God. Shouldn't it be important to be on time? When you drift in here late, I think it reflects an attitude that says, "What we are doing here is not that important."
Respect: Since this is a worship service in honor of God, I think that everyone should be in here and stay in your seat unless there is an emergency. During the Lord's Supper, children and adults walk in and out as if it were a movie. No I can't say that, we most likely wouldn't walk out of a movie. How come children can sit for two hours during a movie but can't sit for half that time in a worship service? Is what we are doing here so insignificant to us that we could care less? When you or your children walk in and out of the service it shows a real disrespect for those trying to worship and learn, it's distracting.
Participate: Sing, bring you're Bible and follow in it. Don't just observe the worship, join it!
2. Secondly, becoming a church that honors God requires a priority adjustment that says, "My level of commitment is a big deal."
It's one thing to agree that "church is a big deal." It's quite another to say that "my participation - or lack of - has a direct effect on its future."
Some of us - who claim to be followers of Jesus - need a priority adjustment. For far too long, we have chosen not to serve, chosen not to obey, and chosen not to give. We come to church Sunday after Sunday, and we sit. We don't do anything (except maybe criticize the people who are doing something).
We need to take a hard look at ourselves, and admit that the reason we don't serve and we don't give is because we've given it all elsewhere - in our job, in our family, in our own pursuit of pleasure. And if that's you, I challenge to you to adjust your priorities. It's time to make a big deal out of your corporate worship.
We talked last week about gratitude; if you are truly grateful to God for all he has done for you, shouldn't you be honoring Him in your worship?
Remember: "How a church goes about its business reflects what its people really believe about the nature of God." Does your attitude here demonstrate that you are a God fearer?