I am very leery to make myself the “hero” of a story, but I do want to tell you something I did many years ago. I was on a school trip to Denver, Colorado. We flew out on Friday (I think) and we toured in and around Denver on Saturday: Pike’s Peak, the Olympic Training Center, the Air Force Academy, the Denver Mint, etc. I wasn’t required to be anywhere with my group on Sunday morning. I called a local congregation, and the preacher came to pick me up at the hotel. Nope, I didn’t ask my chaperones if I could go or not. In some situations, it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission. Nobody (fellow students or chaperones) gave me any grief whatsoever. Some folks back home went on and on about my example when I returned.
But, to be perfectly honest, many of you have provided a much better example than I ever could. Some of you have come to lay your gift before the Lord with hearts that were breaking. Some of you can barely waddle through the front door and get to a pew. But, if you’re at least able to move, you’re here. Some of you have been gracious enough to allow me to show up when you’re sick, and so many of you have one thing on your mind: Justin, I just don’t know when I’ll be able to get back to church, but as soon as I can, I’ll be there.
I love a heart that says I want to worship, for far too few people have such a heart. Some folks get up and don’t feel on top of the world, so they go back to bed. They can’t come to worship when there’s a basketball game on the television. They can’t worship because the sun is shining outside, and life is so much better on the lake. They can’t come to worship because we just start too early (although they have no trouble getting to work by 7:00).
This morning, we want to think long and hard about our attendance at worship. I know very well that some of you cannot attend as much as you wish. Some of you cannot drive at night, and you wisely choose to stay home. Some of you cannot sit through more than an hour service. Some of you must work during a service here and there, not by choice, but of necessity.
When we talk about attendance, we always talk about Hebrews 10:24-25. hat text has nothing to say about missing the assembly. The inspired writer speaks of forsaking the assembly. The Greek word for “forsaking” carries with it the idea of intention. This is the term used by Jesus on the cross when He cries out that His Father has forsaken Him. This is the word Paul uses in 2 Tim 4:10: “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world.” If you can’t help being absent from the assembly from time to time, that’s one thing. Intentionally refusing to honor God is another matter altogether.
I want you to grasp one thing this morning: God expects you to worship. We’ll take a hard look at Scripture to see that truth demonstrated throughout holy writ. Then, we’ll think about how to apply that truth to our lives.
Why does God expect us to worship?
Worship makes us the church.
When I was growing up, I was told over and over that it was wrong to say, “I’m going to church.” I suppose that was because people refer to the building where we worship as the “church.” But, that idea is just flat wrong.
The term church is used to mean the community of believers. That is clearly the meaning, for example, when Jesus speaks about building His church (Matt 16:18). However, the term ekklesia really means “assembly.”
In Ephesus, Demetrius the silversmith caused a riot. That gathered assembly is called an ekklesia (Acts 19:32, 39). Ekklesia is an assembly.
The New Testament also calls the assembly of the church an ekklesia.
“When you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it” (1 Cor 11:18). Paul talks about speaking “in the church” (1 Cor 14:18-19). Without an interpreter, the one who can speak in tongues is to be silent “in the church” (Acts 14:28). A woman is to be silent “in the church” (1 Cor 14:34-35).
The assembly is a unique form of worship.
You hear all the time that you can worship God just as well by watching some guy on TV or going to the lake or staying home. Scripture destroys that idea.
We’re to sing to one another.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col 3:16). How can we teach and admonish “one another” if we’re not together?
The Lord’s Supper requires an assembly.
“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” (Acts 20:7). “My brethren, when you come together to eat [the Lord’s Supper], wait for one another” (1 Cor 11:33). The second half of 1 Corinthians 11 discusses the Lord’s Supper. Throughout the passage, the idea is that we eat the Lord’s Supper with our brothers and sisters.
The assembly is for our encouragement.
Hebrews 10:24-25. We’re very aware of this passage about not forsaking the assembly. Yet, we often don’t read this text appropriately.
Notice exactly why we cannot forsake the assembly: We’re to be encouraging one another in light of the Second Coming. Look also at verse 26: “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.” The Greek “for” at verse 26 expresses the reason for what was just stated. Why can we not neglect the assembling of ourselves? Because if we continue to sin there is no further sacrifice for sin.
Missing the assembly leads to other sin! Assembling with the people of God encourages us not to persist in sin! There are so many of you who, in one way or another, help me be a better Christian.
God commands our worship.
Worship is not something we do for our enjoyment; it’s something God has commanded. When Satan seeks to convince Jesus to worship him, the Lord declares, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve” (Matt 4:10). In the Revelation to John, John sees an angel flying in the midst of heaven, and the angel declares, “Worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water” (Rev 14:7). If you fail to worship, you are sinning against the God who made heaven and earth.
Worship fulfills your destiny.
People talk about finding themselves and fulfilling their destiny. You were created to honor God, and you fulfill that purpose when you come and fall before Him in worship. “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man’s all” (Eccl 12:13).
Fearing God and keeping His commandments is the purpose of your life. The idea of fear is to respect, to honor. In worship, we fall before the God of all and give Him the fear, the honor, the respect He so rightfully deserves.
Someone once told me that wasn’t fair. He said that it just was not right for God to create us for His purpose without our consent. But, God is worthy of my worship. “Let all the earth fear the LORD; Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him” (Ps 33:8). Heavenly beings in unbroken praise honor God by saying, “You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created” (Rev 4:11). When you worship, you do what God created you to do.
God expects you to worship.
How should we put that principle into practice? In one way, I think it’s obvious: We assemble to worship. Let’s break it down and think about how we can assemble to worship.
Understand you have made a commitment to worship the Lord.
I started to ask you to sign a pledge to worship more, and then I realized that you’ve already signed that pledge. When you were baptized into Christ, you made a commitment to honor the Lord. Scripture speaks of baptism as the changing of garments; putting off the garment of sin and being clothed with Christ (Rom 6:1-4; Col 2:11-12). Therefore, if forsaking the assembly is a sin (as we’ve seen that it is), I took off that habit when I was raised to walk in newness of life.
You need to live with the commitment you made when you raised to walk in newness of life.
You need to think about why you miss.
All of us miss the assembly from time to time. Yet, why do we miss?
Do you miss because you’re sick? Would you go to work that sick? It baffles me that people would stay home from worship but not work. Are you able to go out to eat or Wal-Mart or other places you enjoy? I can’t tell you the times I’ve bumped into shut-ins or other sick folks when I’ve gone out to eat or gone to the grocery store or to the mall. If you’re able to go do things you enjoy, you are able to come to worship.
I find it insulting sometimes that people use health as an excuse to stay home from worship. I find it insulting because some of you are in much worse shape than those who claim they cannot come. I find it insulting that the sinlessly perfect Son of God endured torture at Golgotha and these people cannot come and fall before Him because they have a few aches and pains.
Do you miss because you need to work? I know that sometimes people need to work on Sunday. Tammy had a job at the public library in Charleston, West Virginia, and she had to work about four Sundays a year. I don’t mean to imply that working on Sundays is always sinful.
However, working on Sunday can be sinful. Do you work because the money is better on Sunday? “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matt 6:24, ESV). “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness” (1 Tim 6:10).
Do you work because your priorities are not in the proper order? In other words, is the job more important than honoring God? A desire to honor God needs to be at the forefront of our hearts: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matt 6:33).
Do you miss because of company? Sometimes people will miss because family or other out of town guests arrive, and it’s just rude to come to worship. Emily Post might call that rude, but Jesus Christ never would. Jesus taught us that obedience to Him is far more precious than family. “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple” (Lk 14:26). “Whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother” (Mk 3:35). It’s much more important that Jesus claims me as His family.
You need to worship.
That’s simply the truth — God created us to worship Him, God commanded that we worship Him, and worship Him we must.
Let’s explore this honestly and sincerely. If I fail to worship when I’m able, Jesus is not really the Lord of my life. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matt 6:33). God is to be the most important part of my life. If He is, I’ll have no trouble worshiping Him. Do you worship Him as you ought? Is Jesus really first in your life?