According to the Riches of His Grace

"In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us…" -Ephesians 1:7-8

Month: September, 2016

The Most Important Part of the Church Service

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I have a confession to make. I enjoy the singing during a church service more than the sermon. I know, it’s really bad, right? In fact, what typically goes through my head during the music is, “Man, I hope this isn’t the last song. I don’t want it to be over.” Then when the worship pastor tells us to sit as the pastor comes to preach to us, I think, “Darn, worship is over.”

I’ll bet you think I’m a worship leader. I’m not. God has actually called me to preach. There is something within me that enjoys getting to sing along and lift my hands during the music and doesn’t like having to sit still and keep my attention focused for thirty minutes.

Maybe you feel the same way. Maybe you think the party is over at church after the music ends. Then you have to struggle through thirty minutes of one person talking and no chance to say anything back. You have to be quiet, sit still, and try to maintain attention.

I sit under a great preacher every Sunday who I know and love, but my temptation is to dread the sermon. Something in me and in everyone tends to lean that way.

But the sermon is the central and most important part of each worship service. We will begin to truly cherish the sermon and worship through our listening to it when we understand why it is important.

God’s Choice of Communication

God is all powerful. He is capable of doing anything He wants in any way He chooses. He wants to communicate His truth to humanity. He could do that through writing a message in the stars or the clouds. He could open the skies and speak His truth out of heaven. He could send a pigeon flying to every person with a letter that He wrote with His truth on it.

But the primary way He chooses to communicate truth is through preaching. In the Bible, as early as Noah, we see people preaching. Moses preached. Samuel preached. Solomon preached. The prophets preached. Ezra preached. John the Baptist preached. Peter preached. Paul preached. And the Son of God preached.

When God became a man to walk among the world, He didn’t come as an artist or a musician. He didn’t come as an athlete. He became a preacher.

God’s choice of communication in the world has always been and will always be preaching.

Foolishness

The reality is that this foolish. I’ve met a lot of preachers in my life and most of them are dorks. God doesn’t seem to be choosing the beautiful and successful people to be His messengers. He doesn’t choose Bill Gates or Steve Jobs to be his preacher. He chooses Billy the farmer from the middle of nowhere in Tennessee.

The average person would look at God’s plan and conclude that God doesn’t know what He is doing. However, God is seeking for the glory of His message, not the glory of the preacher. Paul called preaching foolish in 1 Cor 1:21. He said, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”

God uses a means that appears foolish to do His work in the world so that He will receive glory and not the preacher. What are His purposes that He accomplishes through preaching?

God’s Purposes in Preaching

In Romans 10:13-15, Paul says that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But then He asks, how will they call on Him if they haven’t heard about Him? And how will they hear about Him unless someone preaches to them? This is why preaching is so important. It is the primary way that God saves people.

Of course, God can save people through a drama. He can save people through Christian films and through the message of a song. He saved me through me reading a book of fiction. There are a number of born-again believers in the church who were saved by some form other than preaching. However, the way God saves most people is that the Gospel is preached and they believe. The church should therefore capitalize on that model. There is value in doing dramas, making and watching movies, and reading books. But these must never be done at the expense of preaching.

What about those who already believe? If preaching saves those who believe it would stand to reason that after you believe, you don’t need preaching. But there is a second purpose to preaching. Preaching sanctifies those who believe. It makes those who are believers believe more. It shapes and fashions Christ’s followers more into the image of Christ. This is Christ’s heart for the church. Before His crucifixion, He prayed for His disciples by saying, “Sanctify them in the truth: your word is truth.” (John 17:17) Christ wants the Word to be what does the transforming work in the believer.

There are aspects of this sanctification that can’t be accomplished through anything else other than preaching. Truth is communicated through preaching in a way that does not happen in a drama or a movie. When it comes to any area of the Christian life, a film or drama just can’t look the believer in the face and tell them what to do and what not to do. This isn’t even communicated in the worship music of the service. It only happens when the preacher opens the Bible and says, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says…”

A New Perspective on the Sermon

When we understand the glory that God has chosen to communicate His truth through the preaching of His word, it gives new meaning to listening to the sermon on Sunday morning. Now, we are not just listening because we are supposed to, but we can be fully aware of the fact that God is using this sermon to teach us more about Himself and what it means to be His child.

Many may say, “I can get all of what you just said by listening to my favorite preacher on a podcast in my car on the way to work.” There are a lot of great preachers in the world and I encourage listening to a wide variety of them. But understand that if the only preaching you hear is on a podcast, you won’t have the proper diet of God’s Word. With podcasts, you can choose what topics you want to listen to and you can be free to turn it off the minute it gets boring or makes you uncomfortable.

And God intends to feed His people through them gathering together in a body. The pastor that He puts over that body is to pray and discern what His church needs to hear and then He chooses what to preach and feed them with. Then the body of believers can hold one another accountable to what is preached. If you do not listen to preaching regularly in a church, you will not get a healthy diet in God’s Word and you will be malnourished.

Conclusion

I enjoy the music in a worship service more than the sermon. But I have to mentally surrender my mind to the fact that God does more work in me through the sermon. So I have to listen to the Word preached and ask the question, “How can I change in light of what is being proclaimed?”

So find a church that has solid preaching, join that church, and listen to the preaching regularly. The sermon is the most important part of the worship service. Make the sermon the part that your heart most longs for in a worship service.

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Why Christians Should Regularly Gather for Worship

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One out of every eight people who call themselves a “born again” Christians do not attend church. Almost half of Americans have come to the conclusion that “the Bible does not command people to attend church; that is a man-made requirement.”[1]

Is this correct? Are Christians wasting their time going to church every Sunday when they could be doing a number of other things? While most people in the previous generation went to church because it was the thing to do, less people today see it as necessary. Many attend but get bored because it feels like there is nowhere to be involved. The nursery is full and they don’t feel qualified to lead or teach a Bible study.

What the Bible Says

While the culture may scream that attending church on Sunday is a man-made concept, the Scriptures do actually speak of it.

Most of the letters in the New Testament are written to either churches or pastors of churches. Romans, Ephesians, and Philippians are written to the church at Rome, Ephesus, and Philippi. Revelation is written to seven churches throughout Asia. The letters of the New Testament were not written to generally all Christians, or “the church universal”, though they certainly have application to all Christians. The letters were written to specific churches in specific cities that met together.

It likely didn’t look exactly as meetings today look with pews, a pulpit, the Lord’s table, and such things, but the Scriptures do speak of the church assembling together. Paul mentions the church coming together four times in 1 Corinthians. (5:4; 11:18; 14:23; 26). James gives instruction to the church about how to treat rich people when they come into their worship gathering. (Jas 2:1) The book of Acts is filled with believers meeting together for worship. To assert that meeting together for worship was man-made later is to ignore the church of the New Testament.

The key command in Scripture to go to church is found in Heb 10:23-25,

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 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.

The writer of Hebrews commands to not neglect meeting together as Christians. What is the purpose of this? There are two primary reasons he gives.

First, it is that Christians can faithfully hold to the hope they confess. The writer says “Let us hold fast…” It’s not an individual matter. Many say they have a “personal relationship with Jesus.” Our relationship is very personal, but it is not private. It is to be shared with other people. Christians cannot grow to full maturity in Christ without interacting with other Christians who can help them continue believing what they believe.

Secondly, the writer says to not stop meeting together so that Christians can continually encourage each other to participate in love and good works. What good works is he speaking of? The writer is not talking about what the world perceives as good works. It’s not simply about Christians helping each other recycle better or protect the environment. It’s about Christians participating in good works that are going to expand God’s kingdom, help each Christian grow, and ultimately glorify God.

A Model Church

Since the Bible does include a church that regularly meets together, it is that church that must be examined to see what these good works look like. At the beginning of the Christian movement, Luke gives us a concise picture of what the early church looked like:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)

Within this passage, there are seven characteristics of what it looks like for a church to operate and for Christians to faithfully gather and encourage each other toward good works.

  1. Preaching and Teaching

It is crucial for Christians to read the Bible on their own throughout the week. But this does not suffice for proper diet of the word of God. Along with personal Bible reading, Christians need to regularly be sitting under someone preaching and teaching God’s word to them. The early church was “devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching…”

It is not enough to listen to podcast sermons. Doing this is good for Christians, but podcasts allow the Christian to listen to whatever topic they want instead of getting a steady diet decided by a shepherd and it allows Christians to stop listening when they get bored or uncomfortable.

Attending church means Christians are listening to preaching and allowing the Holy Spirit to transform them through the work of the Word.

  1. Friendship/Community

People often speak of this aspect as “fellowship”. But fellowship is different. Fellowship will be discussed later. The believers in the early church were best friends. They were eating meals in each others’ houses every day. The closest friends of a Christian should be those in the church. When a believer begins to be led into flawed thinking such as believing a false doctrine, ending their marriage, living in sin, and such, it is their friends who can best correct them and they need godly friends who can.

  1. Fellowship

The word “fellowship” comes from the greek “Koinonia.” Koinonia is a relationship that goes far beyond two people eating at Chick-Fil-A together. It is used for Christian fellowship, but it’s also used for sexual intercourse.

Fellowship is more than socializing. It is when two or more people are partnered together with the same vision and goal in mind and headed relentlessly toward that. For Christians to have fellowship means that they are striving together for the purpose of expanding God’s kingdom and seeing fellow believers reach full maturity in Christ. (Eph 4:13)

  1. Prayer

The church must be praying together. Prayer fuels all of the Christian’s work. It must be more than Christians praying for the healing of Uncle Frank in the hospital. Those things must be prayed for, but the church’s prayers must be laser focused on the mission of the church which is to spread the Kingdom of God on earth.

  1. Generosity

The early church sold their property and possessions to help one another out. They did way more than drop a check in an offering plate. The early church had a generosity that allowed them to be sacrificial for the benefit of each other. God expects the church today to have this same kind of generosity.

  1. Worship/Praise

Many people quote Rom 12:1 and say that worship is not about singing a song, but is about offering your life as a sacrifice. While that is true, the early church was daily praising God in the temple. Worshipping through song was a regular part of their Christian lives and it should be the same with Christians today.

  1. Multiplication

Finally, the mission of the church is that more and more Christians will be created through its work. The church is supposed to be about helping the poor and reaching the outcast, but if that is done apart from the Gospel being proclaimed and people coming to Christ, it is not functioning right. A good sign of a faithful church is if God is adding to their numbers daily of those who are being saved.

Conclusion

It is absolutely crucial that Christians go to church. Christ left the church on earth to make disciples of all the nations. (Matt 28:19) This best takes place as local churches gather every week to encourage one another to love and good works. So go to church. Begin to serve in the church. Fall in love with the church.


[1] Whitney, Donald S. “Why Go to Church.” Spiritual Disciplines Within the Church, 15-17. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1996.