FIGHTING WITH FAMILY AND FRIENDS
Fighting for lasting joy in Christ is not often easy. Sometimes, we have to starve our affections for the world. At other times, we need to feed our desires for God. We are engaged in a battle for our own hearts and minds. We strengthen our love for God by communion with him. We go to his Word to hear his voice and we lift our voices to him in prayer. We learn to turn away from the greatest pleasures of life when we fast, so that we can spent concentrated time in communion with our Lord.
Practicing spiritual disciplines such as Bible reading, prayer, and fasting is necessary if we are going to advance on the battlefield. However, we need to realize that are not lone soldiers on a secret mission to defeat the enemy and win the war. We are part of a company of soldiers. When we are united to Christ by faith, Paul says that we are also “all baptized into one body (1 Corinthians 12:13). We are not all the same, but we are all a part of the same body, serving the same Lord and strengthened by the power of the same Spirit.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:4–7)
Notice those last words in verse 7. We have been given gifts by God’s Spirit “for the common good.” In other words, we can help others in their fight for joy and we need them if we are going to be victorious in our own struggle. God has not united us to his Son by faith so that we can be estranged from one another. We need the body of Christ.
Therefore, the next three disciplines that we will consider take place primarily within the local church. We will consider, first, the importance of corporate worship. Then we’ll turn our attention to mentoring/discipling one another. Finally, we’ll talk about how we can grow in our love for Christ by serving one another in his body.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
The word “worship” is one of those terms for which many (most?) of us have an almost innate sense of its meaning. We know worship when we see it. Expressing that sense in precise words can be more difficult. We may think of worship as praise or celebration. We may understand worship to be an expression of love or wonder or awe. Indeed, our English word “worship” communicates the idea of declaring one’s “worth” or value. But, of course, we all praise our favorite musicians and political leaders. We celebrate our loved ones on their birthdays and anniversaries. We stand in awe of great athletes and their accomplishments on the field. Our sense of what worship is pushes us beyond just praise or celebration or even love, wonder, and awe.
Worship is about responding to the One to whom we give ultimate allegiance. Worship is praising that which is most worthy of praise. Worship is celebrating the one whose very existence and nature demand a response of love, wonder, and awe. In short, worship is giving God the glory that he alone deserves. Worship is treasuring and declaring the singular greatness of God. In worship, we ascribe ultimate worth to God, offering him our lives and honoring him in all of our efforts. Paul’s words to the Romans and the Corinthians get to the heart of the matter:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1)
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)
Our whole lives, offered up to God, are to be an act of worship. Every task we take upon ourselves – no matter how mundane – is to be done for his glory.
CORPORATE WORSHIP IN A PRIVATE WORLD
Because of this truth, we can sometimes prioritize private devotion and personal worship over corporate worship. Some even replace corporate worship with private worship or assume that worshipping with other Christians is optional, so long as he or she worships privately. When we do this, we both deprive ourselves of one of the tools that God has given to us in the fight for holiness and joy and we actually dishonor God by disobeying his Word.
God does expect us to gather together with other Christians on a regular basis. From the earliest days of the church, we see Christians meeting together to hear God’s Word, encourage one another, and pray for one another:
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 the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42–47).
While not everything that these believers did following Pentecost serves as a pattern for Christians today, we can see in Acts and the letters of the Apostles that meeting together for Word-centered worship was the normal, expected practice of the New Testament Church.
Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. (Acts 5:12)
On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. (Acts 20:7)
If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, (Matthew 18:17)
When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus… (1 Corinthians 5:4)
For, in the first place, when you come together as a church… (1 Corinthians 11:18)
When you come together… (1 Corinthians 11:20)
If, therefore, the whole church comes together… (1 Corinthians 14:23)
Regularly gathering together for corporate worship and fellowship is not only the universal practice of the earliest Christians; we are strongly warned against neglected this spiritual discipline:
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. (Hebrews 10:24–25)
New Testament believers did not pit private devotion and corporate worship against one another. They did not consider either to be a substitute for the other. We must commune with God daily through his Word and prayer, and we must gather together regularly to join with others in worshipping him.
THE BENEFITS OF CORPORATE WORSHIP
Having recognized the importance of corporate worship, we should pause to reflect upon the benefits of gathering with other believers for worship. Paul connects corporate worship with interpersonal relationships. When he commands us to sing together, he elaborates:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)
…be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart (Ephesians 5:18–19)
A key component of worshipping together is proclaiming God’s greatness and goodness to one another. We praise God by reminding one another of his excellence. We “address one another” in our singing. We “admonish one another” by “singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs…” We need to both tell others in the body of Christ about God’s greatness and hear others testify about his goodness.
Incidentally, this is why we shouldn’t draw strict lines between songs that are addressed to God and songs that are about God. Both are a vital part of corporate worship. And we shouldn’t gather together and then tune everyone else out so that we can “be alone” with God. No, we are together with God! This kind of thinking is what often drives many people to abandon the church. If we only gather together to tune one another out and sing to God, then it is no wonder that we devalue gathering together. You can do that alone. You can’t proclaim God’s greatness to other believers by yourself. You can’t rejoice as others sing of God’s majesty and power if you are alone. There are great benefits that can be ours in worshipping together with the local church.
Sometimes, we need others to remind us of who God is. We need to hear other voices lifted in praise so that our throats can be cleared. Sometimes, we need to be corrected or rebuked by God’s Word (in song and in preaching). We need the accountability that comes with identifying publicly alongside others with Jesus. God uses the church, the “assembly” to do al of things in our lives, and the church is never more the church than when she is gathered together for worship.
PRIORITIZING CORPORATE WORSHIP
If God expects us to worship together and we receive great joy by singing with one another, then we need to prioritize our worship gatherings. We need to, as much as possible, eliminate obstacles that prevent us from coming together as a church. That may mean finding a new work schedule or even a new job. That may mean giving up some fishing and hunting trips. That may mean cutting back on our golf time or choosing another day to clean the house. We may have to tell our children they cannot be a part of some activities. Until we prioritize corporate worship above all of these things, we will miss out on the benefits of gathering together.
One of those benefits is the crowning of our joy in Christ as we share in our mutual love for him. This is something that cannot be accomplished apart from the people of God. There is a reason that we seek out people with whom we share a love for similar movies and music. We participate in one another’s joy when we rejoice together; therefore, that remains unexpressed is also incomplete. This is why John tells his readers, “I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete,” (2 John 1:12). John understands that the expression of delight in Christ in the presence of others who share that delight actually makes our joy complete. We are depriving ourselves of one of the greatest gifts God has given us when we retreat from the God’s people. We miss out on the gift of joy made full.