I am ready for the confinement to end. I am ready for the seclusion to be over. I am ready, most of all, to come together with the church. When we are finally able to gather again, what should we do? What should we expect? What should be our focus?
WHEN YOU COME TOGETHER
Togetherness Is an Essential Component
1 Corinthians 11:17ff began Paul’s instructions on how to observe the Lord’s Supper when the church was gathered for worship. Worship gatherings should be the focus of our lives since they are the focus of eternity. Unfortunately, the Corinthians worship gatherings were actually more harmful than helpful.
Paul told them, “But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse” (1 Cor. 11:17). How could that be? How could it be bad for Christian people to gather for worship? Worshiping together is obviously the goal, but there were some barriers to fulfilling God’s plan.
Those barriers to worship were, in fact, barriers. 1 Corinthians 11:18 says, “For in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it.” Since the church was divided, they could not function as the church. One of the self-imposed limitations of the church is division. Think of all the ways congregations can divide: economically, opinions, cliques, preachers, age, and neglect of the assembly.
Since the congregation was divided, they could not have the Lord’s Supper. Paul said, “Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk” (1 Cor. 11:21-22). The Corinthians focused on their bellies and forgot their brethren.
Christ, in his humanity, worried not about himself and but the church. Christians should always focus on the congregation rather than their person or any other person. Whenever we look at opportunities or ministries as an optional extra curricular performance rather than a necessary and required time for corporate edification we can diagnose our selfishness and hastily replace it with Christlikeness.
Paul’s indictment of this congregation here was based on their lack of togetherness. They did not value their physical proximity or their spiritual blessings. Even in worship their physical blessings outvalued their spiritual opportunities. Sadly, those physical blessings kept them from spiritual treasures.
Fellowship Is Important
Fellowship doesn’t refer to a meal. Fellowship refers to the partnership of God’s people with God and this includes all the work, worship, and social activities that coworkers should and can enjoy. Church is fellowship. This fellowship is rooted in the nature of the Triune God and made possible by the Gospel. The entirety of Scripture points to God being in fellowship with his people through Christ in the Spirit.
The importance of fellowship can be seen in the fact that God has always had a people for his own possession. God created the universe for two people and their righteous descendants. God chose Abraham and Isaac’s descendants to be his special people. From this special people group, God gave Jesus to the world.
Our Fellowship is Rooted in Christ
The nature of God and its implications for the church are highlighted in John’s writings. Jesus is plainly declared to be with the Father eternally in John 1:1. His incarnation to be with humanity is declared in John 1:14. His desire to be back with the Father is seen in his prayer in John 17. John also highlighted the importance of Christ’s incarnation for our own fellowship with God. John said,
What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life—and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:1-3).
Christ’s incarnation ushered in a new age of fellowship of God with mankind. Given this divine act, Christians should pursue unified unity with God through Christ in the Spirit. This unified unity is best experienced as the church gathers together.
YOU COME ACTIVELY PARTICIPATE—YOU ARE PART OF THE PERFORMANCE
Are You Not Entertained?
Is church a theatrical production? Should we plan everything to be appealing to lost people? A recent study from 9Marks titled “4 Reflections after Listening to 18 Hours of Sermons in America’s Biggest Churches” found: 1) The Gospel at best assumed; most of the time its entirely absent; 2) Repentance rarely comes across as something urgent and necessary; instead, its either optional or not worth mentioning at all; 3) While the prosperity gospel is absent, its shadow lurks in the background; and 4) the use of the Bible generally fell into two categories: misuse or abuse. These megachurches are appealing to people, but are they appealing to God? These megachurches are masters of pragmatism, but are they abandoning their divine purpose and divine principles?
Are You Not the Entertainers?
Worship has to do with praising the exalted God while humbling yourself. Psalm 95:1-2 says “Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the Lord is a great God And a great King above all gods.”
The progression is important here because it is often the opposite of what we use worship time to accomplish. We, the church, are the ones who come to God. We sing to God. Our thanks pours out to him. The LORD is transcendent—he is high and lifted up—therefore he should be worshiped.
We could contrast that with some modern worship services in which, we hope people come to be with us and the opportunity to be with God is secondary. Worship wars have been fought and different services have been created to please the worshipers preferences. In the same timeframe, we witnessed the greatest tossing aside of the regulative principle for worship. In our age of church marketing, the consumer transcends everything.
Implications of Worshiping God for Worship
When the church assembles, we assemble for God and enjoy the benefits of being in his presence. Our preferences and our needs are subservient to God’s glory and God’s gathered people.
The Gospel unites Christians for God’s glory. As members of Christ’s body, the church is blessed by God being glorified. If the body seeks to glorify itself in worship or to use worship as an attractional marketing campaign, the roles are reversed and blasphemy becomes the next landing pad on the slippery slope. Remember the admonition, “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” (Rom. 12:1). The goal of our services should always be for each worshiper to fall down before the Lamb to say “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created” (Rev. 4:11). As Clement of Rome preached, “Wherefore, let us yield obedience to His excellent and glorious will; and imploring His mercy and loving-kindness, while we forsake all fruitless labours, and strife, and envy, which leads to death, let us turn and have recourse to His compassions.”
Let us be excited to be together again. We should. Now we are fasting, as it were. Soon, we will be feasting.
 Clement of Rome, “The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 7.