Bill McFarland

June 25, 2006


As an American I am accustomed to going places and expecting other people to meet their responsibility toward me.  When I go to the doctor, I want him and expect him to come and care about my needs and to help me.  If I go to a restaurant, I expect someone to come and ask me what I would like, and then fix it just as I would like it and bring it and sit it before me.  If I go to a movie or to a ballgame, I expect someone to come out and to meet their responsibility to entertain me, to thrill me, to make me enjoy the occasion that I have come for.  All of those things are appropriate, and they bring joy to our lives in many ways.

But you know there is a situation in which we come and we are the responsible ones.  When we come to worship the Lord together, that is very much the case.  A very good example of this point would be the chapters 11-14 in I Corinthians.  Here is a passage which is concerned with what happens when Christians come together as the church.  Five times in I Corinthians 11 Paul uses that phrase of “when you come together” to show that he is describing the activities of the assembled church.  And in I Corinthians 14:23 he uses the phrase “if the whole church comes together,” showing again that he is describing a certain kind of an occasion.

I have noticed over the years that some have suggested that the church’s coming together or assembling together is not necessarily to be thought of as worship.  But when I read those activities that are expected to occur when the church is assembled, I find things like the Lord’s Supper, prayer, singing, the proclaiming of the Lord’s way for us, and even over in chapter 16 of this same letter, giving.  So it is pretty clear to me that this is concerned with the worship which is offered together as the church assembles.  And the thing that Paul stresses in his writing to the Corinthian church is that each Christian has a responsibility to the assembly or to the worship as it is being offered up.  This is something perhaps that would be well for us to remind ourselves of.

When I come to church, so to speak, when I assemble with my brothers and sisters in Christ, I first and most obviously have a responsibility toward the Lord.  Paul takes this up in chapter 11, and he shows that if people don’t respect what they have received from the Lord and if they are not that involved in remembering as they should, and if their manner is unworthy, then he says “they profane the body and the blood of the Lord.” (I Cor. 11:27)  Here would be a situation where we come together to try to offer something to the Lord, and yet we don’t respect the Lord.  Paul wants these Christians to realize that this is their first responsibility and their obligation that they all share together.  When I come to remember the Lord, I have the responsibility of conducting myself in a way that is worthy in the sense that it fits or it matches the meaning of what he has done for me.  I am to do it, Paul says, in a way that reflects the nature of God and that would cause others to think of the wonder of almighty God.

Secondly, when we come together, I have a responsibility toward my brothers and sisters in Christ.  I have a responsibility toward the assembled church.  Paul in this text comes again and again to the idea that what happens ought to be for the building up of the church.  He uses that phrase seven times in I Corinthians 14 to stress that the Christian is not to just sit there and to think about his own self-fulfillment or his own self-enhancement, but instead that he is to consider how he may strengthen and build up his fellow believers.

In the third place, Paul stresses in this text that when I come to the worship I have a responsibility toward what he calls in this passage, “the outsider” or the unbeliever.  I am to be concerned about how my conduct and my actions may affect the impressions that an unbeliever may have of the Lord and of his people because of how I conduct myself in worship.  In I Cor. 14:16 Paul brings up the question of how the outsider may be able to say the “amen” to our thanksgiving unless he knows what it is we are saying.  And then a little later in verses 23-24, he brings up the question of how the outsider and the unbeliever will be able to be convicted by all and called into account by all and how the secrets of his heart are going to be disclosed and how he will be led to worship God and to declare that God is really among us unless we take him into account and unless we realize that the way we conduct ourselves, whether we sing, whether we pray, whether we are doing our best to show the right attitude and the right way of life, whether that will impress him properly with the Lord and his way.  I have a responsibility, then, to the worship, and that responsibility is to God, to my brothers and sisters, and to the outsider who may be present as a guest. 

The remarkable thing about the way God has ordered this is that when we meet those responsibilities toward those three beings, we discover, remarkably, that we find the fulfillment we were looking for all along.  Someone can go and sit, only concerned about himself, and go away thinking the performance was dull and that no one did much for him.  On the other hand, if he will go and honor God and encourage his brothers and care about the outsider, he will discover, of all things, that it blessed him.  There is a principle at work that Jesus taught several times.  In fact, I can find it six times in the gospel accounts.  The first time it is found in Matthew 10:39, and the second time in Matthew 16:25, etc. to the effect that when one would find his life, he loses it, but that when he loses his life, the Lord said, “for my sake,” he finds it.  And one of the places that is true is when we are in worship together. When we lose ourselves, when we offer ourselves, when we give ourselves, we find ourselves growing and becoming more godly, more like the God that we were worshiping.  We find ourselves more prepared to live our lives for him as the week goes along. 

I have a responsibility, then, to the assembly when I come.  The question is “How do I meet that responsibility?  By what means do I fulfill my obligation toward the Lord and toward my brothers and sisters and toward the outsider who may be present?”  Do I just work myself up and try harder?  Do I see if I can put on a better performance for anybody who may be watching or listening?  Do I put the pressure on myself to not let my attention drift, or how exactly am I supposed to meet this obligation?  Interestingly, as Paul writes in I Cor. 11-14, principles begin to come out of the text and be obvious to us, principles that have to do with how we meet the obligations that we have just mentioned.

In the first place, I fulfill my responsibility by remembering the Lord.  It is interesting that so often we think that in order for worship to be rich and meaningful it has to involve the new and the novel.  It has to have innovations that no one has thought of before and to be done in ways in which no one has offered it before, and yet the first thing Paul takes up when he starts to correct their situation is to remind them that when they come together as the church they are suppose to remember the Lord because that is what he asked the church to do (I Cor. 11:23-26).  Worship, you see, is after all first and foremost a response to God.  And when we remember what has been done for us in the offering of the body and the blood of Jesus Christ, we are reminded of God’s steadfast love that didn’t give up on us even in our sin.  We are reminded of his wisdom which devised a plan by which he would rescue us.  We are reminded of his power by which he worked that plan down through the history of the world when so many were opposed to it and tried to thwart it.  We are reminded that God was willing to pay the price, to bear the costs.  We are reminded of his grace and of his mercy.  We are reminded of his kindness and goodness.  We are reminded of his faithfulness to his promise.  We are reminded of how far God was willing to go and what he was willing to do to give us life.  When we think of that, we are humbled.  We are made to depend on that even more.  We are drawn closer to the heart of God.  We can’t help but say “thank you” to him.  We can’t help but say “I want to live for you now this week.  I would like to try to be of service to someone else.  I rejoice in the hope that you have given up for me.  I want to be more like you and more like your son.”  That, you see, is worship.  Worship is not just the singing or the praying or the supper.  Worship is that message of responsive love to God that we are trying to send up to him in the ways that he has asked us to do. 

There is no way, really, to worship without thinking.  And regardless of how we try to arrange the service, regardless of what kind of leaders the Lord provides for us, the worship will still require that we think, that we remember what God has done, and that we then respond to that in a way that fits and is worthy.  The wonder of it is that as the Hebrew writer says in Hebrews 10, “But as we draw near, with true heart in full assurance of faith, we will find ourselves with our hope strengthened and we will be urging each on in love and good works.”  That begins with remembering what God has done.

Secondly, when I come to worship, I am responsible for appreciating the fellowship that I have with others who are participating in these same gifts and blessings.  In I Corinthians 11, Paul is very much concerned with whether Christians are waiting for one another in remembering the Lord, with whether we are understanding that he has called us to offer up a sacrifice if praise to him (Hebrews 13:15).  So many of the calls for worship in the New Testament are phrased that way – that we offer this sacrifice.  We are a priesthood.  The New Testament always uses that term when it is applied to Christians in a plural sense, suggesting that we offer a sacrifice.  We don’t offer each one his own, but we offer together a sacrifice of praise to God.  In I Corinthians 10, Paul makes the point that we who partake of this one bread are in fact one body, even if we are many.  And so one of the ways I worship is to remember that I can’t just go off to some other room in the building and have the same place that I am meant to have here because these people are partaking of the same Lord I am.  We are in fellowship, and worship recognizes that point.  Everett Ferguson made the point that if one can sustain one’s faith without the support of common worship, then it is not the Christian faith that is held.  I think that is an important observation.

Thirdly, to meet my responsibility to worship, I have to come to understand myself as a member of the body of Christ.  I am a part of the body.  This picture of the body of Christ in which there are many members and they function in different ways and there is a place that we are all needed and something that we all can do is a wonderfully important picture, but do you and I remember that it is recorded in a setting where it is talking about the assembly of the church?  What it is talking about is when we are gathered together.  We may not all be called upon to do the same thing at the same time, and yet we are to still see ourselves as important members of the body who have something to offer in this sacrifice that we all bring to God’s throne together.  I can’t say because I can’t lead songs like Jon that there is no responsibility or no place for me.  I can’t say because I can’t encourage somebody like Greg can that I don’t need to pay any attention to anybody else who is here.  I can’t say that because I am not the preacher that day that I have no reason to engage my mind and to offer something to God.  I am a member of the body.  I am needed.  We are interdependent with each other, and when we function together is when we honor God and help people.

Fourthly, I have the responsibility of conducting myself with love.  I have read this particular paragraph I am about to read from I Cor. 13 in weddings, in situations where I have been talking to people privately, to myself when I needed to act better, and it is easy to overlook the fact that it is talking about one’s attitude and conduct in worship.  It says, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.  It does mot insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  This is talking about the attitude which says, “I don’t know that song.  Why do they lead songs like that?  I wish he wouldn’t talk so loud.  Why do we do it that way?  Nobody spoke to me today.  They are not doing this the way I want it done.”  That is what this is talking about.  We are responsible for our hearts and our attitudes when we are trying to offer up something together.  We are suppose to be people who are not irritable and resentful, not arrogant or rude, not wanting our own way but instead people who are patient and kind, people who bear and believe and hope and endure all things.

Next, this section of I Corinthians tells us that when we come together, I am responsible for participating with my mind and heart.  In I Corinthians 14:15 Paul says, “What am I to do?  I will pray with my spirit; I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit; I will sing with my mind also.”  Both emotion and understanding are to be involved in worship.  Mind and heart are to be involved in worship.  We start with the message that we can understand, what we are able to use with our mind, and then we try to send to God from our hearts the emotions that fit with that which we understand.  This part of worship that says it calls for participation is an important matter for us to bear in mind.  Dalton Key told one time of a fellow who was a student in college who wanted to become a man who excelled at his studies.  He believed that a part of that would be to make proper preparation.  So, accordingly, he procured a large comfortable chair that he thought would be good for study in the evenings.  He got slippers and a lounging jacket.  A book rest was fastened to the arm of the chair to hold the book at a right angle before his eyes.  A special ramp was installed and an eyeshade; pencils and paper and a revolving bookcase were provided.  He would come into the room after the evening meal by himself.  He put his book on the book rest and reclined in the comfortable chair with his eyeshade over his eyes, and when everything was perfectly adjusted, he would - fall asleep.  Bro. Key made the point that worship improves when the worshiper puts more of self into the worship.  That is the only way that improves it.  There is no way to worship without participating, offering something.  The call in the Old Testament was that no one comes before me empty.  Bring your life; bring your concerns; bring what is going on with you right now, but lay all of that out before the Lord; expose it to what he has done for us on the cross; align it up with what he has said to us in his word and be faithful to him.

My responsibility in worship also calls for me to seek to reflect truly the nature of the God whom I serve.  Paul says in I Cor. 14:33 that God is not a god of confusion but of peace.  The application of that is in verse 40 that all things should be done decently and in order.  That doesn’t mean that everything has to have a certain tone where I talk with a different voice because I am reverent.  It doesn’t mean that we have to conduct ourselves without any joy or any life to us at all.  It just means that we are to accurately portray the nature of God.  Who is our Father, after all?  Let that be seen in how we respond to him and in how we treat each other. 

And then my responsibility in worship is for me as a spiritually-minded person to respect the Lord’s word about worship.  Worship is not where I just think of how it might seem best to me to send this message.  I respect what God has said.  In I Cor. 14:37, it says, “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.”  I should listen to him and that ought not to be just in the assembly but everywhere in my life.

I have a responsibility to worship, that is not just to do it, but to those who are worshiping with me.  That responsibility calls for the kinds of behaviors that we have just observed together in this text.  When that responsibility is met, we can expect certain things to happen in our lives.  I was thinking about this in our daily Bible reading when I was reading Matthew this week.  I found out that Jesus was able to meet the tempter’s attacks because he kept worship in perspective.  Jesus taught in Matthew 5 that attending the worship should cause us to seek to set our relationships right.  In Matthew 15 I discover that the idea of worship then calls on us to make sure that we are servants of people in our everyday lives.  It begins with worship which is what God meant for it to be – not because he needs it but because we need to worship him.

Is he first in your life today?  If he is not, would you like him to be?  Do you need to come and confess your conviction that Jesus is the Christ and to be baptized into him for the forgiveness of your sins and let him add you to his people?  Having made that beginning, have you let other things take the priority and do you need to correct that?  If we can help you, will you come right now while we stand and sing together?