August 5, 2018
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 15:35 in the audio file.
Or, Attending to Gladness and Simplicity of Heart
God reveals many descriptions of what He wants His people to be, both in terms of individual believers as well as a Body of believers. We are a small local body made up of individual members, and the pastors are always considering the health of the body and how each part is working, whether properly or not (see Ephesians 4:12-16).
Another image used to describe us is that of a vine. There is a great book called The Trellis and the Vine, a book that highlights the biblical concept of God’s people as a living, growing organism. This contrasts with the structured, possibly static, organization. It is the church people who are alive; the church programs are not. And yet a growing, stretching, productive vine is benefited by a trellis.
The pastors still think in these terms/categories, even if we don’t refer to the book as much as we used to. Each summer we take multiple meetings to review our trellis for sake of examining the health of the vine and considering whether or not the current trellis is supporting the health of the vine as best as possible. We usually have explicit discussions with our small group leaders as well, for the sake of getting broader perspective/feedback as well as sharing responsibility.
The elders have been thinking, talking, planning, praying, and we’ll do even more over the next week as we make final preparations for our leaders retreat. In our discussions thus far, we’ve agreed that there are many reasons to give thanks for God’s grace among us and also that we can excel still more. On one hand we have high participation, and on the other hand, what percentage of the vine shouldn’t be expected to participate? Not every part of the body does the same job or gets used as much as other parts, but how many parts don’t need to do their part?
The final paragraph in Acts 2 has often been seen as a paradigm for churches. I don’t have issues with that, acknowledging that some things will still look different between the newborn-church in Jerusalem and the almost two-thousand year-old expression in Marysville. But there are some descriptions that we should also want to describe us.
This is everyday life for “all who believed” (verse 44), many of whom had received Peter’s preaching to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (verses 38, 41). The rhythm of their schedules and the focus of their priorities was about being together. This togetherness included meetings and mindset.
Fellowship and breaking of bread happened in person, in an appointed location, at an agreed upon time. Selling their possessions and sharing with those in need required knowing the condition of those in need and bringing the money to them; they had relational proximity. They attended worship in the temple together, they ate in each other’s homes.
But they were also together at heart. Devoting themselves to the apostle’s doctrine provided corporate, not just individual, edification. Together they were in awe. They believed themselves to be together so much so that they helped to pay one another’s expenses. They rejoiced and prayed and praised as one.
They were together, with the same heart and often in the same place. This is only somewhat about attendance and much more about attentiveness. It has something to do with what you put on your calendar but a whole lot more to do with what you care about.
There is a word used twice in the paragraph that describes this commitment. In the ESV it’s the word devoted in verse 42 and the same word is translated as attending in verse 46. Both are not only from the same Greek word, both are in the same Greek form (προσκαρτεροῦντες, a present active participle). The KJV emphasizes “continued steadfastly.” The word could be translated to “busy oneself with, be devoted to” (BAGD). When it involves persons, it means to “be loyal to someone,” and with ideas it means to “occupy oneself diligently with” (TDNT). Jesus told His disciples to have a boat “standing ready” (Mark 3:9), and Cornelius had a group of those who “attended him” (Acts 10:7).
In Acts 2:46, when the believers were “attending the temple together,” it was much more than being present, it was sharing a priority. So in verse 42 they were “attending” to doctrine and fellowship and breaking of bread and prayers. The “breaking of bread” may be the sacrament of the Lord’s Table, but they were also breaking bread “in their homes,” so informal meals are included. The believers were devoted to truth and to one another in the name of Jesus.
And note what described their hearts: they were attending to worship and receiving their food “with gladness and sincerity of heart” (NASB). The ESV’s glad and generous hearts is not the best for a couple reasons. First, the Greek word for hearts is singular, “heart,” emphasizing the unity of the body. The whole body had one heart. Second, the word “generous” is better translated as “simplicity.” Simplicity means that it’s not mixed, so it is “sincerity” (NASB), it has integrity. The KJV translates it as “gladness and singleness of heart.”
The believers had a oneness of oneness, expressed in gladness. That is some description.
And what can we as a body of believers do to be described in a similar way? We’ve got to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus. We’ve got to believe the promises of God. And then we need to attend to being together. We’ve got to devote ourselves to gladness and simplicity of heart. Whatever trellis we have should help the vine grow in these directions.
We attend to some of these things every Lord’s Day morning. The assembly assembles for worship, and this service is the central push for the week. But it is not the only valuable opportunity, and, not all of the body’s interactions are meant to take place during this time.
The second most strategic time for the body is Sunday evenings. Our pastors have prioritized a number of things for the latter part of the Lord’s Day, and we believe they promote being together, both in person and in heart.
Some churches have evening services every week. Many of us have experienced evening service as a second-rate morning service, where most of the elements are the same, except that the attendees dress less fancy. Many churches have given up evening services altogether. We have chosen differently.
We have decided to call the church back together on odd Sundays of the month. And rather than repeat the morning liturgy, we’ve chosen to view our meetings in the evening as complementary. There are itches not scratched anywhere else other than Sunday evenings.
We schedule a few different things for those services:
The teaching has its own set of reasons, especially the fact that we have all the pastors teach on a regular basis. It is my assignment to lead the speaking parts in the morning, though obviously the other men fill in when I’m gone, or hospitalized. Ha. But I am not the boss, I am not The Pastor, or the Lead Pastor, though I am often out front. Whatever the subject is, the flock gets to hear different perspectives, and the elders get to address the entire flock. This has liturgical value in reminding us all that we have a plurality of pastors, not just a personality. You might not need to hear the content of any particular message as much as you need to hear the heart of the man bringing it.
Another time devoted to teaching allows us to cover different subjects as well. We’ve taught through our doctrinal statement, we’ve taught through Reformed doctrines that we identify with, this past year we taught through four different epistles in order to give our young people in particular exposure to more of the New Testament. We still don’t have a Sunday School trellis, which is still intentional, and the evening teaching provides a time for us to be together.
We have decided on a couple smaller series for this coming ministry year after Jonathan and I finish Ephesians and Galatians respectively.
Each elder will speak once for each topic, and then we’ll have a combined elder Q&A as a wrap-up for each series. These are subjects that are intended to complement, to add to, the main Sunday morning series, for sake of encouraging and equipping the body. By God’s grace you can get information, you can get good Bible teaching, virtually any time you want. You do not need, as perhaps it used to be the case, to attend to learn. But what you cannot get from books and sermon downloads and podcasts is being together in mindset with the body.
We also have devoted two Sunday evenings a month to house to house fellowship and breaking of bread. There is talking and catching up and encouragement and stirring up one another to love and good deeds that happens before and after services, but there is something valuable when we show hospitality to one another and serve one another with food and drink and gladness of heart in our homes. This could, and does, happen on other days than Sunday. But the pastors are committed to encouraging this so much so that we consider it part of the program to not plan services on multiple Sunday nights a month.
If you do not attend to the body on Sunday evenings (and in your life), whether gathered under one roof or many different roofs, you are missing out on being together.
Our mission: We are laboring in joy to cultivate a Trinitarian community of worshipping, maturing disciples who acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord over all the world.
The mission is more than you getting to heaven. The mission is presenting all of us complete in Christ and bearing God’s image in the world so that His blessings will flow far as the curse is found. Attendance doesn’t get anyone into heaven, and those who are citizens of heaven will be attending to more than themselves on earth.
At our very first “family meeting” on January 9, 2011, my notes say that we talked about mostly the same trellis, especially as relates to Sunday evenings, as we have this morning. I am reminding us now because we do have some new families, but even more so because we want all the vine to be healthy. We want every part doing its part. We are not satisfied with our togetherness yet, and want to eliminate lack of explanation as a reason for why someone might not participate.
We love what Sunday night services promote. This isn’t to say that there aren’t any other ways to accomplish what we want, but decisions have to be made. Perhaps there will be different expressions of being together in the future. But our evening gatherings aren’t leftover warm-overs. They have a different feel than Sunday mornings because they a different purpose. But having a different purpose does not make them less valuable any more than putting new tires on your car makes having gas in the tank less valuable.
How likely is it that this one message will move those who don’t usually, or don’t ever, come on Sunday evenings to start? How likely is it that these words will convict those who currently view open Sunday evenings as a break and cause them to start a rotation of invites to get to know others in the church? It’s just as likely as planting a seed, watered and tended, will eventually grow fruit. It’s just as likely as disordered affections and disobedient disciples will be sanctified by the Spirit.
What are you attending to? What are you giving your attention to? We desire for it to be with gladness and simplicity of heart.
The charge is, attend to a gladness and simplicity of heart. The charge is, attend to being together, both in place and even more in purpose. The charge is, come back tonight.
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but 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, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:18–21, ESV)