By Maurice W. Jackson, Jr.
“I was glad when they said unto me, let us go unto the house of Jehovah” (Psa. 122:1). Whether these are the words of David, or of some other, they are Holy Spirit guided, and express an attitude worthy of God’s people today.
Such joy is rare! The multitudes that never worship at all prove it. Even among the Lord’s people there are those who worship as seldom as possible, and some not at all. Can it be said of all who worship regularly that they go gladly? Could it be that a mere sense of duty, maintaining a spiritual reputation, a desire to please family and friends, to avoid a lashing conscience, to escape reproof, simply to set an example, or only the force of habit motivates many to attend the worship services today?
Modern Day Solutions
In our society when a business falters, solutions are sought through human innovations that excite and create renewed interest. A new approach to sales technique is initiated. Make the product more appealing as respects color, size, shape, etc. Promote an unusual sale, make better claims , offer a sweepstake, or a bonus reward. In short, simply out do the competition by redressing the externals.
All of this may be acceptable in secular affairs, but is this the procedure for creating a joyful spirit of worship in modern man? Preachers and church leaders in many places seem to think that the answer is “Yes! ” Innovative worship services which catch the eyes and ears of the worshipers, stimulating curiosity, excitement and departure from the norm are adopted. Purpose: Increase interest, and supposedly, create a joyful spirit of worship.
We suggest that such an approach puts the cart before the horse. A joyful spirit of worship is not created by altering the externals of the worship service to arouse the worshiper, but to alter the worshiper through teaching, to fit into and enjoy the Divine plan of worship. We must appeal to the New Testament as our pattern, not to modern innovations concocted by human ingenuity.
New Testament Worshipers
“They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). This is how the early Christians functioned when they gathered together to worship God. This is how the Holy Spirit guided apostles directed. This same worship is what God wants from 20th century Christians.
That they were characterized with a joyful spirit of worship is seen, not only in what they did, but also in the interest and zeal that characterized the individual Christians. What a spirit of joy they must have felt when they learned that all they had to do to be forgiven of having rejected and crucified the Son of God, was to believe that He was the Christ, and upon repentance of their sins, be baptized for the remission of them (Acts 2:37-41). It was this spirit of joy that led them to receive the Word, complying with its teaching! As the King James says: “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized.” Their unity of action brought them together in a spirit of joy. “And all that believed were together” (Acts 2:44). They willingly and sacrificially helped the needy among them. “They sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all according as any man had need” (Acts 2:45). In Acts 2:46 we read: “And day by day, continuing steadfastly with one accord in the temple is further evidence of the joyful spirit that captivated those early Christians. As these saints praised God in their spirit of joy, the populous of Jerusalem perceived it and granted their favor (Acts 2:46). The key to their joyful spirit was a clear awareness of what the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit had done for them, and that their response was to love God back, guided by the will of God revealed by the inspired apostles. It created in them a spirit of joy to know, not only that they could please God, but how they could do so. It was a joy which they realized filled the need of the human spirit! This same awareness today will create, in those who are conscientious, a joyful spirit of worship.
There are other factors that can dull the edge of joy in worshiping God. How could those at Corinth, who had lawsuits one with another, worship together with a truly joyful spirit? In their perverted attempt to eat the Lord’s supper, those who had not were put to shame. Such distinctions among themselves surely hindered a joyful spirit of worship in those who were left out. The state of confusion (chapter 14), which evidently existed in the worship assembly at Corinth, served to hinder the proper spirit of worship. The doctrinal differences of chapter fifteen did the same.
Brethren who are alienated from each other cannot worship together in a genuine spirit of joy. How can one go to the worship assembly with a joyful spirit when there is division, backbiting, and an atmosphere of coldness prevailing in the congregation? Sermons that are entirely too long, mote picking, faultfinding, hobby riding preachers who think more highly of themselves than they ought to think, hinder a joyful spirit of worship in the hearers. We understand that error must be opposed and exposed, and that gospel preaching is pointed and direct, but folks do not have to be clubbed nearly to death with every sermon!) Song leaders who seem to never be satisfied with the response they get from the worshippers can kill a joyful spirit of worship. Song leaders who ought to be in the pew, rather than before the congregation, can do the same. Who can enjoy worshipping God in song when they are constantly rebuked for some insignificant shortcoming, or the song service is dead-as-a-door-nail? Men who lead the prayers in the congregation should be ever conscious that they are to lead the minds of the worshippers as they pray. Prayers that are too long, repetitious, rambling, or inaudible hinder the joy of worship.
When knowledgeable brethren can only expect attending worship that borders on fanfare, or fanaticism, mere ritual or formalism, confusion and discord, or a funeral-like service, then their joyful spirit of worship ebbs toward an all time low!
Worship In Spirit And Truth
Jesus told the woman of Samaria: “True worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth.” In fact, He said: “They that worship him (the Father) must worship in spirit and truth” (Jn. 4:23,24). In these few words Jesus told her (and us) how all true worshippers must worship.
The New Testament tells us how the early Christians worshipped. It is our duty to duplicate what they were told to do. Only when we do so do we worship in truth (i.e. according to the teaching of the truth of God). We must learn to be satisfied with, and to enjoy, worshipping God in God’s way.
The Lord’s Supper. The first century church met on the first day of the week to break bread (Acts 20:7). This consisted of eating unleavened bread and drinking the fruit of the vine. This was as Jesus directed (Matt. 26:26-29). The elements represented the body and blood of Christ. As they ate, their minds went back to the cross. They remembered how, through His crucifixion, burial, and resurrection, Jesus had rescued them from eternal condemnation and that He promised to come again and save the redeemed. This breaking of bread brought the early church together and kept them secured to the heart and core of the gospel story. So it does for Christians today. This supreme sacrifice of our Lord motivates us to have a joyful spirit of worship as we eat the Lord’s supper every first day of the week.
Prayer. Prayer always characterized the assemblies of the first century church. In 1 Corinthians 14:15 the early church was instructed to pray, and to do so in a way that all present could hear and understand. In their prayers they praised God, expressed thanksgiving to him, and made requests for his continued blessings. They prayed for the spread of the gospel, and for strength and boldness to speak the Word. Prayers for each other, and for others, were made. “Prayer was made earnestly of the church unto God for him” (Peter). (See Acts 12:5; see also Acts 4:21-3 1; 1 Tim. 2:1,2.) They prayed to God in response to their needs, confident that God would hear and answer. The privilege of prayer gave them a spirit of genuine joy. Christians today experience that same joy for the same reasons.
Singing. The early Christians were instructed to sing with the spirit and with the understanding as they worshipped together (1 Cor. 14:15). Singing was not only to praise God, but also to teach and admonish one another. So they sang psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, and that without the accompaniment of mechanical instruments of music (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). Singing in worship was, and is, an overt manifestation of a joyful spirit.
Preaching and Teaching. In their gatherings, the early saints heard God’s word preached and taught. It was done in an orderly fashion, that all might be edified (1 Cor. 14:4, 26-33). Paul, on one occasion, prolonged his speech until midnight (Acts 20:7). Those, then and now, who are interested in God’s word anticipated with great joy the gathering of the saints to hear taught and preached the great truths of the gospel. Recently a good brother told me how the teaching and preaching of God’s word had helped him in his daily life, and that he looked forward to every assembly. He has a joyful spirit of worship!
Giving. Laying by in store, as one may prosper, was a part of the first day of the week assembling of the early Christians (1 Cor. 16:1,2). This was done in order to help needy saints, and to further the work of the church in evangelizing the world, and the perfecting of the saints. The people of God realize that, in this way, they can have a part in the greatest work on earth – the saving of the souls of men and women. This not only gives one a joyful (cheerful) spirit, but satisfies the heart’s desire of all who are Christ-like (2 Cor. 9:6,7; 1 Cor. 9:6-14).
No doubt there are some among God’s people who even dread the worship service. We have discussed some of the things that contribute to this. All such hindrances should be removed. Christians are to look forward, with a joyful spirit to the assembling of themselves together (Heb. 10:25). They should enjoy each other’s company, seek to bear each other’s burdens, show a fervent love one for the other and realize a sense of community in assembling together with a joyful spirit of worshiping God. Then will our gatherings be a time of refreshment and a source of strength for daily living. God will be pleased and glorified. Heaven is the great reward!
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 20, pp. 619, 630
October 18, 1984