By Pastor Glenn Pease
Elizabeth Eliot tells of the hardship she and Jim went through in being missionaries in Ecuador. Shortly after their marriage they were asked to teach a group of 18 children. The entire class was for the two wives of one man. They lived in a leaky tent for 5 months. They had only two seasons-the rainy and the rainier. She said that the tent was probably owned by someone who was going to throw it out, but then decided that the Lord laid it on their heart to give it to the missionaries. It was not much of a honeymoon. He got hepatitis that lasted for 6 weeks, and living in a leaky 16x16 tent with nothing much to do was not enjoyable. The roll-away bed began to sink into the mud floor to add to their stress. Jim spent a year trying to rebuild a dilapidated old building that had been abandoned, but a flood came along and carried it away.
If you think people in the will of God just have one continuous victory after another, you have not read much about the price that missionaries pay to reach the people of the world. Jim, of course, was one of the five who was speared to death by the Auca Indians. He paid the ultimate price in his commitment to serve God. Dr. Samuel Zwemer had such a love for the Arabs that he took a steamer and was dropped off on the Eastern side of Arabia, and he spent 40 years of his life in that land. He wrote at the end of his famous career, "There is only one reason that I was able to stay 40 years in Arabia and see only as many converts as I can count on the fingers of one hand. I did it because I loved Jesus and I wanted to please Him."
These are examples of those who master motive was to please God. If success and fame came with it, well and good, but whether they came or not, their goal was to please God. This was Paul's master motive as well. He said in I Thess. 2:4, "We are not trying to please men but God." Pleasing God is what motivated Paul to endure all of his hardships. He writes in I Thess. 4:1, "Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God." This is the purpose of Christian education. It is to help people learn how to please God. In contrast, the master motive of our culture is conformity. The Bible has good reason to warn us about being conformed to this world. It is one of the strongest pressures of life to be conformed.
Studies show that only 28% of the people who were surveyed drank alcohol because they liked it. The rest drank it for social reasons to conform to the norm so they would be liked and accepted. Millions of youth engage in sex because of the peer pressure, and not because they are convinced it is the road to happiness. People go places and do things because they feel compelled to conform to what is in. Very few escape the pressure to please others for the sake of status and acceptance. Some very rich people can escape some pressures, as did the former Shaw of Iran. When he was visiting England he was invited to the races and he declined saying, "I am well aware that some horses run faster than others." Everyone can escape some conformity, but the only way to consistently do so is by having a master motive to please God in all things.
Jesus said in John 8:29, "The One who sent me is with me, He has not left me alone, for I always knew what pleases Him." This is the Master's testimony to the master motive of life. Anybody can be somebody in the kingdom of God if their motive in life is to please God. The entire 11th chapter of Hebrews is about the success of faith. You could write another chapter about all of the follies and failures of the same people in this chapter. They were sinners to be sure, but God welcomed them all into His hall of fame because of their master motive. Heb. 11:6 says that without faith it is impossible to please God, but all of these people had faith, and the end result was that the please God and their lives counted for Him.
The Old Testament people of God either kept the Sabbath and pleased God, or they violated the Sabbath and displeased God, and then experienced His judgment. Their own happiness and prosperity revolved around how they pleased God on this issue. Isa. 56:2 says, "Blessed is the man...who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it." In Isa. 58:13-14 we read, "...If you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord's day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way, and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find joy in the Lord." But unfortunately the people of Israel did not put pleasing God as a top priority on their agenda, and the result was that God had to say often what He did in Ezek. 20:13, "..they utterly desecrated my Sabbath. So I said I would pour out my wrath on them..."
They had the potential to be the happiness people whoever lived, but they became famous for their sorrow and suffering because they refused to please God by honoring His special day. The paradox of it is that the day was given for man's happiness, and not God's. God does not need a day of rest for restoration. The whole point of the day is for man to be set free from the bondage of making a living in order to enjoy living. God made man to be happy, and He knows that the two key ingredients in human happiness are health and holiness. When the inner man and the outer man are whole and balanced that man is a happy man. If one or the other gets out of balance and loses its wholeness and becomes sick there will be a decrease in happiness.
God gave the Sabbath to man as a means by which he could maintain the balance that leads to happiness. The New Testament Lord's Day, or Sunday has the same objective. The reason it pleases God when we use it for these two goals is because He gave it to us to please us, and nothing is more pleasing than to have a gift used and enjoyed for the purpose for which it was given. We please God by using His gift for our own good. If I give my son a thousand dollars for his education, and he spends it on a trail bike instead, I will be angry and not pleased, for I gave that gift for his good, and he robbed himself of that good by spending it on that which will not last. When we use God's gift for that which does not contribute to our long lasting happiness we do not please Him.
If we can become more aware of the presence of Christ in our home, we will be more aware of just how we should use Sunday in a way that pleases Him. We want to see that it pleases Him when we use it in a way that He intends. Let's look first at its value for being-
Our text refers to some Christians who had not only given up on coming to Christian meetings, but they had developed a habit of doing so. They were doing the very thing that led Israel to miss God's blessing. The tragic fact is that 25% of American Christians have developed the habit of not going to church. The reasons are many, but the result is the same. The body is weakened and made subject to all sorts of sickness. Somebody said, "If you stay in the sack Sunday morning, you are sac-religious."
Imagine marching in an army toward the enemy and you look to your side and your buddy is not there, and to the other side, and again there is no one there. Nobody likes to face a foe alone. We need comrades by our side to have the courage we need to press on. Every soldier who goes AWOL makes others feel less committed to the battle, and more tempted to retreat. The health of the body demands togetherness. Whenever we are absent from our place in the body we deprive the body of the encouragement of our presence. Many Christians do not realize how much their absence hurts, and how much their presence helps. It is one of the worst of the bad habits of thinking it doesn't really make any difference if we are present or not. Bad habits are bad because they have a negative impact on health. Every Christian is either contributing or detracting from the health of the body.
D. L. Moody said, "When I was a boy the Sabbath lasted from sundown on Saturday to sundown on Sunday, and I remember how we boys use to shout when it was over. It was the worst day of the week to us. I believe it can be made the brightest day in the week. Every child ought to be reared so that he shall be able to say that he would rather have the other 6 days weeded out of his memory than the Sabbath of his childhood." We need to work at this goal in our homes, and as a family be committed to making Sunday a special day, and a day of health for body, mind, and spirit, and for relationships.
To often Sunday is a day of tension and rush, and the whole family is fighting on the way to church, and very little that is healthy results. Our problem is that we do not make Sunday a high point of the week. We just let it happen instead of planning ahead like we do a vacation. We need to spend sometime getting things ready on Saturday so that there can be more harmony on Sunday. Parents need to give more thought as to how to make it a special day for enjoying all of the gifts of God. God gave us one in seven so we could cease the rat race of making a living to enjoy what He has given us. We are to rest from our labor to enjoy the fruits of His labor. It is for our health and happiness. In the Jewish Midrash to Psa. 92 we read, "Sanctify or honor the Sabbath by choice meals, beautiful garments, and delight your soul with pleasure and I will reward you for this very pleasure."
The Pharisees by their legalism took this blessing and turned it into a burden, but that was never the plan of God. Jews who used it wisely made the Sabbath the highlight of their week for the family, and this is what Christians re expected to do with Sunday. The fourth commandment to keep the Sabbath holy was God's way of demanding that people devote time to the health of family relationships. If you could not work or travel you had to stay home and spend time with your family. That was the whole idea. After a time of worship you spent the day together in relaxation and recreation.
Some people get all bent out of shape by others who enjoy sports on Sunday, but that is one of the purposes of the Sabbath. It was to be a day for play and not work. It is a day to forget the heavy load of responsibility and become as children again enjoying the fun for body and mind. To forbid play on Sunday is to forbid one of the health giving purposes of the day. It is work and not play that is forbidden. Going to church can be a form of play that leads to a healthy lessening of tension in life. Even non-believers can gain some health benefits from going to church.
One of the all time favorite excuses for not going to church is that there are hypocrites in the church. Not only is this true, but we have clear testimony to its being authentic. Vincent Teresa in his book My Life In The Mafia has this paragraph about the church-going habits of the mob. "Church-going is dying out in the mob. But the old guys still go to church, they light candles, they pray to the virgin Mary and so forth. It's from the old country. A lot of the old guys have their own chapels in their house. And the women, they still go. They aren't suppose to know what their husbands are doing. They're told to sit in the corner and mind their own business. But they aren't so stupid; they know. And they go to church and light the candles and pray for their husbands and sons not to be killed. There's a lot to be said for going to church when you're in the mob. It's all you have to cling to. It helps you face the job."
My point in sharing this testimony is that it completely destroys the excuse of those who do not go to church because of hypocrites. If even they get some kind of help and encouragement from going to church, their presence ought to be a reason why all others ought to be there. If even those people who resist and reject the way of God find value in going to church, how much more ought those who seek to walk in God's will find value in public worship? The presence of hypocrites is an argument for being there and not for staying away. They must be there for a reason, and if they can find something there, no one has any defense for saying it has no value for them.
It would be like saying I am not going to the doctor because there are always sick people there. People who are hopelessly incurable go the doctor. Why should I go to them when I am reasonably healthy? People go away from the doctor and do nothing they are told and get worse. Why should I be associated with such foolishness? All of this is foolish reasoning, for you are not responsible for other people's choices. If people reject and ignore valuable aid, that is no reason for you to miss out on what can help you be healthy. So what if people go to church for show, for deception, for sales opportunity, or for a hundred other motives, that has nothing to do with the choice you are free to make to obey the will of God for your own soul's sake. You are not responsible for the choices of other people, but only for your own.
The reason the Sunday experience of a worship service and change of pace can benefit even the non-believer is because God made man to benefit by the balance of opposites. After day comes night, and after toil comes rest, and after consciousness comes sleep. The more we keep the balance and add the sacred after the secular the more we will enjoy the therapy of balance. Sir Matthew Hale wrote-
A Sabbath well spent brings a week of content,
And health for the toils of the morrow.
But a Sabbath profaned,
Whatso'er may be gained
Is a certain forerunner of sorrow.
The only way a Christian family can please God in this area is to work hard at making Sunday a day of delight, and a day on which you do things you don't do the rest of the week. Going to church is a major one, but there are dozens of others that add to the health of the family. Emerson said, "Religious worship is the most important single function of any people." One of the strongest supports of that statement comes from the great enemy of the church who said, "I have no expectation that I will ever be able to destroy Christianity as long as vast multitudes of people attend the churches one day in every week." Voltaire. Next we look at-
God said remember the Sabbath to keep it holy, and that means unique and set apart from the other days, and devoted to developing the soul's relationship to God. Just as a flag is a symbolic piece of cloth so the Sabbath was a symbolic piece of time that reminded Israel that they were the people of God. Sunday is to be that to us. It is a day to celebrate the presence of Christ as a Living Lord who has conquered sin, death, and hell. We are to be conscious of the presence of Christ everyday, but on Sunday we to celebrate it as a family, and as the people of God.
This coming together in corporate worship is an encouragement to the body. We give the gift of encouragement to each other just by coming together, and this is part of what it means to be holy. A holy person or family is one that is different for the sake of pleasing God. It is not a goal to be different for difference sake, but only for the sake of pleasing God. When difference pleases God then one is different for the highest purpose.
If we can just get it in our heads that we come to church in order to please God, and that we do this by encouraging one another, then we can make Sunday a high point of our week. If we have not been able to do much for God all week and are feeling unused and unblessed, we can look forward to coming to church where just by being here we serve God and His people.
I have a confession to make. As a pastor I have no problem coming to church with the proper motive, for I come to serve. But I have a problem as a church-goer, and have always had it. I tend to go to the church with the idea that I want to get something out of it, and if I don't get new insight, or a greater picture of a precious truth, I go away disappointed. It is not that this is wrong, but it is just an inadequate motive that leads to failure when success is at your fingertips by a mere change of thinking.
I need to develop the motive of going to church to give and not just to get. I should be going to encourage the body. Not all Christians have problems all the time, but all do some of the time, and church is a place where we need to encourage one another. Our text makes this a major reason for meeting together. Worship of God could be done alone and should be. Prayer can be done alone and should be. Everything we do in church it can be done alone except taking the offering, but the reason we come together to do these things is because it pleases God by means of our togetherness to encourage one another.
People who do not go to church are people who are discouraged. The greatest cure for discouragement is to know you are a part of a caring body. We should come to church with a sense of anticipation that we are adding to the joy on one another by encouraging one another. This is pleasing to God and makes Sunday a high point of our week. If we are down we know we can be lifted, and if we are up we know we can lift others who are not. We call it a service, and that is what it is, for we are serving one another just by coming together.
If we use any of God's gifts wisely, we will be blessed, and so it will be with a gift of one day in seven. The poet wrote-
Day of God, so sweet and fair,
Call us now to praise and prayer,
Gift of God to mortals given;
Foretaste of the joy of heaven.
When the week of labor ends,
And the peace of God descends,
O how sweet it is to meet
At the holy Savior's feet.
Jesus was an example of the need of even the best and most holy to be faithful in the worship of God, and in the need of gathering together. In Luke 4:16 we read, "He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was His custom." Jesus had the best reason ever for not developing the habit of going to church. He was in direct fellowship with God the Father all the time. He must have had to sit through many boring messages in His life, and after the angelic choir He had enjoyed for all eternity past, the best He ever heard in a synagogue must have seemed like mere noise by comparison. Jesus had every right to sleep in and skip the public service of worship, but He developed the habit of always being there.
His example is an encouragement to us to be faithful, and to recognize that it is not only because it is healthy, but it is a part of what it means to be holy to set aside a time in your week when the number one obligation is to seek God's presence and to serve others in His presence. I believe it is possible to be a believer and not go to church, but I believe it is possible to be a golfer and not go to a golf course too, but what is the point of it? You can be a tennis player and never play, or a TV lover and never watch it. You can be a barber and never cut hair, or a preacher and not preach a sermon. There is no end to the possible things you can be and not do what you are meant to do. You can have any gift of the Spirit and never use it, but so what? Is this a valid argument for not doing so? The question is, can you be a Christian and not go to church and be a healthy and holy Christian? The answer is-no way. By not going you injure the body, and you fail to please God, which is the highest goal of the Christian life.