Matt Merker led a workshop at the 2021 TGC National Conference titled “Gathered by God’s Grace” to encourage pastors as they move toward assembling in more traditional ways after pandemic guidelines are loosened. He walked through the gathering of God’s people in both the Old and New Testaments, focusing on two particular ideas:
- Why gathering is so essential for the life of the church.
- Why it matters that God is the One who gathers us and works in our midst during our corporate worship.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Matt Merker: It is so wonderful to see human beings in the flesh at a conference, praise the Lord that we can be together and and praise the Lord. For all of you who are watching online, it’s great to have you with us as well. My name is Matt mercker. This is gathered by God’s grace. So if you were looking for a different workshop, I won’t take it personally if you if you get up and find the other one that you were looking for. Thank you for being here. Thank you for for coming to Indianapolis.
Thank you, Indianapolis for hosting this thank you to Julius Kim and Collin Hanson and the whole team at gospel Coalition for hosting this wonderful event. It’s truly an honor to be here, grateful to the Lord for all that the gospel coalition has done for so many years now to equip and encourage believers around the world. And so it’s truly an honor to share in this event today. And we want to thank crossway, this breakout session is sponsored by the fine folks at crossway. We’re grateful for their generous support to help make this session possible.
And so you can learn more about crossway and all the good stuff they’re doing by visiting their booth. Or you can go to crossway.org. Speaking of crossway, they very kindly published my book, and I have a stack of copies here. And so I’ve been told that if you would like one of these, the way to obtain one of them is after the talk to approach that stack in a you know, very orderly, socially distanced fashion. And they are first come first served. So you all can configure that out.
But I hope the book is helpful to you. And thank you so much to the wonderful team at crossway for helping to make that book possible. All right, With all of that said, let’s open in prayer. Heavenly Father, we praise You for Your grace and goodness and kindness to us in Christ. Lord in the midst of a year of challenges, tensions, questions, we thank you that your promises are true, that your Word is true, and that the gates of hell will never prevail against your church. And so we pray that you’d help us now fill us with your Holy Spirit as we think about your church as we think about what it means to to gather as your people as we look forward to gathering again, as we remember gathering. And as we look forward to the great final gathering of your people at your throne. We pray that you’d encourage us through this time, we ask in Jesus name, amen.
Dinner time is a big deal in my family. It’s the meantime each day when we pause from all this stuff, we’re doing all the work and all the chores and all the ballet practice and playing with Thomas, the Tank Engine and all these sorts of things. And we set our attention on one another. And on the surface, the meal that we enjoy probably looks very similar to the one that’s enjoyed by millions of Americans around the same time each day.
And yet, if you were coming to the earth from outer space, let’s imagine you’re a Martian anthropologist coming to study human beings, and you were to study my family in particular, well, then you would probably want to note down the distinctive ways in which our murkiness shapes our life around the table, you would see what makes us different from other American families, you would notice, perhaps, that we’re believers in Christ. So we pray before we eat, we thank God for the food, you notice that my wife is Italian American.
So that flavors the menu, you know, you want to talk about lasagna, my wife’s is the best, no doubt, no competition, you’d notice all the inside jokes, the various family traditions, what makes us unique, who we are, as a family shapes what we do when we gather. But then in terms of what we do when we gather around the table, shapes who we are, the gathering flows from our family identity, and then it shapes and reinforces that very identity.
Of course, it’s different when I eat dinner alone, I can consume the same nutrients by myself. But if you remove my family, if you take away the corporate or gathered aspect of the meal, it’s gonna be a different experience, it will still feed my belly, but it no longer binds me to the people I love most. And to extend that a little bit further, even if we were all to eat the same food while in different places, watching each other eat the same food over zoom.
That might be better than nothing. But I would argue it’s a fundamentally different experience than truly being together as a family. Well, you can see where all this is going. I’ve been trying to think and write about the gathering of the local church for many years now. I never really expected To become a hot topic, but then comes a pandemic. And all the sudden churches are now faced with this question of what do we do about our gathering? and wise believers have sometimes disagreed on how best to respond to these various questions.
So, in the hope that normal or normal-ish times are coming soon, Lord willing, I’m not going to spend this seminar trying to rehearse or referee all the debates of the last year, I’m going to just encourage all of us in a posture of charity and gentleness, as different churches differently, navigate the questions of how to best resume gathering, rather, with this talk is looking ahead to the future. As as we are able to gather again in ways that we deem wise and best according to our local context, according to our conscience, I want to focus on two areas first, why gathering is so essential for the life of the church.
And then second, why it matters that God is the one who gathers us and who works in our midst, during our corporate worship. So first, why we gather? And then second, why it matters that God takes the initiative in our gathering. So to begin, number one, why is the gathering essential? At least in normal times, if you were to ask believers, why do you go to church on a Sunday, you probably hear lots of different answers across the spectrum. You know, some might focus on what they get out of it. Oh, I go because of the inspiring singing or that helpful message.
Others might focus on their duty. I go because it’s what’s right. It’s what’s honoring to God. Others might cite tradition, that’s what I’ve always done. Or they might say, I desire I go to church because I want to I love it, it brings me joy. Now some of those answers might be better than others. But we know theologically, for those who are truly born again, filled with the Spirit of God. There’s always a deeper answer underneath it all. We go to church, because we are the church. And the church is an assembly meeting isn’t just something churches do.
A meeting is, in part, what a church is. God has saved us as individuals to be part of his gathered people. And we see this all throughout Scripture. So if you go to the Old Testament picture, the nation of Israel, God has rescued them from Egypt. He’s gathered them at Mount Sinai to hear his law. And Moses in Deuteronomy 910 talks about that key moment as the day of assembly and at other junctions in Israel’s history.
A nation similarly gathers as an assembly before their covenant Lord, we see it happening in Judges 20, and First Kings eight, in first Chronicles 28, reinforcing the reality that they were a people chosen by God not merely as separate individuals, but as part of his people, a family that God redeemed and assembled together for His glory. So then fast forward to the New Testament, the Greek word for church ecclesia, it means assembly. It’s the same word used to translate the Old Testament Hebrew word for assembly.
There are also times such as x 19. When the word ecclesia refers to a secular assembly or gathering its it doesn’t only refer to the church, but when it is applied to the church, the term ecclesia carries these sort of rich Old Testament connotations of being gathered together as God’s covenant people. So what is the New Testament show us about the local church assembly, I want to make five quick observations. I’m going to cite a lot of texts here, we’re not going to read each one.
If you’re the note taking type. I hope I’ll give you time to try to take these references down. But just a brief sort of scan of what we see about the local church gathering in particular in the New Testament. First, we see that churches regularly gather. I know it seems like a basic point, but it’s important to start with these basics. Paul uses phrases like when you come together as a church, First Corinthians 1118. Or he says, the whole church comes together. First Corinthians 14:23.
Second, we see that a church gathering is a distinct event. It’s a different sort of thing than other times other meetings. And I think this is clear because Paul gives specific instructions on what believers should do in church. That is when the church meets in First Corinthians 1419. He says, in church, I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others than 10,000 words in the tongue. or later on in that chapter, verse 28.
He says, if there’s no one’s To interpret let each of them keep silent in church so Paul’s talking about specific guidelines that apply to the usage of spiritual gifts when the ecclesia meets. Third, we see that even large churches met as one body at one time in the New Testament era. We know that there were 1000s of believers who belong to the congregation in Jerusalem yet x 512 says they met all together in Solomon’s portico. Fourth, the New Testament writers instruct churches to do activities that can only be done by meeting together, they’re called to teach and admonish one another by singing songs and hymns and spiritual songs together Colossians 3:16.
They’re called to address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. Ephesians 5:19. They’re called to be devoted to the public reading of Scripture First Timothy 4:13. They’re called to eat the bread and drink the cup together to commemorate the Lord’s death. First Corinthians 11. They’re called to encourage one another Hebrews 10:24-25, not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another. And let’s not forget Romans 16:16 they are called to greet one another with a holy kiss. We can decide what form that takes today. Perhaps it is the holy elbow bump of the Coronavirus year.
But some of these things yes can take place in small groups. Others of them not all of them, others of them can, perhaps if absolutely necessary, be approximated on zoom, perhaps with some spiritual benefit or profit. But the New Testament pattern clearly shows that the normal practice of the church is to meet for these embodied acts of corporate worship and mutual edification.
And then fifth, sort of subset of that church discipline in particular is an act of the gathered church. One reason it matters why we gather is we have to do the difficult, yet vital work of clarifying if someone really belongs to the assembly or not. And that’s what Jesus lays out for us in Matthew 18, where he instructs us that the church as a whole the ecclesia is to speak to the stubbornly unrepentant sinner and in order to do that Jesus says we are to be gathered in his name. And Paul echoes that language in First Corinthians five, where he tells the Corinthians to practice church discipline, when you are gathered in the name of the Lord Jesus.
So what’s the picture we’re getting? We’re seeing a picture of the church, as a blood bought people devoted to the worship of the one true God, they’re set apart from the world, they’re committed to serving one another and loving their neighbors. And they do all of this normally, by assembling in time and in space. Now, of course, a church is more than a gathering, right?
It gathers, and then it scatters, and then it gathers again. And then it scatters. And perhaps due to highly unusual circumstances, perhaps it needs to remain scattered for a longer time, just like a husband and wife don’t cease to be married, if one of them is deployed with the military for a while, but recognizing that such seasons of prolonged separation are real trials, as shouldn’t really be the norm, or the ideal. Neither for marriage or for the church, or churches members continue to be part of the congregation throughout the week as we serve and represent Christ, in our homes, our workplaces, our neighborhoods, but a church is never less than a gathering. And so in that sense, a church is much more like the players on a basketball team than the fans in a basketball stadium. Right?
Because you know, the fans, they turn up really just to watch something as passive consumers, they show up to be entertained. They may wear a jersey, but they’re not really part of the team. And if they want to watch online rather than in person, you know, they can. But the members of the team must gather as a team to play the game. They are still members of the team after the final buzzer, or in the offseason, as I go about their lives. You know, they go grocery shopping, they take their kids to school. And of course, they still do represent the team even when they’re not on the court. But when they put their jerseys on and gather on the court, then they participate in something that is of the essence of who they are to gather as a team as a unit a group. It’s not optional for them to gather.
In fact, what we might say that what happens when they’re on the court has special significance right? There are particular ritual rituals or liturgies, we might say A that govern the flow of the game and every player has a different yet important role. And I’m not going to press the analogy too far. But here’s how theologian Miroslav volf puts it. The life of the church is not exhausted in the act of assembly. Even if a church is not assembled, it does live on as the church in the mutual service, its members render to one another, and in its common mission to the world. In its most concentrated form, however, the church does manifest itself concretely in the act of assembling for worship. And this is constitutive for its ecclesiology.
And what he means by that is that a church assembles because it is an assembly, it is what we are called not just to do, but to be. And I recognize that can sound a little bit abstract or a little bit philosophical. So let’s think about a couple of encouraging implications here. why this matters so much that the church gathers. So this is still my first point. But now I’m getting into this sub point.
So sub point A, the assembly makes the church visible to itself. Imagine I grew up going to family reunions, my mom’s from Minnesota, she’s the ninth of 11, kids, big Polish family, lots of cousins, lots of cousins of cousins of cousins. And so we would meet for the levandowski family reunion by some lake in Minnesota around the Fourth of July. And these family reunions usually conclude with a huge picture, right? They try to find a way to get everyone together. And someone who works at the retreat center takes a photo of everyone. Why do we do this? So that we can see ourselves, we can see our identity, we can grasp who we are as a corporate body.
And that same sort of thing happens whenever the local church gathers, we see who we are. So on Sundays, at 1030. My congregation, Edgefield church appears and it becomes visible to itself in our building and as a century old building on Russell street in East Nashville. So what do I see as this happens, I see the brothers and sisters who have covenant and to care for me. I see David, a professional musician, who became a Christian recently because he was hired to play piano at a different church. And during his gig playing piano at this church, he happened to hear the gospel, and he trusted in Christ and got saved.
And now he’s joined our church and he’s just been baptized and I turn up and I see him and he’s singing Christ, the Lord is risen today. I look over on the other side, I see a family whose three year old son has leukemia right now. And the whole church knows it. And the whole church is praying. And the pastor leads us in a prayer of intercession. He’s praying for lots of things. He’s praying for the country for the world, but he’s praying for this family. And their situation weighs heavy on my heart. I look in the back corner, I see a dear friend who is dealing with some painful consequences of his own sin. And that’s made it actually hard for for him to come to church. But he’s there, he’s made it there.
And after the service, he finds me because he found the sermon so encouraging. He wants to make sure to encourage me from it because he thought it applied to my life. Now are these various folks ever at home because they’re sick, or they’re ever away for work or holiday shirt, and has COVID made it that some with particular health needs can’t yet gather with us? That’s true as well. But basically, and especially in normal times, I can expect to see these believers there every week. This is spiritual family, who have committed to help one another follow Christ through persecution, cancer, miscarriage, addiction, depression, and more.
And have committed to do that, in part by assembling together we see one another singing the same songs, confessing the same faith in the same creed, hearing the same scriptures read the same sermon preached sharing the same bread, the same cup, and it enforces reinforces our unity and our sense of togetherness. Just like seeing his bride makes a groom’s heart swell with love when she walks down the aisle. Church members should overflow with affection for one another when we behold the bride the bride of Christ in the local churches assembly.
So that’s the first implication the assembly makes the church visible to itself. Not only that sub point B. It makes the church visible to the watching world. Why did God join Jew and Gentile All together in one body Ephesians 310. He did this so that through the church, the ecclesia, the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. And yes, that happens to the universal church. But think about how it happens when the local church gathers.
Again, what do I see? And what is the watching world see if they were to come in as Paul envisions the unbeliever coming in, in First Corinthians 14, they might see a young married couple, a white guy who’s married to an Asian American woman, have chosen to sit each week with an older, single African American man, they want to learn from him, they want to listen to his story. And so he’s kind of become an extended member of their family. They look around and you’ll see people who are fans of hip hop, and country and indie rock, and they’re all raising their voices together in a song that is decidedly not any of those genres. You know, they’re all saying a mighty fortress is our God, and it seems like they like it.
You see believers there who came to different conclusions about who to vote for in November, different instincts about how safe is safe enough with COVID different thoughts about vaccines, but yet they’re proclaiming their unity by taking the Lord’s Supper together. And after the church service, they’re hanging out outside on the lawn for 45 minutes having fellowship while wearing masks, because that’s what the elders have asked them to do. And they’re, they’re submitting gladly to their leaders. Now, it’s not a perfect church. There are warts and flaws as well. But this sort of gathering imperfect as it is, should leave the world speechless. Where else can you find such a bizarre mix of people who are all praising the same Triune God, this witness for the gospel happens because the church gathers.
And I should also say, the gathering is no less important in context that might be more culturally homogenous, you know, if everyone in your area looks alike with for 50 miles, and at the church therefore sort of looks alike because the church reflects that demographic. Well, then the congregation should still embody in other worldly sort of love and commitment and care for one another, which they put on display, by, in part meeting together regularly. Brothers and sisters, I just want to pause and say, What a joy it is to gather with God’s people.
If we don’t take anything else away from from this seminar today, let that be the focus. It is amazing, to get to be together with the family of God. And if we learn anything from the COVID year, let it be that we must never take for granted the unique and unparalleled gift of hearing the voices of fellow redeemed sinners around us and surround sound heralding the beauties of Christ and of his gospel in song. How badly do we miss hearing one another sing at the top of our lungs without masks? Let us never take that for granted again, let the time after COVID forever be known as the time when congregational singing became a thing.
Like I know it’s been a thing before. But let it be like a real big deal thing for your church from now until Jesus comes back. Here’s how David Clarkson, the 17th century pastor put it he focused on how the church gathering is so wonderful, because the people that we’re meeting with the people in the Pew next to you who honestly might sinned against you might sometimes be hard to love. But yet every single one there who’s in Christ is filled with the Holy Spirit of God. Here’s what Clarkson said, The Lord engages himself to let forth as it were, a stream of his comforting quickening presence to every particular person that fears him. But when many of these particulars join together to worship God, then these several streams are united and meet in one, so that the presence of God which enjoyed in private is about a stream in public becomes a river, a river that makes glad the City of God.
Speaking of streams, one practical follow up question that I think many might have is what about live streaming? Let me touch on that briefly. Many congregations have started streaming for the first time wondering if they should keep doing it once we can fully gather again. The best arguments for doing it are number one ministry to shut ins who simply cannot attend at all. And evangelism, a way of proclaiming the good news to people who might never die.
In the doors of a church, or perhaps people who live in closed countries where there’s little to no gospel witnesses, there’s some way to let them know about this. If for such reasons a church chooses to keep live streaming, I would argue that you should make it very clear to your members, this is after after COVID, to the members who are able to attend to make it clear to them that the live stream is not an option for you. If you’re part of the family, you come to the dinner table, the feast just isn’t the same, if the family’s not there, because the gathering is essential. It’s not just something we do. It’s who we are. And so with that, let’s move to the second half of the talk.
Point number two, why it matters that God is the one who gathers us. Because even though the local church is a gathering, it’s vital to recognize that we become a gathering only because God draws us together we gather by His grace. What do I mean? It’s common to hear people describe worship as our response to God, which is true, it’s key truth. But it’s not the whole picture. Because before we respond to God, and even as we’re responding to him, God first works in us, I think of Romans 12. One One of the most famous verses on worship. In the New Testament, if you have your Bible once you turn there with me, Romans 12 one.
This verse is about serving God with our whole lives, not just when the church gathers, but it illustrates this point. Well, it’s very famous call to us to give our whole lives to God. Paul says, present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Okay, but how can sinners like us do this? We can’t forget, Paul begins by saying, I appeal to you, therefore brothers by the mercies of God.
God’s mercy precedes and enables our worship. We can offer ourselves to God only because God gave his son for us. Christ offered himself he is the perfect worshiper and the final sacrifice, and then having saved us, God sovereignly grants in us that which he asks of us, he empowers our sacrifice of praise back to him, he empowers our worship. If you look right back up one verse earlier, the right one right before this one, Romans 1136. Paul says, For from him and through him and to him are all things to Him be glory forever. So yes, to him are all things we are called to gather and glorify God. But notice that from him, and through him are all things as well, which includes the worship gathering. It is from God.
When we worship, it is God himself, who works in us both to will and to work for his good pleasure, as Paul says in Philippians 213 corporate worship is his idea. He makes it happen. I’m really to put it as strongly as I can. Worship is God’s work first before it is ours. God the Father grants us to honor him in and through our mediator, God the Son, by the power of God’s own spirit. Our worship originates in the Triune God and it resounds to the glory of the Triune God. I picture a family with young kids exchanging presents on Christmas morning if you picture my family, six year old Lena, and three year old Isaiah don’t really have any money of their own.
Yeah, they’ve got presents to give. They can’t wait to give a beautiful gold necklace to mommy, and a shiny new pack of guitar strings to daddy, right? Well, how did they pay for these gifts? Their parents bought the gifts of course. But that doesn’t make the kids any less sincere in giving them and it doesn’t make the parents any less glad to receive them. In the same way, corporate worship is like a gift that we receive and give right back to God, the giver of all things. As the theologians put it, the Triune God is both the chief subject and the chief object of our worship. He makes our worship happen but our worship worship resounds to his glory alone.
So it’s common to speak of the church gathering as a worship service. And I think that’s true, but it with that I think we should put the accent where it belongs. We are gathering to serve God and one another. But God serves us before we can serve him well We gather he is ministering to us. He is speaking to us by His Word. He is pouring out grace upon us pointing our eyes to Christ. And we serve Him and one another with the strength that he alone provides. You see how this reframes what it means for us to go to church. I think so often people when they think about going to church, they equate it to other sorts of events that we might go to, for example, like I decide to go to a concert, because I want to have an amazing experience.
Or I decide to go to a lecture because I want to stimulate my mind, or I decide to go hang out with a bunch of my friends or go to a social club, for a sense of community and connection, which honestly, those reasons, amazing experience, intellectual stimulation, community connection, are a lot of the reasons that people would say they go to church, but actually, it’s totally different than those things. If you’re a believer, it’s not that I’m deciding to do this because of x result that I’m going to get. No, God is sovereignly, drawing people together for his praise. He is bringing us to his throne room, to nourish us spiritually and to refocus us on his glory. something supernatural is happening when God gathers your church together.
Again, if we just survey the New Testament, we can see all the ways that God is at work when he gathers us as His people. He manifests his presence in our midst, Jesus says in Matthew 18, there I am among them. Or First Corinthians 1425, the unbeliever declares God is really among you. God reveals Himself to us and instructs us and convicts and comforts us through His Word as it’s prayed and read and son, as we sing songs and hymns and spiritual songs. It’s the word of Christ, that is dwelling richly in us. Colossians 316. God is the one who grants us participation in the body and blood of Christ at the Lord’s Supper, First Corinthians 10.
God convicts and converse unbelievers, when he gathers the church, if there’s an unbeliever there, First Corinthians 14, God grants faith from hearing the word of Christ, Romans 10, I love the picture at Ezekiel 37 of zeal, preaching to a valley of dry bones, and the Spirit, bringing them to life. And God builds up the body, as believers use their spirit given gifts to strengthen one another. First Corinthians 12, seven, God is doing that for the common good of his people. So when all of this, Brian chapel summarizes it Well, God is not only the chief audience of our worship, by his word and Spirit, He is also the true speaker, singer, and prayer.
Why does all this matter? Why should we so appreciate God’s initiative in the church gathering? I’ve got six reasons. And I’ll close with these. First, appreciating God’s initiative in the church gathering helps us be aware of the Trinitarian dimensions of corporate worship. As I’ve already alluded to, God, the Father assembles those who are united to Christ in the presence of His Holy Spirit, and through the spirits in dwelling, we fellowship together with the Father, in Christ, our mediator, as we hear his word as we partake of his supper, all three persons of the Godhead are active in the churches gathering.
And it’s wonderful and beautiful when we see how corporate worship is engaging with the Triune God on the terms that he proposes in the way that he makes possible to quote David Peterson’s great definition of corporate worship. So it helps us be aware of the Trinitarian dimensions. Reason number two, appreciating God’s initiative helps to safeguard us from a man centered works righteousness approach, in worship, where we so often, and this can be subtle, it could be subconscious, where we see worship as primarily a way that if I worship truly enough or sincerely enough, or to use a little bit of a buzzword authentically enough, then I can experience God in a different way or I can get him to love or approve of me more. I believe these are these are sometimes the things that are going on deep in our hearts.
But when God is the one who gathers us, we remember that it’s all by His grace, and that we can’t worship him into loving us more than he has already loved us in his son. According to Nicholas wolterstorff. One of the main problems that the reformers saw with a medieval Roman Catholic mass was that God’s action was quote, lost from view the act We’re all human. It was all men doing things to merit more and more salvific grace. And in returning to a biblical focus on God’s gracious initiative toward us, the Protestant reformers recaptured an understanding of the gathering as God’s action toward us, and our faithful reception of that action. Of course, it matters that we are offering praise back to God.
But the accent is on how God is revealing Himself to us, reminding ourselves who he is. Third, recognizing God’s initiative helps open our eyes to God’s purposes for the church as a whole body. In other words, it helps us remember the worship service isn’t just for us. First Corinthians 12 is a great place to see this, we’re Paul makes it so clear that the Spirit gives us gifts to use in the church for the common good of the body. So when God is gathering the church, he is up to something, and he is at work in everyone. They’re not just me. And so yes, I should come to church because God is doing business with me. And he is doing business with my heart, and I need that. But I need to have an eye open to what God is doing in Joe’s life.
And in Diane’s life, and, and how this sermon is going to challenge Carl, and how this song is going to comfort Karen. And it’s just you, when you multiply that by everyone there it is pretty exciting, and astounding that God is working in all these people. And one of the ways that he’s working in their lives is by bringing me and you there to encourage them and to sing so that they can hear the songs and so and to pray, and in all these different ways. Also, when we open our eyes to God’s purposes for the whole body, it helps us learn to lay down our own preferences.
You know, it helps remind us that church isn’t mainly about me. Maybe the pastor and the song leader have chosen a song that’s in genre I just really don’t prefer. And you know what, rather than that ruining my day, it reframes it that you know what, maybe God is using this particular song, to encourage a bunch of other people here. And that’s the encouragement I’m supposed to take from this song, it’s not going to encourage me directly, it’s going to encourage me indirectly by the work and encouragement that I see that it’s doing in other people’s lives. Fourth, related to that the fact that God is in charge of the worship gathering teaches us to treasure our fellow church members.
It’s not random happenstance that your congregation has its own unique mix of people. First Corinthians 12:18, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them as he chose, which means that God’s will is for me to gather with the specific believers at my church. Whatever their disagreements, whatever awkwardness we might have. And since that’s the case, I better stop complaining about their faults in my own heart, and get to work loving them, because of course, that’s what they’ve done for me. You see how mutual that is. Fifth, since God calls the meeting, and his acting through the meeting, what we do when we meet is his prerogative.
God calls the shots. We don’t have to read the tea leaves or search the skies, to figure out the main things God calls us to do when we meet he tells us that in His Word, and that sense, corporate worship is much more like Shakespearean drama than improv comedy. Right? In improv, the actors feel the pressure not just of acting, but of coming up with the story with what the whole thing is about. And yet in Shakespeare, the script is already written. The actor’s job is to faithfully interpret what he’s been given by the mastermind behind it all.
And so in corporate worship, it is wonderfully liberating that God gives us the script. He tells us to read the word and preach the word, to sing the word and pray the word to see the word as it is summarized and depicted in baptism and the Lord’s Supper. He calls the shots. Our job is simply to be faithful. Sixth, and finally, the primacy of God’s initiative means we should gather to receive His blessing. Yes, worship involves sacrifice toward God, obedience, laying our lives down for him. But it begins with hearing and receiving from God we gather as needy, hungry children, in utter dependence on an all sufficient father. And as we meet God comforts, he convicts he equips. He nourishes, he sanctifies he speaks he sustains. A God assembles us to give us what we most need Christ Himself.
And so if you’ve ever gotten to the end of the week, or if you are getting to the end, hopefully of this COVID time and you feel thirsty for the replenishing waters of God’s goodness, in the corporate gathering, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We’re supposed to thirst for the meeting because it is such a vital means of God’s grace to us. Many churches have been in a season of fasting, we pray and hope it is a season that Lord willing will end soon. What an opportunity we have in the coming year to treasure, the weekly assembly of God’s people to teach our people how important and vital and joyful it is. And as we do, we’re going to learn to thirst more and more for that final gathering.
When all of God’s people finally meet at the family table, for the wedding supper of the Lamb. Let’s pray. Well, we look forward to that day. Come Lord Jesus, how wonderful it will be to gather as your people from every tribe and nation and tongue around the throne singing hallelujah to the Lamb who was slain. Well, we look forward to that day where death and sickness and sadness and weeping will be no more and you will wipe every tear from our eyes. Help us to treasure the gathering of the church, each Lord’s day that you give us here in this life, so that you might prepare our hearts for the life to come. And we pray that you would receive all the glory for it in Jesus name. Amen.