A gracEmail subscriber asks whether believers assemble on Sundays (or at other times) for their own benefit or for God’s benefit.
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We would be wrong to think that God needs what we do when we come together to sing, pray, read Scripture or share the Lord’s Supper, as if he were deficient or incomplete without our activities. Yet Scripture repeatedly indicates that the sovereign Creator is pleased when his people sincerely give him thanks and praise. In that sense, our sacrifice of worship (as a gathered community of believers or as individuals wherever we might be) is for God’s benefit. Yet no person can truly offer God thanks and praise without personally being better for having done so. In that sense, our worship (whether corporate or private) is for our own benefit.
There was a time when many Christians thought of “worship” as including all that they did when they assembled with others on Sunday morning — and as including nothing else. Careful Bible teachers pointed out that some Sunday meeting activities were not “worship” at all, since that word means expressing God’s worthiness and wonderful works and praising him for them. These teachers showed from Scripture that we also “worship” God by living daily lives that please him and by being what he made us to be. However, balance being the rare commodity that it is in most areas of thought, some Christians swung to the opposite extreme and concluded that our times together are aimed solely at our own betterment and pleasure and have very little to do with God at all.
The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews sets this cart firmly on all four wheels. Because of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice which forever takes away our guilt from sin and gives us open access to the heavenly Father, this author encourages us to assemble (as God’s people have done for thousands of years) for reasons involving us and also for reasons involving God. We meet to encourage each other to love and to do good works (Heb. 10:24-25). We also gather together to offer God “the sacrifice of praise, the fruit of our lips” (Heb. 13:15). The purpose of our assembling is therefore multidirectional: it is vertical (toward God in part) and it is horizontal (toward each other in part). We do not need to choose between these options or to exclude either of them. We may wholeheartedly do both, each in its turn as the occasion provides.