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The gospel gives many instructions about the importance of unity and fellowship among God's people, and about the importance of serving one another.
The gospel also gives many reasons why Christians should worship God and study His word and especially should attend the meetings of the church in order to participate in group worship and study activities.
The purpose of this study is to discuss how all these ideas tie together. We want to study the importance of Christians being united and serving and fellowshiping one another, but then we will apply that teaching to the importance of being actively involved in church meetings for worship and Bible study.
Consider the following teaching:
Unity requires doctrinal purity. Many passages warn that error and false doctrine will lead to strife and division, destroying the unity of a local church. But there is more to Biblical unity than just doctrinal agreement. Unity also requires a oneness of spirit, attitude, sentiment, goal, and purpose. It is a mutual desire and concern about the same things.
Let us study the importance of this spirit of unity in a local church, but then we will see how this spirit in a congregation expresses itself in church worship assemblies.
Notice the very first local church in Jerusalem. Consider how the gospel repeatedly describes their unity of attitude and goal; then note how this unity expressed and reflected itself in their group worship activities.
Acts 1:14 - The disciples were "all" with "one accord" continuing steadfastly in prayer (worship). Unity of purpose and attitude showed itself in people being together for worship. [2:1,46]
Acts 4:24 - In time of persecution, the church met (v23) and raised their voice to God "with one accord." Again unity showed itself in assembled worship.
Acts 4:32 - The multitude of believers had "one heart and one soul." This expressed itself in a generous collection for needy saints.
Acts 5:11,12 - Ananias and Sapphira did not share the oneness of attitude of other disciples and were severely disciplined. This led the rest of the church to have respect (v11) and to be together "with one accord." [15:22,25]
True unity in a congregation manifests itself in people who are committed to meet together to worship God and study His word. People who are like-minded want to be together. But when our unity concerns the most important thing in life - serving God and receiving eternal life - then we not only want to be together, we need to be together.
Consider people do not want to come or think they "do not have to come" but instead look for excuses to do other things. Do they have "one heart and one soul" with their brethren? Do they share the attitude of these early Christians and their commitment to be together?
Mark 3:24,25 - A kingdom or house divided against itself cannot stand.
1 Corinthians 1:10 - There should be no division in a local church, but members should be perfectly joined together in the same mind and judgment.
1 Corinthians 12:25 - Because we are all in the same body (12:12,14,20), there should be no schism in the body, but members should have the same care for one another.
The church in Corinth was one of the most incredibly divided congregations in the New Testament. Paul rebuked them repeatedly for their divisions. And their division showed in their worship assemblies: chap. 11 and chap. 14 deal at length with the division and strife that existed when they met.
The assemblies of the church reflect, not just whether there is unity among the members, but also whether there is division among the members. When members share a common commitment to God, His service, and the hope of eternal life, they see a need to meet together, and they strive to come every time the church meets. But when people are alienated from one another or do not share the common bond of faith and commitment to God, they tend to bicker and fuss when they are together. As a result, attendance becomes a burden and many just don't come.
So, when some members could come but simply do not try, what does that tell us about our unity? Do we really share that common commitment to God that we ought to have, or are we divided? Are we a house united or a house divided?
John 17:20-22 - Jesus prayed for all believers to be "one" as are He and His Father. If Jesus were part of a local church, would He neglect opportunities given by the church to study, pray, and worship His Father? Who can imagine such a thing? Do we have the same spirit of unity that Jesus had with His Father. If so, won't we share in His desire to worship the Father?
Philippians 1:27 - Conduct worthy of the gospel will lead us to stand fast in "one spirit with one mind" striving for the gospel. Isn't that what we do in our classes and worship assemblies: strive for the gospel? Those who share that spirit and mind will be here to work with us. [3:15,16]
Philippians 2:1-4 - Be like-minded, having the same love, of one accord of one mind. When members think they don't have to come, do they have the same love and same mind as those who think they should come?
2 Corinthians 13:11 - Be of one mind and God will be with you.
Ephesians 4:2,3 - Bear with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Again, members of a local church should share a common love and commitment to serve God. If we don't share that bond of love and commitment, then we need to develop it. We will later study how this chapter proceeds to show how this unity will lead all the members to work together.
Romans 15:5,6 - God grant us to be like-minded toward one another that with one mind and one mouth we may glorify God. Again our unity must be reflected in our worship: giving glory to God.
The assemblies of the church reflect whether there is unity or division in the attitudes of the members. When the church sets up times to meet for study, worship, and other authorized work, people of "one heart and soul" will strive to be there to participate.
When some people do not think they have to come or are not willing to put forth the effort, is that a house united or a house divided?
Are you "of one heart and one mind" with your brethren in your desire to be here to worship God and study His word?
[1 Peter 3:8; Rom. 14:19; 1 Cor. 14:23; 2 Cor. 4:13; Rom. 12:16]
The spirit or attitude of unity in a congregation should manifest itself in members working together, sharing the work load, serving one another.
Congregations need a spirit of cooperation in which members are committed to participating in the work. This includes work done outside the assemblies, but most of the opportunities to participate in church work will directly or indirectly involve church meetings.
Acts 2:42 - Members of the first congregation continued steadfastly in fellowship (sharing, joint participation, communion, "togetherness"). When and how was this done? In was done in studying the apostles' teaching, in the Lord's Supper, and in prayer: i.e., in worship!
They "were together" and helped members in need (vv 44,45). They continued daily with one accord in the temple (v46). Their unity and fellowship was expressed in being together to do the work of the church, especially worship.
Acts 4:23 - In time of opposition, apostles met with "their own companions" (ASV) and prayed (vv 24,31). As a result, the group worked together to teach God's word (v31) and meet the needs of the members (vv 32-35).
Note that the group had a sense of belonging and working together. They recognized that the group was "their own," and they desired to be with that group and work with that group. They had a spirit of cooperation, and it expressed itself in their commitment to meet together.
Acts 9:26-29 - When Saul moved to Jerusalem, he also wanted to be part of the group (join himself to the disciples). After his background had been checked and he was found to be a faithful Christian, the church received him. He was "with them" coming in and going out, participating in the work of preaching.
Again, these people understood that they needed to be part of the group and be "with" the group. There was work to be done, and members should desire to participate in that work. That required them to be part of the group ("join" themselves to it) and to be "with" the group.
Ephesians 4:16 - This pattern should be true of all the parts. All should work to build up the body. Each Christian should be a "part" in the body (member) then they should be "working," doing their "share" (fellowship) so the body can grow and be built up.
Romans 12:5 - We are members one of another. Context (vv 4-8) shows we should therefore use our abilities to work diligently. In our physical body we understand the need for cooperation. Every member must do its share of the work, or the body suffers and is ineffective.
In the church, we have seen repeatedly that much of the work is done when the church meets.
Note carefully the Divine pattern: Faithful Christians "join" the disciples in a local church, they are "with" the disciples (meeting), and they work with the disciples. Members who do not attend assemblies and classes will not be much involved in the work. They are simply not following God's pattern.
Galatians 5:13 - Through love serve one another. All of us can assist, encourage, and benefit other Christians. We should want to do so.
Galatians 6:2 - The law of Christ teaches us to bear one another's burdens. Other members have works or hardships that we can help them with. We should be committed to doing so.
1 Peter 4:10 - We all have gifts or blessings from God. We are stewards of these blessings. God gave them to us to use in His work. In particular, we should use them to minister (serve) one another. A member who is not making opportunity to use his spiritual abilities to serve, is not a good steward of God's blessings.
Ephesians 4:12 - The church was organized (v11) for the purpose of equipping members to accomplish works of service (ministry) so the church can be edified (or built up - v16).
The local church exists to arrange opportunities for members to study, worship, and work for the Lord. Since members should want to accomplish the works of service, it follows that we are expected to be part of the local church and involve ourselves in its work. Note that nothing we have discussed here is in any way limited to any particular day of the week or any particular assembly or number of assemblies. These principles apply to any meeting the church arranges on any day of the week to give members opportunity to work.
This is why we have repeatedly seen that Christians were together in church meetings worshiping and working.
* In assemblies we can participate or share in learning and in teaching and admonishing one another, as already discussed.
* In assemblies we have fellowship in praising God, as already discussed.
* In assemblies we learn about other work we can do in the announcements. What are "the announcements"? Why do we have them? They provide members with information about opportunities to serve! They tell us what is happening the church and in the lives of other members so we can pray for one another and serve one another. This is the church "equipping" us for service!
Specifically, we learn the needs of other members: sick, hospitalized, troubled, need of prayers, financial needs, people who have been baptized or have confessed sins. We learn of various other work opportunities that the church is arranging: visitation meetings, work days, gospel meetings, etc.
* Events in our assemblies or discussion following our assemblies often suggest ways to serve.
Sometimes in our meetings, apart from the announcements, we learn in other ways of opportunities to serve. If people are baptized or confess sins or ask for prayers, we are there to encourage and pray for them.
In talking privately with people before or after services we may learn of opportunities. Don't just rush right out after the dismissal. And don't just stand around talking to your close friends or family members. Stay around and talk to other people, express an interest, get to know their needs, and look for ways to serve! Get to know our visitors and find ways to encourage them. Ask other members about their wellbeing or about their family, and look for ways to serve!
Often the moments following a church meeting is when people discuss some Bible subject privately or schedule a private meeting to study some Bible subject. Often we schedule private studies or small group studies immediately following or preceding our church assemblies.
People who want to work, need to know what work needs to be done. We generally learn this information when we are together, especially in the assemblies. In short, the assemblies are one of the main ways the church "equips" the members to edify one another and build the church up. Since members are commanded by God to share in this work, it follows that fellowship in serving one another should lead members to see their need to be present whenever the church is meeting.
Some people habitually come late, so they miss the announcements. Some leave early, so they are not there if people are baptized or confess sins. They don't spend time to get to know other members or visitors before or after church meetings. As a result, they don't look for ways and don't know ways to be involved in the work. Is this the spirit of cooperation and sharing in the work that a diligent Christian should have? Does this show a desire to serve other Christians? Are such people diligently looking for opportunities to participate in the work?
And what about people who miss whole services? Are they cooperating and seeking opportunities to serve? They miss the opportunities to be taught, to edify others, and to praise God that are given throughout each assembly or Bible class. They miss the information given about the needs of others and other opportunities to serve. If we really want to serve, why would we neglect such opportunities?
Yes, there are some works of service we can do outside the assemblies. But it is a simple fact: that people who regularly miss the assemblies, generally do not know what work needs to be done nor what others are doing. If they are not interested and dedicated enough to even come, what are the chances they will be dedicated enough to do works of service outside the assemblies? How many people do you know who habitually neglect coming but are still deeply involved in the work?
This is one of the most common complaints about every congregation I have ever attended. No matter how friendly, caring, and loving the members are, some members will say, "We just don't feel part of things. We don't feel included. We don't have a sense of belonging." They usually say this as though it was a criticism of the congregation: it is the other members' fault.
99 times out of 100, people who say this have not been regularly attending the services or are not making a diligent effort to be involved in the work. When invited to participate in a work, they often decline (or they accept the job but neglect it and drop out).
If an employee of a company attends only 1/2 to 1/4 of the times employees are scheduled to meet to work, will he feel part of the group? If a student attends class only once of every 3 or 4 times the class meets and even then he does not do his homework, will he feel part of the group? If a child in your family participates in only 1/3 or 1/4 of the things everybody else does together, will he/she feel part of the group?
People who regularly miss church meetings "do not feel part of the group" because they are not doing what is required to feel part of the group. They are not cooperating, sharing, and having fellowship in the work.
God has a pattern for Christians to participate in a local church. Those who have a sense of unity and oneness with other faithful Christians will want to share or have fellowship in the work. They see the need to serve others by using their abilities to help one another and accomplish the goals of the local church. Those who do not do this, are simply not serving God faithfully.
The Bible pattern, illustrated by the examples we studied, shows how faithful Christians should be part of the group and "feel part of the group." Just like Saul: (1) "join" the group - let the church know you want to be part of the group; (2) be "with" the group (regularly attend all church functions); and (3) get involved in the work of the group.
Do that diligently and I guarantee you will soon feel part of the group! More important, you will be doing the work of a faithful Christian and you will please your Father in heaven.
These are not the only passages nor the only reasons for attending the meetings of the church. There are many others, including especially passages about the importance of worship God and Bible study. But the Bible teaching about unity, cooperation, and service gives compelling reasons, in addition to all the other reasons, why every Christian should work diligently to arrange the schedule to come whenever the church meets.
Are you a Christian? Have you become a member of a faithful local church? Have you been attending faithfully and serving faithfully in the work?
(C) Copyright 1996, 2008, David E. Pratte
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Importance of Attending Church Meetings
The Church and Worship
The Importance of Bible Knowledge
How Can You Find & Identify Jesus' Church?
The Power of Prayer
The Proper Day for the Lord's Supper
Giving to Finance Church Work
Local Church Responsibilities
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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.