The Check Engine Light of Worship

 

In the past few months I’ve had two separate conversations on the sufficiency of God’s Word, Sola Scriptura, and how the authority of God’s Word not only influences how we live, but likewise how we worship.  Unintentionally, each conversation has migrated to a discussion on the Lord’s Supper, in reference to what God has written as a pattern or example practice in comparison with how easily our modern practice of worship is either influenced by preference, tradition, or philosophy (see this post on Will Worship).

I suppose the reason why these conversations turn towards the Lord’s Supper is because it is universally practiced (generally speaking), though the practice of it has been the subject of debate for nearly 2000 years.  Bear in mind, this isn’t a matter of salvation or even the basis for disunity, however, it does speak to the larger issue of what governs our practices: Scripture, tradition, preference, or some combination.

In 1 Corinthians, we have a troubled ekklesia that is corrected for the widespread problems that they had allowed to creep in, one of which was their practice of observing the Lord’s Supper.  While the Apostle’s instruction on the order of worship begins in 11:2 through then end of chapter fourteen, the introduction of the Lord’s Supper actually begins in chapter 10, with reference to eating food offered to idols,

21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?” 1 Corinthians 10:21-22

The summary of this particular correction is the familiar, 31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

Transitioning to the subject of worship in chapter 11, we find first a discourse on head covering for women (an oft-overlooked and neglected passage) before the Apostle turns his attention more fully to the Lord’s Supper.  This section is broken down into

  1. A Statement of the Problem (11:17-22)
  2. An Appeal to Christ’s Institution of the Lord’s Supper (11:23-26)
  3. Rebuke (11:27-32)
  4. Exhortation (11:33-34)

First, the statement of the problem

17 But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.

Two key phrases set the background for us

  • when you come together 
  • when you come together as a church (ekklesia)

These inform us that the context for this particular correction is the assembly of God’s people, particularly the division and disunity that was taking place at these gatherings.  A third use of coming together, synerchomai, is used again in verse 20 just prior to introduction of the Lord’s Supper, the apparent cause for the divisions.  It’s important to note the negative statement that introduces this subject, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat.

This statement most naturally infers that whatever they were coming together to do, they were ascribing to it a celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  The Apostle places his finger on the pulse of the problem in the verse that follows, 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk,” further illumined by the latter part of verse 22, humiliate those who have nothing.”  

Here then is the situation, the Corinthian ekklesia  was gathering together, having a meal in which it was likely those who were wealthy were bringing and consuming their own food, while those who were poor had very little to bring and consume, thus their humiliation.  Instead of believers coming together and having all things in common (Acts 2:44) and practicing the unity of sharing all their possessions (Acts 4:32), including food, they were selfishly hording their own food while those less fortunate were going without.  Verse 21 highlights this dichotomy, “one goes hungry, another gets drunk“.  The well-to-do were indulging in their own food, perhaps even over-indulging, while the poor were leaving these meetings hungry.  This situation was incurring the displeasure of Paul and the rebuke of, “don’t you have your own houses to indulge in!”  To make matters worse, they were using this entire event as a celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

In order to correct the errant practices, the Apostle appeals to the very words of Christ at the institution of the Lord’s Supper.  Paul does not appeal to tradition, nor does he defer to the preferences of the ekklesia, but to the very Word of God.

The Apostle’s appeal to Scripture goes to the heart of the matter described in the introduction above.  He doesn’t allow the Corinthians to celebrate the Lord’s Supper however they may like, but he appeals to the very words of Christ, in detail, thereby laying a foundational pattern for them to follow.  What governs our practice of celebrating the Lord’s Supper?  We would do well to heed this pattern as well.  In the next post, we’ll look at Paul’s review of this initial supper of the Lord.

The Tragedy of Sluggishness

 

The third, and arguably most significant warning of the Book of Hebrews, is framed by two exhortations against the malady of sluggishness.  The same Greek word, translated as “dull” [of hearing] in Hebrews 5:11 ESV and as “sluggish” in Hebrews 6:12 ESV, forms an inclusio  or brackets for this  central warning against apostasy.

Prior to this passage, the previous two warnings guard against neglect (Hebrews 2:3) and falling away due to an unbelieving or hardened heart (Hebrews 3:12-13), but the chief concern of the author’s warnings does not become fully expressed until now.  Here, within this inclusio, the danger is clear: sluggishness in the Christian life is not only inconsistent with a true profession of faith, but it is spiritually deadly.

Contextually, the first bracket use of sluggish – translated dull [of hearing] – concerns the author’s desire to introduce the concept of Christ as High Priest, after the order of Melchizedek.  Because of their sluggish ears, with which the preacher is intimately familiar, they are unable to bear with, or we might say properly digest, this grand topic of Christ’s priesthood.  As the introduction to this warning unfolds, we find that a person’s ability to grasp and  comprehend the truth’s of God’s Word is intimately related to holiness in a their life, a point drawn out in verses 5:13-14

13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

Making such a strong conclusion that one’s doctrinal capacity is closely related, or even dependent upon, godliness, might sound strange.  But looking closely at the passage above, this is precisely what is being conveyed.  Central to this conclusion are the phrases unskilled in the word of righteousness and powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.  In the former phrase, we see the exhortation that these believers were inexperienced in the gospel as well as its moral or ethical implications.  With the latter phrase, we find this point expanded upon by further defining this inexperience as a failure to habitually exercise the senses (of discernment) to distinguish good from evil.  More pointedly, their error can be boiled down to a lack of wisdom, which we might define as the spiritual ability to derive ethical living from the truths of  God’s Word.  Primarily it was a failure to allow orthodoxy to lead to orthopraxy.

How common is this in our own generation!!

With this in mind, it seems reasonable to conclude that the first use of sluggishness is a reproof against doctrinal apathy leading to moral laxity which in turn leads to further doctrinal deficiency.  There is a symbiotic relationship, a dependency, of doctrine and practice.

The closing bracket of our inclusio of sluggishness takes on a different tone.  After warning his readers on the danger of apostasy and the impossibility of return, the author switches gears to matters of salvation that pertain more closely to his audience.  Below is the closing exhortation of this critically important third warning in Hebrews

Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. 10 For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. 11 And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

It’s important in this conclusion to recognize the commendation that the author gives to his hearers.  Some key observations are noted below:

  1. Work
  2. Love for God’s Name
  3. Serving the saints
  4. Earnestness

Despite the exhortation from earlier to reinvigorate their theological ears and pursue holiness in their individual lives, collectively they are praised for their work in earnestly expressing love for the name of God through their service to other believers.

In summary, this second use of sluggishness is a warning against falling into practical laziness as it relates to the service of other believers, an error into which they had not yet entered, but one that appears to be the logical conclusion of the theological deficiency and moral laxity that they had slipped into.

This warning on the tragedy of sluggishness: laziness in our doctrine, holiness, and love for others, should be taken with the utmost seriousness.  It’s no coincidence that the book’s strongest warning against apostasy is encapsulated by this inclusio of sluggishness.  Therefore, it is imperative for us to be daily reminded of the gospel and its practical implications.  It is not enough to be able to provide a theologically precise definition of justification without being able to see the practicality of that same justification.

The entire book of 1 John presents a similar exhortation: Know God. Grow Holy. Show Love.  That is the summation of the Christian life.  Neglect in any aspect is a recipe for spiritual shipwreck.

Ephesians 4:15 "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ"