Principles of Beneficial Assemblies
As Christians, we assemble together to worship the God. He is our Creator. He is also our Redeemer. Every good thing in which we can put our hope is because of Him. It is in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, that we praise Him. In the assembly with other disciples, we together to worship the Lord our God and encourage one another. We seek to do so in a manner that honors and pleases Him. Not everything that men call “worship” is pleasing to God.
There are certain characteristics that will make the worship assembly the experience that it ought to be. Our first goal is to please God, not man. We have failed if we do not please Him whose name we profess to adore.
The Necessity of Assembling
It is important for faithful Christians to join with their brothers and sisters to praise the Lord, our God and Creator. It is the worshippers that benefit from this, and God is pleased with worship offered in spirit and in truth. Early faithful Christians did this regularly (Acts 2:41,42; Hebrews 10:23-25).
God tells us in His Word that this is a good and necessary thing to do, and, in fact, even warns us not to neglect it. And not only is the mere frequency of assembling with others for worship important, but also the spirit and the activity which takes place. Our assemblies need to be arranged according to that which He has directed us in the Scriptures, or else our worship can be vain (Matthew 15:9; 1 Corinthians 11:17; Amos 5:21-23). We can insure that our assemblies are not in vain by resting on the authority of Jesus in all we say and do (Colossians 3:17).
Going back through time to approximately five centuries before Christ, we are able to gain some insight into the characteristics of an acceptable worship assembly. It was during the days of Nehemiah and Ezra, leaders in the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the people had returned from Babylonian captivity. We find an account of a very special assembly and it is good to notice what went into it to make it such a success. We find the account of this assembly in Nehemiah chapter eight. Though we are now under a new covenant, made effectual by the blood of God’s Son, the principles of sound worship remains the same.
Zeal for the Assembly
“And all the people gathered as one man at the square which was in front of the Water Gate, and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the Lord had given to Israel.” (Nehemiah 8:1). This verse tells us a couple things which indicate the eagerness of the worshippers to gather together to worship. First, we see that virtually everyone who could be there was there. The text says, “And all the people gathered...” These people were involved in their faith, and sought more involvement, a far cry from some today who severely limit themselves by avoiding assembling with the brethren beyond what they consider to be a bare minimum. That is why there are more people assembling on Sunday morning than at other assemblies. It is simply a lack of zeal.
The excellent attendance of this assembly was due to the fact that they “wanted” to be there, not because they “had” to be there. Verse one tells us that “they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law...” It was the people who asked for the assembly, and added, in effect, that Ezra needed to be sure and remember to bring his “Bible.”
“And all the people gathered as one man ...” (Nehemiah 8:1a). The phrase “as one man” suggests that it was as if one mind was directing them all. Of course, there were many different minds, but they were all in agreement. They had all made the exact same decision. They would take advantage of this wonderful opportunity.
In the New Testament, the assemblies at Corinth had been severely damaged by disunity and strife (1 Corinthians 1:10). The members were told to rid themselves of jealousies and strife which were unbecoming to Christians. They were told that though they were many members, they were still one body, and ought to be bonded together by love and mutual respect (1 Corinthians 12:12,13).
Sometimes a lack of zeal for assembling together may be caused by a lack of concern for one's brethren. Many seem to have an attitude that is well expressed by the following poem, author unknown:
To live above with saints we love,
Oh, that will be glory.
But, to live below with saints we know,
Well, that's another story.
“And he read from it... in the presence of men and women, those who could understand; and all the people were attentive to the book of the law.” (Nehemiah 8:3). Worship, even in the assembly, calls for personal involvement. Minds and hearts must be focused; else true worship is not taking place at all even though one is physically present. Let our minds stay at the same place as our bodies are when we are in the assembly and attentive to our purpose. This calls for discipline and effort.
But the effort is easier to make when one realizes that God's word is meaningful to everyday life. Learning from God is not merely a mental exercise. It is not a trivia contest. Only when faith is as personal and meaningful as it ought to be will attentiveness come much easier.
If one realizes that in the assembly we seek understanding of God's very word and power unto salvation, then attention should come much easier (1 Thessalonians 2:13; Romans 1:16) We are together to worship “the King of kings and the Lord of lords.” (Revelation 19:16).
Preparation for the Occasion
“And Ezra the scribe stood at a wooden podium which they had made for the purpose...” (Nehemiah 8:4). We see that this was not merely a spontaneous event. The people had planned for it in advance and had made preparation. There needs to be some preparation for worship today as well.
First, we do need accommodations, just as they did. Things need to be arranged so all can hear the word of the Lord. We see the church in the New Testament assembling in a provided place, well lit so reading and teaching could be done (Acts 20:7,8).
Personal preparation ought to be made as well. Good rest, prayer, personal study and being on time are all things that will help in our preparations. Teachers, readers, preachers and song leaders ought to prepare themselves so that the goal of edification may be satisfied.
When the Book was opened to read, the people all “stood up” (8:5). Later they bowed as they worshipped (8:6). The people acknowledged the seriousness and the truth of what was read by responding “Amen!” (8:6). Today as well, each one should reverently join in the proceedings by singing praises (Ephesians 6:19), by giving the “Amen” as it is appropriate (1 Corinthians 14:14-16), by considering carefully the things that are taught and by partaking thoughtfully in the Lord's Supper. The results will be as rewarding today as they were back in Nehemiah's day. Joy and confidence and a profound awareness of God's blessings is the result of faithful worship of God as we encourage one another (Nehemiah 8:8-12).
By Jon W. Quinn
Expository Files 23.8; August 2016