Me and My Attitude Toward the Assembly9 min read
Scripture, by varying examples, has furnished us with a vast array of different views toward God’s house; there are some bad examples and some good examples. Of course, there is only one right one, which is His. The question remains for us, then, what attitude we will take, whether it be one consistent with the crowd or consistent with God. In reality, this is the issue which will define every other aspect of assembly life, for if our attitudes do not coincide with God’s, then neither will our ideas regarding assembly practice and pattern. An attitude is really a mind-set or a mentality, which ultimately will be defined by what we feed our minds with. And what we feed our minds with will always determine how we live our lives: “With my mind I serve the law of God” as Paul said in Romans 7. So then, if we feed it with man-made philosophy, we will arrive at opinions about the assembly that God never intended. But if we start with the authority of God in His Word, it is then that our mind will be properly informed, our consciences rightly tuned, our hearts appropriately drawn, and thus our lives consistently lived. This must be our goal when it comes to God’s assembly. The only way to properly behave in it is to think rightly about it.
What Kind of Attitude?
Hopefully this is one of the deep questions of the heart, for if we seriously desire to replicate a Biblical attitude toward God’s assembly then He will be quite ready to open our eyes as to what that attitude is. But if we are passive in even wanting to know the truth of the assembly, then even the clear passages of Scripture will remain without application in our lives. That is a sad alternative. But thankfully it doesn’t have to be ours. Instead we can see what Scripture prescribes as appropriate view toward God’s house
We should first of all be marked by awe. “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded?” These were Solomon’s words in 1 Kings 8 as he wondered at God’s favor toward the temple he built; and the question should come to our minds, is the Lord’s presence less real or less valid in local assemblies today? If not, we have some serious thinking to do about how we approach him with the promise “There am I in the midst.”
Secondly, we see in Psalm 5 a sense of unworthiness to be part of God’s house: “But as for me, I will come into thy house in the multitude of thy mercy.” It was this sense of appreciation that allowed David to say “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD.” Would we not love the assembly more if we realized we are unworthy to be there?
Thirdly, zeal should mark us. “The zeal of Thy house has consumed Me.” These were spoken regarding the Lord Jesus when He drove out the money changers in the Temple. Why? He hated to see the very house of His Father defiled by men who had no concept of just how holy that place was nor reverence for how it should be patterned. Should we not be zealous that God’s house be given its proper place and pattern?
Finally, a deep love for the assembly should mark us in all aspects. “LORD, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thine honour dwelleth.” “One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple.” “For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.” Two questions are appropriate for these verses: (1) Do these represent my attitude toward God’s house today? (2) Is there any reason why they shouldn’t represent my attitude toward it?
An Example of Faithfulness Toward the Assembly
One may wonder after looking at all those references if this is only representative on Old Testament saints and their view of the Temple. Do we really have to have the same view today? Do we really have to be so devoted to God’s people in the assembly that it is primary in our life? To answer these questions, let’s meet a man named Epaphroditus. Paul speaks of him in Philippians 2 to no doubt provide a practical example of the servant mentality he had just elaborated on in saying “Let this mind be in you which also was in Christ Jesus…” Here was a man who had that mind in him. And how was it displayed? By a love for the assembly: “Therefore welcome him in the Lord with all joy, and consider such people highly honored, because on account of the work of Christ he came near to the point of death, risking his life in order that he might make up for your inability to serve me.” (LEB). He was a man committed to the gospel and the assembly, even if it meant his death. Obviously it wasn’t too much for him to say “I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thine honour dwelleth.” And it was clear why Paul said “When he comes, criticize him, because he takes the assembly too seriously. He really needs to learn that the assembly isn’t ‘all that’. So when he comes, make sure to complain about that.” Obviously we should be scratching our heads at that quote, because it doesn’t exist, though one would almost think it does with the amount of criticisms that exist from God’s people toward those who have this type of zeal. Instead Paul said that he should be “highly honored.” Why? He took the things of God seriously – especially His gospel and His assembly. Do we highly honor such men and try to replicate that attitude? Or do we think the place where God’s honor dwells is undeserving of that sort of attention?
Examples of False Approach in God’s House
We have seen the right approach to the place where God dwells and chooses to place His name. But what would the wrong approach look like? And would it be that serious? There are four examples – two from the Old Testament and two from the New – that should answer both of these questions quite conclusively.
The first example we should know well: the death of Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10. What were they guilty of, and why did they die? For offering “strange fire.” What was this fire? Was it especially pagan? Was it demonic? What was the big deal? Just this: they did other than what the holiness of God commanded. It was foreign to His altar. Anywhere else this fire would have been fine, but it had no place in God’s dwelling. So it is with the assembly. Man has his systems and ways in industry and education perhaps, but when God already prescribed a pattern for His assembly, there is no room for those things. Why? God’s authority always takes precedence. But there was another fault of these two men: they came in irreverence. Had they understood the fear of God, surely they would not have dared offer their own fire to Him. A low view of God always produces a low commitment to His words and ways. Do we approach the presence of God in awe? Or do we feel free to come before God with that which is foreign to His holiness? May we learn the solemnity of both irreverence and disobedience as false approaches to the assembly.
Secondly, we see the sons of Eli, Hophni and Phineas. What were they guilty of? They were guilty of “abhorring the offering of the Lord.” In what way? F.W. Grant puts it this way: “Shamelessly and openly they made themselves fat with the offerings of Jehovah’s people, and that with violence which defied Him to His face.” This begs the question, what are we part of an assembly for? Some would say church is for entertainment. Some would say church is for health, wealth, and prosperity. Some would say it is for inspiration. Yet these are all rooted in the same problem which these two priests had: complacency. They thought of self before thinking of God’s demands. Let us not view the assembly as a place were the preferences of self are met: it is about glorifying God in God’s way.
Thirdly, we see in the New Testament Annanias and Sapphira. They sold their land at a time when everybody else was in a “giving mode,” and they thought they should give something too. So they brought part the money from the sale of their land to the apostles and set it at their feet. Then came the lie that this was specifically all the money from their land, when it was only part. What happened? Both collapsed as dead corpses. God wanted to set a principle that amongst God’s people there is no place for hypocrisy. The assembly is no place to make people think I am something that I am not. It is a place of sincerity. What kind of religious masks do we put on when God’s people gather?
Finally, we see Hymenaeus and Alexander, of which Paul says this: “some, thrusting from them, concerning their faith, have made shipwreck, of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan [excommunication], that they may be taught by discipline not to be defaming.” (Rotherham). It is not clear exactly how these men “defamed” or “blasphemed,” but the principle is this: whether it be toward God’s Name or God’s Word, blasphemy constitutes a disregard for the true position those things should have. Thus it makes light of God’s truth, greatness, and authority. Certainly this is definitely a false approach to the assembly if it is worthy of excommunication. How highly to we honor God in His assembly? Is the Word of God our central and constant authority? Is His name upheld? The way we know if His Name and His truth are upheld is to look at one’s view toward the assembly, for God has defined the assembly as the main holder for both those things. May we in light of all these things reconsider our approach to the assembly, asking whether or not we have been Biblical in it, and being humbly willing to change if need be. In reality, we should find areas needing change, for how can we claim to hold the place of God’s honor too highly?