“I’m okay. Been really busy.”
When I ask members of our church how they’re doing, this is, by far, the most common response. Between work and commutes, marriage and kids, classes and chores, weekend social lives and commitments to the church, it’s no wonder that many of us are under-rested and over-extended.
Thanks to social media, we have more relationships than we can possibly keep up with. Thanks to the consumeristic undercurrent of our national economy, we accumulate more “stuff” than we can possibly maintain (where else in the world do people have multiple garage sales in a year). Our American lives are typically overloaded, leading us to dutifully lay “Sabbath” on the alter of productivity and performance.
Life feels hard. We have to work at work…work at our marriages…work at parenting…work at studying…work on the yard…the garage…the budget…the laundry…the dishes…the pets…to name only a few.
Work. Work. Work. And then there’s church.
Ugh! One more thing.
You ever feel that way? I do sometimes. And I’m a pastor! There have been Sunday gatherings in which I just wanna preach, pray, and then go take a nap. I’m tired. We filled up yet another weekend. My wife feels “disconnected.” My kids are gassed…and they have school the next day. We started this congregation already having established friendships and family, and now we’ve added more.
Ugh! Sometimes I just wanna disappear and take a nap.
Stop furrowing your brow. You do too.
Yet, churching with others is not optional. When you and I were saved by God’s grace through Christ alone, we were not only saved from something (eternal condemnation under the righteous wrath of God) but into something (the Church). The apostle Paul describes our salvation as a kingdom-transfer (Colossians 1:13). God doesn’t save a sinner out of the “domain of darkness” into…an isolated oblivion.
In other words, the New Testament knows nothing of an “unchurched” Christian.
Not only that, but the Bible weaves together more than 30 different “one another” commands to create a beautiful tapestry called the church. We are to love one another, guard one another, encourage one another, and submit to one another and to the elder(s) of the church.
How are under-rested and over-extended Christians to do that?! Here are at least two (though there are many more) things I’d like for you to consider:
THE GRACE OF GOD TURNS DUTIES INTO DELIGHTS
Rather than be too wordy here, I would encourage you to go back a read the recent post on “indicatives” and ‘imperatives.” The grace afforded to us by faith alone in the gospel (indicatives) always grants us the necessary means by which we observe God’s imperatives for His Church.
Because our righteousness is found in Christ alone through faith alone, we are relieved from the burden of earning God’s acceptance by our works-righteousness. Even though we aren’t saved by our good works, the Bible teaches us that we were saved for good works (Ephesians 2:10). These good works, including loving, encouraging, guarding, and submitting to others in the context of a local church are the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s power in our life.
And the Holy Spirit never contradicts or nullifies His own commands. He hasn’t commanded that we “stir up one another to love and good works, [by] not neglecting to meet together (Hebrews 10:25),” only to back-peddle on Sunday morning! “Yeah, I know I gave that command, but you’re tired. You’ve had a busy week. You’re not really ‘feeling’ like being around people, so don’t worry about it. After all, that’s what grace is for!”¹
May it never be! God is truthful and good in all of his demands! They are, in and of themselves, grace! And we’ve have been given grace through the power of the Holy Spirit to actively heed his gracious instruction! He’s not given us grace in order to make our lives easier, but that we might have supernatural, Jesus-centered joy as our lives get harder and more demanding (which is the inevitable consequence of living in committed community). We have been given grace upon grace for our good, the good of others, and ultimately, God’s glory! This was John Bunyan’s point about the grace of the gospel:
Run, John, run, the law commands
But gives us neither feet nor hands,
Better news the gospel brings:
It bids us fly and gives us wings.
In other words, God has given us all that we need in the gospel to do all that he’s commanded us to do. Even when you’re tired and stressed and “not feeling it,” God bids you fly…and, through the gospel, gives you wings!!! There’s no fear. No condemnation. No guilt.
This gospel grace should be constantly transforming our vision for and commitment to Christ’s church from a dutiful “have to” into a delightful “get to!” He is making us more obedient and more loving and more committed and more holy, not by guilt through fear, but grace through faith!
THINK ABOUT OUR GATHERING DAY AS THE FIRST DAY OF YOUR WEEK, NOT THE LAST.
Weekends are precious. I get it. We think in terms of 5-day work weeks and 2-day weekends, unless there’s a Hallmark holiday that gives us 1 or 2 extra days off. Regardless, we’re culturally conditioned to think about and to guard this time as my time to detox from my week.
However, the Bible doesn’t seem to treat our Sunday’s like a second Saturday.² In fact, the early church began gathering on the “first day of the week” because it was the day that Christ rose from the dead. Consider a couple of examples:
On the first day of the week, when we were gathered to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight (Acts 20:7).
Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper (1 Corinthians 16:1-2).”
Let’s make a few observations from these texts: First, the church gathered not on the last day of the week, but the first day of the week. The first day of the week is the most important day of the week. It’s the day that sets the tone for all subsequent days. Unlike the last day of the week, the first day doesn’t get our “leftovers,” but the best of our energies.
Second, all churches gathered at this time, not just in Troas (Acts 20) and Corinth, but also in “Galatia,” per Paul’s binding command (“as I directed the churches” -see above). We can confidently assume that gathering on the “first day of the week” is the normative, biblical pattern for Christ’s churches.
Third, this “first day” was committed to meaningful (as opposed to perfunctory) fellowship (“breaking bread”), to the teaching of God’s Word (Acts 20:7) and to financially providing for (as our Church Covenant states) “the continuance of a faithful gospel ministry” (1 Cor. 16:1-2). In other words, at the beginning of each week, Christians would gather into local churches to live out Word-driven, communal, generous lives in response to God’s grace.
Finally, consider Paul’s example from Acts 20. Knowing that he would be leaving their fellowship the following day and jumping back into the grind, he made every single moment count on this “first day of the week” by prolonging his speech until midnight (now that’s an evening service! Haha.)
Knowing that we’ll be back at the grind on Monday, let us make every moment count on our Sundays to love, encourage, and guard one another. Let us not treat Sunday as our last day of the week, worthy only of our leftovers, but as the first day of the week, worthy of our best energies and highest attention!
With the same intentionality that we approach getting ourselves prepared for the work week or our kids for school, let us prepare ourselves in advance to gather with God’s people around God’s Word. Let us labor to arrive early to meet with one another and then linger even longer afterwards to talk with others about what just happened at our gathering (the same way you would with a friend after seeing a good movie together). Let us be in one another’s houses or around restaurant tables for lunches and dinners. Take advantage of our monthly evening gathering on the first Sunday of each month to meet with, sing with, and pray with your brothers and sisters!
I pray that our time together each week as a church would be the fount from which our affections for Christ are fed throughout the week as we seek to love, encourage, and guard one another with the gospel!
Oh, how might the remainder of our week be transformed if we viewed Sunday as the first day of the week instead of the last? How might your spiritual good and that of those around you be affected if we gave the best of our energies to gathering together with God’s people around God’s Word before scattering into our various vocations throughout the week?
I personally look forward to beginning our week together! See you this Lord’s Day!
¹No doubt, life happens. Kids get sick. New babies arrive. We’re taken out of town on business or vacation. That’s okay! The point of this statement is not create some hard-line legalism around church attendance, but to bring the purpose of grace into greater focus. Grace never nullifies God’s commands to us, but enables and strengthens us, through the power of the Spirit, to wage war against our sinful motivations while progressively growing in love for Christ through obedience to His commandments (John 14:21). This growth process is called sanctification.
²I realize that we have Christian brothers and sisters who gather on Friday’s in muslim contexts since Friday is “gathering day,” even though in Arabic, Sunday corresponds with the first day of the week according to the planetary calendar. These are contextually-sensitive matters of prudence toward which much charity should be practiced.