Summary: As God’s Church we gather together to worship God as his people; to remember Jesus’ death on the cross on our behalf; to build one another up; to stir one another up to love and good works; and to encourage one another to persevere to the end.
What does it mean to be God’s Church? That is, God’s people, literally ’called out’ of the world. Why should we meet regularly with other believers in this place? What do we think we’re doing when we gather here Sunday after Sunday?
Perhaps you’ve never really stopped to think about those sorts of questions. Your answer might be that we’ve always done it: ’as it was in the beginning so now and ever shall be.’ You might want to say we meet together as God’s church because that’s what we are and that’s what God’s church does. Some of our younger members might say they only come because their parents make them!
Others who, perhaps, think more theologically might say they come here to worship. After all, that’s what many of our songs say isn’t it? "Here I am to Worship;" "Be still for the presence of the Lord is here;" Blessed be your name;" "Glory and Honour to God." And of course they’d be right. One of the things we do when we gather together is to worship God. But then if that were all we were doing then some people would suggest, in fact have suggested, that they can do that just as well by themselves down at the beach or out in the bush, or working in the garden. And they might be right because every part of life should be bringing worship to God.
But I want to suggest to you today that there’s a lot more to our meeting together than just our worship of God, although what I’m going to suggest to you will in fact enhance that worship. I want to concentrate mainly on the passage we just read from Hebrews 10, but I will also jump to other parts of the New Testament as we go through the passage.
The first thing we need to notice from Heb 10 is that the temple is no longer relevant as the focus of worship. We’re told Jesus has done away with the need to come week after week to offer sacrifices for sins. He’s offered a single offering, once for all, making us perfect in God’s sight. Jesus has opened the way for each of us into God’s heavenly sanctuary. Now we can worship God wherever we are. So the physical building isn’t the issue. Do you remember what Jesus said to the woman of Samaria? "The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." (John 4:23-24) So worship may be central to all we do, but it isn’t a sufficient reason to gather as a body each Sunday morning. There’s nothing special about this particular building. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that worship isn’t the greatest thing we can do together. It’s just that worship is something we can and should do wherever we are. You can do it in your small group. The youth can do it on a Friday night as they’re hanging out together. You can do it over a meal. You can do it while you’re working, It sounds a bit like the Melbourne Bitter ad. "As a matter of fact you can do it now." But we don’t need a special place or time in order to worship.
What’s more, we no longer need someone else to remind us of God’s laws. The Spirit has been given to us to imprint those laws on our hearts, on our minds. In that sense the need for a special priesthood is done away with. We all now belong to the priesthood of all believers.
But having said that there is still a need for us to be challenged by the reading of God’s word. Paul in Romans 12 says: "I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God..."
In order to bring us to true worship of God, we need our minds to be renewed, to be shaped to the will of God. And how does that happen? What process does the Spirit use to transform us? He uses the teaching of the Scriptures. In various places we find the exhortation to listen to those God has gifted in teaching. The gifts that are listed in 1 Cor 12 and Eph 4 are heavily weighted to the proclamation and teaching gifts: apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists. In 1 Cor 14:19 where Paul is addressing the issue, in the public gathering, of speaking in tongues, an activity that it seems was primarily focused on worship of God, he says "in church I would rather speak five words with my mind, in order to instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue." His point was that the public gathering is a place for the gospel to be proclaimed, for people to be called to repent and to be encouraged to grow in their faith, not a place for people to indulge in their private devotions to God.