Summary: Our understanding of words like OBEY, WORSHIP, and CHURCH and the purpose of our gatherings has consequences effecting our lives as individuals and as the Church.
After one of the first performances of Handel's Messiah, one nobleman complimented the composer on the entertainment that he had given the town. My lord, said Handel, I should be sorry if I only entertained them. I wish to make them better. So let it be here this morning.
I find the field of etymology interesting. Etymology is the study of words – their origins, their meanings, and how they've evolved to the way they're currently used. For instance, the Old English word that became SILLY meant “blessed.” Because those who are blessed are innocent, through time innocence became the connotation of the word. About 1400, we find sentences such as, “Cely art thou, hooli virgyne marie.” Innocence implies that one is deserving of compassion, and this was the next connotation of the word. If one is deserving of compassion, there is an implication that they are weak and before long the meaning of SILLY became “weak”. In 1633 we find someone has written, “Thou only art the mightie God, but I a sillie worm.” From there, it is a short step to “simple” or “ignorant”, and finally silly came to mean “foolish” - having begun meaning “sanctified by God.”
I once did a personal study on the word OBEY. The Hebrew word for OBEY is sh'ma as in sh'ma O' Israel, “Hear O' Israel”. The Greek word for OBEY is hupakouo - "to listen under.” I'd always lived my Christian life trying to be obedient, trying to DO rightly. But, my study of the Hebrew and Greek words for OBEY showed me that the emphasis is on HEARING rightly. That was an epiphany for me. If I hear rightly, I'll do rightly and, in order to hear rightly, I have to be in right relationship with whoever is speaking. When the Israelites were told that their sacrifices stank, YWHW was saying they were doing rightly, but they weren't hearing rightly because they weren't in right relationship. We can see in his interactions with the religious leaders of his time, that Christ essentially told them the same thing. They didn't hear him rightly and the result was their complicity in his death. I wonder how many people are in churches this morning who are scrupulous in doing what is approved or not doing what is not approved because they've heard the commandments of scripture or of their culture, but they've not heard from God, who loves and approves of them in Christ.
Another word that we Christians tend to use in a way that departs from the original meaning is WORSHIP. We call our services on Sunday morning “Worship Services” and, by that, we confine our worship to the Sunday morning hour when we sing and pray. Throughout the scriptures, WORSHIP is a life-style experience. It is something we do with our whole lives, with all of our being. There would be no “worship wars” over music if we practiced real worship. Paul writes in Romans 12:1, “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” Worship in spirit and truth is the daily and continual dedication and surrender of our lives to God.
A man visited a church service. It was his first time there. It was one of those mornings when the soloist, a tenor, must not have gotten out of bed on the right side.
As the newcomer listened to the faltering voice, he looked around. People were pulling out hymnals to locate the hymn being sung by the soloist.
By the second verse, the congregation had joined the soloist in the hymn. And by the third verse, the tenor was beginning to find the range.
And by the fourth verse, it was beautiful. And on the fifth verse the congregation was absolutely silent, and the tenor sang the most beautiful solo of his life. That is life in the body of Christ, enabling one another to sing the tune Christ has given us.
CHURCH is another word we misuse easily. We say “We go to church at....” or we call this building the church. Ekklesia is the Greek word translated CHURCH and it means a gathering of people. The church is the gathering, not the gathering place. We don't go to a church, we ARE the church. Two words ought to be added on every church sign - “Gathers Here” as in First Baptist Church Gathers Here.
Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why you gather here on Sunday morning? More importantly, have you ever searched the Scriptures for the answer to that question. Not only do many good Christians have fuzzy thinking about words that are central to their lives as Christians, words like OBEY, WORSHIP and CHURCH – they have fuzzy thinking about why they gather together. They assume that the reason we gather together is to worship, evangelize or to listen to a sermon. But are any of those the purposes given in Scripture for our assembling together?