The Believer’s Relationship To Church
There are some places where it is good to turn up empty and leave full. If you’re a customer, this includes the supermarket, the gas station, or a restaurant. There are other places where it is good to turn up full and leave empty. If you’re an athlete, a competitor, or a performer, this includes the arena, the court, or the stage. But which should it be if you’re a believer going to church?
I may be a lone voice on this issue, and I am certainly going against the general direction of culture when it comes to this issue, but it is my conviction that it is better to turn up to church on Sunday full and to leave empty, than it is to turn up empty and expect to be filled. In fact, if any believer takes their walk with Christ and their preparation for eternity seriously, they will be denying themselves one of the greatest blessings they could ever receive if they turn up to church empty and hope to be filled.
If God hadn’t called me to full-time pastoral ministry from a young age, I would have chosen to have become a professional athlete. From an even younger age I had an aptitude for tennis. I was playing in the senior club events when I was still a young teenager. It was my dream to be a professional tennis player. But God had other ideas.
I think about the similarities between playing sport and doing life. Apart from tennis, I take a keen interest in AFL football, particular the team of which I am a member, Geelong. At any particular AFL game where Geelong is playing, there are people who turn up somewhat empty and leave somewhat full. These people are called the spectators. There are also about forty people though who turn up full and leave utterly empty. These are the players.
Church is not meant to be a spectator sport. This idea has nothing to do with the size of the church even though it seems that more people might attend mega-churches because they prefer spectating than participating, as there are many mega-churches that work hard at not simply being a great Sunday show. In fact, I have seen relatively small churches that have succumbed to the idea that “church” is about empty people leaving their services as full people and have dismissed one of their potential advantages (for greater participation from its congregation) and try to make their church service into a spectacle that fills rather than providing worshipers the opportunity to empty.
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
First Corinthians 12:7
Does Worship Empty or Fill Us?
Believers have their devotion to Christ informed by the Scriptures which has the testament of two covenants – the Old Covenant, and the New Covenant. The New Testament (the record of the New Covenant) reveals that what was written in the Old Testament was written to instruct, inspire and give encouragement to followers of Christ.
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
Jesus declared that the New Covenant was not less than the Old Covenant, but was actually the raising of the bar (not the lowering of it). Thus, while we are not saved by works of the Law (Rom. 3:20), the New Covenant reiterates all of the Ten Commandments (with the exception of the Sabbath, see Hebrews 4). In fact, Jesus actually said that the New Covenant goes further and higher than the Old Covenant.
¶ “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
The Covenant that Christ established does not lower the standards or the requirements of the Old Covenant, on the contrary, the New Covenant fulfils and therefore raises the standards established in the Old Covenant. Note Christ’s, “You have heard that it was said …” statements in the beatitudes. The New Covenant not only raises the moral standards, it also raises the standard of devotion to God, that is: worship (Rom. 12:1), and in particular, corporate worship (as distinct from private or individual worship). And one of the most significant advantages of the New Covenant over the Old is that the true follower of Christ has been given the Holy Spirit to enable them live a fully devoted life to God.
The essence of Old Covenant worship was the sacrifice. To worship in the Old Covenant times was to sacrifice. This act of worship looked forward to the establishment of the New Covenant where the Ultimate Sacrifice would be paid by the Ultimate Worshiper. In the Old Covenant, worshipers turned up to the Temple full and left empty and, according to the Psalms, they were glad to do so.
¶ I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD!”
If it is correct that the New Covenant raises rather than lowers each of the standards of the Old Covenant, then what does the New Covenant worship of God now require? The inescapable answer is: greater devotion to God, not less. Therefore, New Covenant corporate (believers together in church) worship of God is meant to empty us, not fill us – it is meant to be where we primarily give rather than where we receive. It is pagan rather than Christian to go to Church with the sole motive of getting what you want, rather than sacrificially rendering to God what He deserves: our devotion. The person who claims to be a believer and says, “I don’t go to church because I don’t get anything out of it!” is neither thinking or speaking Biblically.
you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
First Peter 2:5
Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.
Discovering Fulness While Emptying
I am appealing to every believer to come to church on Sunday (or whenever your local church meets). I am continuing this appeal by urging believers to come to church full. This requires –
- An attitude of a participant, a contributor, a giver., rather than as a spectator or consumer. Turn up early or at least on time. Join in the singing. Bring your Bible and your notebook and pen. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by your connected devices.
- Prayerful preparation irregardless of how you contribute. Don’t just go to church if you are rostered on for some duty! Even if all you are going to be doing this Sunday is attending as a worshiper – come full by praying for those serving on the worship team, the pulpit team, the children’s ministry, the ushers team, the hospitality team, the audio/visual team. Pray that God might use you to bless someone else and be open to how God might use you to answer your own prayer. If you are serving in one or another of the above mentioned ministries then come prayerfully prepared and full.
- Come financially prepared to contribute. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is there your heart will be also.” How we use money is a great indication of where our heart really is. No matter what your financial circumstances, you can adopt an attitude of a cheerful giver, and give something that reflects your heart’s devotion to Christ. When there is a special offering for a mission’s cause, don’t simply reallocate your current giving, fill up a bit more and come prepared to more fully give. Remember, God gives seed to the sower not the stower (2Cor. 9:10).
The key words for being full as a believer are preparation and delight. There are two other significant ways to be a full believer. The first is to be a believer whose hands and feet are washed, so to speak, by their daily devotions to God’s Word (Jn. 13:6-8).
¶ And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
To be a full believer is to be filled with the Holy Spirit afresh (Rom. 14:17; Gal. 5:25; Eph. 5:18). Seek God through the busyness of your week to be filled afresh with the Holy Spirit.
praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,
The delightful mystery of coming to church full with the intention of sacrificially emptying ourselves of what God has given us is that it is only in our emptying that we can be made full again. This delight is multiplied when we discover that as we empty ourselves in devotion to Christ and His Church we are in the midst of other believers who are similarly emptying themselves in worship of God and what they present often becomes God’s means of filling us!
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
First Peter 4:10-11
I pray that you will make this delightful discovery. The church you attend is the place where Christ beckons you to come full and leave empty. In doing so, you discover what the basket holding the fish and the loaves on the day Jesus fed 5,000 might have realised – our emptying is Christ’s means of filling others and ourselves!
Pastor Andrew Corbett, 11th March 2016
Pastor of Legana Christian Church, Tasmania