|The Christian Life||December 1942|
Reverence in the House of God
“… Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name …”—Luke 11:2
REVERENCE, according to Webster, is a “Profound respect mingled with fear and affection, as for a holy being or place, or an exalted thing.” This is in general line with the meaning of the various Hebrew and Greek words used in the Bible to describe the proper attitude of Christians toward the Heavenly Father. In our text the Greek word translated “hallowed” means to reverence. Thus, in giving us the model prayer of which the text is a part, the Master emphasizes the importance of proper reverence when we approach the throne of heavenly grace; and this proper attitude of reverence in prayer should be reflected in all we say and do. Indeed, prayer itself should be a reflection of Christian desire and endeavor.
While there is an element of fear in true reverence for God, yet those of us who are rejoicing in the knowledge of Present Truth have learned to know the love and mercy of God, hence we do not dread Him. We realize that fear, in the sense of fright, or dread, is “taught by the precepts of men.” (Isa. 29:13) Our fear, therefore, is more that of fearing lest we come short of doing the whole will of God. The apostle says, “Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.” (Heb. 4:1) This is not a fear of punishment.
We have lost the fear of eternal torment but our love and respect for God should be a restraining influence in our lives to keep us from conducting ourselves in ways unbecoming children of God. Natural Israelites had this lesson impressed upon them, and spiritual Israelites should not be less sober and reverent in their devotions. In Ecclesiastes 5:1 we read, “Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools; for they consider not that they do evil.”
To the natural Israelites the “house of God” was the temple, or sanctuary, where, through the priests, God met with them. In the case of spiritual Israel there are two viewpoints of God’s house, and the spirit of reverence is important with respect to both. In the larger picture all the consecrated constitute God’s house, each individual being a living stone in it. In a more restricted sense we may think of God’s house as being the formal assemblies of His people, where, even if as few as two or three can get together they may have the assurance of the divine presence. Here also the spirit of reverence is vitally important to proper Christian growth, and to obtain the largest possible blessing.
Typical Israelites were admonished to have great reverence for the temple of God, consequently the devout ones more or less cherished every stone in that typical building. Should not we maintain a similar attitude toward the “living stones” in God’s spiritual temple of this age? To have such reverence means that in all of our associations with the brethren we will seek to conduct ourselves in a manner pleasing to the Lord, and with the view of being the greatest possible blessing to them. This means that our viewpoint as Christians cannot properly be a selfish, self-centered one.
While it is true that we have an individual standing with the Lord, yet it is also true that our place in the divine arrangements is that of one living stone among all the rest, so that God’s will for us is blended into His will for the others. God does not make a separate plan for each one of His people in an effort to fit in with their individual whims and wishes. His plan is for the temple class, and our individual standing with Him is in connection with the pace He has for us in the temple. To keep this viewpoint in mind will help us to appreciate our brethren more, and to seek more earnestly to carry out God’s will in our association with them. We will want to share the rich blessings of divine grace which the Lord has for all the temple class.
THE WHOLE COUNSEL OF GOD
In Psalms 111:10 we read that, “the fear [reverence] of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” This means simply that only by properly realizing our own lack of wisdom, and being willing to be instructed by the Lord through His Word, may we expect both to start and to make progress in the narrow way that leads to life. If we truly reverence the Lord we will want to be taught of Him, not in a few things only, but in all things. This means that we will gladly set aside our own puns, as well as the plans of others, and accept instead the Lord’s plan for us. We will gladly do this, not in a few things only, but in all things, knowing that only by obedience to every word that proceedeth from God may we hope to please Him whom we love and reverence so much.
Viewed thus we see that reverence is not only the beginning of wisdom, but is the completion of wisdom also. To whatever extent, therefore, we fail to give heed to His Word, to that same extent we will fail to attain the divine wisdom that cometh down from above. This wisdom is first pure, then peaceable. (Jas. 3:17) If we decide that for our own individual best interests we will maintain peace through the sacrifice of purity it would mean that we lack a proper reverence for God and for His ways. This principle holds true with respect to every detail of the Christian rife, from the beginning to the very end.
The Psalmist expresses the proper thought of reverence saying, “Give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name; worship [Heb. shachah—reverence] the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” (Psa. 29:2) To give unto the Lord that which is due His name means obedience to His every instruction, to “tremble at His Word.” (Isa. 66:5; II Cor. 10:5) Thus the divine will becomes the regulator of the life—every detail of it. To properly reverence the Lord, then, means that we will not question, nor attempt to sidestep, any of the instructions of His Word.
Every phase of the divine will is fundamentally important to us as Christians. Lack of respect for any part of it means not only that we are out of harmony with God, but of harmony also with His people. The Lord will overrule in the case of any harm which may come to others by disobedience on our part, but He will not prevent us from suffering loss ourselves. Human reasoning frequently seeks to find excuses for not obeying this or that detail of the divine will. The human mind likes to think that God will make certain exceptions because of unusual circumstances. It is irreverent to yield to such reasonings.
THE FOUR LOYALTIES
The over-all picture of loyalty to the divine will embraces in a general way four main aspects; namely, (1) loyalty to the doctrines of the truth, beginning with the ransom, and including dispensational truth; (2) loyalty to the high standards of Christian conduct set forth in the Scriptures, that we may be conformed to the image of Christ; (3) loyalty to divine instructions pertaining to zeal in the service of the truth as ambassadors for Christ; and (4) loyalty to the divine arrangements of organization in the church, that is, to the arrangements which pertain to local ecclesia activities. A tendency to ignore the divine will along any one of these lines would indicate a lack of reverence for God, and something short of a full determination to please Him in all respects.
It is not enough that we profess to be sound in the doctrines of the truth. It is not enough that in addition to this, we seek to attain a high standard of righteousness in our personal living. It is not enough that in addition to both of these, we also are zealously laying down our lives in God’s service. In addition to all these, we should have respect for God’s arrangements for the co-operative efforts of His people in each local community.
Some may find it comparatively easy to develop Christian character, yet shrink from the sacrifice involved in serving the truth. With such the fleshly mind might reason that God does not expect us to let our light shine, but reverence for God’s ways will keep us from yielding to the desires of the flesh in this connection. Others may find it to their liking to preach the truth, yet find it irksome to keep their bodies under the control of the divine laws regulating Christian conduct. Reverence for. God will lead these to a more resolute effort along this line, realizing that to obey is better than sacrifice.
To believe and teach all the doctrines of the truth also places a test upon the Christian. There may be reasons why some would prefer to omit certain of the doctrines. Perhaps in a desire to put peace ahead of purity, some might be tempted to ignore dispensational truth lest those who do not agree with it should be offended; but reverence for God will help to cast down this desire of the flesh, and cause one to believe and teach the whole truth irrespective of whether others hear or whether they forbear. Reverence for God’s ways, however, will cause us to proclaim the truth in kindness, and with a desire to help others rather than to exhibit our knowledge.
We may not be severely tested in connection with any of the first three points, yet find our flesh rebelling against the fourth. The flesh might reason that the brethren in our community, who meet together as an ecclesia are such impossible people to mingle with that we will be better off by ourselves. It might be that we have permitted a personal animosity to develop against one or more in the ecclesia with which we should be cooperating, and on account of this separate from the congregation of the saints; or feel that we would like to do so. Reverence for God and respect for His rules will prevent our raking such a tragic mistake.
The flesh may reason that the local ecclesia does not properly appreciate us. We may reason that we should be given more recognition—such as being elected an elder or a deacon. Perhaps we have served thus, and the ecclesia decides to ignore us for a time. These matters are severe tests, but are not Scriptural reasons why we should separate from the saints. It may be that the ecclesia is exercising poor judgment in not electing us to some official position, or in electing us to some position which we consider comes short of our real ability. But it may be the Lord’s will to permit the ecclesia to make this mistake in order that we be tested and perhaps prepared for some better service later on. If we fail under the test, and leave the ecclesia because we were not recognized, is it, not a proof that no mistake was made by that ecclesia?
In Psalms 84:10 David declares, “I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.” The Hebrew word resha, here translated “wickedness,” is from a root word which is translated “make trouble” in the text, “When He giveth quietness, who then can make trouble?” (Job 34: 29.) The word resha itself means “morally wrong.” What the Prophet David is saying, then, is that to be outside of the house of God is morally wrong, and that one adhering to this wrong principle is to a greater or less extent a disturber or trouble maker. David, who speaks prophetically for the church, says that he would rather accept the humblest position within the house of God than to be in this unfortunate position on the outside.
Isolated brethren who live in communities where there are no others of like precious faith with whom to meet and fellowship have made up to them by the Lord the blessings which they thus lose; but where it is possible to meet together and cooperate as ecclesias the Lord will not grant the richest of His blessings except to those who are able to submerge their own preferences sufficiently to enable them to dwell together in unity with the remainder of the consecrated. If our spiritual vision is clear we should realize that to be above humbling ourselves and cooperating with the brethren in harmony with the Laws of the New Creation as set forth in the Scriptures and in Volume Six of Studies in the Scriptures, would not be manifesting a proper attitude of reverence for the Lord and for His ways.
Failure to reverence God and obey Him along any line does not mean that one will fail to make his calling and election sure. God permits His people to make mistakes in order that they may learn to trust Him more fully, and be taught to humble themselves more fully under His mighty hand. He may permit us to make doctrinal mistakes; character mistakes; manifest a zeal that is not according to knowledge; and He may permit us to make the mistake of ignoring or fighting against the discipline of the ecclesia with which we are associated, even to the extent of withdrawing from the ecclesia; yet later, when we have learned the necessary lesson, give us strength to step back into the right way. All of us stumble at times along one line or another, but the Lord can and will pick us up again if our hearts are in the right attitude toward Him.
DECORUM IN THE CHURCH
While the church of God embraces His people at large, scattered throughout the whole earth, yet from another standpoint each assembly of the saints is looked upon by God as the church. Reverence in the house of God, therefore, includes a proper conducting of ourselves while enjoying the blessings of these assemblies. Many of us could doubtless be more watchful along this line to the mutual helpfulness of all. Having lost the fear of eternal torment, and been brought into the liberty of Christ, let us be watchful that we do not become irreverent in our rejoicing over the truth and the blessings it has brought into our lives.
The Lord has promised to meet with His people when they come together in His name. Our reverence for His presence should cause us to conduct ourselves with dignity and soberness when meeting with His people. We should not endeavor to copy the formalism of nominal churchianity, but we should avoid the spirit of levity which would be disrespectful to the Lord, who, according to His promise, meets with us when we come together.
The Scriptures do not, of course, give us any set rule to follow in these matters, but it seems to us that a proper spirit of reverence for the Lord would lead us, when entering a room where a meeting is in session, or to open within a few minutes, to refrain from loud talking, etc., and to quietly take our seats and thus be attentively ready to heed the opening remarks of the brother who is to conduct the meeting. It sometimes happens that the chairman of a meeting has to clap his hands rather loudly in order to get the attention of the brethren long enough to announce the opening hymn, and even then many fail to hear the number announced and need to ask others after the singing starts. This condition is not, of course, the result of any desire to be irreverent, but is merely a matter of thoughtlessness. We believe that if more thought could be given to matters of this kind, we would receive greater blessings from our meetings.
In the meetings of smaller ecclesias this point may not seem so important, but in the larger gatherings a little more self-discipline on the part of the brethren would, we feel, be very appropriate. In writing along this line we are merely reflecting a general desire to which expression has been given by many brethren throughout the entire country. It has come to our attention specially in connection with conventions; and we might say even more particularly with respect to the public meetings usually held at conventions.
The Lord’s people are a happy, joyful people. They have a right to be; and there is no doubt but what the Lord is pleased to have us rejoice in all the wonderful blessings He is daily bestowing upon us. But for the interests of the truth, and in the spirit of helpfulness toward those whom we desire to reach with the truth, we feel that all of us could contribute to the effectiveness of a. public meeting if, when in the meeting hall while the public is gathering, we could for that little time, refrain from visiting with other friends, and quietly take seats while waiting for the opening of the meeting. Such might prove to be a wonderful opportunity for a few moments of meditation and silent prayer for the Lord’s blessing upon the meeting; and besides the public coining into such a quiet and dignified atmosphere would not be confused and shocked, as has sometimes been the case in the past. It is not within the province of any of us to lay down rules for others. We are only reflecting what seems to be a general desire on the part of many when offering these suggestions.
TYPES OF MEETINGS
The Scriptures give us no set rule as to the manner in which meetings should be conducted, but whatever the order of the meeting may be, the one who conducts it in a very special way represents the Lord. The spirit of reverence should lead all in the meeting to respect him by being attentive to what he says. This should be whether the brother is giving a discourse, leading a testimony meeting, or conducting a study meeting. A little more thoughtfulness along this line may add greatly to the blessings of the meetings.
In these matters, as well as in other matters pertaining to the Christian life, the preferences of the flesh should be set aside in the interests of the meetings as a whole. For example, we all have our preferences as to where we like to sit during a meeting, and it would seem that very few prefer to sit in the front seats. The result is that sometimes the front seats are the only ones left vacant for those who are unavoidably late in arriving. This means that they have to walk by and disturb the entire congregation in order to find a seat. While this is happening the audience loses the thought of the speaker, and the speaker is himself distracted. This could be avoided by a little sacrifice of preference on the part of those who arrive early by taking the front seats and leaving the rear seats for the late comers.
On occasions brethren find it necessary to leave a meeting before it is over. When this is known in advance, the loving, considerate thing to do would be to occupy a seat near the rear of the auditorium, thus making it possible to leave with the least possible degree of commotion. The spirit of reverence calls for thoughtfulness along all these lines. They may seem trivial, but we are sure that the Lord is pleased to see us anxious to be faithful in these little things. Along this same general line we quote the following excerpts from the pen of Brother Russell:
SOME THOUGHTS FROM THE REPRINTS
“Order is heaven’s first law. We must lack reverence for our Heavenly Father and for our Master if we are less prompt in the Lord’s affairs than we are in our own.”
“Reverence is very becoming. We have lost the fear that God will cast us into eternal torment. Decorum is necessary in every place where God is worshipped. We should not be given to laughter, levity, foolish talk and jesting.”
“We have God in the church today in a sense that He never was in the typical temple. Wherever there is a meeting of the members of the church, the Lord has declared that He will be there. The living stones constituting the temple of God should be as fully reverenced as temples made of literal stones.”
“Wherever God’s people meet, that building is made a holy place. Therefore, whoever approaches it should do so with a watchfulness of his feet. He should be ready to “hear”—to listen—not to be full of mirth. All conversation should be of a kind that would edify—build up—along spiritual lines. Whatever conversation be carried on, it should be with reverence, not merely for the place, but for the occasion.”
“The Lord wants the quality of reverence to grow strong. We should show that our endeavors to do the Lord’s will are equal to the desires of our hearts. We are required to manifest character.”
“When fear is banished, the tendency is to less reverence. Special care in this respect is necessary.”
“Whoever has not learned the primary lesson of reverence has not made a proper start in his worship and service.”
“We should be on time—coming late is out of harmony with the principles of both justice and love, for we should always seek not to annoy others.”
“If we are indifferent to the rights of others we manifest that we are lacking in the spirit of love—the spirit of God.”
“We should be clean. Should not take children who are not properly trained.”
“Let us not only desire to do the Lord’s will, but if we do it His way we will hearken to the statements of the Word. Let us be amongst those who ‘tremble at His Word’—those who are careful to note and follow the Word of the Lord in every matter.”
“God now tests our professions of love and devotion and obedience most thoroughly by some of the smallest matters. No act of respect or obedience is too small. We should have the spirit of obedience.”
SUGGESTIONS FOR STUDY MEETINGS
The blessings obtainable from a Berean Study Meeting depend largely upon the manner in which all in the meeting cooperate. The leader should always be recognized, which means that the brethren should not answer back and forth to each other, but when speaking should always address the chair. Failure in this may turn the meeting into chaos. While the success of the meeting depends to a considerable extent upon the alertness and ability of the chairman, yet he is helpless to conduct an orderly study unless all in the class cooperate.
For many years the following method of procedure has proven to be very helpful: The chairman first propounds a question based upon the subject matter of the lesson in hand. This may be a question of his own framing or one from the Berean Question Booklet. No other question should be injected into the discussion until this one is disposed of by a summing up of the chairman. If there are two or three questions on the floor at once the friends become confused as to which one they are trying to answer.
In most cases we believe it is wise to put the question to one or more individuals in the class before throwing it open to general discussion. If this is not done it could happen that a few would do all the answering. A good leader will learn to know the class and should encourage those who are backward about answering by put ting questions to them that he is reasonably sure they can answer, putting the more difficult questions to those longer in the truth and more experienced in expressing themselves. The ideal to strive for in a study meeting is to have all take some part in the discussion, even if it is only to read a passage from the Bible or from the Volume being used as a text book for the study.
After the leader’s own question or questions on the paragraph have been discussed, then the opportunity should be given for others to ask questions. It is well in handling these questions to give the questioner the last chance to answer, that is, just before the leader gives his answer. Sometimes a brother or sister asks a question merely to obtain information, and in this case would not have any thought to express, but on the other hand, questions are often asked, and properly so, with the desire to bring out some special thought the questioner has in mind, hence he should always be given an opportunity to answer his own question.
We should remember that in our study meetings, as well as in our individual study of the Bible, the object is to really learn something, not to be like those referred to by the apostle who are ever learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth. For this reason a conclusion should be reached, if possible, on all questions discussed. This conclusion should be expressed by the chairman. To the extent that this ideal can be attained the brethren will go away from a meeting much more edified than they would if the meeting had consisted merely of the expressing of numerous but unrelated opinions and ideas.
The spirit of reverence dictates that we be as helpful to others as possible, not only in our individual relationship with them, but also in the general assemblies of the saints. Thus, for example, if a meeting is set aside for prayer, praise and testimony we will not take advantage of the friends by giving a discourse. A testimony meeting is not the place to exhort the brethren as to what they should do, but an opportunity to express briefly what the Lord has done and is doing for us; to tell of encouraging or trying experiences we may have had during the week, etc.
Just as we should be diligent in adding to our faith virtue and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge temperance, etc., etc., so we should endeavor to be faithful in all the little things by which we can contribute to the greatest possible blessing of the friends with whom we meet in the church. The expression, “Keep thy foot when thou goest into the house of God” (Eccl. 5:1), would seem to suggest that we should carefully consider all the details of what is involved in our meeting with the brethren, and, being desirous of doing all we can to be helpful, seek to control our thoughts and words and deeds to this end.
Is it not more important now, perhaps, than ever before that we should give earnest heed to matters of this kind? The apostle admonishes that we should not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, and so much the more as the day approaches. (Heb. 10:25) Should we not also conclude that because the day is approaching we should “so much the more” give attention to all the little details which will contribute to making our coming together more blessed, more reverential and more pleasing to the Lord. A similar thought is expressed by the apostle in Hebrews 12:28, which reads, “Wherefore, we receiving a Kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and Godly fear.”
The increasing nervous strain upon the whole world during these closing days of the age is bound to have its effect upon the Lord’s people, making it imperative that they give all diligence to maintain a dignified spiritual poise in all that they say and do. Only by God’s help can any of us hope to escape being influenced by the spirit of the world which has always been irreverent, but increasingly so now. Let us ever remember, beloved, that we are the children of God, hence should seek to conduct ourselves as becometh those who dwell in the house of God. When we pray, “Hallowed be Thy name,” may that prayer come from a heart that is bowed in reverence before Him whose will reigns supreme in our lives.