Making the Journey With Your Gift: The Cost and Convenience of Worship

Today’s selected reading continues in the first epistle of the apostle Paul which was written unto the saints which were at Corinth. More specifically, today’s passage is found in verses seventeen through twenty-four of the eleventh chapter. When we come to this particular portion of the eleventh chapter we encounter a transition within this chapter—one that shifts to the actual gathering together of the saints which were at Corinth. Perhaps the best way to explain what the apostle Paul was writing and declaring in this passage of Scripture is to actually include the words which he wrote unto this particular congregation. Beginning with the seventeenth verse of the eleventh chapter the apostle Paul writes the following words: “Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you. Not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse. For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you. When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What? Have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? Or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I praise you not. For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which He was betrayed took bread: And when He had given thanks, He brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:17-24).

When you begin reading this passage of Scripture you are immediately confronted with a tragic reality concerning this congregation—the tragedy that when they come together, they do so not for the better, but for the worse. Pause for a moment and consider those words for a moment and consider the tremendous weight and significance of them. Consider the tremendous weight and magnitude of what the apostle Paul is declaring unto the saints in this particular verse, for what he is writing unto the Corinthians is actually an indictment concerning their gathering together. With these words the apostle Paul issues a stunning denunciation of their gathering together, for he declared unto them that their gathering together was not for the better, but for the worse. Essentially, that which the apostle Paul is writing unto this congregation is that their gathering together was actually doing more damage and harm than it was good. The more I read the epistles and letters of the apostle Paul the more I am confronted with the tremendous boldness this apostle exercised when writing to the churches. There was a great need for the Corinthian congregation to receive correction from the Lord, and the apostle Paul would offer such correction in this first epistle. I am absolutely and incredibly amazed at the brazen nature of the apostle Paul when writing, and that he held no punches, nor did he hold back with the truth of the gospel. When you read the first epistle which was written unto the Corinthian congregation you find the apostle Paul correcting this congregation time and time again. In fact, I would dare say that much of this epistle was centered upon the need for correction this church of God in Christ needed to receive from the Lord through the apostle Paul.

When I consider the words and language that is found within this seventeenth verse I can’t help but ask myself the hard truth about what is accomplished when we gather together in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. While speaking unto His disciples Jesus made the emphatic and powerful statement that where two or more were gathered together in His name, there He was and there He would be in their midst. This actually lends quite an astonishing question when you consider it, for if it only takes two being gathered together in the name of Jesus for Him to be present, imagine if ten, or twenty, of fifty, or one hundred, or one thousand, or any number of members gathered together in His name. If it is indeed and is in fact true that when two or more are gathered together in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, then based on this particular verse, we must ask ourselves what Christ witnesses when He enters into our midst. What’s more, is that while it is true that the Spirit and presence of Christ might enter into our midst when we gather together in His name, how long does He choose to remain and abide? If the house belongs to His Father, and if Jesus is indeed the Head of His own body, how long is He permitted to remain within His own house? We may earnestly desire that the Spirit and presence of Christ come and be manifested among us within our midst, and yet the true question is not necessarily whether or not He chooses to manifest Himself among us within our midst, but what He chooses to do once He arrives. WHAT HE DOES WHEN HE ARRIVES! HOW LONG HE ACTUALLY REMAINS AND ABIDES! I am convinced that two of the greatest questions we must ask ourselves when we consider the manifestation of the presence of the person of Christ among us within our midst is what Christ does when He arrives in our midst, and how long once He arrives He actually chooses to remain. I can’t help but wonder how many men and women boast of visitations from Christ, and yet Christ has never sought for us to boast of visitations, but habitation, of dwelling, and of abiding. Oh, how many churches, congregations and assemblies boast of mere visitations of Christ when once He arrives He cannot abide among them within their midst?

Perhaps one of the greatest examples of what Jesus Christ does and how He responds and reacts when He enters into the sanctuary and house of God can be found in the second chapter of John’s gospel account of His life and ministry. If you turn and direct your attention to the second chapter John’s gospel—and specifically verses twelve through twenty-two—you will find the account of Jesus and His disciples going up to Jerusalem and coming unto the Temple. Immediately following the turning of water into wine we find Jesus and His disciples going up from Cana of Galilee, to Capernaum, and then onto Jerusalem. If you begin reading with the twelfth verse of the second chapter you will find the following words which John records of Jesus while at the Temple: “After this He went down to Capernaum, He, and His mother, and His brethren, and His disciples: and they continued there not many days. And the Jews’ Passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem, and found in the Temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: and when he had made a scourge of small cords, He drove them all out of the Temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables; and said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise. And His disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up. Then answered the Jews and said unto Him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But He spake of the temple of His body. When therefore He was risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this unto them; and they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had said” (John 2:12-22).

HE DROVE THEM ALL OUT OF THE TEMPLE! AND POURED OUT THE CHANGERS’ MONEY! AND OVERTHREW THE TABLES! TAKE THESE THINGS HENCE! MAKE NOT MY FATHER’S HOUSE AN HOUSE OF MERCHANDISE! What we find in this particular account of the life and ministry of Jesus is actually quite astonishing and remarkable, for while in the Temple we find Jesus engaging in three specific actions, and making two specific declarations. The three specific actions Jesus engaged in when He had come unto the Temple were to drive out the changers of money, the sheep, the oxen and doves from His Father’s house, pouring out the changers’ money, and overthrowing the tables. DRIVING ALL OUT OF THE TEMPLE! POURING OUT THE MONEY! OVERTHROWING THE TABLES! When we consider the manifestation of the presence of Jesus among us within our midst we very rarely consider this particular passage of Scripture as remotely possible. There are very few among us who would even think or consider that Jesus could find any controversy with our assemblies, our congregations and our churches. Jesus entered in the house of His own Father in heaven, and yet what He found there utterly enraged and angered Him. So enraged and angered was Jesus with what was taking place in the Temple in Jerusalem that He drove out both merchandise and merchants from the midst thereof, as well as pouring out their money and overturning their temples. DRIVING OUT THE MERCHANDISE AND MERCHANTS FROM THE SANCTUARY OF GOD! This is quite significant, for what was taking place within the very house of His Father in heaven was the business of sacrifice and offering. That which was taking place within the Temple of the Lord was making a profit from sacrifice and offering at the altar of the Lord which the priests ministered before. What’s more, is that there were actually those that were turning a profit from the worship of men and women who had traveled from various distances and locations to worship the Lord. Consider how many men and women made the trip to Jerusalem to worship the Lord, yet they brought no personal offering or gift to sacrifice unto the Lord because they knew they could simply purchase such an offering at the Temple.

The simplest way to explain what a tremendous affront this was in the courts and sanctuary of the Lord is to direct your attention to the first chapter in the Old Testament book of Leviticus. I fully understand and recognize that there are a number of men and women who would shy away from Leviticus because of the language that is contained therein, and because it would appear to be and seem as though there is no intrinsic value for us within this generation. I, however, am firmly convinced otherwise, for in order to properly understand why the transformation of the Father’s house into a market place was so distasteful and appalling to Jesus the Christ is to examine the instruction of the Lord concerning gifts and offerings to be brought unto the Lord before His holy altar and in His sacred courts. Beginning to read with the first verse of the first chapter of the Old Testament book of Leviticus you will find and read the following words—“And the Lord called unto Moses, and spake unto Him out of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, If any man of you bring an offering unto the Lord, ye shall bring your offering of the cattle, even of the herd, and of the flock. If his offering be a burnt offering of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish: he shall offer it of his own voluntary will at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the Lord. And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. And he shall kill the bullock before the Lord: and the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall bring the blood, and sprinkle the blood round about upon the altar that is by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And he shall flay the burnt offering, and cut it into his pieces. And the sons of Aaron the priests shall put fire upon the altar, and lay the wood in order upon the fire: and the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall lay the parts, the head, and the fat, in order upon the wood that is on the fire which is upon the altar: but his inwards and his legs shall he wash in water: and the priest shall burn all on the altar, to be a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of sweet savour unto the Lord” (Leviticus 1:1-9).

When speaking unto Moses out of the tabernacle of the congregation the Lord was very specific that if any man would seek to bring an offering unto the Lord, they should bring an offering from their own cattle’s, and from their own herd, and from their own flock. What’s more, is that the Lord was very specific concerning the condition of the offering which was brought unto the sanctuary of the Lord, for He declared that it must be a male without blemish. Furthermore, the Lord would go on to declare that once a man arrived at the sanctuary with his offering, he would put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering, and it was the man who brought the offering who would kill it before the Lord. What’s more, is that the Lord declared that any offering which was brought unto the sanctuary of the Lord needed to be of his own voluntary will at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the Lord—it was not be brought out of a sense of compulsion, or obligation, or coercion or manipulation. The incredible danger of what was taking place during Jesus’ day is that men and women were no longer bringing their own offerings unto the Lord of their own voluntary will at His sanctuary. Sure men and women might come to the Lord to worship the Lord with a gift and offering, yet it did and would not have the same sense of joy and excitement as it would during the days of Moses and Aaron, and even during the days of Joshua, David, Solomon, Hezekiah and Josiah. There were certain times when there appeared to be such a joy and excitement surrounding the bringing of gifts and offerings unto the house of the Lord, yet during the days of Jesus that joy and excitement had been eviscerated and evaporated from men and women. I would dare say that during the days of Jesus men and women worshipped at the Temple out of a sense of compulsion, obligation, duty and responsibility rather than from a place of joy before the Lord. I am convinced that it is for this reason the apostle Paul wrote concerning the Lord and how the Lord loves a cheerful giver, for the Lord loves that man or woman who gives—not only from a place of sincerity, but also from a place of joy and excitement.

MAKING THE JOURNEY WITH YOUR GIFT! MAKING THE JOURNEY WITH YOUR OFFERING! What we find and what we read in John’s gospel is the convenience of worship and the convenience of sacrifice before the Lord, for not only did men and women no longer have to take from their own flock and herd, but neither did they have to make the journey to Jerusalem and unto the Temple with their offering. I am completely and totally convinced that what we find and what we read in this particular passage of Scripture is worship made convenient and worship made easy for men and women, for not only did they have to take the firstborn from their flock, and not only did they have to take that which was without blemish, but neither did they have to offer of the Lord anything that belonged to them. What’s more, is that when they arrived to the sanctuary of the Lord, I would dare say that they were no longer required to place their hand on the head of the offering, and to put that offering to death before and in the presence of the Lord. THE COST AND CONVENIENCE OF WORSHIP! What we find and what we read in this passage of Scripture is not only the convenience of worship—as men and women could purchase an offering of their choosing at the Temple—but also the cost of worship, for men and women could easily purchase their offering at the Temple from those who sold such offerings for a price. Consider the fact that when it came to worship at this time—not only were certain individuals turning a profit from worship, but they would also make worship cheap and affordable for those who would come unto the Temple. While it is nowhere suggested or implied within this passage of Scripture, I would dare say that the money changers at the Temple sold sheep, oxen, and pigeons at a reduced cost in order that they might obtain and secure a greater profit. If they reduce the cost it takes to obtain a lamb, or oxen, or pigeon for worship and sacrifice unto the Lord, then more men and women could make such a purchase. In all reality, it might very well be said that not only were the money changers securing a profit from worship, but they were also cheapening the cost of worship through their discount and reduced priced gifts and offerings.

I can’t help but wonder if the chief priests, the scribes, elders of Israel, and those present among and within the religious establishment of that generation were in league with the money changers and allowed them to sell their merchandise for a cut given and offered unto them. Is it possible that not only were the money changers making a profit from worship, but so also were the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders of Israel after receiving a portion of the proceeds? The question must be asked regarding the condition and quality of the sheep and oxen that were present at the Temple, and whether or not such gifts and offerings would be accepted in the sight of the Lord. I can’t help but see in my mind the money changers auctioning off sheep and oxen based on size, based on appearance, based on color, and based on what might be accepted the most by the Lord. IN order to illustrate this point even further it’s worth calling to remembrance the words which Malachi wrote in the final prophetic book of the Old Testament. Concerning sacrifice and offering Malachi prophesied the following word of the Lord concerning the nature and condition of the offerings that were being brought unto the Lord—“And ye say, Wherein have we despised thy name? YE offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and ye say, Wherein have we polluted thee? In that ye say, The table of the Lord is contemptible. And if the offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And if ye offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? Offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? Saith the Lord of hosts. And now, I pray you, beseech God that He will be gracious unto us; this hath been by your means: will he regard your persons? Saith the Lord of hosts. Who is there even among you that would shut the doors for nought? Neither do ye kindle fire on mine altar for nought. I have no pleasure in you, saith the Lord of hosts, neither will I accept an offering at your hand” I(Malachi 1:6-10).

When Jesus arrived at the Temple He undoubtedly not only saw money changers collecting and arranging their moneys, but He also undoubtedly saw money changers auctioning their merchandise to those who came to the Temple to present an offering of some sort unto the Lord. What’s more, is Jesus undoubtedly saw those who had journeyed to the Temple exchanging money for offerings in order that they might worship the Lord at His holy Temple. It was for this reason Jesus not only drove out the money changers, but also all their merchandise. Furthermore, Jesus didn’t simply stop with driving out money changer and merchandise alike, but He also poured out all the money and overturned the tables of the money changers. Jesus entered into His Father’s house and saw that it had been transformed into a market place where individuals were turning a profit from worship. Jesus watched and witnessed as individuals not only caused worship to become convenient in the house of the Lord, but He also watched and witnessed as various individuals associated a cost with worship of the Lord at the sanctuary and Temple. Jesus watched as men and women no longer arrived at the Temple of the Lord with their gifts and offerings in hand or in tow, but were finding their offering at the sanctuary of the Lord. I believe and am wholeheartedly convinced that the sacrifices and offerings which were presented at the Temple during the day were neither accepted nor approved of by the Father. In fact, I would dare say that the Lord took absolutely no delight or any pleasure in the gifts and offerings that were being presented in that day, for worship had not only become convenient, but it had also become a business whereby individuals were able to turn a profit. What an incredible danger it is to turn and transform worship of the living God into something which we can obtain a profit from. Heaven help those men and women who lessen the cost of worship, those who preach and promote a worship of convenience, and those who turn a profit from a worship that is convenient and cheap.

As you continue reading the account of Jesus at the Temple in the second chapter of John’s gospel you will find two specific declarations which He made to all those who were present on that day. The first declaration was more of a command unto the money changers, for He declared unto them to take the tables, the money, and the merchandise and remove it from His Father’s house. The second declaration was a command concerning worship, as well as a statement of His identity. With His statement “make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise”—not only was Jesus declaring that God was His Father, not only was Jesus declaring that the house belonged to His Father in heaven, but also that men had taken His Father’s house and had turned and transformed that house into a house of merchandise of a marketplace. The true question we must ask ourselves when we read this passage is what we have turned and what we have transformed the Father’s house into within our generation. It is true that the building and sanctuary we gather together belongs not to us, but to the Father, however, the question is what we are doing with the Father’s house. Jesus’ words in this passage was also a statement of stewardship, for the Jews were entrusted with the Temple of the Lord since it was present among them in their midst within the city of Jerusalem. Moreover, the priests were given responsibility and stewardship over the house of the Lord, and yet both the Jews and the priests allowed the Temple of the Lord to be transformed into a house of merchandise and a marketplace. Do we not recognize and do we not understand that we have been given a stewardship over the house of the Lord—wherever that house might be within your city, your town, and your community? Do we not recognize and understand that we bear a responsibility for the treatment and condition of the house of the Lord? If Jesus were to enter into our sanctuaries, our congregations, our assemblies and the buildings in which we worship, what would He say? What would Jesus drive out if He entered into our midst today? What would Jesus pour out if He entered into our churches in this generation? What would Jesus overturn and overthrow if He entered into midst the next time we gathered together?

Bringing this all back to the words which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Corinth, we find the apostle declaring of them that when they came together their doing so was not for the better, but for the worse. Why? Why was their coming together not for the better, but for the worse? The apostle Paul goes on to answer this question when he declares that when they come together in the church, there were divisions among them. What’s more, is that within this passage—not only did the apostle Paul speak of divisions, but he also spoke of heresies. Please note that this was in fact the third time the apostle Paul addressed divisions which were present within and manifested within this congregation. In earlier chapters we discover that certain divisions were due to men and women associating themselves with a specific personality and individual rather than associating themselves with Christ alone. There were those among them who associated themselves with Peter, while there some among them who associated themselves with Apollos, and some Pauli, and even some, Christ. Now, when we come to this point in the epistle we again find divisions present among them, yet the divisions spoken of in this chapter have absolutely nothing to do with personalities of men, but before and around the Lord’s table. That which the apostle Paul speaks of and addresses in this passage of Scripture are divisions which are found at the Lord’s table as men and women despise the table of the Lord, and treat it as a common thing. There were divisions before and at the table of the Lord and at the Lord’s supper for there were men and women who gorged themselves with the food and drink that was at the able. There at the table of the Lord one would find themselves hungry, while another would find themselves drunken. This chapter is again an indictment toward this congregation, yet one what would warrant correction and rebuke in order that they might bring themselves under the correction of Christ who was their head.

The single greatest question that hangs over this text is the question of what we are accomplishing when we come together and when we gather together in the house of the Lord. What happens when we gather around and before the Lord’s table and partake of the Lord’s supper? What happens when we gather ourselves together in fellowship and community? What is and what are the causes of divisions among us within our midst? Consider the words which James wrote in the fourth chapter of his epistle—“From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God? Do ye think that he scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in USA lusteth to envy? But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw night to God, and He will draw night to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up” (James 4:1-10). I would conclude this writing with the words which the prophet Isaiah prophesied according to the word of the Lord which are found in the first chapter of the prophetic book bearing his name: “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? Saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of ed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? Bring no more vain obligations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and yours ppointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am wary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood” (Isaiah 1:11-15).

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