Conduct in the King's House

by Bill May

In A.D. 1271 the famous Venetian traveler Marco Polo joined his father and uncle for his first trip to China. Together they would visit the great Kubla Khan, king of the Mongol dynasty. Marco Polo's father, Matteo Polo, and his uncle Niccolo had already made their first trip to China a few years earlier in 1266, and now, five years later, they considered Marco old enough to join them.

Kubla Khan, grandson of the great Genghis Khan, was at this time one of the world's most powerful monarchs. He ruled all of China, India, and the East. When young Marco first entered the palace for an audience with the great Kahn, he nearly got himself killed! Not understanding Oriental customs of respect, Marco did not know that to turn your back on the king was punishable by death. All of the king's attendants would bow and then walk backward when leaving his court. So when Marco carelessly turned his back on the monarch, soldiers rushed forward to slay the reckless youth. Only because Matteo Polo quickly interceded for his son-explaining that "he was young and forgetful"-was Marco pardoned. The young man never again made that mistake, and from then on in his travels Marco made it a point to learn the ways and language of the people.

Marco Polo eventually became the Khan's favorite statesman and served him in China, India, and southeast Asia until he returned to Venice in 1295. But Marco never forgot that his friend was also a great king and worthy of due respect.

Throughout the world, people demonstrate the greatness of their king or ruler by the way they conduct themselves in his presence. Yet from the way many Christians behave in God's house, it seems they have a very shallow concept of His greatness.

What is Reverence?
We are commanded in Scripture to "serve God acceptably with reverence" (Hebrews 12:28) and to reverence His sanctuary (Leviticus 19:30). But what is reverence? The definition is very broad-including profound awe, respect, love, adoration, esteem, special regard, and honor.

The wrong view of reverence usually leads to one of two extremes: cringing with fear and almost terror in God's house, or else treating God's house with no more regard than a sports arena or a secular social hall. Both extremes misrepresent our great and loving Lord.

A Christian's aim should be to "do those things that are pleasing in his [God's] sight." 1 John 3:22. Let's examine "reverence" within that framework.

Let's first address the matter of singing. Forty times in the Psalms alone, the Lord asks us to sing. Do you sing with the congregation? Or do you spend the time counting bald heads, babies, and red dresses? Sing-even if you don't have a "singing" voice. God accepts "joyful noise" (Psalm 98:6) or even just a "loud" noise (Nehemiah 12:42). He likes to hear crows as well as canaries! Since singing is as much a part of worship as is prayer, it hardly seems respectful to remain mute when God's people sing. And instead of mouthing the words from memory, try to consider the words you are singing. This will transform your singing into genuine worship.

Exercise is good, but it needs to be done outside God's house. Some saints think nothing of going in and out of the sanctuary three or four times during one worship service. The Bible says, "Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God" (Ecclesiastes 5:1), or as we say today, "Watch your step." If you were invited to a service honoring the president of the USA, you wouldn't think of disrupting that service by repeatedly going in and out. Such restless gallivanting during the divine service distracts those who are trying to pay attention to the service and is an insult to God.

Pardon me, what is that you are chewing? Gum? In the house of God? Surely not. It bespeaks a crass nonchalance and lack of respect. Not to mention it visibly lowers your perceived IQ. Talking to and listening to God with a mouth full of gum? Gum is not even considered proper in formal secular gatherings-how much less when we gather before the Almighty!

The services at our church in Sacramento are videotaped, and occasionally we take shots of the audience listening to the service. The directors in the studio try to avoid any pictures of people chewing gum because it looks sloppy and disrespectful. When I was a boy, my mother taught me this perceptive little poem:

The gum-chewing boy and the cud-chewing cow
Are somewhat alike, yet different somehow.
But what is the difference?
Oh, I have it now.
It's the thoughtful look on the face of the cow.

Letting God Speak
Now here's a big one. What about our words in God's house? Solomon built the most glorious earthly temple ever constructed for God. Here are his comments on speaking in God's house: "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. Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few. For a dream cometh through the multitude of business; and a fool's voice is known by multitude of words. ... Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands? For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities: but fear thou God." Ecclesiastes 5:1-7. In other words, we should talk sparingly, softly, and sympathetically when in God's house.

When we talk during the sermon, we may unintentionally be acting as a tool for the devil to distract those around us. We might even be an obstacle to their salvation! For one thing, talking during the worship service demonstrates an attitude of unbelief that God is present and watching. It also shows that we do not think that God is speaking through His Word or His servant. What kind of image does this convey to visitors? When you talk while someone else is talking, it shows disinterest for what that person has to say.

Even if the sermon was dull, boring, and far too long, does it show proper love and respect for God if we openly criticize His servant or read some magazine or simply sleep during the sermon? Sleep shows a lack of perceived urgency. We should plan our day so we are rested and alert during that sacred time.

"Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, 'What? Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.'" Matthew 26:40, 41, NKJV. We attend church to commune with God and to hear His words that strengthen us against temptation. If we keep that in mind and pray earnestly for God to speak to us, He will do so every time-no matter how boring and dull the sermon may be. If we come to church seeking a blessing, we will always find one (Matthew 7:7).

Do you remember the Scripture that says, "The Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him" Habakkuk 2:20? This is not a cringing silence for fear that the Lord might strike us if we make noise, but rather the hushed silence of joyous expectation. The Saviour of the world, the King of kings, my Lord and my God is present and has something to say to me today. I don't want to miss even one word He may quietly whisper in my ear. He may speak to me at any time-during a congregational hymn, prayer, the lesson study, special music, the offering, the organ prelude, the announcements, the sermon, or the Scripture reading. What if I am busily whispering to someone when God is trying to reach me? Likewise, those who arrive late and leave early can easily miss God's Word to them. But those who greet visitors with a touch, a smile, a warm handshake, or a hug tend to hear God's voice saying, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Matthew 25:40. And visitors so greeted will receive a warm, loving impression of God.

Now if we see someone chattering in church during the sermon, we must be very careful about assuming the role of "corrector of heretics."

One night as I was greeting the guests after my evangelistic message, a lady said, "I liked what I was able to hear, but I'm not coming back because a row of youth in front of me talked and laughed through the entire service." I apologized and asked her to please come back and sit up front. The head deacon told me he'd handle the problem. And did he ever! The next evening he marched up to the young people who had arrived early, selecting their same pew and loudly excoriating them in front of everyone. He closed with the words: "And if you are not reverent, I'll bodily throw you out-and I'm big enough to do it." The young ring leader promptly left the building, telling people on the way out that he'd never come back. I nearly had a coronary! The deacon's action was first-degree irreverence. The whispering, irreverent youth were novices in comparison.

The next day I rushed to the young man's home, and he received me coldly. I apologized for the deacon's offensive action and told him that young people were my favorite part of the audience. The young man promised to return (and did) and was baptized as the series closed.

Do you have an urge to correct those whom you feel are irreverent? Be careful! The Bible warns, "Be not rash with thy mouth." Ecclesiastes 5:2. Most of us are not gifted in correcting others. We can make the problem bigger and drive souls away by our finger pointing, which God condemns (Isaiah 58:9). Let those handle the situation who can do so in a gentle way that will please God and save souls instead of destroying them.

Look at it this way. When the church furnace needs to be repaired, we usually ask a qualified member to do it. A novice could damage the furnace or cause an explosion. But far more serious, sensitive, and technical is the task of correcting people. How many horrendous "explosions" have been caused by some well-meaning blunderer who tried to correct something that should have been left to a gentle, capable, loving specialist.

Our Response to Him
And what has happened to "Amen" in most of our churches? The pastor shouldn't have to ask, "Would you say Amen to that?" God says, "Let all the people say, Amen." Psalm 106:48. Yet, it almost never happens. Why not?

Saying "Amen" means one of three things: (1) Yes, I agree with you, (2) I'm being blest, or (3) Thank you for sharing that. A chorus of warm "Amens" from the congregation when key points are made blesses and encourages the pastor or singer, the people themselves, and even the visitors.

In recent years some churches have fallen into the habit of applauding the pastor and special music. An article from Newsweek speaks well to this. "Music intended to venerate a country or deity cannot 'star' its performer. ... Rather, the genre's hallmarks are the de-emphasis of performer and the elevation of the subject matter."1

Neither pastors nor singers should expect applause for lovingly and warmly uplifting Jesus. They are not putting on a production! They are delivering a moving, heartwarming testimonial to focus the hearts of the hearers on the King of kings.

What about our dress in God's house? The Bible does teach that the right clothing for the right occasion is important. "And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Matthew 22:11-13.

In this parable, the wedding garment is a symbol of the righteousness of Jesus. But it still serves to illustrate the fact that we can offend God by coming into His holy presence on His holy day, wearing our common clothes. I am not saying that it is required to have fancy clothes to be accepted by God. Oh my, no! But God does ask for our best-our firstfruits. If we are poor, God accepts us in our best, even if it's a burlap tuxedo. But we offend our Lord when we reserve our nice clothes for functions with fancy friends and come before God wearing whatever we find on the floor of the laundry room.

Our clothes should also be humble and modest. If it is a sin to look on the opposite sex with lust, then what about those who deliberately dress in tank tops, skimpy clothes, and short skirts to attract attention to their bodies? In heaven, the angels worshipping around God's throne cover everything-even their faces and feet (Isaiah 6:2)! So let's make sure our clothing is long enough, loose enough, and high enough to cover the subject.

We go to church because God wants our attention. Those who dress to impress or behave to be seen of men are competing with God! They long to hear the commendations of people instead of the voice of their Creator.

On the other hand, let's not be quick to judge people by their outward appearance. One night during my evangelistic series, a very tall and extremely disheveled hippie walked inside the open-air tent during prayer. When the service closed, several members descended upon me, criticizing the hippie who was "so irreverent that he didn't even close his eyes" while he stood inside the door during prayer. The man searched me out and apologized. He'd been injured in an accident and now, when he closed his eyes, he'd get dizzy, lose his balance, and fall. That's why he kept his eyes open. He ended in tears, saying, "I won't be back. Your people don't want me!" He was correct. They didn't! What a sad misrepresentation of God. What horrendous irreverence! Jesus must have wept. God forbid that any person-no matter how shockingly clad-should ever feel unwanted in God's house. God says, "Mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people." Isaiah 56:7.

Think about it. Do we lovingly and warmly welcome to our services gaudily bejeweled visitors as well as those whose overdress (or lack of dress) may be displeasing to God? Can we bring ourselves to the place where we can lovingly give people time to adjust while they are finding their way to Christ?

True Reverence
Sabbath is family day, and it is good for families to sit together in church. Teaching children reverence takes time and effort. Provide some Bible books or quiet busywork for the tiny tots so they do not begin to dread the worship service. It is a good plan for the parents with babies to sit near an aisle so that if their little one begins to cry or fuss during the service, they can make a discreet exit. But be careful not to let the little children keep you out of church by their persistent complaining. They need to be gently trained to sit through the service. If they cry and have a legitimate need or plumbing problem, take care of the need and then bring them back inside the sanctuary. If they are crying just so you will take them out, give them a government-approved spanking and bring them back in as soon as they've stopped crying. After a short time they will learn not to complain in church unless they have a good reason.

Youth may be old enough to sit with their friends when they are mature enough to show proper respect for God by their conduct. In many Hispanic congregations, the teenagers sit on the front rows, their radiant faces fastened upon the speaker and their response electrifying. You can read it in their bright, shining eyes-"Heaven came down, and glory filled my soul." What a blessed portrayal of true reverence!

To summarize, when visitors fellowship with us during our church services, they should go away rejoicing at how gloriously warm, different, and awe-inspiring the experience really was. They should leave with a deep conviction that "I have been in God's presence and can't wait to get back." When visitors are thus impressed with your congregation, it is evident that your congregation understands true reverence. __________
1. John Barylick, Newsweek



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