Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 22, 1962

Why Be On Time?

Joe Neal Clayton, Noble, Oklahoma

An indifferent spirit often prompts worshippers to be unconcerned about coming to the worship service on time. When the preacher or the elders admonish such a one to be more punctual, they often reply, "Why?" There are perhaps many reasonable answers which could be given to this question which are not necessarily scriptural reasons. We might say, for instance, "It would be less disturbing to the services, if everyone would get there on time, and the song director would not have to prolong the pauses between songs while late-comers found their seats." Such an answer lacks the strength of authority, since it is merely the expression of opinion, and a person need not be too concerned about the need of surrendering his opinion to yours. In fact, he might display no small amount of huffiness at the suggestion, and even suggest that it was none of your business, anyway.

Paul told Timothy, "Reprove, rebuke, and exhort with all long suffering and doctrine." If exhortation, then, is to be done in conjunction with doctrine, the exhorter should determine whether the matter under consideration is a scriptural one. That is, can it be found in the word! Paul also commanded the Christian, "let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things." (Gal. 6:6) If any subject is scriptural, it is "good"; it is worth learning.

Therefore, let us see if punctuality is a New Testament doctrine. The New Testament writers placed a sense of urgency in their admonitions to Christians. One said, "Wherefore leaving the doctrine of the first principles of Christ, let us press (ASV) on unto perfection;....Beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak: for God is not unrighteous to forget your work and the love which ye showed toward his name, in that ye ministered unto the saints, and still do minister. And we desire that each one of you may show the same diligence unto the fulness of hope even to the end: that ye be not sluggish, but imitators of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises." (Heb. 6:1, 9-12) The writer's use of terms such as "press on," "diligence," and "be not sluggish," shows us that in the ordinary performance of Christian duty one must move with a sense of urgency. The force of any command is found in the definition and grammatical construction of the words in that command. Any attempt to avoid the force of such commands is also an attempt to avoid taking God at his word. Aside from that, if one argues that the above quoted passage is too general to apply to punctuality at the service, we must disagree. It can be readily seen from Heb. 10:25 that it is the Christian's duty to be present at the assembly. The passage above from Heb. 6, in addition, admonishes the Christian to be diligent, not sluggish in the performance of all his duty. Therefore, one must be urged to apply that diligence to his arrival as well as his attendance.

As a general principle of godliness, diligence is also urged by Solomon in Eccl. 9:10, "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might...."

In the general admonitions of Paul to the Romans, he said, "in diligence not slothful; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord...." (Rom. 12:11) In the first part of this passage the KJ renders "not slothful in business," and the Greek for this word diligence or business means "haste or speed, intensity, ardour of spirit, industry." To be late for worship does not in any way reflect haste, intensity, ardour, or industry, it only reflects laziness (especially if the tardiness is habitual).

The word "slothful" is defined variously, "Motionless, idleness, indolence (laziness), destitute of promptness." In the second phrase of the passage, the word "fervent" appears. This is defined in the lexicon, "Bubbling or boiling, effervescence." Is it possible to describe the habitual late-comer as boiling or effervescent? On the contrary, he is not fervent, but slothful.

The last phrase of Rom. 12:11 says, "serving the Lord." The importance of service to the Lord can be seen in the relative comparison of the Lord's demand on his children to those of the employer on his employees. The Christian who is habitually late for worship is usually on time for work, indicating the relative respect he gives to both of his employers.

It would be facetious to suggest that the Christian should give the same respect to God that he gives his employer. Rather, he should repent of the sin of slothfulness, rectifying it by beginning to be prompt and fervent in his service, and should pray the Lord's forgiveness of his neglect of duty. Until one realizes that such actions are sinful, it is perhaps impossible to get the response from the heart of the sinner which God expects and demands.