There is a popular song that is sung in a lot of Christian churches (especially in the West): Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere. This line is found in Psalm 84:10 - For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand outside. I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
First of all, the meaning of this statement deepened significantly when I realized that this Psalm was written by the Sons of Korah.
Korah was a man who rebelled against Moses, along with Dathan and Abiram and their families. This is described in Numbers 16, and we read that they all died when the Lord caused the earth to open up and swallow them and their families. But we also read later on that the sons of Korah did not die (Numbers 26:11). Somewhere along the way, the sons of Korah stood against their own father and separated from him. And they sided with Moses.
What a tough decision this must have been. What a torturous decision to stand against their own father. And probably even tougher was to stand against their father, but to stand with their father's cousin (Moses was Korah’s cousin – Exodus 6:18-21).
And while this song was probably written by the descendants of Korah and not Korah’s physical sons, the descendents of the sons of Korah never forgot their family history. I read somewhere that the Psalms written by the sons of Korah probably came from a book that the sons of Korah used. They forever bore the scars of the name Korah. But they also wore the badge of honor of being of the "sons of Korah" - who stood with God and His people.
So now you can imagine the special meaning it was to the sons of Korah, when they wrote that it was a better to stand in the threshold of God's house that in the tents of wickedness (in their case, their very own father/direct forefather).
So I hope that we will never sing this song the same way again. There was personal pain in this song of worship. I hope we will recognize the tears that drenched the sons of Korah as they wrote and sang this. But to be clear, these were not tears of regret. These were tears of sorrow but also of thankfulness.
But I also wanted to share another present-day application of this song. When we sing "Better is one day in Your courts than a thousand elsewhere," what do we really mean? How does that play out in us who live in the New Covenant?
In the Old Covenant (when this song was written), God did not dwell INSIDE humans. Back then, the Holy Spirit came upon people, but never to make His permanent home in humans. Where God did dwell under the Old Covenant was in the Tabernacle. God's presence and glory rested over the Most Holy Place, as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.
Under the New Covenant however, God dwells INSIDE us through the Holy Spirit. So it is not the same for us as it was with the sons of Korah. We have the privilege and the responsibility to remain in God's presence ALL THE TIME. God will never forsake us, but we can choose to separate ourselves from God's presence.
So then, if we have the privilege of always being in God's courts, what does this statement mean for us? Is this just an Old Covenant reality, with no real application for us? No, I think it remains deeply meaningful as we apply it to the gathering of the saints in our immediate spiritual Family in God (what we call our local Church).
I don't know how many of us truly recognize that there is a GREATER POWER that we have access to as a local Church, than the power we have with God as we walk with Him in private. To me, I see this very clearly in Jesus's words about the Church (Matthew 16:18): I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of Hades [hell] will not overpower it.
It is crucial to recognize that there is NO promise in Scripture that tells me that I as an individual can adopt an offensive posture towards the devil and his forces. The armor of God in Ephesians 6 is provided for our defense, with the Sword of the Spirit (the word of God) helping me ward off the evil forces when they come at me. Romans 16:20 tells me that God will crush Satan under our feet. So God will do the crushing when the serpent comes to bite our heels. Peter and James tell me to resist the devil. Here again, resistance is a defensive stance.
Also, defeating the devil and his forces is different from defeating sin in our own lives. We are told that sin should not have mastery over us (Romans 6:14). But defeating sin in our own private lives comes from denying our self-will, not by defeating the devil or his forces. Of course, my flesh is often exploited by the devil, but we must recognize that defeating the devil is much different (and much harder) than simply defeating our own self-wills.
But the beauty of the gospel is that God even wants us to have a part to play in attacking the devil and his forces. As far as I know, what we read in Matthew 16:18 is the only posture of offense against the evil forces that is promised to us. The gates of hell are the defenses of hell. Nobody attacks with you gates. Gates are where the enemy resides and where he has his defenses. So when Jesus tells me that gates of hell will not prevail against the Church, this means that the Church is on the offensive, and attacking the gates of hell.
Do we embrace our responsibility to the local Church with this exalted view? Are we attending our local Church with this firm belief and confidence?
When the Lord opens the eyes of our hearts to see this, we will then recognize the meaning of the words of the sons of Korah for us today:
Better is one day in the company of your local Church, than a thousand on my own with God. When I am alone, I get to walk in the beautiful presence of God, and I can overwhelmingly conquer in my private life. But even then, the conquests I experience are in passionate resistance to every attack of the devil and his forces.
BUT, when I gather and unite with other disciples of Jesus who are wholeheartedly devoted to Jesus, then WE get to go on the offensive against the devil. Now I have a chance to be part of an Army that goes against the devil and his defenses. If I were to try to attack the devil and his forces alone, I would definitely lose. But in the company of those who unite with me in purity and devotion to Jesus, I have the power to attack and defeat the devil and his forces, and increase the reach of the Kingdom of God on this earth!
I pray that God will open the eyes of our hearts to see this amazing truth about His Church.
But let me end with a word of warning:
Now that we're starting to mediate and speak often on these truths, it is possible to understand it with our minds, and even spout out these truths with our mouths, parroting what we have heard and learned from others. I myself learned of these truths from my father's preaching. But the pre-eminence of this grabbed me only in the last few years.
A few years ago, I taught a 10-week class called "The Kingdom of God and the New Covenant" (that some of you attended). One class in the final weeks was devoted to the importance of the Church (local and universal). But when it came to that topic, I chose not to teach on this. Back then, I recognized that while I knew the theology and was even gripped by it, I had not yet evidenced and proved this through my life personally. So I asked my Dad to teach this particular week, and he spoke to the class via Skype.
But things are different now. Now I can confidently teach these truths, because I have proved THROUGH MY LIFE that I believe in the pre-eminence of the local Church. I am no longer able to accept anything less than the fullness of God's promise for the Body of Christ under the New Covenant. I used to have an exalted view of the universal Body of Christ (believers past, present, and future), but now I also have an exalted view of what each local Church must embody. So it is abundantly clear that from now, I would rather meet with one other family that was truly all in for Jesus (God needs only two or three to be His Church), than attend some place where the leaders might even be mostly in, but don't evidence an ALL IN devotion to Jesus! The moment I see half-heartedness in Church leadership and an unwillingness to stand ruthlessly pure for Jesus (even if it means offending most of the attendees), I know God cannot build a pure Church.
In closing, let me share with you the proof (which I saw in myself) that my heart had truly embraced the pre-eminence of the local Church: Matthew 13:45-46 - Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
May the Lord see that we are truly willing to sell ALL THAT WE HAVE for His pure Church (Remember: the first condition for discipleship is to "hate" family, friends, and even our own selves when compared to our love for Christ. And Christ today is the Person of Christ and the Body of Christ). The sons of Korah proved true to this in their Old Covenant context. Let us prove this to be true as it applies to us in the New Covenant. Then we can truly sing this song along with them, and honor the immense sacrifice they made!
May God have mercy on us.