Is being late to church a sin?

Q. Is it a sin to always be late for class or worship services? I see some people who constantly come to church making their children late for classes and missing part of the material prepared by a teacher for them, or disrupting a class themselves, by their tardiness. Some come in late shaking hands and greeting those already involved in the study material as if their presence demanded royal attention. What does the Bible say about this arrogant attitude toward God’s time?

By Bob Garrison

It does seem as if our services have become so laid back and nonchalant that people are frequently late.

Yes, the Bible does speak of this bad habit. In 2 Samuel 20 is an interesting story of a man named Amasa, whom King David tasked to go and “call out the men of Judah for me within three days, and be present here yourself” vs. 4

David was being restored to his position as King and he wanted all of the men in Judah to be there for his coronation. And the story continues:

5 “So Amasa went to call out the men of Judah, but he delayed longer than the set time which he had appointed him.”

Awhile later King David told Abishai to take Joab and capture a man named Sheba who was a trouble maker and nip his trouble-making in the bud before it got out of hand, as Absalom’s had done. On the way to deal with Sheba, Joab bumped into Amasa and Amasa tried to greet Joab. Amasa did not see a sword in Joab’s hand and as they embraced, Joab stabbed him the belly and the text reads:

9 Joab said to Amasa, “Is it well with you, my brother?” And Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him.
10 But Amasa was not on guard against the sword which was in Joab’s hand so he struck him in the belly with it and poured out his inward parts on the ground, and did not strike him again, and he died. Then Joab and Abishai his brother pursued Sheba the son of Bichri.
11 Now there stood by him one of Joab’s young men, and said, “Whoever favors Joab and whoever is for David, let him follow Joab.”
12 But Amasa lay wallowing in his blood in the middle of the highway. And when the man saw that all the people stood still, he removed Amasa from the highway into the field and threw a garment over him when he saw that everyone who came by him stood still. 13 As soon as he was removed from the highway, all the men passed on after Joab to pursue Sheba the son of Bichri.”

That seems like harsh treatment for delaying his duties to the King. But the real motive of Joab was jealousy because David had replaced Joab with Amasa as commander of the army. We are not told why the mention of the delay in verse 5 is germane, but it may have been an excuse for Joab to kill Amasa. It certainly placed Amasa in the wrong place at the wrong time. His own tardiness may have cost him his life. In 1 Kings 2, it comes to light after David’s death that in reality Amasa was “more righteous and better” than Joab.

Surely though the New Testament is not that harsh about being on time, someone might ask? After all, isn’t that the way of our society? Jesus is all love, and he doesn’t treat his servants that way, does here?

There is a story Jesus tells about tardiness and His feelings on the subject that might help us be more serious when we neglect our Lord and our brethren by our careless attention to time for events when others are waiting for us.

Matt 25:1
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.
2 “Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent.
3 “For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them,
4 but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps.
5 “Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep.
6 “But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’
7 “Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps.
8 “The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’
9 “But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’
10 “And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut.
11 “Later the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open up for us.’
12 “But he answered, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’
13 “Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.

Sometimes people delay meetings and gatherings so they can make a grand entrance and be noticed. Their motives are similar to those in Matt 6:5 “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.”

Premeditated tardiness is rude and arrogant and those who were so foolhardy in the scriptures to act that way came to no good in their desires to be seen by men. No one is going to be struck down with a sword because they are late to class. But successful people do not insult employers by constantly being late for work or cheating on sick leave. Should we treat our brethren and our King Jesus in this manner when He calls us to service?

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