One Sunday a visitor showed up in a more formal, liturgical church than he was used to attending. The church was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. That made it all the more obvious when this visitor got excited about something the minister said and he shouted out “Praise the Lord!”
What was second nature to this newcomer was behavior that shocked and even scared the faithful in this setting where they were not used to such exuberant expressions of worship. Nobody had ever done anything like that before.
One of the regular attenders leaned forward and tapped the man on the shoulder and whispered, “We don’t praise the Lord around here.”
Someone seated nearby heard this exchange and they said, “Yes we do. It’s on page 15 of the Lectionary.”
We have seen that the Church in Jerusalem was devoted to the ministry of the word, to discipleship. We also saw that they were devoted to fellowship. There is one more item that this church devoted itself to – worship.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved, (Acts 2:42-47, ESV, emphasis mine).
We see that this church was devoted (continuing steadfastly) to the breaking of bread and the prayers. This phrase suggests a reference to communion (which was probably part of a larger meal) and times of prayer for those in their community and out.
It is important to note that worship follows Biblical instruction as we respond out of gratitude to what we learn about God’s character and attributes, to His goodness and grace in our lives, and we rejoice in what God has done for us through Jesus. When we learn about who we are in Christ how could we not praise Him?
It is also worth mentioning that this worship is closely linked to fellowship. Our fellowship with other followers of Christ is rooted in our fellowship with God through Christ. It is a spiritual bond, and fellowship with God entails worship our response to Him. In the Word He speaks to us. Through worship we reply. In fellowship we experience this together.
In contrast to the church experience mentioned above is in stark contrast to what worship is to be about. It isn’t about style. It isn’t about methods. It isn’t even about location. It most certainly isn’t to be about us. It is about God. He is to be the center of our worship. When we worship, we are doing what we were created to do. When we do this in accordance to our free will we bring Him glory. The last statement of the Westminster Catechism illustrates this when it says, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
We can see several aspects of the early church’s worship:
Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people, (Acts 2:46-47a, NASB).
The word “continuing” (“attending” in ESV, but the NASB is the better translation here) is the same Greek word used in verse 42 that is translated “devoted”. They were literally continuing steadfastly to meet together.
They were also of “one mind”. This speaks of a unity that was present among the believers, not just everyone being with one another physically, but a spiritual unity. Their hearts were being knitted together by the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul reminded the Church at Ephesus about their common life in Christ and how it should affect them as a whole.
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all, (Ephesians 4:1-6, ESV).
We also see in Acts 2:46 that worship wasn’t limited to larger groups, but within small groups as well. It wasn’t limited to a particular day, but day by day.
They also had glad and sincere hearts – they were joyful. In Acts 2:43 we see that “awe came upon every soul” this community was drawn into the presence of God and it was amazing! A.W. Tozer describes worship in a similar fashion.
Worship is to feel in your heart and express in some appropriate manner a delightful sense of admiring awe and astonished wonder and overpowering love in the presence of that most ancient Mystery which philosophers call the first Cause, but which we call Our Father which art in Heaven.
Another thing to mention worship isn’t just music (music isn’t even mentioned in Acts 2:42, but some would say that Acts 2:47 – “praising God” could be referring to praise in song). Again, worship isn’t about a particular style or method. We are to worship God with our lives. The Apostle Paul writes:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship, (Romans 12:1, ESV).
Rick Warren, the senior pastor of Saddleback Community Church in Lake Forest, CA likes to say that the problem with being a living sacrifice is that we have a tendency to want to pull ourselves off the altar. Our lives should glorify God. Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount eludes to this as well.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven, (Matthew 5:16, ESV).
The Apostle Paul echoes that as well.
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him, (Colossians 3:17, ESV).
So with this we see that our worship is not contained to Sunday morning, but throughout the week. It isn’t just corporately, but individual worship as well. We worship when we respond to the Word in obedience. So we worship when we do our very best on the job. We worship when we don’t cut corners. We worship when we parent. We worship when we do our best in school. We worship in our service.
We also worship when are together with other believers – whether that is in a small group or on Sunday morning remember that our fellowship is a spiritual one and that we need to encourage one another. The apostle Paul encourages the Church at Ephesus to address “one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ,” (Ephesians 5:19-21, ESV).
Worship is responding to God for who He is, what He has done for us, and who we are in Christ. It is an act of love. We have the privilege to bless Him, to glorify Him, and enter into His presence both individually and corporately. Some want to look at worship as something they can do individually without being a part of spiritual fellowship. That would be a mistake. The writer of Hebrews exhorts us:
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near, (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV).
We need the body, but worship is also in how our life is lived so it does no good to attend Sunday worship and not live for Christ the rest of the week. He doesn’t want us segmented. He wants our entire life. We are designed to glorify Him, and in doing so we can enjoy Him and be satisfied in Him.
So in this we see that a local church in order to be a contagious community is a community that as a group and also with its individual members seek to fulfill the first commandment of the Great Commandment to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.