|Volume 22 Number 5 May 2020||
Worship was an important aspect of the church’s life from the outset of the church’s existence. We read of the new converts in Jerusalem continuing steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers (Acts 2:42). We read of singing also being something in which the early church engaged as a part of its worship together (Ephesians 5:19). We are to follow the pattern set by the inspired apostles and prophets of the New Testament and acknowledge that the things they wrote to us are the commandments of the Lord (1 Corinthians 14:37). In Acts 20, Luke gave insight into a 1st century worship service. As Paul and his traveling companions came to Troas, we see a window into a worship service (Acts 20:4-6). There are lessons for those of us who live in the 21st century both to learn and to apply.
Prioritizing the Assembly
The Christian’s daily life is to be one of sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2). The Sunday assembly is not all that there is in living for Jesus, but it is an important part of life in Christ. We are encouraged in the assembly (Hebrews 10:24). We teach and instruct each other (Colossians 3:16). We pray for each other (1 Thessalonians 5:25). We know that Paul desired to be in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost so he could preach to a large number of Jews (Acts 20:16). Yet, Paul and his companions waited seven days in Troas in order to worship with the brethren there (Acts 20:6). In Paul’s mind, the worship assembly on the first day of the week warranted attention and time. Paul did not want to miss this opportunity to worship God with his brethren in Troas. No one had to quote Hebrews 10:25 to Paul since he did not view the assembly as something to be avoided. Instead, Paul considered the worship assembly as something desirable. We must learn from this worship gathering how important it is to gather with the saints every Sunday. Paul had other plans, but those plans were not more important than the need to worship. Whether we are on vacation, on the road or away for work, we should make whatever adjustments are necessary to be with the brethren on the Lord’s day. Part of seeking the kingdom of God first involves sacrificing time, comfort and convenience to be a dedicated disciple (Matthew 6:33). The early saints were together daily on some occasions but especially on the first day of the week (Acts 2:46; 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2).
Partaking of the Lord’s
Supper Is Important
Jesus told His disciples to partake of the unleavened bread and of the fruit of the vine in commemoration of His sacrificial death (Matthew 26:26-29). We often speak of the need to partake of the Lord’s Supper on the first day of every week based on Acts 20:7, and this is correct. We also can note that the breaking of bread in Acts 2:42, which is a reference to the Lord’s Supper, was done steadfastly. The frequency with which we take the Lord’s Supper is important, but Acts 20:7 tells us more than that. Luke says the Christians came together to break bread. This was the primary purpose for their assembly. This does not mean that singing, praying, giving and preaching are not important, but the Lord’s Supper is unique as an item of worship. The Lord’s Supper is the only item of worship that is limited to the first day of the week. The other four items of worship can be engaged in on any other day of the week with God’s approval. Only the Lord’s Supper is to be taken on Sunday. When we gather on Sunday, the Lord’s Supper is not something we simply check off a list or rush through. It is something we need to do in reverent fashion. Paul rebuked the Corinthians for failing to observe the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner (1 Corinthians 11:23-30), meaning the Lord’s Supper must be done in the same mindset the Lord gave it and for the reason Christ gave it (Colossians 3:17). Our minds must go back to Calvary and to the suffering of our Savior as we partake of the bread and of the cup (1 Corinthians 10:16). First century Christians gathered together with the breaking of bread on their minds. We, too, must gather on the Lord’s Day, keeping in mind that without His sacrifice there would be no service.
Preachers and the Clock
Luke did not reveal when Paul began his sermon, but he recorded when he ended. Paul preached to them with his departure on his mind, and yet, he continued until midnight (Acts 20:7). The word parateinō, translated as “continue” (KJV), “prolonged” (ESV, NASB) and “kept on talking” (NIV) means to prolong or to stretch out. It is interesting to note that Paul preached until he was done and was not rushed for the sake of time. This should not be taken to mean that preachers should be insensitive to those who listen to them and preach for two hours. There are many with health problems who cannot sit for lengthy periods of time and others with small children who are struggling to keep them still. However, it is interesting that Paul preached the word until he had finished his message (2 Timothy 4:2). In a day when our attention span is eight seconds (a goldfish has an attention span of nine seconds), it is common for many to watch the clock. Preachers should not add fluff to their lessons to purposely preach long sermons, but Christians must develop enough spiritual stamina to endure and enjoy a forty-minute lesson.
Pillows in the Pews
Not everyone was excited by the length of Paul’s sermon. We are introduced to a young man named Eutychus who fell asleep as Paul was preaching, fell three stories and was believed to be dead (Acts 20:8-9). The name Eutychus means fortunate. He was definitely fortunate that Paul was present as he took a nap and fell. Paul was able to go down to where he fell and take him up on his feet, restoring his life (Acts 20:10). Falling asleep in worship is not anything new. People have fallen asleep in worship since the first century. Sometimes it is blamed on the ability of the preacher, but people even slept on Paul (1 Corinthians 3:6). We should get adequate rest so we can worship the Lord in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). We also should give grace to those that we may find snoozing in worship. Sometimes it is a side effect of the medication someone is taking, or they have been up all night with a sick child. We should assume the best of our brethren until shown otherwise (1 Corinthians 13:5). As Paul literally lifted sleepy Eutychus to his feet, we should bear one another’s burdens and help each other remain spiritually alert (Galatians 6:1-2). Worship is not nap time. It is time to engage with brethren as we go to the throne of God, gather the necessary strength for the week to come and glorify our Heavenly Father.
Thankfully, the first century church teaches us many things about worship. It teaches us how to worship, activities that are authorized in our assembly and that not much has changed in almost 2,000 years.
Jesus likened the kingdom of Heaven to a mustard seed and leaven (Matthew 13:31-33). The mustard seed is incredibly small, smaller than many other seeds, yet it grows into one of the largest plants in the garden. When making bread, very little leaven is needed. Reaching back to the Book of Daniel and thinking of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, the statue was destroyed by a stone, but that stone grew into a great mountain and filled the earth. Looking through the New Testament we can see this came to pass. John the Baptist and Jesus came preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near.” Peter was given the keys to the kingdom, the church (Matthew 16:18-19), which he used to open the door to Jews (Acts 2) and Gentiles (Acts 10). By the time of the writing of Colossians, the kingdom, whose coming arrival was preached in Judea, had come and had been preached in the rest of the world (Colossians 1:3-6). So, remember that when we evangelize, it is rare to convince people immediately. Rather, we plant a small seed inside their minds, and, if watered and tended, it has the potential grow and to transform lives.