One of the distinguishing marks of the early church was their worship. The book of Acts, speaking of first-century Christians, says, “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:47 NKJV).
The phrase “gladness and sincerity of heart” means “with unaffected joy.” There was an open joy the first-century believers expressed in their worship of God. But there also was a reverence: “Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles” (Acts 2:43).
Two elements we should see in worship today are reverence and joy. Both are important. When we come together with God’s people in corporate worship, something wonderful happens. There is nothing in the world like worship. There is that special bond, that blessing of God, that sense of fulfillment as we do what we were created to do, which is to glorify God.
The Christian faith is a singing faith, and that is not necessarily true of other religions. They may chant. They may moan. They may have their various forms of music. But there is no faith that is full of vibrant, joyful singing like Christianity. We have the best songs of any religion on earth. Why? Because we have something to sing about.
I understand there are times when worshiping is not something we feel like doing. I understand there are times when we are not in the mood to worship. But did the first-century believers always feel like praising God? They were harassed. They were beaten. They were mocked. But they worshiped God nonetheless. Praise and worship can sometimes be a sacrifice. There are times when we are down or depressed or things aren’t going well. There is that hardship or that tragedy in our lives, and we don’t want to thank God.
Do you think Job felt like praising God when he lost everything? He lost his family. He lost his home. He lost his possessions. So what did he do? “Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped” (Job 1:20).
That is the sacrifice of praise.
We need to verbalize our praise to God, just like a wife needs to hear from her husband that she is loved. When is the last time you told your wife that you love her? When is the last time you told your husband that you love him? We need to verbalize our love for each other, just like we need to verbalize our love for God.
God doesn’t need praise from us, but he wants it. And he tells us to verbalize our praise. The Bible doesn’t say give thanks to the Lord because you feel good. It says, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever” (Psalm 106:1).
Our worship is a witness. We are being watched by those around us. And the world marvels when Christians can praise God while they are going through hardship. It is a powerful testimony. I came to faith because of worshipping Christians. No one invited me to their meeting. No one broke the gospel down for me and told me how to come to faith in Jesus Christ. But I saw a group of Christians sitting on the front lawn of my high school campus, singing songs to Jesus. I watched them and thought, They have something I don’t have. It gave me an openness to hearing the message that was given. There is a connection between our worship and our witness. So let’s make sure that as we worship, our hearts are in the right place with God.
The early church had passion. They had excitement. They had commitment. There was a spiritual excitement in what they did. And they didn’t just meet for worship on Sunday. They met all the time. It was far more than socializing. They had meals together. They sang together. They talked about the things of God together. They prayed together. They helped out one another. They looked out for each other. The world watched and paid attention, and people came to faith.
But the early Christians also applied themselves to what was taught from Scripture. Throughout the book of Acts, we see how God honored the teaching and preaching of Scripture. And this is a primary mission of the church today. Yet many churches are getting away from this altogether. Maybe they place a lot of emphasis on the arts or drama or film or skits or big productions. Those things are fine, but the primary way God chooses to reach people is through the verbal proclamation of the Gospel.
The apostle Paul preached on Mars Hill in Athens, which was the foundation of intellectualism in that time. Athens was where the best and brightest would hang out. Greece also was the birthplace of what we would know as drama today. So on Mars Hill, you would think that Paul would do a play. But that is not what he did. Instead, he preached to the men of Athens.
I think the No. 1 priority when selecting a church is finding one where the Bible is being taught and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is being preached. Otherwise, that church is missing what it ought to be, and believers are missing out on what they need in their lives as followers of Christ.
These are principles that set the early church in motion. They were principles they lived by and, I might add, principles that the church of today seems to have largely moved away from – to our own demise. Is the world today changing the church? Or is the church changing the world? If we want to be a church that changes the world, then we need to get back to the church that Jesus started and live the Christian life as the early church lived it.