They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.Acts 2:42 NIV
This verse describes life in the church immediately after Pentecost. And I believe we can learn much about the early success of the church from this passage. This body of believers devoted themselves to four things: Bible study (the apostle’s teaching), spending time together (fellowship), worship (breaking of bread), and prayer. The first four articles in this discipleship series will look at these four habits of the early church, with this one focused on worship; the breaking of bread.
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Table of contents
Merriam-Webster defines worship as “to honor or show reverence for a divine being or supernatural power.” There are several Hebrew and Greek words translated as worship in the Scripture. But one of the words in each language has the idea of bowing down and doing homage. Revelation 5:14 reflects this when “the elders fell down and worshiped.” While our external forms of worship may vary, central to all should be paying homage to God.
Local churches typically gather on Sunday mornings for what we call a worship service. What that looks like will vary across different Christian traditions. But singing and preaching are usually included. And those are good things for us to do together as a church. But they do not necessarily constitute worship. If all I have done is sing a few catchy and/or meaningful songs, and attentively listened to the preaching of a sermon, have I worshipped? I do not believe so.
Worship is an active and conscious expression of praise for God. It is bowing before him to acknowledge his greatness, sovereignty, and rule. It is a surrender to his authority over my life and all I am. If I sing a few songs and listen to a sermon but have not humbled myself before God, I have not worshipped.
Breaking of Bread
While “breaking of bread” could refer to sharing a simple meal, it more likely refers to sharing together at the Lord’s table. In Acts 20:7, while Paul was staying in Troas, Luke said, “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread.” This was a Sunday morning, the day the early church meet for worship. And here, the breaking of bread was a part of that worship.
In 1 Corinthians 11:17-26, Paul attempted to correct a problem with the way the church there was partaking of the Lord’s Supper. In this, he expressed that, when they came together as a church, they were partaking of the Lord’s Supper, although in an unworthy fashion. What is of note for us here is that sharing the cup and bread was a normal part of their time together. It was an act of worship.
While the breaking of bread was not the only element of worship in the early church, it was a common element that was generally part of their worship. And so, I am using it here to reference the worship experience as a whole.
Worship In Spirit and Truth
“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”John 4:21-24 NIV
The above passage comes as a part of Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman. Apparently trying to deflect attention away from her promiscuous lifestyle, she asked Jesus about the appropriate place to worship God. In response, he told her that the time was coming when worship would not be restricted to specific locations.
He told her that God is a spirit and those who worship him must do so in Spirit and truth. This sentence uses the word spirit twice. In both cases, it translates the Greek word pneuma. Translators are divided as to whether the second usage of pneuma should be translated as ‘in the Spirit’ or ‘in spirit’. But whichever usage is chosen, Jesus is telling this woman that what is desired by God is spiritual worship rather than just participating in physical rituals.
The place where we worship is not important. Nor are the specific rituals or traditions that shape our worship. What is important is that we come before him in spirit and truth. That we are coming before God with our innermost beings. And that we are not hiding behind a mask and only pretending to worship.
The Heavenly Model
The fourth chapter of Revelation describes a scene in heaven. God, seated on his throne, is at the center of it all. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four elders with four living creatures inside that circle. There are many explanations for what these elders and living creatures are. But what I find significant here is that they are engaged in continual worship. Those surrounding the throne of God are falling before him, laying their crowns at his feet, and worshipping him.
Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:Revelation 4:8-11 NIV
“‘Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,’
who was, and is, and is to come.”
Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:
“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.”
In the Early Church
We do not have much information about what forms worship took in the early church. It is apparent that the Jewish believers in Jerusalem continued to meet together at the temple (Acts 5:12) as well as in their homes (Acts 12:12). They also seemed to have chosen to meet together on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2).
What form their time together took is unknown. But it did include breaking bread together (Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:17-34), giving (1 Cor. 16:2), as well as singing, teaching, tongues, and prophecy (1 Cor. 14:26-33). The early church did not have a designated building to meet in. They did not have pianos, bands, or worship teams. And they did not have offering plates, hymnals, or communion sets. Much of what we do today would be foreign to them.
And their time together would likely be very unfamiliar to most of us. But what they did was worship together. The form and external trappings are not important. What is important is coming together in worship. To bow before the sovereign God as we sing, study, break bread, and whatever else draws us into worship.
In the Church Today
Christianity has splintered into many different traditions as the years have gone by. And each of them has its own traditions concerning public worship. Some are very formal and ritualized while others are very informal with little in the way of structure. Music runs the gamut from acapella, to piano or organ, to a band and worship team. The attire of the worshippers might be formal or casual. Few elements of worship are the same across all traditions. Worship services in a small Baptist church will look entirely different from that in a Greek Orthodox church.
Culture will drive some of the differences in our worship. Personal preference will also come into play. I am an introvert who is very sensitive to loud noise. A worship service with a lot going on and is loud is not conducive to worship for me. I am much more inclined to worship when the mood is more reflective and quiet.
But, in the end, none of these different forms of worship are themselves important. What does matter is that we bow before the Father above in spirit and truth. If we are not doing that, then the outward forms of our worship are immaterial. We are not really worshipping. Instead, we are just going through the motions and failing to encounter God in all his glory.
This article is about worshipping together as the body of Christ. But no article on worship would be complete without acknowledging that we can have a private worship experience with God as well. While private worship is no substitute for corporate worship with the body of Christ, it can be very meaningful.
As in public worship, your personality will impact your individual worship experience. As expressed earlier, I am an introvert. I love being alone out in the creation. Whether walking down the trail, sitting by a river, or perched atop a mountain, I can easily give thanks to my creator for all he has done and lose myself in him. I find it much easier to bow before God when alone in the cathedral of nature than I do with a crowd of people sitting in rows in a building. But that will not be true of everyone. Some find it challenging to be alone and sit quietly for an extended period.
You may have heard someone say that they could worship God just as effectively on the golf course as they could in a church building. That may be true. But only because they probably are not actually worshipping when in a formal worship service. While you may be enjoying nature while out on the golf course, I would seriously question if you are actually worshipping. To worship, I need to lay everything else aside and focus on God. And that is really not compatible with most forms of physical activity.
Worship was at the heart of the Old Testament religious practice and in the life of the early church. And it continues to be practiced by all branches of the church today. While we do not always do it well, or very effectively, it is built into what we do as a church. But why? Why should we worship God? What value does it have for us?
The last question above is not a question we should be asking. If I am worshiping for what I get out of it, I am not really worshiping. I worship because God is worthy of it. Any benefit I might derive from worship is secondary. Worship is about giving God the glory and honor that is due to him as our creator and redeemer. It should be our natural response to an encounter with him.
However, worship can, and should, draw me into God’s presence. And I can’t help but be changed by that experience. Genuine and authentic worship is focused on God, but it also impacts those who come into his presence.
Some Questions to Think About
- What does worship look like for you?
- Think about when you have had a significant worship experience. What made it so meaningful? Is it something that you can repeat?
- What attributes of a formal worship service enhance your worship experience? And which ones detract from worship?
- Is there any place you can go to spend time alone in worship?
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Posts in the Discipleship Series
The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.
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