************ Sermon on Acts 2:42 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 4, 2015
"Devoted to Worship"
The early church was a devoted church. She was devoted to the Apostles' teaching. She was devoted to the fellowship -- with God and with one another. She was devoted to the breaking of bread -- eating with one another and celebrating the Lord's Supper. She was devoted to prayer. She was devoted to evangelism.
We've been looking at this devotion as signs of a church that cooperates with the Spirit, that fans into flame the fire of the Spirit, that doesn't resist the Spirit, that doesn't quench the Spirit.
And, we've seen the blessing that has fallen upon this church. She was a church that was unified, magnified, and multiplied. She was a church baptizing converts and turning them into disciples.
So far we have looked at the individual parts of our text; we've looked at teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. I want to end by looking at the text as a whole:
(Acts 2:42) They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.What comes to mind when you think of this text as a whole? Or, let me ask it another way: What is the one time or one place where all four elements come together? What is the one time or one place where we see teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer? Isn't Acts describing worship? So, we can say the early church also devoted herself to worship.
A I keep telling you that the most important word of our text is the word "devoted." Devoted means commitment. It expresses what is most important. It is a declaration of what is your priority. It reveals what you are passionate about.
Let's think about devotion for a moment. To succeed in almost any area of life, you need to be devoted. A good teacher, for instance, is successful in the classroom only if she is devoted to her students and calling. So what does she do? She prepares lesson plans. She is aware of what is going on in the lives of her students. She spends the time necessary to grade papers and tests and homework assignments.
A cyclist who hopes to participate in Le Tour de France doesn't just show up July 1 with his bike. He spends up to eight hours every day in the saddle training for the ride. He lifts weights. He climbs hills and mountains in the rain. He rides the more difficult portions of the route ahead of time. He devotes himself to winning the tour.
Professional football has started again. The best players devote themselves to the game. They don't sit around in the off-season eating chips and drinking soda and getting fat. They train, they run, they lift weights, they practice, they learn plays and routes, they watch videos of their opponents.
It is fair to say that parents today devote themselves to their children -- especially the mothers. We baptized the twin babies of Frank and Nancy this morning. Think of all the time and devotion the new babies require: changing, feeding, changing, burping, changing, bathing. You get the picture. You want to do everything you can and the best that you can for your children and grandchildren. This requires devotion.
B The early church was devoted to worship. Meaning what? Meaning those early Spirit-filled Christians spent time and effort on their worship. They devoted themselves to that. We are told that
(Acts 2:46) Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God ...Did you catch that? "Every day" they met together for worship. Many of us come together for worship twice a week, but those early believers gathered together seven or more times per week. Truly we can say they "devoted" themselves to worship.
If we want to be unified, magnified, and multiplied like the early church then we also must be devoted to worship. If we are going to cooperate with the Spirit then we also are to make worship a priority. If we are not going to fight or resist the Spirit then we also are to be passionate about worship.
Beyond any work we may do for God, time spent in His presence must take priority. No act is more central to the Christian life than worship. It gives rhythm and structure to the Christian's life; it is the heartbeat of congregational life. Worship is the first act of a new church and the last act of a dying church -- for when the worship stops the congregation is dead. God desires our worship first of all. That is a mark, a big mark, of our devotion to God, the Kingdom of God, and the things of God.
II Early Christian Worship
A Our text tells us that the Spirit-filled New Testament church devoted herself to worship. So, what was her worship like? What did she do in worship? In what ways can and should our worship as a Spirit-filled church in the 21st century be like hers?
Outside of the few glimpses we have in the New Testament, the most complete description we have of early Christian worship comes from the First Apology of Justin Martyr. He writes this:
On the day called Sunday there is a gathering together in the same place of all who live in a given city or rural district. The memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits. Then when the reader ceases, the (pastor) in a (sermon) admonishes and urges the imitation of these good things. Next we all rise together and send up prayers.
When we cease from our prayer, bread is presented and wine and water. The (pastor) in the same manner sends up prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people sing out their assent, saying the "Amen." A distribution and participation of the elements for which thanks have been given is made to each person, and to those who are not present they are sent by the deacons.
Those who have means and are willing, each according to his own choice, gives what he wills, and what is collected is deposited with the (pastor). He provides for the orphans and widows, those who are in need on account of sickness or some other cause, those who are in bonds, strangers who are (visiting), and in a word he becomes the protector of all who are in need.
We all make our assembly in common on Sunday, since it is the first day, on which God changed the darkness and matter and made the world, and Jesus Christ our Savior arose from the dead on the same day.
Some of you might wonder if the early Christians sang in their worship since Justin doesn't mention any singing. According to Christian History Magazine, singing was included under Scripture reading and prayer. Every Sunday various psalms were interspersed among the different Scripture readings -- these were almost always sung. And, certain set prayers of praise were always said or chanted by the congregation.
Sunday Evening Fellowship used a video series on Christian worship last year. We learned that the first part of an early Christian worship service was open to all, including strangers, who might be converted by the preaching. The second part of the service -- the part involving the Lord's Supper -- was open only to the baptized, so the unbaptized had to leave. We know from Paul's letters to Corinth that the Lord's Supper included not only the bread and wine but an entire meal. As part of the meal, neighbors who had quarreled made peace.
B We wouldn't want to imitate all New Testament worship practice. Some early Christians, for instance, did some odd things, like baptize for the dead -- whereas we baptize only the living in the name of the triune godhead (cf 1 Cor 15:29). Other early Christians actually got drunk at the Lord's Supper (1 Cor 11:21). Then again, according to Christian History Magazine, the early church also did some brilliant things, like including Communion and baptism, the Scriptures, and the sermon in worship. And this she maintained despite persecution, heresy, and her spread to faraway corners of Asia, Africa, and Europe.
C At its heart, early Christian worship was centered on God: His praise, His honor, His glory, His Word. The songs, prayers, and gifts were all directed towards heaven. Scripture tells us they were "praising God" (Acts 2:47).
On one occasion Thomas K. Beecher substituted for his famous brother Henry Ward Beecher at the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, New York. Many curiosity seekers had come to hear the renowned Henry Beecher speak. Therefore when Thomas Beecher appeared in the pulpit instead, some of the people got up and started for the doors. Sensing that they were disappointed because he was substituting for his brother, Thomas Beecher raised his hand for silence and announced, "All those who came here this morning to worship Henry Ward Beecher may withdraw from the church; all who came to worship God may remain."The New Testament church didn't have this problem. She gathered together everyday for the worship of Almighty God. Every day her focus was God.
Compare early Christian worship to the entertainment mindset we see today. Worship today is understood by many as a visit to an attractive site to be made when we have adequate leisure time. For some it is a weekly jaunt to church. For others, occasional visits to special services. Some, with a bent for Christian entertainment and sacred diversion, plan their lives around retreats, rallies, Gospel music festivals, concerts, and conferences. We go to see a new personality, to hear a new truth, to get a new experience and so, somehow, expand our otherwise humdrum lives. We'll try anything -- until something more exciting comes along. What happens is that we too often try to please ourselves in worship. When this happens our worship becomes man-centered rather than God-centered.
Compare early Christian worship also to another mindset we see today -- what I call the churchless Christian. Many today think they can be Christians without the church and worship. The early church shows us that Spirit-filled believers want to regularly gather together with other believers for the worship of God. They not only wanted to, but they needed this. They needed a time of public worship. They needed a time in which their hearts and souls could be lifted up with those of other believers to the throne of God.
III Balanced Worship
A The Spirit-filled New Testament church devoted herself to worship. This worship was well-balanced. It avoided the extremes we often see today. I can point to three things.
First, though their worship was focused on God it also included each other. Our Scripture reading says, "All the believers were together ... Every day they continued to meet together ... They broke bread in their homes and ate together ..." (Acts 2:44,46). In worship the believers had a chance to rub shoulders with fellow believers, to encourage one another, to pray for each other.
Again, contrast this with what we see today. In every church there are members who want nothing to do with the other members. They stand in their own cliques and never make room for others to join. Or, right after the service they make a beeline for the exit without saying a word to anyone. And then there are members who are ignored, overlooked, or forgotten by the other members; you often see them standing by themselves.
In my ministry I have met those who saw the communion of saints as being only on the vertical level: communion between the believer and God in worship and in the Lord's Supper. One even told me that there was no place in worship for communion at the horizontal level. The early church shows the error of this view.
B The second example of the balance of the early church's Spirit-filled worship was that their worship was both formal and informal. It took place both "in the temple courts" and "in their homes" (Acts 2:46).
I find it surprising that the early Christians worshiped for a while in the temple, but they did. They did not immediately abandon what might be called the institutional church. Nor, did they abandon all Jewish practices. We know, for instance, that the early Christians continued to observe the Jewish Passover. But they did not celebrate the Passover in memory of the deliverance from Egypt. Instead, they remembered the sufferings of Jesus, the true Passover Lamb. It also appears that they attended prayer services in the temple:
(Acts 3:1) One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer--at three in the afternoon. At the same time, the early Christians did not participate in the temple sacrifices; already they realized that these had all been fulfilled in Christ's great sacrifice.
The formal temple services were supplemented with more informal and spontaneous meetings in the homes. There they broke bread together, ate together, prayed together, laughed and cried together.
Some people today abhor spontaneity and lack of structure in worship. Others hate formal structure and tradition. The early Spirit-filled church shows us there is room for both at the same time. There is no need to polarize between the two. The church needs both. It is always healthy when the more formal and dignified are complemented with the informal and exuberant. After all, this is the way it was in the Spirit-filled church of Acts. Their worship was both formal and informal, structured and unstructured.
C The third example of the balance of the early church's Spirit-filled worship was that it was both joyful and reverent. There can be no doubt about their joy, for they are described as having "glad and sincere hearts" (Acts 2:46). Of course, they had plenty of reasons for joy: God sent His Son into the world, He died for their sins, He was raised for their justification, He rules from Heaven, and He sent the Spirit which renews and equips and fills with joy.
When we think about it, every worship service should be a time of joyful celebration for the mighty acts of God through Jesus Christ. In our worship it is unforgivable to be sad and dejected, with long faces, when God has done so much for us in Christ.
At the same time, those early Christians were dignified and reverent in their worship. We are told that "Everyone was filled with awe" (Acts 2:43). God was in their midst, and they knew it. They bowed down before Him in humility and wonder and awe and fear. And, as I already said, in their worship those early Christians were "praising God" (Acts 2:47).
Again, some today want nothing but dignity in worship. Others want to throw away dignity and reverence and have only joy. The early Spirit-filled church shows us we don't have to choose between the two. Again, there is room for both. Again, both are needed. After all, this is the way it was in the early Spirit-filled church. Their worship was both joyful and reverent.
Worship, as I already said, is central to the life of the church. To turn baptized converts into disciples, we need to be devoted to worship. To be unified, magnified, and glorified, we need to be devoted to worship. To cooperate with the Spirit we need to be devoted to worship.
So, let me ask, are you devoted to worship? Are we devoted to worship?
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