I know, beloved child of God, that as we pursue this wonderful quest for authentic Christianity, you, like me, have given much thought to how we should go about expressing our praise and adoration to the Lord. We know that we have been call out of this world and called to worship. In previous chapters we have explored the concept of worship and how, in light of the terms of the new covenant, everything in our lives—from our daily, mundane chores to the lofty goals and dreams we pursue—can and should become worship. We also introduced a facet of our worship that I like to think of as “terms of endearment”—specific ways that God expresses His love for us and that we express our love for God.
These “terms of endearment,” as I like to call them, are important to our quest because they help define our relationship with God, how we think of Him, the level of intimacy we share with Him, and even how we approach Him individually and collectively in shared worship. I think of King David after the loss of his baby boy, Jedidiah. According to the Biblical record, after days of fasting with tears, David learned that his child had died; “So David arose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he came into the house of the Lord and worshiped” (2 Samuel 12:20, NASB). Drawing near to God in worship helped David cope with the sickness and death of his son; and helped to restore him after the child had died. It was also David who said, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (Psalm 122:1, NASB).
Of course, in our continued pursuit of an authentic life in Christ, we have to be aware of the fact that worship has always been a hotly contested issue among people professing a faith in Christ. It is important to our quest, therefore, that we walk with an awareness of some of the pitfalls that lie before us so that we can do our best to avoid them, if possible; and, if not avoid them, at least deal with them appropriately.
Remember that, when Jesus was asked about worship by the woman with whom He spoke at Jacob’s well, He said to her:
But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.
(John 4:23-24, NASB)
As we briefly discussed in the previous chapter, this passage has been gravely misused by the legalists—both conservative and liberal—among us. Is there any passage of scripture they do no abuse? Basically, their thinking goes like this: Jesus said we must worship “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Jesus also said “Sanctify them in the truth, Thy word is truth” (John 17:17, NASB). So to worship in truth means to worship Him in accordance with the teachings of God’s word—the Bible. I agree with this line of reasoning, so far. But then comes the inevitable leap of logic when they say: therefore, only those specific acts that we choose to identify as being commanded or exemplified in the pages of the New Testament can be considered true worship. And, here again, the legalists manage to turn the New Testament into a book of law and legal codes—mirroring the Old Testament Law of Moses—at least in their own minds.
But what does worship “in spirit and truth” really mean? I submit to you, beloved, that to worship in spirit means that, ultimately, worship is an affair of the heart and the mind. True worship transcends these mortal bounds and elevates us into the realm of the spiritual, the supernatural, the heavenly. It’s not about merely going through the motions, or simply adhering to some prescribed rules, regulations, or order of worship. Whatever physical manifestations of praise we employ to help us express our adoration for God are mere expediencies. God is looking at our hearts.
Likewise, to worship in truth has everything to do with our hearts. It means that we worship in sincerity, in honesty, and with integrity; as a true expression of our hearts, and not with pretense or falsehood—it is not about the show! I believe it also means that we worship with some meaningful level of intelligence with regard to just Who it is that we worship, what He has done for us, and why He alone is worthy of our worship. And, yes, it also means that we worship Him in a manner that we know is in accordance with what His word teaches us is good, and righteous, and holy in the sight of the Lord. Obviously, no immoral, unholy, dishonest, or selfish act, regardless of how sanctimonious it may appear, should ever be construed as worship.
With these thoughts in mind, we now turn to the pages of the New Testament to learn from the examples of our brothers and sisters in Christ who have walked the trail before us on this journey of faith. By exploring how the Bible says they worshipped together “in spirit and truth,” we too can discover the beauty and power of coming together and experiencing authentic worship unto God.
We know that shared community life was vital to the ekklesia in Bible days. Fellowship was fundamental to their existence. Luke, the prophet and historian who gave us the books of Luke and Acts, tells us that the children of God not only shared daily life together and took care of one another’s needs, but when they were together, “they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42, NASB).
The ekklesia’s devotion to “the breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42, NASB) may be a reference only to their “taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart” (verse 46, NASB), or it may be a reference to “the Lord’s supper” (I Corinthians 11:20, NASB).
Likewise, we read that, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight” (Acts 20:7, NASB). The “first day of the week,” was probably Saturday evening—sometime between sundown and midnight—according to the Jewish calendar and tradition; which explains why there were “many lamps in the upper room where they were gathered together” (verse 8) and why the young man, Eutychus, “was overcome by sleep and fell down from the third floor and was picked up dead” (verse 9).
Note that, while Paul spent a good deal of his time teaching the brethren on this occasion, the stated purpose for their coming together was “to break bread” (verse 7). This, too, may be a reference only to a common meal; or it may be a reference to “the Lord’s supper.” However, it really makes no difference how anyone chooses to interpret or apply these particular passages because we know from other verses that God’s children often observed “the Lord’s supper” when they were together.
Writing to the ekklesia living in and around the city of Corinth, the Apostle Paul says:
Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.
(I Corinthians 10:16-17, NASB)
Later in the same letter, Paul again writes:
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.
(I Corinthians 11:23-26, NASB)
Exactly how often did the ekklesia in Bible times observe this memorial feast called, “the Lord’s supper,” to remember and proclaim the sacrificial death of our Savior? We don’t really know. Remember, the New Testament is not written like the book of Leviticus or Deuteronomy. It is not a law book with strict rules and regulations meant to govern every facet of our worship. The new covenant is “not like the covenant which I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt” (Hebrews 8:9, NASB). And, as we have already seen, for the new covenant child of God, no one day is any more important or holy than any other because, for us, every day is a holy day—every day is “the Lord’s day.”
At times, perhaps, Christians in Bible days included an observance of the Lord’s supper in their daily fellowship activities, as “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” (Acts 2:46, NASB). At other times, perhaps they observed the Lord’s supper only once a week, “on the first day of the week” (Acts 20:7, NASB); which, by Jewish reckoning, would have been sometime between sundown Saturday and sundown Sunday.
To be honest, the Bible does not spell out for us just how often the ekklesia shared together in the Lord’s Supper. It only tells us, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (I Corinthians 11:26, NASB). Why debate “how often,” when what we should be focusing on is making sure that, “as often” as we share the Lord’s supper together, we do it “in spirit and truth”—with our hearts attuned to the sacrifice of our dear Lord, and with the proper understanding of what we are doing and why.
That being said, it becomes apparent from the Apostle Paul’s message to the Christians living in Corinth that celebrating the Lord’s Supper together was one of the central purposes for their coming together on a regular basis. In speaking to them about some of the ways they were abusing the Lord’s Supper—turning it into a common meal and showing discourtesy to the poor, while honoring the socially elite among them—Paul says:
I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a [ekklesia – assembly] church, I hear that divisions exist among you… Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the [ekklesia] of God and shame those who have nothing?
(I Corinthians 11:17-22, NASB)
From this passage we learn that when the ekklesia at Corinth came together, it was “not for the better but for the worse” because it was “not to eat the Lord’s Supper.” Apparently, at least some of their public gatherings were supposed to be for that very purpose—to eat the Lord’s Supper—and, thus, to keep the sacrifice of Christ continually before them. But, due to the way they were abusing the occasion, it appears as though they had forgotten that purpose. It wasn’t about remembering Jesus anymore. And so, Paul says, their coming together was “not for the better, but for the worse.”
It becomes clear, therefore, that observing the Lord’s Supper together—proclaiming God’s love for us by remembering the sacrificial body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ—is supposed to be something that is central to our fellowship; something that is done regularly and often. The Biblical example indicates that, in all likelihood, our Christian brothers and sisters in the 1st century did so at least weekly, when they could, if not more often than that.
As the book of Acts indicates, the ekklesia was also devoted to prayer. The New Testament writers often exhorted God’s covenant children to devote significant time and energy to both personal and collective prayer. The Apostle Paul exhorts us to, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17, NASB). Writing to Timothy, Paul says:
First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
(I Timothy 2:1-4, NASB)
In devoting time to prayer, we shouldn’t forget James’ admonition when he wrote: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5, NASB). Moving forward in our Christian walk of life requires all the wisdom that God will put at our disposal. Bible study and prayer often go hand-in-hand. The study of God’s inspired written word will prompt us to want to love, serve, reach, and teach those around us, as God gives us the opportunity. Spending time in prayer and asking God for wisdom will open our eyes to the opportunities God sets before us each day to make some difference for good in this world—to love someone, or serve someone, or, perhaps, even to teach someone in some way, by word or example.
Concerning personal and private prayer, Jesus had a few words to share on the matter; to which we would do well to give attention. He said:
When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.
(Matthew 6:5-8, NASB)
From Jesus’ teaching in this passage, we learn that what God desires of us is real, heartfelt communication with Him. Personal prayer should be a very private matter and not something we do for show, or to impress other people with our devotion. God has granted us the privilege of being called, “the children of God” (I John 3:1, NASB); and prayer is God’s one-on-one time with His children.
While we do see a few examples of public, or collective, prayer in the Bible, such as the Apostle Paul’s admonition to Timothy when he told him, “I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension” (I Timothy 2:8, NASB), even then, prayer is not to be used hypocritically—to make a big show, or for the purpose of being “seen by men.” Rather, as Paul explained to God’s people in Corinth, “Therefore if the whole [ekklesia] assembles together… Let all things be done for edification” (I Corinthians 14:23 & 26, NASB).
Another principle that we see in Jesus’ words is that God is not into “meaningless repetition.” Even well intentioned and sincere people are notoriously good at resorting to what is called, “canned prayer”—that is, using certain prescribed words or common catch phrases, or even flowery and poetic expression, often learned by mimicking others, to the point that it all becomes rather cliché. But our liturgical protocol, catch phrases, and fancy speech does not impress God. He’s looking for authenticity. He want’s heartfelt expression that stems from genuine relationship; the way a little child would talk to her own earthly father.
Sometimes we may feel a little intimidated about approaching God in such a bold, candid, and intimate manner. We may feel as though we are unworthy and so we need to somehow, perhaps, distance ourselves from God in acknowledgement of His unimaginable superiority. Peter’s first words to Jesus, upon encountering His unearthly power, come to mind when he said, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8, NASB). But the fact is, God already knows our unworthiness to come before Him in such an intimate and authentic manner. Yet, He desires intimate relationship with us none-the-less.
Furthermore, God has already put in place all the necessary decorum and protocol required to protect His holiness; while still granting our direct access to Him. The Holy Spirit, through the Apostle Paul informs us that:
…we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
(Romans 8:26-27, NASB)
I don’t know how to pray as I should. What body position should I assume? Do I fall to my knees and prostrate my body before Him so that my forehead touches the ground with my arms outstretched before me in symbolic vulnerability? Or, do I look toward heaven and raise my hands like a child longing to be picked up and held in her father’s arms? Will God still hear me if I try to talk to Him while driving, or if I’m lying in bed tucked under the covers? What should I be wearing when I pray? Should I dawn my “Sunday best” before daring to approach God in prayer? Will God still hear my prayer if I fail to remove my hat? What words and gestures are appropriate to express my respect, my adoration, my sense of awe? I don’t know! I can’t begin to comprehend the proper protocol for approaching the infinite holiness of He “who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light” (I Timothy 6:15-16, NASB). But, by God’s grace, I don’t have to because that is the Holy Spirit’s responsibility. He “intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”
As for proper attire, I’m already wearing it, for “all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27, NASB). I am washed in the blood of “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29, NASB) and I am clothed with Christ and have “become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NASB), “not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:9, NASB).
Are you beginning to appreciate, to an even greater degree, the difference between the old covenant and its Law of Moses and the new covenant in Christ Jesus? Under the old Mosaic covenant, the priests were required to wear the appropriate apparel of the temple. The high priest was adorned in his high priestly robes with the holy breastplate and his turban before entering into the holy place and approaching the very presence of God. It was all very carnal. The terms of the old covenant were played out on a physical stage, while the terms of the new covenant are expressed in the spiritual dimension. We are not required, today, to adorn ourselves with certain garments or to “assume the position” as we approach God in prayer. Rather, all we have to do is come to God with authenticity and sincerity, “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24, NASB), like a little child approaching his or her own daddy. In fact, the Apostle Paul says:
For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.
(Romans 8:15-16, NASB)
Jesus then went on to say, “Pray, then, in this way” (Matthew 6:9, NASB); and in so doing He gives us, what I like to call, “the model prayer.” Some refer to it as “The Lord’s Prayer” and use it in a way that Jesus had just condemned in His preceding words. That is, people turn it into a “vain repetition,” thinking that, by quoting Jesus’ model prayer, word-for-word, they are, somehow, magically invoking God’s blessing. But God isn’t into voodoo, and prayer is not some kind of incantation. Words hold no magical power or charm. The power of prayer is in the relationship we have with our Heavenly Father and with His Son, our Lord Jesus. Jesus said, “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:13, NASB).
Furthermore, it is important to remember that prayer is a two-way street. It is not only speaking to God, it is also listening to God as He guides our thoughts and refreshes our hearts with a deeper understanding of Him and of His will for our lives. This is one reason why I love combining prayer with meditation on particular passages from God’s word.
Over the years, I’ve come to learn that prayer is not about Him automatically granting my every request simply because I say the right words in the right way. Rather, it is about Him working His will in my life through my relationship with Him. The Apostle John exhorts us with these words, “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him” (I John 5:13-15, NASB). If we ask for things that are not “according to His will” He certainly reserves the right to say “no!”
Taking Jesus’ model prayer as our guide, what do we learn about how we should pray?
- First, prayer includes acknowledging the sovereign position and holiness of God: “Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.”
- Then, prayer is about seeking the will of God and surrendering to His reign over our hearts and lives; rather than trying to force our will on Him, or insisting that He grant our every desire: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
- Prayer is also expressing our vulnerability and reliance on God’s providence and protection: “Give us this day our daily bread.”
- Prayer also affords us opportunity to confess our own sinfulness and to humbly ask for forgiveness: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
- In prayer, we should not only be concerned with physical needs, but we should give attention to our spiritual struggles as well and ask for God’s spiritual protection: “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
- Finally, prayer provides opportunity for sheer praise and acknowledging our understanding and appreciation for God’s authority, power, and glory: “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen!”
(Matthew 6:9-13, NASB)
The ekklesia in Bible days also participated, and often shared together, in various other spiritual disciplines and expressions of worship. Jesus touched on the discipline of fasting when He said:
Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
(Matthew 6:16-18, NASB)
Prayer and fasting often accompanied important community decisions that needed to be made; as when we read of Paul and Barnabas, and their ministry in the cities of Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, and how that, “When they had appointed elders for them in every [ekklēsian], having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed” (Acts 14:23, NASB).
Music was also an important facet of the community fellowship and praise experienced by the ekklesia in Bible days. As with virtually every other culture on earth, music continues to serve as a reflection of our Messianic kingdom culture and plays a vital role in helping to define, preserve, and promote our spiritual heritage. Expressing ourselves through music is not an insignificant thing; and so the Apostle Paul exhorted the Christians in the city of Colossae saying:
Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
(Colossians 3:16, NASB)
He also said to the church in Ephesus:
…be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.
(Ephesians 5:18-20, NASB)
That music is an important part of our Christian community and collective praise can also be seen in Paul’s admonition to the ekklesia in Corinth when he told them, “When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification” (I Corinthians 14:26, NASB). I hope, dear child of God, that your daily walk of life is continually refreshed by beautiful and inspiring music that both celebrates our kingdom heritage and gives praise to God.
Freely sharing physical resources has always been a hallmark of the ekklesia. Remember that Jesus said:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
(John 13:34-35, NASB)
While God’s people have always been commanded to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:39, NASB), the newness of this command is seen in the higher level to which Jesus takes love, saying, “even as ‘I’ have loved you.” When we think about the extent to which Jesus loves us, the word “sacrificial” almost seems an understatement. The Apostle Paul says:
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.
(Ephesians 5:1-2, NASB)
An example of this kind of love can be seen in the financial sacrifices made by the ekklesia in the region of Macedonia, of whom the Apostle Paul writes:
Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the [ekklēsiais] of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God.
(2 Corinthians 8:1-5, NASB)
This financial support provided by the Christians in Macedonia was part of a much broader humanitarian effort encompassing the ekklesia throughout many parts of the Roman Empire. The people living in Judea and the southern parts of the empire were enduring drought, famine, persecution, and general hard times. The Apostle Paul, writing to the ekklesia in Corinth, told them:
Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come. When I arrive, whomever you may approve, I will send them with letters to carry your gift to Jerusalem; and if it is fitting for me to go also, they will go with me.
(I Corinthians 16:1-4, NASB)
Here, the Apostle Paul is certainly not legislating some kind of perpetual command concerning how Christians throughout the ages should assemble and drop their dollars in the collection plate each and every first day of the week; as many alleged scholars, who are of a rather legalistic ilk, often claim. Rather, Paul is simply sharing his strategy for ensuring that the ekklesia at Corinth have ample time and opportunity to do their part in participating in this benevolent effort. The reason for this strategy can be found earlier in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, wherein he tells them:
But I have sent the brethren, in order that our boasting about you may not be made empty in this case, so that, as I was saying, you may be prepared; otherwise if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we—not to speak of you—will be put to shame by this confidence. So I thought it necessary to urge the brethren that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised bountiful gift, so that the same would be ready as a bountiful gift and not affected by covetousness.
(2 Corinthians 9:3-5, NASB)
Paul knew all too well how stingy we all can be when it comes to charitable giving, especially when we have not been duly informed beforehand or are not prepared when the time comes. Hence, he sends a delegation as a precursor with the request “to put aside and save.”
We don’t know whether this putting aside and saving, that Paul speaks of in Chapter 16, was to be done at home on an individual basis, or whether they pooled their resources each first day of the week when they came together, and then put it “aside” in some type of collective treasury. The phrase, “so that no collections be made when I come,” might mean that Paul wanted to have all the funds already together in one place when he got there, ready to be dispatched to Jerusalem right away. Or, it may mean that he didn’t want people digging and scrounging at the last moment trying to come up with enough funds to provide an ample collection that was worthy of such a project. Perhaps both ideas are valid. But, either way, we know that this specific request was only for the duration of the project and only until Paul arrive in Corinth. It was not some kind of blithe tithe; rather, their giving was purposeful and connected to the alleviation of very real and pressing needs.
Speaking of tithes, notice also that Paul does not desire to place some difficult burden on the ekklesia at Corinth or in the region of Macedonia. He tells them, “each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper.” Neither Jesus, nor Paul, nor any of the apostles or prophets of the New Testament ever commanded a tithe of 10%, or any other particular amount. Rather, people were encouraged to give as they were able. This is because, unlike the old covenant Law of Moses, which codified everything and controlled people’s giving by law, the new covenant in Christ provides that God’s laws be put into our minds and written upon our hearts, and that we be controlled by love. So, as we are blessed to do so, giving as we have prospered may mean giving much more than 10%.
In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul again expounds on this same collective effort, saying:
But now finish doing it also, so that just as there was the readiness to desire it, so there may be also the completion of it by your ability. For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality—at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality; as it is written, ‘He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little had no lack.’
(2 Corinthians 8:11-15, NASB)
The eternal principle that we learn from these examples, and from the fellowship of the early church in Jerusalem (Acts 2), is that the ekklesia should always be ready to care for its own; not only locally, but even for those who may live in some far distant land. Christians should remember that the blessings and resources that God invests in us are not just for us; that He wants to use us as a conduit of His blessings to others. Paul encourages God’s people in Ephesus in this regard, telling them that each “… must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need” (Ephesians 4:28, NASB). He also reminds God’s people in Corinth that, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed” (2 Corinthians 9:8, NASB).
It should be noted that the practice of sharing financial resource among the ekklesia in Bible days was not limited only to benevolence and humanitarian needs. They also contributed to the support of those preaching and teaching the gospel. An example of this can be seen in Paul’s message of thanks to the ekklesia in the city of Philippi, wherein he tells them:
You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no [ekklesia] shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs. Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account. But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.
(Philippians 4:15-18, NASB)
Notice that the Apostle Paul considered their gifts of love for his support “a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.” From this we learn that our giving is, indeed, an act of worship!
I have often heard people talk about what they call, “the five acts of worship,”—meaning: singing, prayer, preaching, the Lord’s supper, and giving. I’ve often wondered why they leave out fasting. But while these five expressions of worship are certainly important, as we’ve highlighted in this study together, to my mind, this narrow viewpoint is extremely naïve and represents old covenant thinking—a time when worship was extremely regulated; and when God wanted the bodies of dead animals sacrificed upon the altar.
But we have been set free from all of that. God no longer sanctions temple worship or accepts dead sacrifices. He wants “living and holy sacrifices.” He wants us to crawl out of bed each morning and crawl up on the altar of sacrificial love; and there present our own “bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God.” The Bible says, this is our “spiritual service of worship” (Romans 12:1, NASB). Whether it be a Sunday morning, or any other day of the week, and whether we go out to face the day on our own, or surrounded by other members of the ekklesia, it is important to remember that, wherever we go and whatever we do “in word or deed,” we are to “do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” because “it is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Colossians 3:17 & 24, NASB).
For the ekklesia—God’s covenant children—there are not just five acts of worship. For us, our daily terms of endearment are simply far too many to ever count. Everything we say and do can be, and should be, an expression of worship. We may spend time preaching, teaching, and studying the word together; or we may play a game of volleyball. We may designate time for individual and collective prayer; or we may eat, sing, and laugh together. We may set some time aside to remember and proclaim our Lord’s sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection by sharing the Lord’s supper; or we may visit someone we know and love who is in the hospital. We may contribute financially to some good work or ministry; or we may get together to clean and paint somebody’s house. Regardless of whether we are at work, at school, or at home taking care of the yard, making beds, and doing dishes, we should always remember that it is all beautiful, it is all meaningful, it is all sacred, and it is all “holy to the Lord” because we are “holy to the Lord.” It’s all the work, the mission, and the ministry of the ekklesia. It’s all just life—and it’s all worship!
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