MELVIN M. NEWLAND, MINISTER
CENTRAL CHRISTIAN, BROWNSVILLE, TX
A. As you travel to visit relatives or to enjoy a well-earned vacation, do you make a habit of attending church on Sunday wherever you are? I certainly hope that you do. I hope that you haven’t somehow adopted the pagan philosophy that God is only your God back home, & that He has no power or influence over your actions when you’re away from home.
Worshiping with others, joining with them in praising God, not only benefits you, but it is a witness & encouragement to those you visit, too.
B. But as you attend other churches, you begin to discover that there are dramatic differences in worship styles, & they can generally be divided into two types of services, traditional & contemporary.
1. For example, the traditional worship service is formal. Traditionalists often feel that the preacher ought to be dignified & speak theological truths in measured, reverent tones. They read responsively & often pray "The Lord’s Prayer" in unison. The choir wears robes, sings out of hymnbooks, & the music is Bach & Beethoven, played on an organ.
2. In contrast, contemporary worship services are very informal. The music is loud & upbeat, often accompanied by a praise band with guitar & drums & other instruments. The preacher dresses casually & may sit on a stool, holding a microphone, & conversationally visit with the congregation about the things of God.
APPL. Now both types of services have their strengths & their weaknesses. But the problem is that some people are so opinionated about their preferences that churches are actually fussing & dividing over how to worship God.
Some contemporaries are saying to the traditionalists, "If you won’t have a worship service the way we like it then we won’t worship with you." And some traditionalists are saying to the contemporaries, "We don’t like your kind of worship service so we won’t worship with you, either."
Now I think that’s a tragedy. When God’s people can’t worship & praise God together, then there is something wrong with our Christianity.
C. So how do we avoid this problem? Well, one way is to learn to put up with each other & love each other in spite of our preferences. So if something happens in worship that doesn’t particularly minister to me, I must learn to say, "Well, that doesn’t minister much to me, but it is ministering to someone else, & I praise God that I’m not the only one who has come to worship here today."
D. Now to help us develop this spirit of love in diversity, let’s look at Acts 20:7-12 & see what we can learn from it about Christians worshiping in the 1st century as the church was beginning to spread throughout the world.
Acts 20:7 says, "On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people &, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight."
Hey, is that how long my sermons ought to be? Well, maybe not. Let’s go on to vs. 8.
"There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting. Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on & on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story & was picked up dead.
"Paul went down, threw himself on the young man & put his arms around him. `Don’t be alarmed,’ he said, `He’s alive!’ Then he went upstairs again & broke bread & ate. After talking until daylight, he left. The people took the young man home alive & they were greatly comforted."
PROP. Now with this passage in mind, let’s look at some of what God’s Word has to say about Christians worshiping together.
A. First of all, our worship is to be a celebration. Notice that it says that they met "on the first day of the week." They met on the first day of the week as a weekly celebration of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
The O.T. Jew met on the Sabbath or 7th day of the week to commemorate that God created the universe & everything in it in 6 days, & then on the 7th day He rested. So to the Jews, it was to be a day of rest & worship.
But today, most Christians meet on the first day of the week to celebrate Christ’s victory over sin & death. We celebrate our salvation, & the promise of everlasting life. Now that’s reason for celebration!
ILL. A sportswriter for the Dallas Morning News wrote an article a few years ago about visiting the Dallas Cowboy team at Valley Ranch after the 4th regular game of that football season.
He wrote, "I have never seen so many long faces on millionaires in all my life. Here are all these guys making millions of dollars, & the parking lot is filled with very expensive automobiles. Yet, these guys are all walking around with long faces. I don’t understand why. They are making lots of money. They are young. They are successful. The Cowboys are 4 & 0 for this season. They ought to be rejoicing. I just don’t understand it.
"Then I remembered when I was a player. We came to the dressing room on Monday morning after a victory on Sunday that no one had expected us to win, & yet we did. We were in a state of euphoria. But now everybody expects the Cowboys to win, so the euphoria is gone."
The sportswriter quoted Troy Aikman as saying, "The 1992 season was fun. We were a team that was expected to do well but not too well. No one expected us to beat the San Francisco 49’ers. And yet we did, & we went on to win the Super Bowl. It was a time of great celebration. But since then, our games have become more like just a job."
B. Now I mention this article because I see many similarities between that & what happens in the church. Do you remember when you became a Christian? Do you remember the excitement when you realized for the first time that God loves you & sent His only begotten Son into the world for you?
Do you remember the fresh clean feeling that overwhelmed you when you were baptized & started the new life in Jesus Christ? Do you remember the joy you felt because your burden of sin had been lifted & now you had a fresh start in life? Do you remember all that?
But that was some time ago, wasn’t it? And now you have been coming to church week after week, & somehow in the repetitive nature of it all you have lost the joy of your celebration. And that’s sad.
We’re here to celebrate the greatest victory ever won. Jesus Christ has defeated sin & death & through Him we have the promise of everlasting life. Now that’s reason for celebration.
C. Consider the Book of Psalms. You need to realize, of course, that in the O.T. they didn’t have nearly as much to celebrate as we do because of Jesus. But listen to some of the expressions of celebration that are there.
Psalms 95:1 says, "Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before Him with thanksgiving & extol Him with music & song."
Or how about Psalms 47:1? "Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy."
Or Psalms 150? As I read it, I want you to catch the sense of excitement. It begins on a soft note, & then the excitement builds.
"Praise the Lord. Praise God in His sanctuary; praise Him in His mighty heavens. Praise Him for His acts of power; praise Him for His surpassing greatness. Praise Him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise Him with the harp & lyre, praise Him with tambourine & dancing, praise Him with the strings & flutes, praise Him with the clash of cymbals, praise Him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord."
That sounds like a celebration to me, doesn’t it to you? Here are all of the elements of nature coming together, & the Psalmist is saying, "Let everything that has breath praise the Lord."
Psalm 95:6 says, "Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker."
Psalm 63:4 says, "I will praise you as long as I live, & in your name I will lift up my hands."
In 1 Timothy 2:8 Paul says, "I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer." Now I believe that Paul was emphasizing the need to be right with God when we pray, & not the position of our hands. But at the same time, the raising of their hands was very much a part of Jewish worship in O.T. times.
Frankly, folks, because of my cultural background I don’t feel comfortable raising my hands when I sing or pray. It distracts me in my worship. But at the same time, I realize that when a little child lifts up his hands to his parents, that is oftentimes his way of saying, "Lift me up! You’re bigger than I am." And whether we raise our hands when we worship or not, that’s the kind of attitude we should have towards our God.
SUM. Now what am I saying? I’m advocating that we recognize & appreciate the differences in public worship. We should not be critical of churches that are more formal or churches that are more expressive. We should feel comfortable with clapping & we should also know when to be quiet. We should be able to appreciate a singing group if they raise their hands when they sing, or a teenage singing group if they have choreography when they perform.
Now all this ought to be done decently & in order, & there is a danger of going too far. But still, I like Billy Sunday’s statement: "I’d rather restrain a fanatic than resurrect a corpse any day!"
SUM. So worship is to be a time of celebration and praise!
A. Worship should also be a time of reverence. The early Christians’ purpose in coming together was to observe the Lord’s Supper. That was a time of reverence. When Jesus instituted the Communion, He said, "As often as you do this, do it in remembrance of me."
He didn’t say how often to do it, but the early Christians apparently did it every Sunday. That is one reason why it was very natural for Luke to report in the book of Acts "On the first day of the week we came together to break bread" [Acts 20:7].
Not only is that what the Bible says, but church historians verify that the partaking of communion, the Lord’s Supper, was an every-Sunday occurrence. That’s why we have Communion every Sunday. It’s a good precedent to follow. We know that there is a danger of Communion becoming too commonplace, but we think the benefits far outweigh the dangers. Once a week is not too often to be close with the One you love.
B. So the observance of the Lord’s Supper is a time for reverence, a holy & very sacred moment. It is not a time for clapping hands or shouting. It is a time to be still & think about Jesus upon the cross. Jesus said, "This is my blood, given for you . . . This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you" [Luke 22:19-20].
God knows that we often forget the things we ought to remember. So He gave us this Communion as a visual aid, something that we can hold & something that we can see & something that we can taste & take inside of us to help us remember & never forget what Jesus Christ has done for us.
SUM. So worship is also a time of remembrance & reverence.
A. Finally, the preaching of the Word of God was also prominent in the worship of the early church. 1 Corinthians 1:21 says, "It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe."
The world may regard preaching as foolish, but God uses it to convert the lost. Romans 10:1314 says, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?"
B. It may seem foolish to the world, but God uses preaching to build up Christians, too. Paul told Timothy, "Preach the Word; be prepared in season & out of season; correct, rebuke, & encourage - with great patience & careful instruction" [2 Timothy 4:2].
There is something about the preaching of God’s Word that becomes like meat & potatoes to our souls. It may have seemed ridiculous to the pagan people of Troas, but the Christians stayed up all night long just to hear Paul preach the Word of God.
But an unusual event happened while Paul preached. He preached on & on, & a young man named Eutychus fell asleep & fell out the window [they were on the third story]. I feel sorry for Eutychus. He was a young man, & maybe he was a slave who had worked hard all day. The room was crowded, the air was stuffy, the smoke from the lamps filled the room, & he just couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer.
APPL. Have you ever been to church & started falling asleep, even though you didn’t want to? I certainly have! You pinch yourself & you try to stay alert, but it’s a terrible battle, isn’t it?
ILL. You ought to hear Charles Swindoll tell some of the things he’s seen when people fall asleep in church. People have bumped their heads on the pew in front of them, or remain seated when others stand, or dropped their hymnals.
ILL. I heard that once, in a country church, an elder’s wife nudged her husband to awaken him, & he jumped to his feet & started giving the benediction right in the middle of the sermon!
C. Well, anyway, when Eutychus fell out of the window, the people rushed downstairs to pick him up, & found that he was dead. But Paul said, "Don’t be alarmed." By God’s miraculous power, he raised that young man from the dead. Then they went back upstairs & ate.
After that Paul began preaching again; & he continued preaching until dawn.
APPL. So worship should be a time of instruction & inspiration, a time when we are fed from the Word of God.
But if you go to a church & the Bible is ignored, if all you hear about are social problems or current events, then something is wrong there. Jesus said, "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God" [Matthew 4:4].
D. Now let me make a couple of suggestions to help us in our worship.
1. First of all, if we’re going to be instructed, we ought to come rested. If we stay out too late on Saturday night & we’re exhausted on Sunday morning, we’re not really giving God our best.
2. Another thing we can do to receive instruction in a more meaningful way is to pray. Before the message, pray that what is said will be of special benefit to you. It has been said that "Prayerless pews make powerless pulpits." It’s a lot tougher to be critical if you’re praying for the speaker. You become more sympathetic & attentive as a listener.
CONCL. Two words describe the manner in which Eutychus & the people left that service, & the same words ought to describe how we leave, too. Acts 20:12 tells us, "The people took the young man home alive & were greatly comforted."
We ought to go home alive & comforted, too. "Alive" because we’ve celebrated the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, & we’ve reverently gathered around His table to thank Him, & we’ve fed from His Word & been strengthened. "Comforted" because we have our values in their proper order once again, & our priorities in perspective. God is still on the throne, & regardless of what problems we may face today or next week, God has promised, "I will never leave you or forsake you" [Joshua 1:5].