part of the what is truth? series

How worship to God happens and what it actually looks like varies around the world. In fact, others’ offering of worship to God in your own community may look completely different from how you worship.

Of course there are differences in how people dress and things they might recite, but this question is focused on the activities that we engage in in our worship to God. In fact, just a search on “worship activities” brings all kinds of results. For example, engageworship.org offers suggestions during Covid that “include a simple prayer or worship activity which families can engage with together, using movement, interaction, craft, play and more. We will be varying the themes and types of engagement with God, and we are sure that you’ll be able to adapt the ideas to suit your family.”

But what if there were certain activities that God expected in worship to Him? Is it really up to us to determine, taking liberty to define what our worship to God looks like? Consider below what Scripture shows us about what first century worship to God looked like and let us know your thoughts or suggestions in the comments.

how Scripture answers "What does worship to God look like?"

Fundamentally, worship to God should be in spirit and in truth1 – assembling in the name of Jesus Christ8. Further, according to Scripture, our worship to God on the first day of the week should include:

  • partaking of the Lord’s Supper2,7
  • giving for specific need(s)3
  • singing songs of praise to/for God5
  • reading of Scripture6
  • teaching/preaching6,7

Finally, when we come together in worship to God, it should be with the forethought and planning that accounts for the needs and encouragement of others4,6.

Worship really isn’t about our own spiritual fulfillment or enjoyment (although it should achieve both). It is first in honor and glory to God and Jesus as Lord8, and second to encourage fellow saints in Christ to press on.

the answer above is based on and footnoted with the following Scripture Blocks
1

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

A time will come when true worshipers will worship in “spirit and truth.” God seeks these worshipers and it is how they “must” worship Him since He is spirit.

Jesus is speaking to the woman at the well in Samaria. It’s a time when Jews considered Jerusalem the center of worship (still under the Mosaic covenant). Conversely, the Samaritans had developed their own center of worship – an offshoot of the traditions passed down from their Jewish heritage. Worship location is very much the context in which Jesus is speaking. Immediately preceding he says, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.” (vs 21)

How does it inform?

Worshipers (and thus worship) that is “true” would be done in spirit and in truth — indicators of true worship looks like.

Does it apply? Yes

2
Now when you come together at the same place, you are not really eating the Lord’s Supper. For when it is time to eat, everyone proceeds with his own supper. One is hungry and another becomes drunk.

They were coming together to eat the Lord’s Supper, but not doing so properly – they were not waiting on each other, doing it in excess and for carnal reasons (getting drunk).

Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth gives many admonitions and instruction about their worship practice.  In this case, he’s admonishing about the divisions created in their inappropriate Lord’s Supper practices.

How does it inform?

While an admonition, it demonstrates one thing the church did during “coming together” (worship) – partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Paul’s admonition is also a practical example and manifestation of Jesus’ declaration that true worship would be in spirit (not for carnal reasons) and truth.

Does it apply? Yes

3

On the first day of the week, each of you should set aside some income and save it to the extent that God has blessed you, so that a collection will not have to be made when I come.

Everyone should give what they have determined (“purposed”, “set aside”) to give.  Not grudgingly.  Not because they’re obligated. But cheerfully, as is pleasing to God.

Paul has been encouraging the brethren to give as other churches have given liberally.  In this case, it is a collection being made for a specific need for the Christians in Jerusalem.
How does it inform?

The saints gave of their means when they came together each first day of the week for specific need(s).

Does it apply? Yes

4

And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near.

Christians should be thoughtful about how to encourage each other in love and good works; gathering together to worship is one way to do this, yet some were not gathering (thus, not encouraging).

This letter to Jewish Christians that were now scattered throughout the region contrasts their Old Covenant worship practices (e.g. sacrifices, High Priest, etc.) with the New Covenant under Jesus Christ.

How does it inform?

A harder to spot activity of worship, but encouraging others and “spurring one another on” is definitely an activity. It requires forethought (planning) and obviously being present. The encouragement of others is something that should be present and visible.

Does it apply? Yes

5

And do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery, but be filled by the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music in your hearts to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Similar to the contrast from Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 regarding the Lord’s Supper, here he advocates for the spiritual over the carnal by signing.  Specifically, singing songs of praise to God in a way that speaks to each other — using their hearts as the instrument and with an attitude of thanksgiving to God and submission to each other (given the common bond in Christ).

Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus giving encouragement and instruction.

How does it inform?

When coming together, they sang songs of praise to God.

Does it apply? Yes

6

Until I come, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.

Timothy is given instruction to read Scripture publicly, exhort and teach.

Paul’s letter to a young preacher, Timothy.  Throughout the letter, Paul’s instructions have to do with Timothy’s activities and relationship with the brethren there with Timothy (the church).

How does it inform?

We couldn’t say this instruction definitely applied to reading during worship specifically, but it would seem likely given the context. Broadly, throughout the letter, Paul references the other brethren there and specifically, Paul qualifies these activities to be in public. Therefore, it most likely would be when they are gathered together for worship. Additionally, in other places Paul has instructed his letters (e.g. Scripture) be read to the church so it was common. (1 Thess 5:27, Col 4:16)

Does it apply? Yes

7

We sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and within five days we came to the others in Troas, where we stayed for seven days. On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul began to speak to the people, and because he intended to leave the next day, he extended his message until midnight.

Paul and his group left Philippi after the feast of Unleavened Bread and sailed five days to Troas.  They stayed there seven days and on the first day of the week (Sunday) met to break bread.  Paul also spoke to the group for an extended period since he was leaving the next day.

Paul is traveling to Jerusalem and stopping in various cities on the journey – and staying, sometimes for months (Corinth).  As he goes, he is collecting money to give the needy saints in Jerusalem.

How does it inform?

The Christians in Troas met on Sunday to “break bread” or partake of the Lord’s Supper and in at least this case, hear a message from Paul.

Does it apply? Yes

8
When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus,
When assembled together in Jesus’ name together with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus,

Paul is correcting the Corinth church on how to deal with a brother/member that is actively engaging in public sin.

How does it inform?

A worship assembly starts with coming together in the name of Jesus as Lord.

Does it apply? Yes

Do you agree? If so, share this question and the Bible Study Framework with others.

If you know of some other verses or you have something to add to the verses already listed for this question please leave a comment below! We welcome the public discussion and will incorporate your input into the Framework above. We have nothing to hide and invite your help in considering all that God’s word has to say.

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