Unity in Worship
Soon after the Day of Pentecost, the early Christians spent much of their time in worship. “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42, NKJV). The joy that came from knowing Jesus as the Messiah, the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, filled their hearts with thanksgiving and gratitude to God. What a privilege to know this wonderful truth. These early Christians felt the need to spend time together in fellowship, study, and prayer, all in order to thank God for His revelation in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and for what He had done in their lives.
The church of Jesus Christ is by definition a worshiping community, called into being by God to be “a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5, NKJV). Gratitude to God expressed in community worship transforms people’s hearts and minds into the likeness of the character of God and prepares them for service.
This week’s lesson focuses on the meaning of worship and how it preserves unity among believers in Jesus.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, December 15.
In discussions about worship, we often highlight elements of worship, what it includes and how it is done. But what is the deep meaning of worship? What does it mean to worship God? And why do we do it? In Psalm 29:2, David states: “Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (Ps. 29:2, NKJV). This psalm points us in the right direction to understand the meaning of worship. To worship the Lord is to give Him the glory and honor He deserves.
This depiction of worship in the throne room of heaven as Jesus is introduced as the Lamb of God and Savior of the world is awe-inspiring. Worship happens when God’s creation responds to Him with words of adoration and thankfulness for what He has done.
Worship is the response of a grateful person for God’s creation and salvation. At the end of time, the redeemed also will join in adoration and respond in a similar way to God’s salvation. “ ‘Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints! Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You, for Your judgments have been manifested’ ” (Rev. 15:3, 4, NKJV).
So, worship is a response of our faith in God for His mighty works: first, for creating us, and, second, for redeeming us. In worship we give to God the adoration, reverence, praise, love, and obedience we believe He is worthy to receive. Of course, what we know about God, as our Creator and Savior, comes from what He revealed to us in Scripture. Furthermore, what Christians know about God was revealed more fully in the person and ministry of Jesus (see John 14:8–14). That is why Christians worship Jesus as Savior and Redeemer, as His sacrificial death and resurrection are at the very core of worship.
When Christians come together in worship, it is out of this sense of awe and thankfulness that our worship should proceed.
With pride and arrogance, Satan declared himself to be the rightful ruler of the world, the owner of all its riches and glory, claiming the honor and respect of all who live in it, as if he had created the world. What an insult to God, the Creator. Satan revealed that he knows exactly what worship is about: it is to give honor and respect to the rightful owner of the universe.
From Cain and Abel, to the three Hebrew boys in Babylon, to final events regarding “the mark of the beast” (Rev. 16:2), Satan seeks to establish a false system of worship, one that takes people away from the true God and, even if subtly, direct worship toward himself. After all, even from before the Fall, he wanted to be like God (Isa. 14:14). It’s no coincidence that just as the three young men faced the threat of death unless they were to worship an “image,” in the last days God’s faithful people will face the threat of death unless they will worship an “image,” as well. Why worship any “image” when we are called to worship the true God instead?
“Important are the lessons to be learned from the experience of the Hebrew youth on the plain of Dura. . . .
“The season of distress before God’s people will call for a faith that will not falter. His children must make it manifest that He is the only object of their worship, and that no consideration, not even that of life itself, can induce them to make the least concession to false worship. To the loyal heart the commands of sinful, finite men will sink into insignificance beside the word of the eternal God. Truth will be obeyed though the result be imprisonment or exile or death.”—Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, pp. 512, 513.
Seventh-day Adventists see the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14:6–12 as depicting their mission and the core of their message just before the second coming of Jesus (Rev. 14:14–20). These are the important messages to be preached with “a loud voice” to all inhabitants of the earth.
The first of the three angels’ messages proclaims a message to the entire world. This is the fulfillment of Jesus’ prediction in Matthew 24:14. There is a sense of urgency and haste in the depiction of these three angels and their mission. The first message urges people to focus on God because “ ‘the hour of His judgment has come’ ” (Rev. 14:7, NKJV). The second coming of Jesus is the catalyst for the judgment.
“ ‘Fear God,’ ” the angel says (Rev. 14:7). For those who do not take God seriously, this message and call to action will indeed generate fear in their mind. But for those who have been followers of Jesus, this call invites awe and respect. They look up to God and see the fulfillment of His promises. A sense of grateful reverence for God overtakes them.
“ ‘And worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water’ ” (Rev. 14:7, NKJV). This language makes an unmistakable allusion to the Sabbath commandment, with its reference to Creation (see Exod. 20:8–11). The God of Creation, who instituted the Sabbath as a memorial of His creative power, is the One who is to be worshiped and revered.
It is interesting to note that at the end of time worship is identified as a key issue in the great controversy for the allegiance of the human race. This worldwide announcement is a call to worship the Creator.
“The central issue in the final crisis will be worship. Revelation makes clear that the test will not be denial of worship, but rather who is worshiped. At the time of the end, only two groups of people will be in the world: those who fear and worship the true God (11:1, 18; 14:7) and those who hate the truth and are worshipers of the dragon and the beast (13:4–8, 14:9–11). . . .
“If worship is the central issue in the final conflict, no wonder then that God sends His end-time gospel urging the inhabitants of the earth to take Him seriously and worship Him as the Creator, the only One worthy of worship.”—Ranko Stefanovic, Revelation of Jesus Christ: Commentary on the Book of Revelation (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 2002), pp. 444, 445.
“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship” (Acts 2:42, NKJV). From the earliest moments of the church, worship has been characterized by the centrality of the study of the Word of God given to us by the apostles. The first Christians were faithful in studying the Scriptures for what they said about Jesus the Messiah. They were in constant fellowship to share with one another the blessings God had given them and to encourage each other in their spiritual walk with God. In the Word they mined the sacred truths that became the foundation of their message to the world.
“Wherever the truths of the gospel are proclaimed, those who honestly desire to do right are led to a diligent searching of the Scriptures. If, in the closing scenes of this earth’s history, those to whom testing truths are proclaimed would follow the example of the Bereans, searching the Scriptures daily, and comparing with God’s word the messages brought them, there would today be a large number loyal to the precepts of God’s law, where now there are comparatively few.”—Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 232.
We are a united people because of the truths that we proclaim, truths that we find from the Word of God. This was true of God’s church in the early days, and it is true of it today. The study of God’s Word forms the core of both our worship to God and our unity as a people who have been called to proclaim the three angels’ messages to the world. When we come together as a family to fellowship and worship, the Scriptures speak to us words from God to guide our lives in preparation for our mission and for Jesus’ second coming.
Whatever the challenges the early church faced, they were united in their common faith in Jesus and in the truth He had entrusted them to spread to the world. It’s what Peter even called “present truth” (2 Pet. 1:12). And thus, united in the truth, they expressed their unity in a number of ways.
“And they continued steadfastly . . . in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42, NKJV). This reference to breaking of bread probably refers to a fellowship meal or to regular meals shared between believers. At some point during a fellowship meal, someone would offer a special blessing over the bread and drink in memory of Jesus’ death and resurrection, in expectation of His soon return. Early Christians thus devoted their time to remembering the meaning of Jesus’ life and ministry, and loved to talk about it in fellowship meals. The meals they shared became moments of worship. “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:46, 47, NKJV). No doubt this time of fellowship together greatly helped strengthen the sense of unity they had in Jesus.
The early church cherished the opportunity for direct communication with God and never failed to offer up petitions to Him when gathered together in worship. Paul in his First Epistle to Timothy mentions the importance of prayer when Christians are together (1 Tim. 2:1). To the Ephesians, he also emphasized the need of prayer: “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints—and for me” (Eph. 6:18, 19, NKJV).
What are ways that we can experience a deeper unity through the power of intercessory prayer for common causes? How does this prayer help unite us as a church?
Further Thought: Read the articles “Prayer,” pp. 1044–1046, and “Worship,” pp. 1290, 1291, in The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia.
“ ‘The importance of the Sabbath as the memorial of creation is that it keeps ever present the true reason why worship is due to God’—because He is the Creator, and we are His creatures. ‘The Sabbath therefore lies at the very foundation of divine worship, for it teaches this great truth in the most impressive manner, and no other institution does this. The true ground of divine worship, not of that on the seventh day merely, but of all worship, is found in the distinction between the Creator and His creatures. This great fact can never become obsolete, and must never be forgotten.’—J. N. Andrews, History of the Sabbath, chapter 27. It was to keep this truth ever before the minds of men, that God instituted the Sabbath in Eden; and so long as the fact that He is our Creator continues to be a reason why we should worship Him, so long the Sabbath will continue as its sign and memorial. Had the Sabbath been universally kept, man’s thoughts and affections would have been led to the Creator as the object of reverence and worship, and there would never have been an idolater, an atheist, or an infidel. The keeping of the Sabbath is a sign of loyalty to the true God, ‘Him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.’ It follows that the message which commands men to worship God and keep His commandments will especially call upon them to keep the fourth commandment.”—Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, pp. 437, 438.
Summary: Worship is the Christian believer’s thankful response to God for His gift of salvation. It also is an essential element of the Christian community’s experience of unity and fellowship. Without prayer and Bible study in a desire to know God’s truth for us, our community will fail to experience oneness in Christ.