Theme: Elements of the Early Church: Fellowship and Worship
In this week’s lessons, we see what true Christian unity looks like, and how it blesses everyone involved.
Scripture: Psalm 133:1-3
We said yesterday that the early Christians had strong relationships with God, and thus also strong relationships with one another. Various elements go together in this important description, including the apostles’ teaching, which we looked at in yesterday’s study.
2. The fellowship. Love of the Scriptures led these believers also to love one another, which meant that they had genuine unity as God’s people. The most important thing about them, both individually and as a community, was their devotion to the teaching. But because of it, they cared for one another. They even shared their material possessions and gave generously to all who were in need.
3. The worship of God. The third characteristic of this early church was worship. There was “the breaking of bread” and “prayer.” “Breaking of bread” stands for the communion service, and prayer, although it is something we can do individually and at different times, is in this passage actually the formal exercise of prayer in the assembly. This is because in the Greek the definite article occurs before the word “prayer.” So the verse actually says, “to the prayers.” These Christians devoted themselves “to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.” This means that they got together to observe the Lord’s Supper, pray and praise God. Verse 46 says that they did this “in the temple courts.” The Court of the Gentiles was a large place, holding perhaps 200,000 people. It was the only place in Jerusalem where you could get such a large crowd together.
But the Christians did not only worship in this formal setting. They worshipped informally as well, for the very next phrase adds that “they broke bread in their homes” (v. 46). It is a deliberate repetition. In verse 42, “they devoted themselves … to the breaking of bread.” Then in verse 46, “They broke bread in their homes.” It means that they did both. They had formal worship, and they had informal worship too. And the informal worship included, and perhaps was largely centered on, the communion service.
We have followed the biblical ideal of unity and community from Genesis 2, through Psalm 133, to Jesus’ prayer for his church and the example of the first model church in Jerusalem in the days of the apostles. We should end by also looking to the end, that is, to that perfect unity that will exist in heaven. This is what the psalm also does when it speaks of God bestowing the blessing of “life forevermore” from Mount Zion (v. 3).
Earthly Zion is a type of heavenly Zion. Hebrews speaks of it as a place of “joyful assembly” (12:22) and “an enduring city” (13:13). Revelation calls it “new Jerusalem,” in which there will be no sin, no evil, no pain and no death, and in which there will be no disharmony because the desire of every one of God’s redeemed people will be for his glory and for the glory of the Lamb, who is Jesus Christ (Rev. 21:1–22:6). We sing,
Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.
That is it exactly. It is an anticipation of that perfect future unity that causes us to seek and to maintain our unity now. One commentator says, “If we dwell together in loving unity now, we have already begun the enjoyments of Eternity, which are for evermore and can never be taken away from us.”1
1Herbert Lockyer, Jr., Psalms: A Devotional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1993), p. 688.
Explain what fellowship was to an early Christian.
How did early Christians worship? What does the bread represent?
What does the Christian community anticipate?
Prayer: Pray for unity in your Christian community and ask God how you can help bring this about.
For Further Study: Do you know a new Christian who might benefit from going through the Psalms? Perhaps you might even like to meet with him or her and study together. Since they were originally preached to a congregation, James Boice’s published volumes would be a great resource for the two of you to use. Order your copy of the three-volume paperback set, and take 25% off the regular price.