The First Day of the Week

When Paul takes a pit stop on his way to Jerusalem in Troas, he ends up spending a week in town. As Luke records the most notable event of that week in Acts 20:7-12, he also indirectly reveals to us certain information about the worship of the early church in that city. This is, then, a good occasion to stop and reflect on the worship of the early church. In particular, we’re going to reflect on the significance of the church’s gathering on the first day of the week.

There is evidence elsewhere in the New Testament that this was the regular day for the church’s worship. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he instructs the church to set aside their contributions for the Jerusalem church on the first day of the week (v2). This suggests that the church was already meeting on that day, most naturally for worship. Even earlier, though, in Acts 2, the disciples were already gathered on the first day of the week when the Spirit was poured out on them on Pentecost.[1]

This habit of meeting on the first day of the week was not arbitrarily determined by the church, though. Rather, it flowed from the fact that our Lord was raised from the dead on the first day of the week. His resurrection on the first day of the week inaugurated the full and final Sabbath rest into which believers of the Lord Jesus will enter at the end of this present age.

And, to make the move from the Lord’s resurrection on the first day of the week to the regular celebration of his resurrection in anticipation of the fullness of Sabbath rest, Christ himself established the pattern of meeting with his disciples on the first day of the week after his resurrection. Significantly, when our Lord appeared to the disciples traveling on the road to Emmaus, which he did on that first resurrection Sunday, he not only interpreted the Scriptures for them but also broke bread with them (Luke 24:13-35). Then, in the evening of that same day, Jesus again met with his disciples (John 20:19-23). Finally, a week later, on the next first day of the week, Jesus again met with his disciples to encourage them (John 20:24-29).

This practice of meeting together as the body of Christ on the first day of the week then flowed not from some cultural convention or matter of convenience but from Christ himself in both the day of his resurrection and his example of meeting with his disciples on that first day of the week. It is for this reason that we continue to meet together on the first day of the week to worship the Lord.

But though we share this commonality with the believers of the early church, there is one notable difference between the church at Troas and Covenant in our text: the timing of that worship on the first day of the week. Now, many commentators have noted that Sunday was a workday in the first century Greco-Roman world. This means that the church had to meet after the workday was over in order to be together in worship. As a side note, then, when we read in Acts 20:7 (ESV) that Paul “prolonged his speech until midnight,” we should not assume that he preached straight through from morning to midnight. Rather, the church would not have gathered together to hear Paul preach until after hours, as it were.

From this point we can observe a certain balance between flexibility and inflexibility. On the one hand, the church’s worship was, to an extent, flexible according to the prevailing culture of the day. Not having the liberty to skip out on work, the church gathered when the greatest number of believers were available to gather. On the other hand, the church did not try to find another day in the week that was more convenient for gathering, or somehow carve out 1/7th of the week in bits and pieces in the pursuit of worship. No, when it came to the day of worship, the church was inflexible. It met on the first day of the week, the day when Christ himself had already established the pattern for meeting with his people.

To be sure, our situation is quite different than the believers in Troas. My prayer, however, is that we would be both as flexible and inflexible as they were in the pursuit of worshiping the God of our salvation.

[1] Hughes Oliphant Old, Worship: Reformed According to Scripture, Rev. and expanded ed. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002), 26.

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