For the past several weeks we have observed what the first century church devoted itself to based on Luke’s description in Acts 2:42-47. The seventh detail we discover about the first century church is that they were “praising God” (Acts 2:47).
To what is the text referring when it says that the church was “praising God?” The Greek term employed here means “to praise, extol, to sing praises in honor to God.” So, we are talking about worshipping God and declaring His glory through spoken word, particularly song. It is the same activity in which the angelic multitude engaged at the birth of Jesus in Luke 2:13. It is the same activity in which the shepherds engaged after seeing baby Jesus in the manger in Luke 2:20. It is the same activity in which one of the ten lepers engaged when he returned to fall at the feet of Jesus in Luke 17:16. It’s the same activity in which the lame man engaged after Peter and John cured his disability in Acts 3:8-9. It is the involuntary and necessary reaction to experiencing the goodness and majesty of God. And what do we learn about “praising God” from the first century church?
First, we learn that praising God should be prioritized.
It is worth noting that according to Acts 2:46-47, “praising God” took place among the early Christians “day by day.” Based on the context of this passage, their praise of God appears to be connected to both their daily participation in worship at the temple as well as their daily fellowship with one another in their homes. In other words, praising God permeated every aspect of their lives. This consistent involvement in praising God appears to be a first century expectation because the author of Hebrews instructed his readers to “continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (Hebrews 13:15). The author of Hebrews described the practice of praising God as something that should occur “continually.” This description indicates that praising God should be a continual rather than occasional activity. Maybe the first Christians, who were primarily Jewish, understood this expectation since they grew up quoting passages like, “Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever” (Psalm 145:2) and “From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised” (Psalm 113:3).
So, the lesson to be learned from our spiritual ancestors is that we should not limit praising God to the few hours during a week when we assemble for an organized worship service, but, instead, we should make praising God a permanent fixture in the every day fabric of our lives. Paul said it best in Colossians 3:17 when he wrote, “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” So, I believe that the early church understood that praising God should be prioritized so they engaged in it continuously.
Second, we learn that praising God is not about me.
Who benefits from my praise? First and foremost, God benefits from my praise. In Ephesians 5:17-19 Paul instructed the church to speak “to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Notice in this passage that Paul instructs us to sing and make melody in our hearts TO God. God is the One to whom our praise is to be directed. According to Paul’s instructions, God benefits from our praise because through it we are “giving thanks” to Him. The ultimate purpose of our praise is to express our gratitude toward God. Thus, praising God is something to which the church should be devoted so that God is properly and continually thanked.
Second, others benefit from my praise. Paul instructed the church in Colossae to “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). According to these instructions, Paul expects us to teach and admonish each other through our praise to God. This passage is very similar to Ephesians 5:17-19 where Paul begins with the instruction for us to speak “to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” When we are praising God there is a second beneficiary of our praise, and it is those who experience our praise because through our praise people are taught, encouraged, and even corrected. Thus, praising God is something to which the church should be devoted because through it the participants maintain and mature their faith.
So, my praise is designed to benefit God and others, but neither of the aforementioned passages in Ephesians or Colossians addresses the benefits of praising God for myself. Do you know why? Because praising God is not about me! When it comes to praising God, my mindset should not be “what can I get out of this” but rather “what can I put into this” because I should recognize that the primary beneficiary of my praise is not myself.
Maybe this was most evident in the midnight praise session of Paul and Silas while they were imprisoned in Philippi. Luke tells us that despite their circumstances, they spent the evening “praying and singing hymns to God” (Acts 16:25), and notice what happened as a result of their praise. According to Acts 16:26, a miraculous earthquake occurred that opened all the doors and unchained all of the prisoners. The guard in charge of the prison was about to commit suicide because he assumed all the prisoners escaped but Paul stopped him saying, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here” (Acts 16:28). None of the prisoners escaped despite having freedom readily available. Then the jailer went to Paul and Silas and asked, “what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30), and, shortly thereafter, he and all of his household were baptized (Acts 16:33). Now consider for a moment who benefited the most from the praise of Paul and Silas that night? Was it the ones offering the praise or someone else? In my opinion, the greatest beneficiaries of their praise was God, who was glorified and pointed toward by way of their praise, and a jailer, who was compelled to seek salvation from the two individuals declaring God’s glory.
So, are you praising God in the twenty-first century with a first century mindset? Is your praise of God prioritized and minimized? Is your praise of God about Him or about you? May we all seek to be devoted to praise the same way the original Christians were.