The first day of the week, Sunday, was and is the Lord’s day. While the title “Lord’s day” is only used in Revelation 1:10, “first day” is a common identification of the day when believers gathered.
In the Old Testament, Israel was commanded to keep the Sabbath; to set apart the seventh day of the week (Saturday) and rest from their work just as God rested from His work of creation. But there is no command to keep the Sabbath in the New Testament and it is the only one of the 10 Commandments not repeated in the NT. Not only that, but almost immediately after the resurrection of Jesus on Sunday Christians started congregating for corporate worship on the first day.
At least a few New Testament passages demonstrate the first day focus of the apostles (for example, Acts 20:7-12 and 1 Corinthians 16:2). And there is no doubt that when the apostle John mentioned (c. AD 100) that his vision was on the Lord’s day, he was longing for the corporate Christian fellowship and worship from which he was isolated.
We also see multiple references to the first day as the Lord’s day from the early church fathers as well, spanning from the 2nd through the 5th centuries. Just one example comes from Justin Martyr (c. AD 150):
On Sunday we hold our joint meeting; for the first day is that on which God, having removed darkness and chaos, made the world, and Jesus Christ our Saviour rose from the dead.
So since the middle of the first century, almost 2000 years now, Christians have gathered on Sunday and recognized it as the Lord’s day. This is part of our Christian heritage and should be prized as a special thing.
So what are we to do on the Lord’s day, the first day of the week? Are were simply to dress up in our Sunday best and sit around all day being bored? Well, what do we see in Scripture?
Explicit First Day Activities
In Acts 20:7-12 and 1 Corinthians 16:2 we see at least three explicit, that is clearly stated in detail, activities of gathered Christians.
1. The Lord’s Supper – Acts 20:7a
Acts 20:7 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread,…
The connection is obvious. The day is the Lord’s day, it is the weekly anniversary of the Lord’s resurrection, so commemorating His death and resurrection in the Lord’s supper makes sense.
So the believers in Troas gathered together to break bread. This was more significant than just having a meal, it was part of their communion service (Paul confronted abuses associated with this connection in 1 Corinthians 11). Remembering the Lord’s sacrifice and celebrating the salvation He provides is an appropriate part of Sunday worship.
2. Teaching and Exhortation – Acts 20:7b
Acts 20:7 …Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.
While the believers were gathered Paul instructed them from God’s Word. This was not just conversation (the word “talked” in verse 7 is διαλέγομαι meaning “to instruct, to inform,” and “he prolonged his speech” is παρέτεινέν τε τὸν λόγον indicating that Paul’s speech was at least somewhat arranged). It says he “conversed” with them later (v.11, the word ὁμιλήσας meaning “associate with, talk to”). You might remember that his sermon was so long that particular Sunday that one young man fell asleep and fell from the third floor.
Teaching has always been one of the primary reasons for Christians to gather. The early church was continually devoting themselves to the apostle’s teaching (Acts 2:42) and Paul exhorts Timothy and Titus to speak and teach and preach and instruct and exhort and remind and rebuke and reprove in season and out of season with all patience (1 Timothy 4:11, 13; 2 Timothy 2:14-15; 4:1-4; Titus 2:1, 15; 3:1, 8 )
I’ve said it before, God’s Word is powerful to save and sanctify. And while the two-edged sword can cut in private, there is a special place on the Lord’s day for wielding the sword in public. On the Lord’s day we give attention to the Lord’s word. (Note also Hebrews 4:12-13, His Word is the only thing that can cut to your heart!)
3. Giving – 1 Corinthians 16:2
1 Corinthians 16:2 On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper.
There is something right about giving to the Lord’s work on the Lord’s day. Instead of giving whatever and whenever we feel like it, it is an important discipline to prepare and bring money (that the Lord provided in the first place) to give to the Lord. This is another way in which we acknowledge that this is His day as we offer financial gifts to Him.
(For some extended thoughts on drawing general application from the specific context of 1 Corinthians 16, see the comment thread here.)
Explicit Corporate Activities
While there are only a few things directly connected with Sunday in Scripture, there are a few more practices that are directly connected with corporate meetings of the church.
Baptism is the other ordinance our Lord gave in addition to the Lord’s supper. It is the public and corporate identification of the believer to his Lord.
2. Reading of Scripture – 1 Timothy 4:13
1 Timothy 4:13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.
Again, we give attention to what our Lord says when we give attention to the Bible. God promises that His Word will not return to Him void (Isaiah 55:11).
3. Prayer – 1 Timothy 2:1
Paul begins giving instructions for various groups in the body when they meet. Prayer is an acknowledgment of our dependence on the Lord.
Implicit Corporate Activities
There are activities explicitly connected to Sunday as well as those explicitly associated with corporate meetings. There are also some activities implicitly related to the gathered church.
Singing is never directly connected with Sunday in the NT nor is it ever commanded for group meetings. But based on the example of Israel’s corporate worship, the NT obligations to speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (for example, Colossians 3:16), and the heavenly singing John describes (Revelation 5:9), corporate singing as part of our praise to the Lord is valuable.
2. Ministry Reports
In Acts we see believers regularly giving reports of the Lord’s work in another place, providing opportunity for prayer requests and thanksgiving.
Before we move on to some practical Lord’s day preparation advice, I want to clarify a few things in the next post.