In the middle of the second century, Justin Martyr wrote:
And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability,and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. (Justin Martyr, Apology, Chapter 67)
I’m struck by the utter simplicity of Justin’s description of the care of the poor: those who are relatively prosperous, and who want to, give what they think is right to help those connected in some way to the Christian community. No guilt trips or beating folks up for the choices they make. No patting oneself on the back for being such generous people. Justin’s community simply trusted the consciences of those who weekly shared the table of the Lord to do what is right.
It is significant that Justin discusses this is the context of Christian worship and the fellowship of the table. In Acts 2, Luke makes the same connection:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (43) And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. (44) And all who believed were together and had all things in common. (45) And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. (46) And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47 ESV)
Worship is the central expression of our faith in the one who was “attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst” (Acts 2:22) and who will “come on the clouds with great power and glory” (Luke 21:27). Within our worship, however, the Holy Spirit gives us a foretaste of that age to come. Sharing with those in need is a basic component of the community that listens weekly to the story of Jesus and then gathers around the table to share in the memorial of his body and blood. Worship shapes the lives of those who participate.