“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 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)
Devotion. Doesn’t seem to be much of it around, these days. It means to be completely committed to someone or something and to put all of your strength into developing and maintaining that relationship. Many of us are devoted to maintaining our social networking presence, profile and proving our social value by the number of friends we have or the number of likes our posts garner. Most are devoted to seeking the best of everything for their own personal enjoyment, happiness or satisfaction. Ok, so maybe folks are devoted but just to the wrong things.
The passage we are considering today, Acts 2:42-47, describes the early disciples as being devoted to the Apostles’ teachings and to the fellowship. So, we are going to consider the importance of our devotion to the teachings of Christ and the Apostles and to the fellowship of the local church. Two things that are really at the heart of what it means to be a disciple or follower of Christ.
First, these early disciples were devoted to the teachings of the Apostles. I think most believers today look at doctrine or the teachings of the church and immediately lose interest. Boring. With a capital B! Many come to church for entertainment or maybe out of a sense of duty, but not because they desire to know what it means to truly know, follow and obey the teachings of Christ. Paul tells us that when we become believers…
“…I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2 NLT)
So, we are to be devoted to the point of giving ourselves (our bodies) as a living sacrifice to God. We are also to be transformed in the way we think, rather than just continuing to copy the behaviors and customs of those who don’t believe. Imagine what would happen in the church if Christ’s people were so transformed in how they think and act and so devoted that they were willing to give themselves sacrificially to His service. Just imagine what would happen in your little corner of the world if YOU began to live a life devoted to Christ’s teachings and sacrificial service.
What if we began to listen to God’s Word and Christ’s teachings with the intent of living out His commands instead of loading our spiritual guns with ammunition for winning arguments and shooting down our spiritual “enemies.” Now, don’t misunderstand me. We ARE in a spiritual war and we must be prepared for the enemy, but would it surprise you to know that the enemy is not who you think?
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:10-12 ESV)
That’s right, the people we meet every day who are struggling, who are making poor life choices and being disobedient to Christ are NOT the enemy, they’re prisoners of war. They are simply believing by the lies of a master deceiver. They are blinded by a false light. As long as we treat them as enemies our efforts at liberation will be met with resistance. But when they become fellow strugglers, when we see them with eyes of compassion and grace, then they might listen to our message.
Next, the early disciples were devoted to the fellowship or to one another in the context of the local church. The word fellowship here is “koinonia” and basically means “shared life.” In other words, they lived life together. In many ways, the culture in which I live has lost this concept of “shared life.” We don’t live together, we live independently. We don’t like being dependent upon or to feel personally indebted to anyone else.
In reality, we lose much of what the church is meant to be when we abandon this approach to life. Paul uses an analogy of a physical body when he describes the church. He says, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7 ESV) Did you catch that? “To each is given…” That means each of us, you, me, him, her and yes, even those folks in the church we don’t particularly like or get along with, are gifted by the Spirit to serve Christ through the church in some capacity.
Wait, what? Yes. You might need to go back and read that, again. “It is the same God who empowers them all in EVERYONE.” We often feel like it would be easier to serve God if He didn’t put certain folks in our path. “God, it would be much easier to love you if I didn’t have to deal with Mrs. Sarcasm or Brother Snooty every week.” Yet, the purpose of God isn’t about making your faith life easier but is ALL about making you more Christ-like. Faith isn’t real if it’s just words or beliefs. Faith is so much more than just what you believe, it is what you do.
“If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:15-17 ESV)
Faith believes, but it believes to the point of doing something. My childhood pastor used to say that “if you encounter a need and have the capacity to meet the need then it constitutes a call (of God) to do so.”
Finally, this passage indicates two additional religious/social interactions occurred within the early church, breaking bread and praying. They ate together and they prayed together. Eating is a great way to socialize and get to know someone. It is also a great way to equalize the social disparities that can develop in the church. We must never become insensitive to the reality that some folks have enough and often more than they need while others struggle with the basic necessities of life. This was true in the Jerusalem Church, and it is often true in our churches. (We will actually look at this in more detail in a few weeks.)
A shared meal is a way to bridge this social gap and build fellowship in a socially and politically diverse population. And yes, I mentioned politically diverse on purpose. If we are to reach all segments of our society, we must be willing to break down all of the barriers. Social barriers, racial barriers, religious barriers, and even political barriers. Rather than shouting them into submission, maybe we could share a meal and truly listen to their views and concerns. Novel idea, huh? Listening doesn’t make you more liberal or less holy. Just more caring and compassionate, like Christ.
And they also prayed together. Praying. True, heartfelt, Christian praying has a way of healing hurts and destroying personal pride all while putting us on common ground before an almighty God. You can’t truly pray without being humbled by the process and humbleness destroys social barriers. We are all sinners in need of God’s grace when we kneel in prayer. When you kneel in prayer you can’t look down on anyone because you’re looking up at a gracious God.
So, I’d like to challenge you to begin praying together as a church body. Again, our prayer lives are also typically marked by independence as we pray independent of one another. But praying corporately, as one body in Christ, can empower our prayers. That doesn’t necessarily mean praying in unison or repeating a common prayer, though that’s not necessarily bad or wrong, but it does mean praying with one heart and mind. Seeking the same goal for the same purpose, Christ’s glory. We will explore this in more depth, next week.
So, as a church we must be devoted to shared beliefs and teachings, shared lives or fellowship, shared meals and a shared purpose in prayer to develop into the people God desires. How devoted are you to each of these things? How devoted are you to the church, His bride? That’s truly a measure of how devoted you are to Christ.