Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The First Church

Part 3 of Witnesses

Text: Acts 2:42-47

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42). 

Learning from the Past

It’s fascinating to look back at how people lived in the past. Sometimes we can learn from them. For example, people of the past would avoid going into debt over things they didn't really need--like the latest TV we really can't afford.

In Acts 2, we read about how the first Christians [1] lived. They lived in a very different time and place, but they believed in the same gospel. And we can learn some things from how they lived.

How the First Christians Lived

Prior to the Day of Pentecost, there were “about 120” followers of Jesus in Jerusalem (Acts 1:15). Then on the Day of Pentecost “about three thousand” people [2] put their faith in Jesus and were baptized (Acts 2:41). In verses 42-47, we are given the activities of the earliest church.

1) It was a learning church. [3] “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (v. 42). Before his ascension, Jesus told the apostles to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). They had a hunger for God’s word.

2) It was a loving church. “They devoted themselves to…the fellowship” (v. 42). The basic idea of “fellowship” is sharing. [4]

3) It was a worshiping church. “They devoted themselves to…the breaking of bread and the prayers” (v. 42). It’s unclear whether “the breaking of bread” refers to the Lord’s Supper or a larger meal. “What makes the choice hard to decide is that the Lord’s table was part of a larger meal in the earliest church.” [5] Perhaps it refers to both.

4) It was an evangelistic church. Verse 47 tells us that “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” The good reputation of the church (“having favor with all the people,” v. 47) impacted their witness. Evangelism is something the Lord does through his people. 

True Fellowship

The first Christians were sharing people. They “had all things in common” (v. 44). The gospel wasn’t something these people merely believed with their minds; it changed their lives. They had “glad and generous hearts” (v. 46). Their sharing was not a duty; it was a delight.

Since Jesus—our Lord and Saviour—has given his life for us, we should be moved in our hearts to be sharing people. 

First, they shared their time. They were regularly spent time together (“all who believed were together,” v. 44; “day by day, attending the temple together,” v. 46).

Second, they shared their money. They “were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (v. 45). Is this a command for us today? No, description does not equal prescription (cf. Acts 5:4). But we should not be quick to dismiss it. “How easy it is to justify our lifestyles and our attachment to things by writing off threatening texts.”

Third, they shared their food. They were daily “breaking bread in their homes” with one another (v. 46).
Darrell Bock writes, In our culture, our individual needs and rights come before any needs of the group. The biblical picture is not of what someone receives from the church, although one does receive a great deal, but of what one gives and how one contributes to it. 
What's the one thing you don't have to teach a child? Selfishness. It comes naturally to all of us. It's very difficult to teach a child to share. Most toddlers' favourite word is "Mine!"

Our motivation for being generous should come from the truth of the gospel. The gospel changes my motivation from "This is what I'm supposed to do" to "This is what I want to do."

[1] I believe that the NT church began on the day of Pentecost. I am defining “Christians” as followers of Christ who have lived since that day.
[2] Many of the three thousand were Jews from other countries, so verses 42-47 would not be describing them.
[3] This outline is taken from John Stott’s commentary on Acts (The Message of Acts, 81-87).
[4] Ajith Fernando, Acts, 120.
[5] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, 150-51.
[6] John Piper, “The Fear of God and Freedom from Goods,” desiringgod.org.
[7] Bock, Acts, 155.

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