If you have ever heard the saying jack of all trades and master of none, you now know how to describe me around the house. And for those of you like me who are always up for doing the impossible, your appetite for taking on new house projects that you know nothing about is being overfed by youtube. You believe that whatever needs being done, you can do, and if you do not know how to do it, you quickly do a search and in minutes you fully know how to fix a toilet, re-tile a floor, hang drywall, or build a time machine. It’s uncanny what you can do nowadays. All this comes from the power of seeing someone else do it. It’s one thing to be told a list of steps in an instruction book. It’s totally different to see it in action. We do things by a video that we might never do by reading instructions.
The Bible consists of many different forms of literature. There are letters, poems, songs, law, parables, proverbs, and much more. In our realigned series we have looked at teaching on the Christian life and church, and much of this has comes from that literature, today we look at a narrative section of the Bible. This isn’t meant to give propositions of what to do but rather it provides a picture of what happened. Narratives describe what was going on. They bring you into the event. They are like history’s youtube. It allows you to peer in and see what was done and how things should look.
The topic we are studying today is being the community of God’s people. We have talked about the need to love and serve others. We have looked at the greatest commandment and the second greatest commandment. Today we get to see what it all looks like in action. It’s like watching a homemovie of what was going on in the early church. This passage shows that God saves people so that they can experience true community. Lets read.
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47 NIV)
This is a beautiful description of the church and of true community. Ordinary, everyday christian life with an extraordinary impact. This is what we want. This is what we can have. Commentator Dennis Johnson said, “Luke does not intend his description to be a nostalgic retrospect of "the good ol days" long gone, but rather a pattern for the present."
Let’s look at three things that we can pattern our community. First, they are...
Talk of creating community often centers on the community. But the most important thing to know about Christian community is that community is not most important. It is a by product of a life with God. True community only happens when there is a true relationship with God.
What brought these people together? What catalyzed their community? To understand that you have to go back to verse 40-41,
“With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”
Relationship with God brings people together into the closest community possible.
How does that happen. They are first united in accepting their guilt. Earlier Peter preached about, “this Jesus whom you have crucified” (Act 2:36 ESV). Every sin is a crucifying of our Lord. It is choosing to have life outside of God. It is rejecting him. At the crucifixion these people could have lobbied for Jesus’ release but they did not. They rejected him. In the garden people could have chose God’s way or their way. They chose their way. It continues through history. We have chosen similarly, and bear guilt just like them.
But even more they are united in knowing redemption. Acts 2:36 says they know “for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ" (2:36). They believed Jesus was their Lord and the one who would rescue them. This is what their community revolved around, faith in the creator, sustainer, and redeemer of all things. Faith that this one whom they crucified is making all things right, and they want to align their lives to him. If you have ever broken a toy and taken it to your dad to fix you get the idea of a redeemer. One who makes things right. And those kids waits patiently, eagerly for the dad to fix the toy. Their eyes are captive to him and ears attentive to the slightest request for a screwdriver or tape. Christ has redeemed us and is in process of redeeming the world. We look to him with hope and obedience in everything. This is the hope that unites them.
That faith made them devoted. The word devotion means to “continue to do something with intense effort, despite difficulty. It means to keep on, to persist in.” They did not engage in this lifestyle because it was easy or convenient, but because they were committed to Christ.
The form of the word emphasises their devotion was an ongoing, continuous habit. It was a priority. They may not have had iphones and laptops, but no society in history has been free of distractions. They had sports to watch and talk about, philosophies to debate, idle speculation, beds to sleep in, and jobs that were never done… just like you. But they were devoted to Christ. There is no such thing as not enough time. If something is a priority it gets done!
And notice what they were devoted to: the apostles teaching. They heard Peter’s teaching and were going over it again and again. They didn’t leave it. His teaching brought life. They knew Christ through it and wanted more. The apostles teaching is infallibly preserved for you in your Bible. If you want to serve God and know him you read his word, and devotedly read it! You also see that they were constantly going to the temple, which is where the priest explained the word. Their community centered on knowing God’s word.
Fellowship: they are devoted to each other. They have a common bond. People unite over common experiences. Teams unite through two a day practices. Families through good and bad times. Worshipping God brings deep bond of friendship, not based on their ability to pay dues for membership, not based on the location of their house, not on politics, but on their all consuming commitment to the creator of the world. That is deep friendship. When you are united there you are untied on everything else.
Breaking Bread. People debate about what this means. At a minimum it means they were eating together. The the verse mentions them eating in their homes. That signifies the bond of friendship they had. You eat with friends, not enemies. But even more breaking of bread may be a reference to the Lord’s supper. Luke 24:35 “Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.” (Luk 24:35 ESV). The church is known by participating in the Lord’s Supper. I think Luke is intentionally combining these for greater impact.
Prayer: They were dependent on God and looking to him in all things. They were eager to see him work. They witnessed Miracles. We don’t have apostles today, but don’t gloss over this too quickly. These people prayed for healings, and it happened. I m not a miracle worker, but I have been in prayer groups with ordinary folks, and it’s certainly not regular, but I have heard more than a few times of doctors being baffled at how people were healed, experienced doctors saying they have never seen cancer leave in this way. Barren women have had babies. Amanda marrying me is also up there on that list! These are not everyday things, and that’s what a miracle is. Its extraordinary. But lets pray for it. Lets care enough to pray big things for people.
Notice also that this worship comes after they were baptized. What comes after baptism? A life of discipleship: pursuing God and helping others know him. For many people there is nothing that lies between baptism and death. You think you are good because you were baptized. You could care less about God’s word, or understanding it. Your faith has changed nothing about what you do. It’s like waving a college diploma you bought at a gift shop. You got a diploma but you got no education. You have missed the whole point. Baptism is a sign, a proclamation of trusting in Jesus as your Lord and Savior. It’s a sign of a greater relationship and it is foolish to have the sign when you don’t have the reality. People are told you can have eternal life by trusting in Christ, and that is true, but trusting Jesus means trusting him for everything. Its costly. It requires turning from the world. But is the very means to gaining life. Baptism is the beginning point of a life of following Jesus, and it means nothing without the life of devotion. That life with Christ precedes life in community.
The early church’s community centered on following Christ daily. It also involved...
Nowhere in this passage are they told to love one another. It is not commanded here. Love is not mentioned. But it is the only thing that makes sense of what you see. Love is in action.
First of all they are together daily. You don’t spend that much time with someone you don’t really like. Like a single dude hanging out with a girl and saying she is just a friend. Naw man, there is something more. Same here. They are together because of a deep affection. It also was not a private faith that they were called into. They professed faith publicly through baptism, and now they are reading the word, talking about it, and praying together. Relationships were more than social media.
The Christian life is intended to be lived with other people and doing the things God calls us to do. It’s more than church on Sundays. It’s a lifestyle. It is not to say that fellowship is more important than the preaching of the word, but it does show that the church’s life is more than preaching. Church is about following Christ with others.
You also see love in that they are happy together. v44, 46. They received their food with glad and generous hearts, (Act 2:46 ESV). What is the result of dying to the world and finding life in Christ-- celebration. They praise God. They are grateful. Content. Such a rare things. What they have in Christ is enough to make them rejoice. It fills them. Does the work of Christ fill you? Does it make you rejoice?
Many families forgo dinner together because they can’t make it work. People are irritated with each other. Discontent and angry over life. Worship of God puts one at rest, content in what God has allowed and provided. Envy makes it hard for others to enjoy being around you. Worshipping God sets you free from worshipping the world. That frees you to love others. To truly be the person you are, the person God desires you to be.
They had all things in common. I don’t think this means they lived a communistic life. Other passages show they owned things and had the right to own things. But I think what this means is their solidarity in serving God is so deep, so penetrating, so all encompassing that differences of sports teams, politics, money, who got what toys, can be seen as nothing but superficial.
They were real relationships. You can’t spend this kind of time with others and not be real. You can’t be devoted to prayer with others and not know them. We try to put up fronts to protect ourselves, and we lose community in process. Again, Dennis Johnson said,
As the New Testament speaks of it, fellowship is deep, virile, and constant; too often today it is cheap and superficial. The higher we value our personal privacy and freedom from commitments, the shallower our grasp of fellowship will be-- reduced to moments of idle chitchat over streaming coffee before or after worship service.
Do you ever feel like your relationships are superficial and that you can’t share what is really going on? That’s not true community. True community is being able to share what is really going on. Its being vulnerable before others. That’s not the American way and it hasn’t been the way for much of recent western Christianity.You may have heard terms like your Sunday best. You get dressed up once a week, and the same is true of your life. You can put on a show for a couple hours a week for church or Bible study. True fellowship is being who you are. It is real, unvarnished. Its caring more about honoring Christ than honoring yourself. Being a Christian means you believe your sins condemned Christ, he now forgives you, and he is at work in your life. Nothing worse can be said of you and nothing better can be held out. You can be honest about your struggles. You trust God to work through those around you and you ask for advice. That is true meaningful fellowship.
You will not make it as a Christian if you are not in relationship with believers. You certainly will not flourish in making disciples. I want you to know someone you can pray with. Someone you can call and cry with when you argue with your spouse. Tell them what you are really fighting about. I want you to know someone you can barrow a half cup of sugar from or drop your kids off at their house so you can take the other kid to get stitches. Part of loving others is inviting people in. This is community. We want to find ways to foster that.
Let’s talk about ministry structures. We are strategizing on adult discipleship because we want people to be living out their faith. We are trying to find ways to foster adults knowing each other and growing in their faith. We hope to start a small group ministry where people can connect about life and faith. We think Sunday is a great opportunity for that. Community is important for us as a church, so it should be present on Sundays. We want groups meeting to talk about the Bible and also about the message, life, struggles. We hope relationships will begin here and shoot out to many others.
I want us to have real honest conversation. I read an article recently by a guy who said he saw outreach Bible studies thrive because they gave people a chance to hear teaching on Christianity and then ask any question they wanted in small groups. Many people were coming to faith through the class, but then there was a realization that very few ever got plugged into a church. The reason turned out to be that people went to church, were preached at, told to give, and never got a chance to ask questions or discuss what was said. I don’t want that. We want to create contexts to talk about what is taught. Interact on it. Share your questions. I want to create a time where people are not rushed on to the next thing. Lets linger in community.
Let’s aim for this. Don’t be satisfied with talking about the weather. Ask to pray for others. When someone asks to pray for you tell them what you really need. Ask someone what stood out in the Bible or in the sermon. Love them by talking and sharing about a relationship with God.
The church in acts turned the world upside down. Their community was not forced, and neither was their influence. They are being who God calls them to be and the outflow is that lives are changed. What is the effect of people who are not consumed with money, self advancement and are content, glad, and free from worries: people want what they have.
They are being a blessing to others. Praying for others. They are selling possessions to give to others. No one had a need because of what was going on in their lives.
Just as their worship was daily so too was their witness. Praise and proclamation were both the natural overflow of full hearts. Their outreach was continuous, and so continuously converts were being added. We need to recover this expectation of steady and uninterrupted church growth.
Consider their view of the world. The apostles were threatened with prison for preaching, and they prayed. “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness,” Acts 4:29. A lost witness is the result of lost discipleship. I fear the church is missing this today.
One gripping example of lost focus comes from CS Lewis’s book The Screwtape Letters. The book is about a lead demon named Screwtape trying to equip his young apprentices on how to tempt people away from God, and he speaks about the advantage of small sins, things a person cares so little for he hardly notices them. Here is the advice Screwtape gives,
You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.
According to Lewis most are taken away from the Light, not by murder, but by nothings. The reason is their desire for the right thing is not strong enough. This is the pull and we have to fight hard against it. Discipleship is hard and if you are not doing hard things then ask yourself if you have been lulled to sleep.
What is easier to do: bible study or watch a television show. Check face book or talk and pray with friends. Talk about football or the Savior of the world. The more meaningful something is the harder it is to do. How strong is your desire for this? Don’t get distracted by lesser things. Don’t be distracted from God’s purpose for your life. Take initiative to share about your life and what is really going on. Share your struggles with others. They struggle too and can help, or your honesty might just open the way for more meaningful conversation. People are looking for community. Many are starved for it.
We want to give away our community because the more we give the more we get. Isn’t that a beautiful thing. With Christ you never lose anything! We want to give away our community by helping others know the thing that makes it all possible.
Conclusion. What is your experience of community? Are you praying for others, praying for your church, are you open and honest with others? Have you put barriers up to protect yourself, barriers that cut you off from others.
I want to push you to engage or re-engage in community. And I want to do that by more than commanding you I want you to be captured by this vision.
Let’s not start with community. Let’s start with God. Christ died for your sins and rose that you might have life. That means all your sins can be forgiven-- even those deep dark ones you have never told anyone one about. You are set free from judgement so they hold no claim over you. You are on a path to glory, and in Christ no one can hold you back from that path. You are in a community of people who know God, love you and want to help you. Even if you sin or they sin, Christ’s blood covers you both. Forgiveness is accepted and given freely. A community of people you agree with on the most fundamental things of life, and have the opportunity of sharing that with others. A place that your sins and mistakes, and the sins and mistakes of others can be forgiven. A community that is pushing and encouraging you to make a difference in the lives of others.
What greater more nurturing, caring, affirming, environment can you think of to have real meaningful relationships. What a privilege! And it will only happen through a life committed to God. If you are not experiencing this there are likely things in your relationship with God. You don’t have to carry your burdens alone. You don’t have to live alone, but it will require you reaching out to others, inviting them in, and sharing.