2018-03-04 – Acts 2:41-47 – How the Church Grows

2018-03-04 – Acts 2:41-47 – How the Church Grows

41 So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

2018-03-04 – Acts 2:41-47 – How the Church Grows

Good morning everyone. It is so nice to be able to spend some time with you all in fellowship with the Lord. Thank you and God bless you for being with us.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

That is the first part of a poem by saint Francis of Assisi, called the Peace Prayer.
And I will give the remainder at the closing of our message.

Today we are going to witness in scripture the initial activities of the very first church. The first members that made up the church were all Jewish, and they had a good grasp of who Yahweh God was and they knew of the pillars of the Jewish religion. The members also knew what the Law of Moses was, as they were living out the Jewish lifestyle and they were participating in the Jewish festivals.
That is the demographics of this first Christian church. Later we will see these same members struggle with the issues of the Law and how that fits within this new Christian paradigm. We also know that they will eventually extend church membership to non-Jews as well. At this point, the people realized that Peter was speaking the truth about Jesus being their Messiah Savior. The same Messiah that the Jewish Religion today sadly is still waiting for.

Please turn in your Bibles to Acts 2:41, pg 120 in the Inspired, Infallible and Living Word of God, and let us start with prayer.   [Prayer]

In our last sermon message we saw Peter had just concluded his first powerful Gospel sermon to the new church. Then they shouted out “what should we do?” To which Peter told them to repent and be baptized. Then, as it shows here in verse 41, “So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.” What a wonderful day I sure that was, but I couldn’t hardly imagine the logistics of baptizing 3,000 people. The most I ever had the privilege to baptize was six in one day.   [One Grand Sunday]
Then in verse 42 it says: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

The believers were devoted it says—that is, seriously, and earnestly persistent. “They devoted themselves”. I am devoted in bringing God’s Word to you this morning. What are you “devoted” to?  Of course as Christians, we should be devoted to God and devoted to our spouses and loved ones. But Luke makes specific reference here of what the new believers were devoted to. Four things: “the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Each of these four things turns up one way or another in verses (43–47) that follow. So this verse 42 here is really a brief summary. And then in the verses that follow we will see how Luke unpacks each one of them.

First, verse 42 says, “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching..”

Then if we go down to verse 43, it says, “Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.” The apostles are the teachers here, and their teaching was through their experiences and the miracles of Jesus, and a sense of awe filled the new believers. Remember also the Apostles and Disciples were equipped with the Holy Spirit. And recall in the verses that proceeded this, Peter was speaking boldly to the crowd and the new believers.
How would you like to have the Apostle Peter as a teacher? Boldly proclaiming Jesus Christ and His will in our lives. I think it would be pretty cool actually.

Every one of us here has attended or completed school of some sort, and most continue in vocational and religious classes as well. I have a Master’s Degree and have been a student of many good teachers through the years, but some not so good teachers as well. Some bold teachers and some very timid teachers. Scripture says that Teaching is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. And I can tell you some Teachers’ exhibit that gift well and others do not. Most of us can probably think of a teacher that we owe much to, and hold them dear in our hearts. And it isn’t always the most knowledgeable teachers that stand out, many of times it has more to do with their loving kindness and their investment into our character. Theodore Roosevelt once said “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”. Isn’t that the truth?

There are several places scripture that refers to the apostles as teachers (Acts 2:42; 4:2, 18), and the new believers are called disciples, and learners (Acts 5: 12, 13; Matt. 28:20). Interestingly we will see that the early chapters of Acts kind of describe a Bible college almost as much as a describes the early church.

So again they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching..
Secondly, they devoted themselves to the fellowship…

When we think of the word fellowship, a lot of images that come to our minds. Most of them are pretty tame. We think of togetherness, and that is certainly part of it. However you should know that the word “fellowship” (koinonia) is built on the root meaning of: having in common, or sharing. And the word “common” (koina) is the same root as “fellowship” (koinonia).

So verse 44 & 45 here convey part of what fellowship was like in the early church: “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all as any had need..” So Koinonia (fellowship) means having all things koina (in common).

In a moment Luke is going to talk about times of eating and praying together—what we usually call fellowship. But that is not his first illustration of fellowship. His first illustration is that the believers were so bonded together that if one was in need, the others did not feel they had even the right to live on in prosperity without giving up something to meet the need. So they would sell possessions and use the money to meet the needs of the poor in the church. But remember at this time they were a newly formed group, and they had many needs in common.

I once had the privilege of seeing this type of socialism or “fellowship in common” at work in the South Pacific. I was stationed on a little island called Kwajalein while I was in the Army. There were actually a thousand little islands around a grouping of lagoons. As the U.S. forces were taking care of missiles, I was protecting and taking care of the people taking care of the missiles. But all the maintenance and cleaning and service people were made up of folks from the neighboring islands, the Marshallese. Well every morning they would come to our island by boat or by plane and perform their work functions. Then in the evenings, they would all jump back on their boats or planes and go back to their islands. Remarkably, the Marshallese practiced a common ownership; meaning, what is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine. Well every now and then, a worker would miss their plane or boat and end up staying overnight on our island. So you would wake up in the morning and come into your living room, only to find a Marshallese native on your couch eating your food, Lol. We don’t live with those same dynamics here in our country.. at least not legally.

The first Christians shared what they had with each other because they cared for each other. I am not going stand here and suggest that we start living like the first Christians or even the Marshallese in this regard. You can imagine that this idea might be threatening to most folks who own a lot of things and worked hard to get them. We believe and enjoy right of private property. So when we read this story, we might be very quick to defend ourselves and point out that there is no mandate or coercion here, and that is true. The selling of property and sharing in these verses is all voluntary, and even necessary as they were just formatting as a Christian family.

But we need to be very careful here, as it easy it is to justify our lifestyles and our attachment to things by writing off threatening texts. There is no doubt in my mind that Luke recorded this type of fellowship because it is praiseworthy. Luke admired this type of sacrificial love for the sake of the needy. Dr. Luke is giving the “well-to-do” Theophilus, who Luke addresses this letter to, and us, a lesson in the way Christians who stand in awe of God should consider in handling their possessions. But again, the early church needed this type of charity as they were ostracized from the community because of their beliefs. They were struggling to make ends meet and start a new way of life as foreigners in the land of Israel and beyond. They needed this type of “in common” fellowship in order to survive.

But it is obvious that this issue was also one of Luke’s great passions—that Christians use their possessions for the needs of others and not just for their own comforts. Luke alone tells the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30–37). Luke alone tells the parable of the rich fool who built bigger and bigger barns (12:16–21), and the story of God’s great banquet that people refused to attend (Luke 14:16–24), and the story of the dishonest manager (Luke 16:1–8), and the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19–31). More than any other New Testament writer, Luke stresses the danger being a slave to our possessions. The radical fellowship we see here in Acts 2:44–45 was antidote at the time for the danger of materialism that was committed by many.

So they devoted themselves to the fellowship..
Thirdly, they devoted themselves to the breaking of bread..

This is unpacked in verse 46 where it says: “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts” This “Breaking of bread” might refer to the Lord’s Supper, or it might refer to simple table fellowship. But “partaking of food with glad and generous hearts” shows that togetherness was obviously a precious thing to the believers in the early church. They gladly shared mealtime, and this conveys that they were together with each other in this way regularly. That was the kind of love the early Christians had for each other as they stood in awe of God.

Today, most families don’t hardly even eat together anymore, and to be honest I think that is a sad state of affairs. And although I am guilty of this myself sometimes, when people do have family meals, much of their attention is either on their phones, using social media, or watching television. I remember my son in High school, the teacher asked the class, “how many people eat dinner with their parents at least 1 time a week?” About half the class raised their hands.

Then the teacher went up from there, “how many eat with their families 2 times, and 3 times a week.” By this point my son’s hand was the only one still in the air. Sadly so many things today interfere with this vital tradition. Although challenging, we should endeavor to protect and safeguard family dinner time in our households whenever possible. And endeavor to put away the cell phones and turn off the televisions and talk with one-another, with glad and generous hearts.

But Baptists are generally known for two things, knowing their Bible and good food. I personally would like it if we would have more of this type of fellowship here at the church, although I am not a cook so it is easy for me to say that.

So they devoted themselves to the breaking of bread..
And finally the Fourth activity; they devoted themselves to prayer.”

We can see this in verse 47 where it says: “Praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.” When they gathered the big group in the temple, and when they ate together in their homes, Luke says they focused on God—they praised God, and everyone was in one accord with goodwill. These folks enjoyed being with each other. Living life together. That is what church is supposed to be all about. And prayer is such an important ingredient in God’s recipe. By the way, we started a new Bible Study & Prayer meeting on Wednesday nights at 7pm. Please consider joining us. We all could use more prayer in our lives as these first Christians demonstrated and even devoted themselves to.

So let’s sum up some the activities of this early church life.

They focused a lot on the teaching of the apostles (which we now have written in the New Testament).

They experienced wonders and signs through testimonies of how God was working in their lives and through their lives. They lived in a state of wonder and awe as they saw God changing the lives of people being added to the church.

They shared their possessions as freely with one another and took care of each other’s needs.

They spent time in big groups in the temple, and they ate together in their homes almost every day.

And when they met each other, they met God. They prayed and they praised. And our last sentence of the last verse in this chapter says “day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved”.

I think the key for why and how all of them came together is found in verse 43 in the phrase, “Awe came upon everyone”—a joyful sense of awe that comes only from a true love of God. Sadly today for most people, God is just an idea to talk about, or a family tradition to be preserved. But for a few sold-out Christians, God is awesome, we fear Him, we look upon Him with awe, wonder, and trembling. This awe and fear has a direct effect on the way we live day to day, how we manage our possessions, the way we treat the needy, the way and the frequency of our fellowship, and the way we live life that God has blessed us with. And it even impacts the way we pray.

My heart longs for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in an extraordinary way for our church family. I wish to see more real goodwill and glad fellowship. I want to eat with you, pray with you. I want to be on mission with you. And do it all in the name of Jesus while giving glory to our Father in heaven. Are you with me in this?

These new believers in this first new church family had a radical change of life. They were going from the Law to Grace. They were going to an environment where women didn’t have any value, to being honored as equals. They were going from a prideful Jewish centric society to one where all races and nationalities are treated equal. So many things that they were experiencing anew and were expanding their definition of what fellowship meant. The same thing happens when we become a Christian today. Our value system is supposed to change. The way we look upon life changes. That is God’s will and plan for us.

And fellowship doesn’t just happen, you have to program it into your lives by making it a priority. Can I be so bold to suggest some stretch goals for us to consider in this regard? Set a goal for church fellowship, by participating in at least one extra event a month at church. Set a goal for home fellowship by sharing a meal once a month with somebody in your church family. Set a goal for teaching and learning, that you attend a Bible study or Sunday School at least once a week. Set a goal for prayer, that you have a daily prayer with family, and church prayer at least once or twice a week. And again, as you are doing these things, put your phones away. Enjoy and experience glad and generous hearts that lead to God being praised. And in that people will notice, and perhaps the Lord will add to our numbers as well.

Again the church that is described in Acts 2:41-47 is a new Jewish church, worshipping as we would expect of a group of new Jewish converts. It is a church of very new believers, who exhibit the vital signs of new life in Christ.

This is not a church that has “arrived;” it is a church that has a good start and is moving in the right direction. It is a church that loves God and others. It is a Spirit-filled church that is moving toward the fulfillment of the Great Commission. But it is not a perfect church by any stretch. We are not a perfect church either and I would argue that there isn’t any perfect church because it is filled with imperfect people.

The early church in Jerusalem may not be the perfect pattern for all that we do as a church today, but it is an excellent example of a church that is marked by love – love for God and love for others. I pray that our church would not only do the right things as we move ahead, but that we would do them as acts of genuine love for God and for others. May we be characterized by the devotion, awe, generosity, and joy that we find in this early church family.

The title for this message today is How the Church Grows. Grows in character, grows in love for each other, and most importantly grows in spirit and adoration for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

In closing this morning I give you the remainder of the Peace Prayer..

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much
seek to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

Would you please rise.