Grace Bible Church
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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
October 16, 2005
The Pattern of Early Church
This morning we are going to study Acts 2:41-47. This is another one of those passages that is very rich in giving us insight into how we as Christians should be living, but which is also often abused because it is taken out of its context and therefore applied incorrectly. This results in teaching believers to live in ways that are contrary to the Scriptures. Some people have justified communes and communism based on this passage. Others have split churches arguing that this passage teaches that large, organized churches are wrong and that local house churches were and are the plan of God for the church.
Turn to Acts 2:41-47. We will read the passage and set the context before discussing its interpretation and application.
41 So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42 And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. 44 And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; 45 and they [began] selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. 46 And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47 praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.
To understand why these believers are responding as they do in this passage we must first understand the context of what has just occurred. We have covered this in detail over the last few weeks, so I will be brief this morning.
Jesus has been resurrected from the dead and has shown Himself to His disciples and many others while giving them additional instructions concerning the kingdom of God (1:1-3). One of His instructions was for them to wait in Jerusalem until they were baptized with the Holy Spirit at which time they would receive power from Him to be His witnesses in both Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth (1:4-8). While the disciples were watching, Jesus then ascended into heaven with the promise that He would return in the same way in the future (1:9-11). The disciples along with about 120 others gathered in the Upper Room to pray and wait. They also followed God’s leading in selecting Matthais as an Apostle to replace Judas.
It is now the Day of Pentecost and what Jesus had promised has now come to pass. The Holy Spirit came with a noise like a violent, rushing wind and then manifested Himself in tongues as of fire that rested upon each one there. Then, they are all filled with the Spirit and begin to speak with other tongues. The noise attracts a large crowd of devout Jews who had come to Jerusalem from many different countries. They hear those who were filled with the Holy Spirit speaking in the 15 different languages and dialects from the areas they had been born so they are puzzled. Some wonder what it means while others are mocking saying they must be drunk.
Peter then gives a sermon that refutes those who were mocking while explaining to the others what was happening. It was too early in the morning for people to be drunk (vs. 15). What they heard and saw was in keeping with Joel’s prophecy that in the last days God would pour forth His spirit. Joel’s prophecy concerns the coming Day of the Lord in which there would be judgement upon those who did not obey the Lord, but restoration for those that repented, so that hope was given that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (vs. 16-21). Peter then goes on to clearly present that Jesus is the promised Messiah that they needed to call on for salvation. He proved that He was Lord and Christ by His many miracles, wonders and signs (vs. 22), that Jesus was not a victim, but that His death was according to the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God even though it was accomplished at the hands of evil men (vs. 23). Jesus was also raised from the dead even as David had prophesied in Psalm 16, and He ascended to the right hand of the Father according to David’s prophecy in Psalm 110. Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension all prove that He is Lord and Christ, but they had crucified Him.
Verse 37 tells us that these devout Jews were “pierced to the heart” when then heard all of this. In light of the prophecy of Joel that Peter had already mentioned, they knew that the Day of the Lord would bring judgement upon all who did not obey the Lord and blessing only on those that repented, and they now stood guilty of killing the Messiah. They plead with Peter to know what they should do to be saved from their sin.
Peter’s answer is that they should “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” He then continued testifying of Christ and exhorting them to “Be saved from this perverse generation!”
The Response of the Saved
Verse 41 tells us the response. “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” Though we do not know the total size of the group that was listening, a very large number of these devout Jews did understand Peter’s message and followed through with repentance. We need to remember that this was a radical departure from their practice of Judaism. Though repentance and ceremonial cleansing were always a part of Judaism, being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ was new. In addition, it has only been just over seven weeks since Jesus had been crucified, so this was a very risky action in view of the hatred the religious leaders had for Jesus. But about 3,000 of them understood that there was greater risk in remaining unrepentant, so they publically identified themselves with Christ as a sign of their repentance. They probably used the ceremonial baths that were located at the base of the temple for the baptisms.
But the response of these 3,000 did not stop at baptism, for verse 42 says that “they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Salvation from sin is not about some deed of righteousness to gain forgiveness of sin, but rather it a repentance that turns from a false faith to faith in Christ and a radically changed way of life. The church has just been born and these new believers quickly recognized four basic elements that were to be the focus of their lives.
“Continually devoting” is the idea of “giving constant attention to,” of “being steadfast” and “persevering.” These early Christians set the proper example for us to follow in “continually devoting themselves” to these basic elements of church life. I think it is safe to say that most professing Christians today do not follow this example. They make a false dichotomy between secular and sacred so that “church life” is separate and distinct from the rest of life. They claim that being a Christian is part of what they are, but it is not the focus of their life. There are many other things that make up their life and Christianity is something that is just added to the mix of those many things. The result is both a weak church and weak Christians. When the body does not function correctly, then both the whole and the individual parts that make it up are unhealthy.
We will see throughout Acts that these early Christians had a commitment to Christ and one another that defined who they were. As Paul put it in Galatians 2:20, he was crucified with Christ and no longer lived, but the life he now lived was Christ living in him. Being followers of Christ is to be first and foremost with the other things of life added to that and not the other way around. There is a big difference between being a Christian who is also a __________ whatever (you can fill in the blank), and being a __________ whatever (you can fill in the blank), who is also a Christian.
From the beginning of the church at Pentecost these early believers gave steadfast attention to four basic elements of church life.
The Apostles’ Teaching is the first element. This is the doctrine (didachv, / didachL) that the Apostles were teaching these new converts about Jesus’ life and teachings. It was carrying out Jesus’ commission of Matthew 28 for them to make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them to observe whatsoever He commanded.
We live in a time when Biblical doctrine is disdained by many. Some do so with the claim that the church could be united if doctrine was not made such an issue. The ecumenical movement seeks to unite on the basis of the greatest common ground and / or experience. Any group that is unified apart from the Apostles’ teaching can be a religious huddle or even a large denomination, but they are not the church. The body of Christ is unified by having one Spirit, one hope of its calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God and Father of all (Eph. 4:4,5). Only doctrine can define what God, which Jesus, what hope and what faith is commonly believed. You cannot even walk together unless you are agreed (Amos 3:3). The effort to do away with doctrine for the sake of unity is spurious at best. It more often has its foundation in false teaching and the demonic.
The real reason people scorn doctrine is because they do not want to be held accountable to the truth. Paul warned in 2 Timothy 4:3,4 that the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.” It is now quite common to find churches, many of them large, that teach very little from the Scriptures, or they use the Bible as a reference, but they actually teach what they want to believe instead of what it says. You can hear such teachers on Christian TV and Radio and can purchase their writings in Christian bookstores. It exists in churches in our area, and I can think of some that have left our fellowship for these reasons. They could not handle the proclamation of the Scriptures here.
It is tragic enough that so many people do not know the truth because they are in churches that are so weak in doctrine. It is even worse when people reject the truth to go have their ears tickled. In either case, the warning of Hosea is still true, “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6).
The Apostles’ Teaching is listed first because these devout Jews of the early church put the priority on doctrine. I have found the principle validated with many I have worked with over the years that those who are saved out of a religious system that was leading them astray are the most committed to knowing and understanding the Scriptures so that they will not be lead astray again in the future. These devout Jews understood that the religious system they had been under as developed by the Scribes and Pharisees had led them astray. They wanted to understand Jesus and follow Him so they gave great attention to what the Apostles were teaching about Him and explaining Jesus’ teachings. Our desire is the same. That is why “Bible” is the center of our name. We want to know, understand and apply what God says in His Word so that we may walk with Jesus in a manner worthy of our Lord in pleasing Him and of His calling of us (Col. 1:10; Eph. 4:1).
What about you? How are you doing in devoting yourself to the Apostles’ Teaching? Are you being diligent to put forth the effort necessary to fulfill 2 Tim. 2:15, the AWANA theme verse, to “present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth”? Are you giving constant attention to the Bible like the Bereans who proved themselves to be noble because they examined the Scriptures daily to see if what they were being taught matched God’s word? (Acts 17:11). Every group has doctrine for they teach something. The question for us is whether what is taught matches the Apostles’ doctrine as recorded in the Bible.
Fellowship is the next basic element of church life. Many people think of fellowship as just getting together and talking. That is just socializing. Fellowship is much more than that. The word for fellowship, koinwniva, / koinônia, is the same word we translate as communion. It signifies close mutual relationships and partnerships with one another because of some common bond. For the Christian, that bond is salvation in Jesus Christ. While socialization is a part of it, fellowship goes way beyond that to sacrificially ministering to one another according to how God has gifted you. It is putting into practice all the “one another” verses – love, devotion, building up, encouraging, accepting, forbearing admonishing, caring, being kind, helping, esteeming, comforting, etc. The is the “body life” described in Eph. 4 in which each one helps the other become more mature in Christ.
I am personally aware that true fellowship exhibited itself this week in our church in home Bible studies, personal counseling, comforting those who were hurting, encouraging those who were downhearted, admonishing some that were straying and helping those in need – including Dianne Deokie when she fell through the ceiling (watching kids, fixing meals, taking her to hospital, doctors, patching roof, etc) and cleaning out the water in the church basement. Are you involved in this kind of fellowship? If not, you can be, but that does mean getting involved with others because neither you nor they can be in fellowship with one another if you are not somehow involved with each other.
The breaking of bread is the third element. Some take this to mean eating meals together as is mentioned in verse 46, but the phrase used here actually has the article attached so that it is literally translated as “the breaking of the bread.”It is actually a reference to a celebration of the Lord’s Supper, which in the early church was often included as part of a common meal shared together that was called a “love feast” (Jude 12). It was very important to them to be obedient to Jesus’ command to remember His death until He comes. In addition, there is also a unity with the Lord and with other believers shown in the Lord’s Supper. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:16, 17, “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? 17 Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.”
Prayer is the final element to which they were devoted. This is the general Greek word for prayer (proseuchv /proseuchL), and in the original it is actual plural with the article, “the prayers.” It would include individual and corporate prayers of different types. Prayers of thanksgiving, praise, petition, confession and intercession. Since these were devout Jews, they would have included recitation of prayers from the Old Testament and common to Judaism.
These early Christians understood the importance of coming before the Lord in prayer in seeking His leading and blessing. Jesus had ascended to heaven and they could no longer see Him, touch Him or talk to Him face to face, but they could still talk to Him through prayer, and He would still communicate to them through the Apostles’ doctrine and the moving of the Holy Spirit who now indwelt them.
Tragically, prayer is one of the more neglected of the spiritual disciplines. In many churches there is little to no time for corporate prayer. There may be an invocation, benediction and some sort of pastoral prayer, but they are more like appendages tacked on rather than something on which there is a focus. In our morning worship we strive to use music and our scripture reading to prepare you for a time of personal prayer and thanksgiving. We also have weekly prayer times for men, women and at home Bible studies, and then once a month we set aside a Sunday evening for corporate prayer and intercession. Frankly, this is an area of weakness for this church because the attendance for these various prayer meetings is very small. I challenge you to consider your own heart in this matter. Are you committed to prayer in any manner similar to these early Christians? We need it as much today as they did then. I do not believe we will be effective as a church in carrying out God’s plan for us without prayer. These first Christians were committed to prayer along with the Apostles’ teaching, fellowship and the breaking of the bread and the result was rapid growth spiritually and numerically as described in verses 43-47.
In verse 43 Luke first points out the actions of the Apostles who were doing many wonders and signs resulting in the people continuing to feel a sense of awe. In chapter 3 and other passages Luke will specifically describe some of these wonders and signs. Just as with Jesus, the purpose of these wonders and signs was to demonstrate the authority and authenticity of the one doing them as someone who was speaking for God, therefore, the people needed to pay attention to what he was saying (cf. John 14:10-12). Hebrews 2:4 points out that God bore witness with the apostles by the signs, wonder and various miracles that He performed through them. One of Paul’s defenses of his apostleship to the Corinthians was that he did the signs, wonders and miracles of a true apostle (2 Cor. 12:12). The result of the apostles performing these wonders and signs all the people were full of awe (fovbo” / phobos) which is a reverent fear.
Verses 44-46 give greater detail to the nature of the loving fellowship of these first Christians. Verses 44,45 reveals the sacrificial nature of their effort to meet the needs of one another. “And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; 45 and they [began] selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.”
These verse have been used by some to support the idea of communes and communism. However, both of those ideas have a forced nature to them while what is described here is a demonstration of voluntary and sacrificial love. Luke gives more information about this practice in the early church in Chapter 4:32-37 and 5:1-11. In 5:3, 4 in particular we find that the land and the proceeds of any sale of land belonged to the owner to do with as he pleased. What pleased many in this early church was to give all of it to the apostles for distribution among those who were needy. It was done out of love due to the common bond of fellowship with Christ and one another.
While communism suffered a severe blow with the fall of the Soviet Empire and its satellite countries, it is still the oppressive governmental system in many countries. There is nothing voluntary about it for it is a system forced on all the people of that country. In Acts 2:44 those involved are only “those who have believed together.” The idea of a commune is closer to what was happening here since they are entered into voluntarily, but they differ because they require the divestment of assets for the good of the whole commune. That was not done here in Acts. The verb translated as “selling” is imperfect meaning it is something that continued to happen over time instead of all at once, so once again we find it was voluntary instead of required and was done as different ones would be moved to meet the present needs of others in the church. I will also add that two additional points. First, this practice is not noted to occur in any other church. Second, the principle of giving Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 9:6-11 is that each one is to give “as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver.”
While this passage cannot be properly interpreted to any support kind of required sharing such as communes or communism, it is certainly a good description of the love that should exist between believers that results in practical action of compassion. The Macedonian churches exhibited similar love in their begging Paul to be allowed to participate in the collection for the poor in Jerusalem though they themselves were poor and gave beyond their ability (2 Cor. 8:1-5). 1 John 3:17,18 asks the rhetorical question, “But whoever has the world’s goods and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or tongue, but in deed and truth.” When these early believers saw another believer in need, they did whatever they could to meet that need so much so that Acts 4:34 comments that there was no longer a needy person among them.
The question arises why were there such needs among these devout Jews. Some would have been part of the many pilgrims that had come to Jerusalem from distant lands for the feasts, but in finding salvation in Jesus Christ, they did not want to leave. Many of them would have had limited funds and would have to find employment. Some may have lost their jobs after becoming believers in Jesus Christ. Other would have just been poor people that often needed help. We know from Acts 6 that there were poor widows among them. Those who had resources voluntarily shared what they had as anyone might have need. I should point out that it was according to need, not want. The welfare system in our own nation has produced a mentality among many, including Christians, in which their desires are expressed as needs. As we learned last year in our study of Philippians Christians need to learn to be content in all circumstances. 1 Timothy 6:8 tells us “if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.” If you have more than that, then you have something to share with those that do not.
They were not only meeting each others physical needs, they were also encouraging one another in the Christian life. Verse 46 says that they were “day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and braking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people.”
This was before persecution arose so they would meet in large groups in the temple as well as in smaller groups in homes. They did this day by day, not week by week, for the church consists of people, not buildings, and its strength is the relationship between those people. They were unified “with one mind” because they all had a common faith. The temple meetings were probably focused on prayer since Jesus had said that was supposed to be a house of prayer (Mt. 21:13). They would not have been participating in any of the sacrifices since Jesus was the sacrifice that had been made once for all (Heb. 9:12). It is a safe assumption that they were also telling others at the temple about Jesus Christ.
The house church movement is wrong to advocate only small churches meeting from house to house. From the very beginning the church has meet in both large and small groups. The first churches met in the temple, synagogues (Acts 18:17) and houses.
The meetings from house to house would have included the four elements in verse 42, discussion of the apostles’ doctrine, fellowship, the Lord’s supper, and prayers while also sharing a meal together. They did all of this with great joy and humble hearts giving praise to God. It is no wonder that they were having good will from all the people. Happy, humble people are the kind of folks anyone likes to be around. Does that description fit you? Do you like being with God’s people?
The result of all this was “the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” The verb here “being saved” is passive. It is something God was doing. Again we find both God’s grace and His sovereignty. No one deserves salvation from sin, yet God saves according to His own gracious will. Here we find His mercy and grace being extended to individuals on a daily basis, and those people then became part of the church. Jesus said He would build His church (Mt. 16:18). Our part is simply to be faithful in carrying out His instructions and then watching Him at work. The early church was very simple. Much more instruction is given to the church as the epistles were written, but the basic elements of the church are still the same. They understood that and were faithful to it. Are you faithful to what you understand whether it be little or a lot? Are you pursuing greater understanding of and obedience to our Lord?
If you are saved, then praise God for what He has already done in your life. If you are not saved, then you can be if you will turn from your sin and cast yourself on the mercy of God in Jesus Christ. It is a matter of belief and receiving by faith what He promises.
Sermon Study Sheets
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.
– draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch.
Older Children –
Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up. 2) Count how many times “fellowship” is mentioned. Talk with your parents about what you hold in common with Jesus and other Christians.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
Set the context of Acts 2:41-47 by reviewing 1:1-26 and 2:1-40. What was the response of the devout Jews to Peter’s sermon? Why? How many were saved? What did they do after they were saved? What is the apostles’ teaching? Why do some professing believers minimize or even disdain doctrine? Why are their errors? Why is doctrine so important? What are some of the common fallacies about fellowship? Explain what true Christian fellowship should be like? How did the early church demonstrate that kind of fellowship? How does your fellowship compare? What does “breaking the bread” refer to? What is the importance of prayer? What was their attitude toward these things? What is your attitude? Evaluate yourself in all four areas. What are “apostolic signs” and why were they important? Are those apostolic gifts still in operation today? Why or why not? Why can’t Acts 2:44,45 be used to support either communism or communes? What does the Bible teach about giving? How is your love for other believers demonstrated? What is the difference between want and need? What were some of the daily activities of the early Christians? What was their attitude? How do your daily activities compare to theirs? What is your attitude? What was the Lord’s response? How is a person saved from sin?
Sermon Notes – 10/16/05
The Pattern of the Early Church – Acts 2:41-47
Jesus’ Promise (1:4-8)
The Day of Pentecost (2:1-41)
The Response of the Saved (vs. 2:41)
The Apostle’s Teaching
The Breaking of the Bread
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