“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teachings and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 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, praising God and enjoying the favor of all people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:42-47
Just imagine. You’re a member of the very first Christian church ever. Not like the Jewish synagogue you were used to, but the new group that had formed. You’ve seen some crazy things.
You watched the agonizing trial that ended with an innocent man being put to death. And you dealt with the sorrow and grief that someone who seemed legit maybe wasn’t all he said he was. After all, he was dead at 33 and had promised so much.
But three days later, you asked your neighbor to repeat themselves when they told you the news. Raised from the dead? Are you serious? That kind of thing doesn’t happen. But then Peter announced it. Then someone else said they saw Him appear to a crowd of people. It had to be true if that many people all told the same story.
Maybe you saw Him with your own eyes. And your heart skipped a beat as any shred of doubt left your soul. He was alive, and He was all He claimed to be and so much more.
Then you followed Him around for a few weeks until He ascended into Heaven right before your eyes. He left you a command to ‘be His witness in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8).
As you’re celebrating the traditional Pentacost feast, His promises keep coming true. His Holy Spirit comes upon you and the other believers. Then Peter gets up to preach. You’ve not heard preaching like this before! Thousands of people are saved that day as a result of preaching and the Holy Spirit!
This is how the early church got it start. Just imagine how exciting it would have been to be part of something like this. Everyone on fire for Jesus, excited about sharing the good news. It’s quite the contrast to our churches today, isn’t it?
But before we dive into this, it’s important to understand how we read the book of Acts. Would you read a book about home improvements the same way you read a murder mystery? Not so much. And we have to approach the Bible the same way.
Acts is a recounting of the ‘acts’ of the early church. Hence the name. It’s telling us how things went down, not necessarily how we should do them today. The fancy word for the book is descriptive- it describes the early church. It is not prescriptive, telling us how to do church today. Are there things we can apply today? Of course! If something was a success for the early church, we’d be fools to not consider it today.
As I read these verses, I was convicted about the attitude in which I approach church and fellow believers. They were excited about the gospel and about growing. They ‘devoted’ themselves to the apostle’s teaching. I don’t think devotion is what comes to mind as I check my watch for the 10th time during a sermon and try to remember if I turned my crock pot on.
To these early believers, teaching was essential. They didn’t have years of church tradition or grow up in the Bible belt. They literally had to learn everything. Because we live in such a church culture, we can get a little cocky, think we know it all. But the Bible is a living and active document that God uses to speak to us through. And there is always something to be learned from it, if we take the time to devote ourselves to the Scripture and those who are called to teach it to us.
They also devoted themselves to prayer. And from the passage, I don’t think it was casual comments promising prayer. To devote themselves to prayer is to prioritize prayer. I can imagine that when someone was struggling or had a need, they stopped what they were doing and prayed with their sister in Christ. And I bet they followed up with that brother to see what God was doing and be encouraged.
In today’s culture, this is difficult partly because it requires us to take off the mask and be real about needing prayer. Those in your Sunday School class aren’t mind readers. If we aren’t vulnerable enough to let others know that we aren’t perfect and that we struggle, how will they ever know what needs to be devoted to prayer? And on the flip side, how much easier would it be to be vulnerable if we knew that the person we shared with was really and truly praying for our need?
As I mentioned before, Acts is prescriptive. So I’m not recommending selling everything we have and having all possessions in common. But I do think we can learn from the early church how to hold our possessions loosely. They knew that the furthering of the kingdom of God was more important than anything they had. If that meant sacrificing a possession or land or money to help out a struggling member of the church, they did it. If only our churches today had a big enough view of Jesus and His kingdom that our possessions and wealth faded in significance.
The final lesson we can take away from the early church may be the most important. Especially in the year 2020, when COVID has wrecked so many things. This early church “continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” They prioritized meeting together. I know that COVID has drastically changed the way that we meet together as believers, but I can’t stress the importance of it enough.
Imagine this early church. They were the only ones of their kind and knew that they had to utterly depend on each other. How else would they be encouraged and spurred on to live lives that look so drastically different from the rest of the world? The early church was about to face persecution, growing pains, and ridicule. They were about to get very uncomfortable as they tried to live counter cultural lives in a way to point people to Jesus.
And I think this exactly why the American church today doesn’t have the excitement that this early church had. We don’t realize how much we need Jesus and each other, because we look way to much like our culture. The devil has us convinced that we are doing OK. Our kids get good grades, we have a decent car, live in the right neighborhood.
But we aren’t called to be a people that blends in with the culture. We are called to live lives that follow Jesus and Him alone. And it’s a lot easier to live that kind of life when we have the community of other people with the same goal.
When we understand how desperately we need fellowship and teaching, we will prioritize it. When we understand how absolutely essential our spiritual growth is, those things will sky rocket to the top of our list. And we won’t miss them for anything.
I don’t outline all these things to create more Christian boxes to check. Share with my church. Check. Pray more. Check. Developing these habits is good, but what’s even better is understanding the bigger picture of the kingdom of God and how these elements fit into it.
For now, we may need to check some boxes until they become essential. And maybe when our priorities shift, our church today can mirror even a small portion of the early church’s enthusiasm and influence.