Topic: Gospel Living Passage: Acts 2:42–47
There is so much wisdom in the scriptures that instruct us and lead us toward spiritual growth, growth in Christ-likeness. I think we understand that a Christian in this life is someone who is on the path of growth. And at the beginning of another year, it is a good time for us to think more deeply about this. We ought always to be growing and seeking to grow - our sanctification is not subject to the calendar as though there is anything magical about January 1. And yet, God in his grace and providence, gives us new beginnings often. A new day which is full of mercy. A new week, the first day of which we gather to do what is most important, worship, and so forth. And we have a new year… and for many the new year comes with renewed desires to improve, to grow - which is good, especially if these desires carry through the entire year. The desire to grow in Christ is a Spirit-worked desire. And we are commanded to grow. In the very last verse of Peter’s second letter, he said:
Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:18)
And perhaps there is no clearer place in scripture that describes the key ingredients for our growth - both individually and as a church - than here in Acts 2. The reason why I say that is because it gives us a snapshot of the early church and the way in which the Spirit was at work among them as he was first poured out upon them. This new group of people brought into existence through the resurrection of Jesus Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit - what were they about? What did they set themselves to do? How was their new life shaped together? That’s what I want to take at. And I want to look at this passage in a bit of an overview fashion today, and then look in more detail in the weeks to come.
Here’s what we see. The first thing that immediately jumps off the page is the word devoted. They were not casual Christians. These new believers were devoted. They were devoted to four things. And it is these four things we too must be devoted to. Do you want to experience the mighty power of God working in you and through you, conforming you to Christ more and more? Do you want to see our church flourish and grow and become more effective in gospel ministry and discipleship? Then we too must be devoted to these four things with the help of the Holy Spirit. Here they are:
They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and the prayers. (v. 42)
The word devoted indicates a continual thing they did. In fact, the NASB expands appropriately when it says, “they continually devoted themselves”. That’s the point. They were steadfast in their attention, constantly diligent in these things. The idea I think is best stated in the NKJV which says, “they continued steadfastly in… Of course, these people had jobs, they had responsibilities at home and in the workplace and in their neighborhoods, and so forth, but the God of the universe had saved them and therefore they devoted themselves to God and his priorities.
The lifeblood of a healthy, growing Christian is devotion. What is a Christian but a devoted follower of Jesus Christ? And the lifeblood of a healthy church is devotion… devotion to God and his agenda. So let’s look at these four things we are to be devoted to.
First, we see a devotion to God’s word. These early Christians were devoted to “the apostle’s teaching”. In other words, they were devoted to the word of God. The apostles were the representatives of Christ on the earth. And they continued the teaching ministry of Christ. We know that they taught the OT… proving that Jesus was the Christ from the law and prophets. And they also taught the things the Spirit revealed to them that has now been recorded for us in the NT.
It should be no surprise that this is mentioned first. Apostles’ teaching/doctrine. The Spirit had been poured out and was doing amazing things, but they were devoted to teaching. This was central. Why? How would these new Jewish Christians know more fully about Christ? The scriptures (Genesis 3, Psalm 2, 110, Isaiah 53, etc). For us, how do we know who God is? The scriptures. How do we understand his ways? The scriptures. How do we understand his will for our lives? The scriptures. Beyond mere knowledge, when we understand what scripture is… the very word of God - the exhalation of God’s breath, we understand the centrality of the apostle’s teaching / the scripture.
God spoke and created everything out of nothing! His word is powerful. O, if we had eyes to see the treasure of God’s word, we would continue steadfast in it! We would be continually devoted to it! How blessed we would be. What growth and strength we would receive! What would it look like to be continually devoted? Deuteronomy 6 tells us.
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Charles Spurgeon said the following bout John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress:
This man is a living Bible! Prick him anywhere—his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his very soul is full of the Word of God.
Brothers and sisters, this is the way of blessing. Psalm 1: “How blessed is the man who meditates on the law of God day and night. He is like a tree, bears fruit, leaf never withers… always prospering. This is clearly not talking about being shut up in a quiet room, reading the bible for 16 hours a day. But it IS talking about having our hearts and minds and very lives shaped by the bible ALL the time.
Now, we need to think about his word “teaching” - apostle’s teaching. Teaching or doctrine takes us beyond general good spiritual vibes to a clarity of truth over/against error, good and healthy doctrine versus diseased and errant and even false doctrine. This is necessary for the good, health, and growth of Christians… and the church! Sound doctrine or healthy doctrine is an imperative! Without it, a church is like a garden without a protective fence around the vegetables which are then eaten up by all the critters at night. Without sound, healthy doctrine a church or individual is like a person with AIDS, unable to fight off any attack on the immune system. Without sound doctrine, a Christian (or church) is malnourished and unable to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Without it, we are likely to be carried about by every wind of doctrine and easily deceived. So if we would be on a growth trajectory, we must be continually devoted to truth.
Second, we are called to be devoted to the fellowship. Verse 42 says, “They devoted themselves to the apostle’s doctrine and to the fellowship.” Fellowship (Koinonia) means “to share in common”. In this context, to share life in common. Sharing life together. In other words, to be devoted to “the fellowship” means to be devoted to each other. In verse 44 it says, “And all who believed had all things in common.” Notice it was not a general solidarity with all of mankind, but a particular fellowship among those who believed. Of course, we are to love and care for all, but as Paul says, “especially those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:10). Now the reason why we need a renewed devotion to this is because it is inconvenient, it imposes upon our comfort and privacy. But to share life in common does that - and it is a glorious thing! Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together said,
We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions.
The “one another” passages in the NT highlight the importance of this real devotion to the family of faith. Here’s a small sampling of these:
- Love one another as I have loved you. (John 13:34)
- Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. (Romans 12:10)
- Bear one another’s burdens. (Galatians 6:2)
- Forgive one another. (Ephesians 4:32)
- Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed. (Jas. 5:16)
- Be hospitable to one another. (1 Peter 4:9)
This is clearly not for the casual Sunday Christian. Verse 46 of our passage says, “Day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts…” It’s a challenge because it imposes. But this is the path of growth - the path of sharing life together as a body. We must be devoted to the fellowship.
Third, we are called to be devoted to the breaking of bread. “The devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread…” The breaking of bread could refer to eating together in their homes. We certainly see that in our passage. It could also refer to the Lord’s supper. I think it specifically refers to the early church’s devotion to the Lord’s Supper.
And it’s not hard to see why the early Christians were so devoted to this. The breaking of bread, the Lord’s Supper, communion, was a memorial supper reminding these Christians of the basis of their fellowship. How could all these people who be so united, many of whom had never met each other? Because they were united in Christ and by his blood, shed on the cross - and the Lord’s Supper was a constant reminder of this. Isn’t it amazing that you could go to a good, bible preaching, Christ-loving church in Argentina or Iceland or Zambia or South Korea or Australia with believers we don’t know personally, and gather at the Lord’s table on the same basis. The cross of Jesus Christ - His body for us, his blood shed for us. Their devotion to the Lord’s Supper was a demonstration of their devotion to the cross, and glorying in the cross of Christ.
So the church was devoted to hearing the word of the gospel preached/taught, reading the scriptures and also what the Puritan Thomas Watson called “visible sermon of the Lord’s Supper, [which is] a mirror in which to gaze on the sufferings and death of Christ.” The more we are devoted to this… the more the glory and power of the cross gets into our spiritual DNA. Brothers and sisters, may we too glory in the cross, devoted to the breaking of bread.
Fourth and final, these people were devoted to “the prayers”. I don’t think this is referring to isolated, individual prayer. That’s important too. But I believe this is talking about praying with one another. And we see this happen throughout the book of Acts. The early church had a vibrant prayer life. No wonder there was such dynamic power! They prayed in the temple, in homes, in prison. They prayed in private and public. They were praying as they waited in the upper room before the Holy Spirit was poured out. They prayed when facing persecution. They prayed when they encountered the sick and crippled and when they were faced with intense persecution. They prayed for the release of Peter from prison and prayers launched the first missionary movement. In other words, prayer was the fuel for everything they did and so they prayed without ceasing, and they prayed together.
And why were they so committed to prayer? Of course the Holy Spirit had come… and whenever the Spirit is poured out, movement in the way of prayer happens! But in addition to that, the disciples had received enormous promises from Christ the night before he was crucified; words like,
Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. (John 14:13-14)
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7)
In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (John 16:23-24)
This early church with few resources and seemingly insurmountable obstacles, shook the world; and largely because they prayed. And their devotion to prayer, no doubt, was in large part because God had promised to answer them when they called! If we would see growth and experience God working in and among us, we too must be devoted to prayer.
The results we see in this immediate passage are remarkable.
Here’s one result: An awesome awareness that God was present and powerfully working. Verse 43 says, “awe came upon every soul…” Awe at what? God was present! God was working! Think about it, when there is devotion to the word of God, what’s going on? People are coming into contact with the God who speaks! When there is devotion to prayer, corporate prayer we are gathering together to the throne of grace together. And how could there not be a growing awareness that we are in the presence of almighty God?
Verse 43 goes on to say, “wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles”. God was not just among them, but powerfully working among them! Now, I do not believe there are apostles like Peter, John, James, and Paul and so forth. They are a unique bunch. But if a church is devoted to prayer, what should we expect to happen? Power! God changing lives, hearts, families. In other words, miracles! If we are not careful we can fall into a grievous place where we pray and ask God to do things, but with no real expectation that he will. Jesus says, “Pray always and don’t lose heart!” When we devote ourselves to grow God’s way by devoting ourselves to his word, prayer, and so forth, there will be a growing awareness of God’s presence and power.
There was also joyful and lively worship. Verse 46 says they had “glad hearts”. The word glad means extreme joy. These people may have had little to be happy about circumstantially, but God had saved them and they were now part of this new, lively community indwelt by the Spirit. Verse 47 says they were “praising God”. Praise is a verb and it appears to always include verbal praise. So not just quiet, personal praise, but outward, exuberant praise. It speaks of a lively praise. It is used in Acts 3:8-9 after a lame man is healed and it says, “He was walking and leaping and praising God…”
These believers were also having an effect upon the watching world. Not because that was necessarily their goal. Today it seems more and more Christians, churches, and denominations jettison truth and biblical standards in order to curry favor with the world. That is not what these Christians were doing. Nevertheless, verse 47 says, “...having favor with all people…”. I think it had to have been the uniqueness and beauty of the human relationships. Francis Schaeffer said,
True Christianity produces beauty as well as truth. If we do not show beauty in the way we treat each other, then in the eyes of the world and in the eyes of our own children, we are destroying the truth we proclaim.
They were committed to the truth. But they were also committed to the practical, real life implications of what they believed, and people saw and were impacted. The way they lived together was compelling.
Here’s one more thing that was happening: The lost were being found. The last phrase of our text says: “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” I don’t know about you, but I want my life… and this church to be experiencing that. The Lord adding to our number those who are being saved. All the emphasis up until the last part of verse 47 is on what the church was doing - the joy they had, their devotion, and so forth. The last part of verse 47 places the emphasis on what the Lord does. The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Of course the Lord didn’t do this apart from people speaking the gospel to others, but the Lord will grant the great blessing of new life Christians and a church that is devoted to his priorities. May we devote ourselves to these things in 2023… and beyond of course.