Shaun LePage; 2005.07.24
A. Chuck Colson—in his book “Burden of Proof”—tells us American ingenuity has once again produced a first—the first “paid church critic.” Colson writes, “Before reading a book or seeing a movie, do you ever check the newspaper reviews to see what the critics are saying? …Today, there is a new kind of critic on the scene—the church critic. I’m not kidding. The Rev. George Exoo is America’s first paid church critic. His reviews are a regular feature on a Pittsburgh radio station, where he rates churches by giving them from one to five stars. He also visits cities all around the country, publishing reviews of local churches in regional magazines.
So what does it take for a given church to rate five stars? In an article in Milwaukee magazine, Exoo says he praises churches that are ‘innovative’, ‘flexible’, and ‘friendly’, churches where the leaders are easygoing and engaging, where the singing or music programs are dynamic, where the bulletin is well-arranged or the greeters are well-trained. Most importantly, he rates churches high if they… ‘heal hurts and meet needs’.
B. It occurred to me that the only thing new about this is that he’s paid. Every church has its critics—whether internal or external or both. I’ve had discussions with lots of people—including self-described atheists and agnostics—who were quick to tell me what the church should be and do.
C. I’ve personally been a part of or visited many different types of churches in my life—Roman Catholic, Methodist, Southern Baptist, Assembly of God, Presbyterian, Church of Christ—as well as various non-denominational churches. What attracted me to the Bible Church—such as Coppell Bible Fellowship—is its stubborn desire to define itself solely by Scripture. I’m not saying churches outside the modern Bible Church movement are necessarily “unbiblical” but the churches I’ve experienced personally outside the Bible Church movement often look to tradition and history and experience and culture and a particular leader’s ideas and opinions in addition to Scripture. I’m a simple guy. More of a purist. I don’t want to be dogmatic, but I do want to be Scriptural.
D. CPS: The church that continually devotes itself to the work of God will experience the supernatural hand of God.
E.I’m a simple guy, but I don’t desire to be simplistic. There are many descriptions and characteristics and commands given to the church in the New Testament. There is no church that has ever fully applied all the directives found in God’s Word. But we should try. And I believe the best place to start any discussion and understanding of what the church should be and do is Acts, chapter 2—the birthday of the Church.
1. The first thirteen verses describe the coming of the Holy Spirit and display in an obvious way the need for the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. The apostles were baptized and filled with the Spirit and began to speak in languages they had never learned. The huge crowd of Jewish men gathered for Pentecost was either asking, “What does this mean?” or accusing the apostles of being drunk.
2. Peter—the coward who had denied even knowing Jesus 50 days earlier—now filled with the Spirit “took his stand” before the same crowd that had demanded the death of Jesus. His words—the first sermon in the history of the Church—are recorded in verses 14-41.
a) He explained that this phenomenon of uneducated Galileans speaking in languages they’d never learned was the direct result of fulfilled prophecy and was a sign to unbelieving Israel that they had rejected their long-awaited Messiah.
b) He explained that Jesus the Nazarene—the one they had crucified—had risen from the dead fulfilling Old Testament prophecy.
c) He explained that this same Jesus was now seated at the right hand of God—exalted as Lord and Christ in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. This Jesus—from his throne in heaven—had poured out the Holy Spirit that day demonstrating that He is the God of the Old Testament who had promised to pour out His Holy Spirit.
d) Those who heard Peter’s sermon and received his word were baptized—3,000 souls were added to the 120 that day and the Church was born.
3. All of this—verses 1-41—describe the events of a single day: Pentecost; the 50th day after the crucifixion of Jesus. But the remainder of the chapter—verses 42-47—cover an undefined amount of time. Perhaps weeks. Perhaps months. It’s a description of what the earliest church—the oldest church—looked like. What they did and what God did through them. Even though this passage does not give us a checklist of do’s and don’ts, it is a wonderful model for us—purists who want to do church by the Book. This was the Church in its infancy and we aren’t instructed to do everything exactly as they did. But those believers do serve as a model for us in their devotion to Scripture, fellowship, worship, prayer, giving, and evangelism.
II. The Model—Acts 2:42-47 [ppt]
A. Please turn to Acts 2 and follow along as I read vs. 42-47.
42They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
43Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.
44And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common;
45and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.
46Day 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,
47praising God and having favor with all the people And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.
B. 42: They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
1. I see verse 42 as the key to this passage. A summary statement for the rest of the passage. The church was “continually devoting themselves” to four activities which are further described in the verses which follow.
2. Notice that there is no “and” between “fellowship” and “to the breaking of bread.” This means “breaking of bread and to prayer” may be appositional to “fellowship.” In other words, “breaking of bread and to prayer” may be an explanation or description of what “fellowship” is. So, this may be a list of devotion to two things—apostle’s teaching and fellowship—or a list of four things. Some scholars see a major division here. Either way, four activities are highlighted here and I think the rest of the passage further highlights those four. I’ll try to explain as we go. But let’s begin with a close look at v.42.
3. “They”—first of all—is a reference back to v.41 which tells us, “three thousand were added to their number that day.” Notice a couple things:
a) This was a big group. When you add 3,000 to the 120 mentioned in Acts 1, you’ve got 3,120 believers. This must have produced some logistical problems right off the bat for this new church. I highlight this simply to remind you of how exciting this must have been. When was the last time you were around a new believer? Imagine 3,000 of them! Imagine the energy and emotion and enthusiasm and excitement!
b) Also remember, they were all Jews. The first church was a Messianic congregation! Jesus had told them in Acts 1:8 that they would be His witnesses in “Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” This was the Jerusalem part. These Jews, I believe, had not thought of starting a new religion. They saw themselves as the true remnant of Israel—the ones who recognized the true Messiah—Jesus. So, imagine this as well—a large group of Jews who were convinced that their long-awaited Messiah had come! Double your energy and emotion and enthusiasm and excitement!
c) It must have been an amazing thing to be a part of.
4. “Continually devoting themselves”
a) This is a long, compound word in the Greek. The root word means to “be strong.” The compound has the same basic meaning, but gives greater emphasis to the time element (DONTT, Vol. 2, p.768).
b) So these believers were not a flash in the pan. This was not an emotional reaction to a great sermon where they walked away, went to lunch at Luby’s and got over it. They did not get over it! They were devoted for the long haul—they were “continually devoting themselves” to the activity described here. Again, this may be a description of weeks or months or longer.
C. “Continually devoting themselves to the apostle’s teaching”
1. There was a great combination going on here.
a) Look at Acts 6. You remember the situation: A complaint arose because the Hellenistic widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. The twelve got everyone together and said, go find seven men to take care of this problem. “But,” they said in 6:4, “we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” We’ll talk about prayer in a minute. But this phrase translated “devote ourselves” is the same Greek root as in Acts 2:42. So do you see the combination here? The apostles were devoting themselves to the ministry of the word and the entire church was devoted to the apostle’s teaching!
b) Isn’t that beautiful? That’s the way it ought to be—pastors, elders, teachers devoted to the ministry of the word and the congregation devoted to reading, studying, understanding, receiving, memorizing and obeying the word.
2. What happens when you have that kind of a dynamic going on? Look at v.43: “Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.”
a) This is the first description verse. As I said, v.42 is the key to the passage and then the rest of the passage is explaining in a little more detail or description of what that devotion to those four things looked like or what it produced. Verse 43 gives us a little more information about this continual devotion to the apostle’s teaching.
b) “Everyone” means everyone in Jerusalem—not just the believers.
c) “Awe” is the Greek word “phobos” from which we get phobia. It literally means “fear.”
d) This general statement—everyone kept feeling a sense of awe—might be a reference to the specific story of Ananias and Sapphira in chapter 5. This husband and wife went to an early grave for lying to the Holy Spirit. Then Luke tells us in v.11, “And great fear (phobos, same word) came upon the whole church, and upon all those who heard of these things.”
e) Luke wanted the reader to know that the Holy Spirit—who showed up at the beginning of chapter 2—was still leading on a daily basis. How do we know God’s hand was on “the apostle’s teaching”—which would later become known as the New Testament? “Many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.” God was authenticating their message. He was putting His stamp of approval on the “apostle’s teaching” by doing wonders and signs through them. The very next chapter is a great example—Peter and John healed a “man who had been lame from his mother’s womb” (3:2).
f)So imagine that you are a Jew in Jerusalem at this time and you have rejected Jesus and His apostles and the message they were preaching. Would it strike fear into you if you began to hear that these men were doing great miracles and seemed to have the power of God? No doubt, this fear was connected to the fact that “the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” The Jerusalem mission field was becoming convinced that “the apostle’s teaching” was true—there was a sense of because the Holy Spirit was showing everyone that what these men were saying was authentic.
1. Study Scripture with devotion. [ppt]
(i) The first church continually devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching—to the Scriptures. Are we to be “continually devoting” ourselves to the Apostle’s teaching? Dumb question in a Bible church. Listen to what the Apostle’s taught about our devotion to their teaching:
(a) Peter (1 Peter 2:2): “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.” This metaphor of hungry babies who “long for” or “crave” milk is extremely relevant to my life right now. If you can’t remember what it sounds like for a new born baby to long for milk at 3 a.m., some of you need to have some more babies. Or, you can spend the night with my family sometime and be reminded.
(b) John (1 John 4:6): “We (speaking of the apostles) are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”
(c) Paul (Colossians 3:16): “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
(ii) I love that verse. It’s too easy for the “word of Christ” to poorly “dwell within us” when we approach the Scriptures academically or casually or routinely. We need to approach Bible study the way the first church did—Spirit-filled and with a sense of awe. Prayerfully and reverently.
(iii) Study Scripture with devotion.
B. “Continually devoting themselves to…fellowship”
1. “Fellowship” is koinonia—a Greek word many people have heard before. It’s a rich word that describes “the unity brought about the Spirit. The individual was completely upheld by the community” (DONTT, Vol. 1, p.642). This was a deep, spiritual unity that played itself out in every area of life.
2. This is beautifully described in vs.44 & 45: “And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common (koina; same root as koinonia, “fellowship” in v.42); and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.”
3. Look at how fellowship—koinonia—is described in these verses:
a) “together” All the believers were together.
b) “in common” All the believers had all things in common (koina).
c) “sharing” All the believers were willing to share—they were cheerful givers. I’m of the opinion that when it says here, “as anyone might have need,” it was broader than just believers. I think they were willing to share with unbelievers who had needs.
4. This is not communism. The giving was voluntary and only “as anyone might have need.” They didn’t sell off everything and live in a commune as some cults have done. We’re told in v.46 that they were “breaking bread from house to house.” This shows us that they kept their houses and sold extra properties if someone had a need.
5. Why would anyone have a need, by the way? Remember that many of these 3,000 were probably visitors to Jerusalem—there for Pentecost. After they were saved they decided to stay in Jerusalem for a longer period of time and participate in this wonderful new work of God. This was a major need, but there could have been any number of reasons why people needed help—just as there are today.
6. But again, this is not communism. This is koinonia. This is the kind of fellowship all Christians long for—whether they realize it or not. The presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives was transforming their value system. Property and possessions and money—when a person is transformed by Christ—become tools for worship. The Christian who is filled with the Holy Spirit begins to turn things loose, recognizing that everything belongs to God. He’s given us our material possessions for the purpose of serving and glorifying Him. As we develop an eternal perspective, those temporal things we used to think were so valuable suddenly become opportunities to tell God, “Thank you!”
7. But drink in the whole picture here. These new believers were united in Christ by the Holy Spirit, but they also had something that eludes many churches: community, a oneness of mind, a single-mindedness of purpose. That’s fellowship. That’s koinonia.
a) That’s what Jesus prayed for the night before He went to the Cross. He prayed, “that they (the disciples) may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.
b) Notice that this unity—this oneness—serves a great purpose: “That the world may believe” that Jesus was sent by the Father. Our unity—the unity of brothers and sisters in Christ—is one of the greatest evangelism tools at our disposal.
c) Verse 47 tells us that as the early church fellowship together and worshiped together, they were “having favor with all the people.” This fellowship attracted people. It no doubt was one of the instruments the Holy Spirit used to add to their number daily.
2. Fellowship with generosity. [ppt]
(i) Fellowship requires generosity with material possessions, generosity with gifts and talents and abilities, and generosity with time.
(ii) “Daily” the text says—this first church met together daily. I’m not suggesting believers in 2005 need to get together “daily”—in fact, later in Acts, it becomes clear that daily meetings did not continue forever—but koinonia requires time together. If a church desires the kind of fellowship the first church had—if you as an individual believer desire the kind of fellowship the first church had—it will require time spent in conversation, eating meals together, being in one another’s homes, involved in one another’s lives—“spurring one another on toward love and good deeds.”
(iii) Hebrews 10:24,25 says, “Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
(iv) It stimulates one another to love and good deeds when we get together. It encourages one another to stay strong in the faith when we get together.
(v) The giant sequoias of California have very shallow root systems. Their roots extend just barely below the surface. It sounds impossible because we all know trees need deep roots to withstand drought and wind, but sequoias are most unique. They grow only in groves and their roots intertwine with each other. When the strong winds blow, they hold each other up. (Reader’s Digest, May 1989, p. 48)
(vi) That’s the kind of fellowship our churches need today. We’ve got so much spectatorship going on and we’re busying ourselves with so many activities that we don’t “intertwine” our root systems. When life gets tough, we find ourselves out in an open field rather than in the grove of giant sequoias that can help us stand strong.
(vii) Fellowship with generosity.
C. “Continually devoting themselves to… the Breaking of bread”
1. I think “breaking of bread” is used as a synonym here for worship.
2. This phrase was something of a technical term early on. It meant “the Lord’s Supper”—as Paul called it in 1 Corinthians 11:20. Communion. How these first Christians “broke bread” or celebrated the Lord’s Supper is further described in Acts 2:46 & 47:
a) 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, praising God…
b) Notice, the first part of v.46 tells us they were in the temple daily. Again, they were all Jews, so they were still participating—at this time—in the worship in the temple. They were probably participating in the morning and evening sacrifices and there was a place there where they met together as a large group. In Acts 5:12, we’re told they met in “Solomon’s Portico”—this was a wing of the temple. So they met as a large group for worship.
c) Then, we’re told they worshiped in small groups—“house to house.” It was in these small groups that they “broke bread” together. Notice in v.46, a distinction is made between “breaking bread” and “taking their meals together.” Either before or after a fellowship meal, an agape feast, or lunch or whatever they called it, they would celebrate the Lord’s Supper. They would remember the Last Supper. The bread would remind them of the body of Christ. The wine would remind them of the blood of Christ. These elements served as a reminder of what most of these believers had witnessed with their own eyes: The sacrificial, atoning death of Christ on the Cross.
d) All of this, though, is history. We’re not commanded to do things this way. My point is to try and show that the early church modeled regular worship together. And, to highlight the attitude in which they did it. Look at v.46, “they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart.”
e) We’re also told that they were “praising God”. This was what the apostles did when they spoke in tongues. On Pentecost, after they were filled with the Spirit, they apparently wandered out into the temple and began to speak in languages they’d never learned. What were they saying? 2:11 tells us they were “speaking of the mighty deeds of God.” They were praising God! The worship of this first church was God-centered, God-exalting. Their times of worship together were filled with “gladness” and “sincerity.”
3. Worship with sincerity. [ppt]
(i) Again, Hebrews 10 is very helpful—this time I’ll read vs. 19-22: “Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith…”
(ii) It’s easy for our worship services to be man-centered—a show for drawing a crowd or a tool for manufacturing church growth—instead of an offering to God from sincere hearts that recognize His worth and desire to praise Him.
(iii) Worship with sincerity.
D. “Continually devoting themselves to… Prayer”
1. This church’s devotion to prayer is the climax of this verse. It’s the underlying truth that pulls it all together. They expected the Holy Spirit to work among them. This church expected the supernatural.
2. Clearly, God’s hand was on this church. This is the obvious implication of that final phrase, “And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” God’s hand was on this church.
3. Why was God’s hand on this church? The first and most obvious answer is “prayer.” This church was devoted to prayer. They were devoted to evangelism, too—this is obvious as we read the rest of Acts. But evangelism and prayer go hand in hand.
4. Prayer is not an incantation to force God to act. Prayer is a way to express our dependence on God. It is agreeing with what Jesus said: “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
5. But it’s even more than that. It’s a realization that God desires to work among us. He wants to do His supernatural work in and through us.
a) Remember what Hanani the seer said to King Asa in 2 Chronicles 16:9? “The eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.”
b) Have you read Proverbs lately and noticed that God is portrayed there as very active in our lives—despising and actively opposing the wicked, and delighting in and actively supporting the righteous?
c) Jesus in John14 said, “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.”
6. Acts 2:47 is also a reminder that true church growth is supernatural activity. What we have here in Acts 2 is true “church growth.” We can manufacture growth in any number of ways—wrestling matches, free pizza or belly dancers—but that’s not what we’re about. Only God can cause real growth (1 Corinthians 3:6). True growth is what happened after Peter’s sermon. Those who heard the gospel message “received” the gospel message and trusted Christ and Christ alone for salvation. They didn’t just come to a church meeting, they were supernaturally transformed into “new creations” in Christ (1 Corinthians 5:17) and were given “the right to become children of God…born not of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12,13). They were “being saved” (v.47) “from the domain of darkness, and transferred…to the kingdom of” Christ (Colossians 1:13). Real church growth is a supernatural act of God. When His church devotes herself to Scripture and fellowship and worship and prayer and giving and evangelism—I believe He is eager to add to our number.
7. And remember there are other supernatural things God does in answer to prayer. Numerical growth is just one of the supernatural activities of God in the church today.
a) It is God’s strength that keeps us our faith from failing (Luke 22:32)
b) It’s is God’s hand that gives believers wisdom (James 1:5).
c) It is by God’s supernatural touch that a sinner is restored (James 5:16-20)
d) It is by God’s hand that believers are built up in the faith (Jude 20)
e) It is God’s work to send laborers into the mission field (Matthew 9:38).
f)God’s hand heals the sick (James 5:13-15).
8. I love what David Jeremiah wrote in his excellent book, Prayer: The Great Adventure: “I scoured the New Testament some time ago, looking for things God does in ministry that are not prompted by prayer. Do you know what I found? Nothing. I don't mean I had trouble finding an item or two; I mean I found nothing. Everything God does in the work of ministry, He does through prayer…Everything we do that's worth doing; everything God wants to do in the church; everything God wants to do in your life; He has subjugated it all to one thing: Prayer.” Prayer: The Great Adventure, Multnomah 1997, ps. 40-41
4. Pray with expectation. [ppt]
(i) It makes us nervous to talk about the supernatural. But, churches in 2005 ought to expect just as much supernatural activity as this first church did.
(ii) The apostolic sign gifts served a purpose at that time, but they were temporary and died out with the apostles. No one—I believe—has the gift of tongues today or the gift of healing. But this does not mean we should not expect the supernatural hand of God among us. In fact, one reason for the ineffectiveness of any congregation is their lack of expectancy that God will do supernatural and eternally significant things among them.
(iii) We need to realize and remember that anything a church accomplishes that is truly significant is Spirit-led and from the hand of God.
(a) Why devote yourself to the apostle’s teaching? Because it is God-breathed, not just the teaching of some men from Galilee.
(b) Why devote yourself to fellowship? Because we believe we have been supernaturally regenerated and filled by the Holy Spirit.
(c) Why devote yourself to worship? Because we believe God Himself—in the Person of the Spirit—indwells us, making us a temple for His glory.
(d) Why devote yourself to prayer? Because we believe God listens and eagerly desires to do His work in and through us.
A. These four elements may not be an exhaustive list of vital characteristics for a successful church, but it’s important to see that there are multiple devotions which are necessary. In other words, we can’t hope to be successful if we are devoted to only one or two of these elements.
1. Churches that are devoted only to the apostle’s teaching with little devotion to fellowship will not produce many “glad and sincere hearts” that give generously from an eternal perspective.
2. Churches that are devoted to fellowship, but aren’t so devoted to worship will become man-centered and not fulfill their ultimate purpose: to glorify God. Many churches today fit this mold—trying to include unbelievers in the fellowship of the church, hoping that eventually they’ll be won over and believe all the right things. This is backward. Certainly, if unbelievers visit our services or fellowship groups, we should treat them as guests and make them feel welcome. But true fellowship comes from a shared belief system and a shared devotion to the God of the Bible.
3. Churches that are devoted to prayer, but aren’t so devoted to the “apostle’s teaching” will not see answers to those prayers because they will not know how to ask according to God’s will and will therefore ask with impure motives.
4. Do you get the point? A balanced church is the goal. A well-rounded church that is exalting God and equipping believers and evangelizing unbelievers is where we need to focus our devotion.
B. Ultimately the true Church Critic is God Himself. We know He’s watching. We know He stands ready to support any one—and therefore any church—whose heart is completely His. Focused on Him. Doing ministry according to His instructions. We want a five-star rating from Him. We want Him to say, “Well done, My good and faithful servants.”
C. CPS: The church that continually devotes itself to the work of God will experience the supernatural hand of God.