THE SUCCESSFUL CHURCH
THEME: We learn from this passage what makes a church successful. We learn that the early church had four very important characteristics that made it successful: learning, loving, worshipping, and evangelizing. These characteristics followed the Great Commission and all the other teachings of Jesus faithfully. We should copy these characteristics so that we will also be successful in God’s eyes, and not be worried about the world’s definition of success.
Scripture: Acts 2: 42-47.
I. This early church was a learning church (vv. 42 & 43).
A. It must be deliberate that Luke mentions this mark of success first in his list of important virtues of the early church.
1. We could say “The Holy Spirit opened a school in Jerusalem.”
a. Teachers were the apostles whom Jesus had appointed.
b. There were 3,000 pupils in the first grade.
2. The new converts were not enjoying some kind of mystical experience that led them to despise their mind or disdain theology.
3. The love of learning and the fullness of the Spirit are mutually compatible, because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth.
4. Just because the new believers had received the Holy Spirit, they did not imagine that He was their only teacher they needed and they could dispense with human teachers.
5. On the contrary, they sat at the apostles’ feet – hungry to receive instruction – and they persevered in it.
B. The authority of the Apostles (to which they submitted) was authenticated and verified by miracles (v. 43): “many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.”
1. The two references to the Apostles, in verse 42, (their teaching); and verse 43, (their miracles), can hardly be an accident.
2. The teaching of the Apostles has come down to us in its definitive form as the New Testament.
3. Therefore: If we are to be devoted to the Apostles’ teaching, we must submit to the authority of the New Testament.
C. A Spirit-filled church is a New Testament church, in the sense that it studies and submits to New Testament instruction.
1. Don’t forget that the NT is based on the OT, and refers to it almost constantly, either directly or indirectly.
2. The Holy Spirit leads the people of God to learn and submit to the Word of God.
II. This early church was a loving church (vv. 42 & 44-45).
A. “They devoted themselves. . . to the fellowship.”
1. “Fellowship” translates the Greek word koinonia, with the root word koinos, meaning “common.” (Note: we derive the English word “community” from this Greek word).
2. This shows us the “common life” or “fellowship” of the church in two senses:
a. 1st, it expresses what we share in together.
b. All we believers share in God the Father Himself (1 John 1: 3) “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 13: 14) “. . . and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
c. Thusly, koinonia or fellowship is an experience of the Holy Trinity itself.
d. It is our common share in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
e. 2nd, koinonia or fellowship also expresses what we share out together: what we give as well as what we receive.
f. When Paul was organizing the love gift from the Macedonian and Greek churches to the church in Jerusalem, he uses the word koinonia for the collection of money and items that were donated by Christian believers for the relief of other Christian believers.
g. The related Greek word koinonikos means “generous.”
h. It is of this “generous fellowship” that Luke is referring to here, because he goes on in vv. 44-45 to describe the way in which these first Christians shared their possessions with one another: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods [probably real estate and valuables such as jewelry], they gave to anyone as he had need.”
B. Many authoritative Christians since that time have said that this was to be the way with all of us: that every believer was to sell all they had and give it away to those in need and live out our lives in total poverty. Are they correct in the interpretation of this passage? Is it really authoritative for every believer?
1. Some of these authorities saw a similarity between Christians and the Essenes (one of the 3 sects of Judiasm during Christ’s time; the other 2 were the Sadducees and the Pharisees; one large group of Essenes lived at Qumran and were responsible for the Dead Sea Scrolls).
2. The Essenes at Qumran required everyone entering that group turn over all their possessions to the chief financial officer of the sect. Private property was not allowed at Qumran, but seems to have been allowed in Jerusalem and other locations.
3. We also need to remember that Jesus told the rich young ruler: (Luke 18: 22) “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
4. There is no doubt that Jesus still calls some of His followers to do as the rich young ruler and to live a life of total voluntary poverty, but it is clear from the Gospels that He does not call all of us to do so, just as He does not call all believers into full time Christian ministry.
5. Even the most radical of the Reformation’s denominations such as the Anabaptists, the Hutterites, and the Mennonites, all of whom practice communal economy and individual poverty, recognized that this practice was not, is not and should not be compulsory upon all believers.
6. Even at the time of the early church in Jerusalem, the sharing of property and possessions was strictly voluntary.
7. In v. 46, “they broke bread in their homes.” Obviously, many believers still had the homes they owned – not all had sold them.
8. The sin of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 was not greed or materialism, but deceit; they held back part of the sales proceeds and said they were giving it all away.
9. Even though the selling of property and donating the proceeds were and are voluntary – every Christian in every era has to make conscientious decisions before God in these matters, and we are ALL called to be generous, especially to the poor and needy among us.
a. (Deuteronomy 26: 12) “When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the alien, the fatherless and the widow.”
b. (1 John 3: 17) “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”
c. (James 2: 15-16) “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?”
10. One of our favorite ploys is to say to someone with a need that we could satisfy, “Well, I’ll pray for you.” And there you are, with enough money in your account to buy that new dress or new power tool OR fill this person’s need, but not both. Well, guess what? 90% of us will fill our own desires and let the needy stay in their condition. So sad. . .
11. We must not evade the challenge of these verses. That we have millions of destitute brothers and sisters is a standing rebuke to us who are in better circumstances.
12. It is part of the responsibility of Spirit-filled believers to alleviate need and abolish destitution in the new community of Jesus.
13. Misers do not have the Holy Spirit living in them. Beware that your tightwad tendencies and hard heart do not grieve the Holy Spirit.
III. This early church was a worshipping church (vv. 42 & 46-47).
A. The fellowship was expressed not only in caring for each other, but also in “caring” (that is, worshipping) for the Lord, both corporately and individually.
1. The reference to “THE breaking of the bread” almost surely means the celebration of the Lord’s Supper in group format, of course.
2. The apostles’ teaching and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit was having the effect of sanctifying the believers, which helped them live their lives “loving their neighbors as themselves” in all their dealings.
a. This helped them garner favor and a good reputation among the general populace.
b. This also helped them show how the Lord Jesus had changed their lives.
3. They were also meeting in groups in various homes: discussing Scripture, apostolic teachings, and spending time in group and public prayer.
B. There are 2 aspects we need to consider about the church’s worship which show its balance.
1.1st, it was both “formal” and “informal,” for it took place both at the Temple and in their homes.
2. It is somewhat surprising that they continued at the Temple, seeing as how all of them were beginning to grasp that animal sacrifices had been superseded by Christ on the cross.
3. But it does appear that the Apostles mainly went to the Temple at the designated prayer times to preach to the gathered crowd.
4. (We’ll look next week at a great miracle that occurred at the Temple).
5. At the same time, they supplemented the Temple services with more informal and spontaneous meetings at various homes.
6. 2nd aspect of the church’s worship is that it was both joyful and reverent.
7. There’s no doubt about the joy, as seen in v. 46 “with glad and sincere hearts.”
8. Since God had sent His Son into the world, even though many of them were close to being directly responsible for His death, He had raised Jesus from the grave. And now at the right hand of the Father, He had poured out the Holy Spirit on all believers.
9. Besides, one of the fruits of the spirit is joy. (Galatians 5: 22-23)
10. Sometimes, a more uninhibited joy than is customary (or even allowed) is desperately needed within the stodgy old traditions of today’s established churches.
11. Every worship service should be a joyful celebration of the mighty acts of God through the Lord Jesus.
12. It is all right for worship to be dignified – but unforgivable to be dull.
13. At the same time, their joy was never irreverent, because v. 43 says that “everyone was filled with awe” and awe means respectful fear.
IV. This early church was an evangelistic church (v. 47b).
A. The first Jerusalem Christians were not so preoccupied with learning, sharing and worshipping, that they forgot about witnessing. From these early believers, we can learn 3 vital lessons about local church evangelism.
1. 1st, the Lord Jesus Himself did it. He was the One that “added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
2. We must not forget that the Holy Spirit is the one who draws people and saves them. It is not our doing – it is truly a “God” thing.
3. 2nd, Jesus did two things together: He “added to their number” and He saved “those who were being saved.”
4. Christ did not add anyone to the church fellowship with saving them. There was no “nominal Christianity” at that time.
5. Neither did He save them without adding them to the church fellowship. There was no “solitary Christianity” then either.
6. 3rd, the Lord added people DAILY.
7. Their evangelism was not an occasional or sporadic activity, nor limited to a weeklong “revival” service.
8. Just as their worship was daily, so was their witness.
9. Praise and proclamation were both the natural overflow of hearts full of the Holy Spirit.
10.We need to recover the expectation of steady and uninterrupted church growth.
---It is a wonderful blessing that we have this picture of the early church.
For in it we find how they operated in accordance with the Holy Spirit.
---The church was truly a single-minded group of people, and the singleness of purpose was to do the will of God among their fellow men.
---Following in their footsteps will surely lead us down the right path.
This path leads us in the teachings of the Bible and our Lord Jesus.
---If we will but follow their example, our church will become a group of true disciples.
Being a learning group, a loving group of givers, a group consumed by worship, and a group consistently concerned with the souls of our neighbors:
We will grow closer to God.
We will grow closer to each other.
We will grow to be better disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.
---We must follow this leading, dedicating ourselves to be like them: a group of believers who live for Jesus not just for one hour/week, but every hour of every day.
---Dedicate yourself today for that mission.