From Friendly to Befriending
So, pop quiz – What distinguished the life of the early Christian church? ABCD all of the above? No, the thing that set them apart is that they were together. The earliest Christians lived as a single family. When you live together as family under one roof, you don’t… A new family, a new community.
The big idea is in the sum, not the parts. While there are some important elements of biblical community or family life here, the big idea is a new community. And it was Jesus’ idea: Even when we allow for the hyperbole in his teachings about kin to follow him, we’re left with a radical shift in natural priorities. From baptism onward, our basic family is fellow followers of Jesus.
Listen to some of his apostles describe us: Peter (1Pet2.9); John (1John 3.1); Paul (Eph 2.129).
And so we read that they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, to fellowship, to breaking bread and to pray and we often see this list of things the followers of Jesus DO. What we often miss is that the activities are those characteristic of a COMMUNITY. One of the effects of Pentecost was that the believers lived in fellowship. They accepted one another, shared things, and were partners together in the ministry of the gospel. They were a new family.
Christ calls the church to be a community that demonstrates God’s love for the world. Our life in Christ begins when we’re reconciled and enter into a new relationship with God, but it doesn’t stop there. It results in practical loving relationships with one another.
They devoted themselves, and the meaning is that they continued faithfully loyal to this new family they were now part of. They devoted themselves, persistently, obstinately investing in one another. So something that I’m seeing here is that “fellowship” is not just one part of the picture; rather being a new community is expressed in all four of these community activities.
So we devote ourselves to this new community by making four commitments:
We’re committed to the Word of God (Apostles teaching). Your coming to faith wasn’t a destination, it’s the beginning of a journey. His Word isn’t to be believed and then put on reserve for when the need arises. We’re intended to grow in our knowledge of God by regularly interacting with his Word, AND we’re to do that together! It’s always a good thing to study the Bible on our own, but the point of Acts 2 is that this new community of Jesus followers did it together.
Part of befriending one another is having conversations about the truths that unite us! The local church is a lab where we can test our understanding of God’s Word and learn from one another. Too often we’re intimidated or disinterested or afraid and we engage in conversation about nearly everything else. It’s the place we learn to love one another regardless of differences that might divide us. We help one another understand and apply God’s Word!
We devote ourselves to a deep fellowship. Koinonia, the fellowship word here comes from koinos or common. NT Greek is called Koine Greek because it was the common street language of the people, not the language of the elite. So it has the idea of lives that are held in common or shared. John Stott points out that so far as the Bible goes, that word was born on Pentecost. You don’t find it in the gospels, but with the coming of the Holy Spirit Christians are drawn together to do life. So they share their time and their stuff and their love! They’re not just friendly, they’re deeply befriending.
So we’re told to Romans 12.10; Eph 4.32; Col 3.16; 1Thess 5.11; James 5.16 (and dozens more).
They devote themselves to breaking bread. While eating together has always been a powerful symbol of a shared life, the idea here probably goes back to the last supper and their identity as recipients of God’s grace. So they worshiped the Lord together.
Hebrews 10.24-25 reminds us that our common worship life is important to God. We can and should worship personally and individually anytime, anywhere. It is theoretically possible to go off on your own in the woods and worship the God of the Bible. But where community with other believers is possible, we’re not being faithful to his desire for us if we fail to get together in worship. The church isn’t a random coming together out of common interest; its in response to God who has called us to himself and to community with one another.
It’s so easy especially in summer to find other things to do or places to be. But its not just a matter of you feeling the need to get to church on a given Sunday. It’s a matter of hearing Jesus’ call to BE the church and to gather in worship for his glory! This is a family meeting, and you’re part of the family.
They were devoted to praying together. Can you imagine the excitement as 3000 people flooded that first local church gathering? And can you imagine the potential for disaster, with 3000 interpersonal accidents waiting to happen?! But a bunch of Jesus’ disciples had been praying together leading up to Pentecost, and prayer continued to be at the center of their life together. One of the great ways we befriend one another and devote ourselves to this new family and pull together is by praying for one another. Not just politely saying we will, but praying the way you do for family.
Folks, churches can be very friendly and superficial. “Hi, welcome to church! Good to see you! Have a great week!” Honey, who were those people? We greet one another with a handshake and a smile but don’t really purpose to get to know one another as family. You don’t see this in the book of Acts.
They don’t have a common culture. They don’t have similar personalities. There’s no common Christian temperament. They don’t come from the same class. Yet these people got together in each other’s homes. They were together. They were a new community. Because of Jesus, they were family. True fellowship is never anything superficial. It’s deep. It is vital. It rises to the top of our priorities. When people become Christians, they become family.
Chuck Colson once said many Christians have been infected with the most virulent virus of American life; radical individualism. He said, they concentrate on personal obedience to Christ as if all that matters is Jesus and Me, but miss the point. For Christianity is not a solitary belief system. Colson concludes, “Any genuine resurgence of Christianity, history demonstrates, depends on a renewal of that which is the essence of the faith – the people of God, the new society, the body of Christ made manifest in the word – the church.”
Jesus calls us to a costly investment in one another. It’s not punch and cookies and a few words at the door. It comes through giving and struggling and praying and sharing and laughing and living together. People today are so individualistic that the biblical idea of community seems strange to them. We live private lives with minimal interference from others. We open up certain parts of our lives to certain people. But that comes nowhere close to the biblical idea of devoting ourselves to one another.
Community isn’t just about being the people of God, essential as that is; It’s also about being a people of God who IMAGE their God. The God of the Bible is all about relationships. Imagine what this new community looked like to those outside of it! There had to be a buzz about this strange collection of people sharing meals, divesting themselves of wealth and worshiping Jesus. Luke describes the impact their life together had on observers this way: “having favor with all the people.” Why are they friends!!!
A lot of churches at least try to be friendly. Every church wants to think of itself as friendly. And generally I think we are. But that’s asking the wrong question. Because if we pass the friendly test, we tend to stop there and to be satisfied with that! Very few are truly befriending. We have to go out of our way to develop new friendships. It means sitting in an unpredictable pew so you can meet someone you haven’t know for a decade. It takes having coffee and real conversation with someone new after worship. Or getting together in homes or going out with people we don’t know well. We need to regard one another as family and live that way. When the church today finds itself stagnant, unattractive, and shrinking, it’s time to read Acts 2 again, get down on our knees and ask what isn’t happening that should be happening! It’s time to move from friendly to befriending.