Building Genuine Community
Gathered to Go Building Genuine Community Acts 2 Pastor Pat Damiani January 21, 2018 I remember back when the first of the so called “smart phones” appeared on the market in the early 2000’s. At first, I didn’t really see the need to for one. I just couldn’t figure out why anyone needed access to their emails or to be able to get on the internet from their phones. But I think probably around the time the first iPhones came on the scene in 2007, I finally broke down and bought a used Palm Treo, primarily because I wanted to be able to keep an electronic calendar. But even though the phone had the capabilities to retrieve my email or connect to the internet I was too cheap to pay for a data plan that would allow me to use those functions. So I pretty much just used my phone for the calendar, to occasionally send or receive a text and believe it or not, to actually talk to people on the phone. Eventually I finally splurged and bought an iPhone 5, probably well after the iPhone 6 became available. And like many of you have found, I soon grew dependent on my phone to stay connected 24/7. And when I waded into the ocean with that phone in my pocket and discovered that it was not waterproof and was without a phone for over a week, I felt really disconnected from the world. And yes, just for the record before one of my dear family members will be sure to remind me, a year later I decided to see if my replacement phone was waterproof, this time by snorkeling with it. It was not waterproof either and once again I went without a phone for a couple of weeks and once again felt disconnected from the world. By the way, I am no longer permitted to take my phone within 50 feet of any water. In general, we are by far the most connected culture in history. We get instant notifications of news, weather, email and the latest posts on our Facebook feed. We can instantly share our latest photos with family and friends. And occasionally some of us even break down and actually speak to someone on our phones. And yet I would argue that we are probably the most disconnected generation ever. We may have hundreds of friends online, but the sad fact is that we have very few real relationships. And unfortunately, those trends have even had an impact on the church. Back in the early 1970’s country singer Tom T. Hall wrote a song titled “Me and Jesus”, which hit number 98 on the Billboard Hot 100. Over the years the song has been covered by other artists like George Jones and Brad Paisley. A couple years ago Sundance Head performed it a on the singing competition, The Voice, where his performance helped propel him to victory. You’re probably wondering what a country song from nearly 50 years ago has to do with our message this morning, but as I put the lyrics of the chorus up on the screen I think you’ll begin to see its relevance: Me and Jesus, we got our own thing goin' Me and Jesus, we got it all worked out I said me and Jesus, we got our own thing goin' We don't need anybody to tell us what it's all about Unfortunately, I think those words are a pretty accurate reflection of how many people view their relationship with Jesus. And as I was working on the message this week, I began to understand that I’m partly to blame for that. Like many of you, I’ve often referred to being a disciple of Jesus as “my personal relationship with Jesus”. While I think that idea is helpful in distinguishing Biblical Christianity from all other religions that are based on earning favor with God as a result of what man can do, perhaps it has also helped foster the idea that “me and Jesus got our own thing goin’” and that I can somehow be a “Lone Ranger” Christian who doesn’t need anybody else to “tell me what it’s all about”. But the problem is that God created man with a need for community. When He said “It is not good for man to be alone”, I think there is good evidence in the Bible that idea goes far beyond just marriage. In fact, the passage that we’ll look at this morning is going to reinforce the importance of relationships and community for us as disciples of Jesus. This is the second of nine messages from our series from the Book of Acts titled “Gathered to Go”. In that series we’re looking at how the first disciples were gathered together to form the body of the Christ – the church – and how this gathered people then went and brought the kingdom of God near to others. Last week we began our series by looking at the last words of Jesus where He promised to empower His disciples to become witnesses by clothing them with power through their immersion or baptism in the Holy Spirit. This morning, the story continues with the fulfillment of that promise in Acts 2. As I pointed out in this week’s newsletter earlier in the week, this chapter contains far too much to cover in detail in just one message. So I’ve decided to focus primarily on verses 42-47 at the end of the chapter. But before I read that passage, let me a brief synopsis of what occurs in the first part of the chapter. After the group of 120 disciples had gathered together for prayer and selected Matthias to replace Judas as an apostle, they then gathered with a much larger group on the day of Pentecost, also known to the Jews as the Feast of Weeks. When we studied that feast last year we learned it was one of the 3 pilgrimage feasts in which all able-bodied men were required to travel to Jerusalem to observe. So, just as we would expect, the Temple was filled with devoted Jews from faraway places who spoke many different languages. The map on the screen gives you a good idea of how far some of these people had traveled. [Show map]. As the Holy Spirit came upon that group, fulfilling the promise that Jesus had made to His disciples, the Spirit enabled the apostles to speak other languages that they had never learned and allowed all the people there that day to hear what was being said in their own language. Peter, who had prior to this time demonstrated no ability to preach and teach, stands in front of this large throng and begins to preach, skillfully using the Old Testament Scriptures to prove that Jesus was the Messiah they had all been waiting for. When he got done preaching, we see in verse 37 that the people were “cut to the heart” and they asked Peter what to do. Peter responded that they should repent, put their faith in Jesus as the basis for the forgiveness of their sins and then be baptized as a testimony of their faith. And that day 3,000 people were added to the 120 who had previously put their faith in Jesus. So now, just 50 days after the resurrection and 10 days after Jesus had ascended to the Father, His body, the church, now consisted of 3,120 people, give or take a few. The last part of Acts chapter 2, which we’re going to read right now, describes how the church operated in the days that followed. [Read Acts 2:42-47] As I mentioned last week, by the time we get to Acts 8, which takes place about 2 years later, we’re going to see that the church faces tremendous persecution and many of these disciples who are present here in Acts 2 are forced to flee Jerusalem and go to other parts of Judea and Samaria. So the first 8 chapters of Acts primarily deal with how the early church was equipped to become witnesses for Jesus so that when that persecution came, they would be ready to go and bring the kingdom of God near to people outside of Jerusalem. And this passage gives us a great synopsis of how that equipping occurred. And that is still how Jesus equips His disciples today: Jesus’ disciples are equipped to bring His kingdom near to others by living in genuine community Before we look at the essential elements of living in genuine community, I want to first take a quick look at what living in community like that produced. First, in verse 43, we see that this genuine community produced awe in the entire community. Most of you probably have a footnote in your Bible that indicates that the word translated “awe” there is literally “fear”. I don’t doubt for a second that when the people in Jerusalem saw the events that took place here and the tremendous transformation that occurred in the lives of their families and friends that it led them to fear and be in awe of God. Then in verse 47, we see that the way these disciples lived together in community caused them to find favor with “all the people”. Obviously that doesn’t mean that all those people ended up becoming disciples of Jesus themselves, but what it does mean is that the disciples conducted themselves in a manner that led to them being respected in the community. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that is always the case today. Far too often in our culture Christians are known for what we’re against rather than what and who we’re for. Many consider the church to be overly judgmental and critical. Those of you who know me, know that I’m not in any way suggesting that we compromise our beliefs, water down the gospel or not hold true to the Bible in any way. I’m just suggesting that there are some things we can learn from this passage that will help us live in genuine community in a way that will help us find favor in our culture. The result of the way the church impacted their culture like that was that Jesus added to His church each day. Verse 47 is a good reminder that it is not our job to build the church – that is 100% Jesus’ responsibility. That is why He had earlier told Peter and the other disciples that He would build His church and that the gates of hell would not stand against it (Matthew 16:18). And when Paul wrote to the church in Corinth years later, he confirmed that same idea: I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:6–7 ESV) Our responsibility is to be obedient to Jesus and to live together in a way that Jesus can use us in the process of bringing His kingdom near to others who are not yet a part of that kingdom. Obviously the way we do that in the United States nearly 2,000 years later looks a bit different than it did here. But at the same time there are undoubtedly some principles that we can take from this passage to guide us. Before I get into the specifics of this passage, let me first give you a general idea of what is going on here based on what we see in this passage and what we know from historical records. Verse 46 tells us that they were attending the temple together daily and that they were also spending time together in their homes. It’s unlikely that all 3,000 plus were meeting at the temple every day since there was not really a place in the temple where there was enough room for all of them. And you have to remember they didn’t have sound systems that would have made it possible for the apostles to teach that large of a group all at once anyway. So probably what happened is that various groups would gather there in the temple at various times throughout the week to listen to the teaching of the apostles. Because of the Jewish feast of Weeks, there were a lot of Jews in Jerusalem from out of town, and it wasn’t like Jerusalem had a Motel 6 or a Hilton on every corner. So what likely happened is that the Jewish believers who lived in Jerusalem, or in nearby towns like Bethlehem, took these other new believers who had traveled there for the feast into their homes where they ate meals together and undoubtedly discussed this supernatural experience they had just been through and talked about the teaching of the apostles in the temple. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at… SIX BUILDING BLOCKS FOR GENUINE COMMUNITY 1. Gathering in both large and small groups. It is likely that most of the apostles’ teaching occurred in the larger groups that met regularly in the temple. But, as I just mentioned the people did life together the rest of the week in their homes. While most of the formal teaching took place in the temple, I’m pretty sure that most of the real-life transformation took place in those smaller groups where people could observe what others were really like and where these disciples could hold each other accountable. And while it is possible that those who were not yet disciples were exposed to the gospel in the larger gatherings in the temple, my guess is that most of the additions to the church were occurring because family, friends and neighbors got to see firsthand the difference that Jesus was making in the lives of people they knew. I really don’t think things have change a whole lot in the last 2,000 years. We still gather together in larger groups like this one to worship and to be taught the Word of God in a more formal setting. But the kingdom is brought near to others more effectively and more frequently in smaller gatherings that occur in our homes, workplaces and neighborhoods. Some of those gatherings are formal, like a Bible study. But the ones that are most effective in bringing the kingdom near to others are probably more informal – things like having people over for a meal, or engaging in some activity where we invite some unbelievers to join a group of believers. So again, this is one of those areas of our life that is not “either/or” but rather “both/and”. We need to be involved in both large and small gatherings. 2. Intentionality The verb translated “devoted” in verse 42 is a compound word that literally means “to be steadfast toward.” That some verb is translated “attending” in verse 46. The overall idea we get her is that the disciples didn’t just live together in community when it was convenient or when they were lonely or when they didn’t have anything else to do. This was a priority in their lives so they made sure it happened. This is one of the reasons that we constantly encourage people to make a commitment to participate regularly in both corporate worship and to a small group. We all know that if we don’t make an intentional commitment to be a part of both, it probably won’t happen. 3. Solid Bible teaching The teaching of the apostles was particularly important in the early church where the people did not have access to their own copies of the Old Testament Scriptures and where the New Testament hadn’t even been written yet. So the apostles used the Old Testament Scriptures to prove that Jesus was indeed the Messiah they had been waiting for and that He had fulfilled those Scriptures. Today our Bible teaching is a bit different since all of you have your own copies of the Bible and we all have the New Testament. But it is no less important. God’s Word serves as a unifying element by giving us a common understanding of who God is and what he does and what we have to do to be made right with Him through faith in Jesus alone. So when we study the Bible together it facilitates developing genuine community that equips us to be effective witnesses for Jesus. 4. Fellowship I’m going to spend a bit more time here because there are probably more misconceptions about this building block than about the other five combined. So the first thing I want you to do is to write down the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “fellowship” – just a word or two. And be honest, don’t write down what you think I want you to say. The first thing that comes to my mind: I wouldn’t be surprised if many of you wrote down the word “food”. That is because that’s often how we use the word isn’t it? I know I’m certainly guilty of that. We talk about having fellowship after the worship gathering – which to many of you means eating food and drinking coffee. Or when we eat a meal together, we’ll often call it a fellowship meal. A lot of churches have a “Fellowship Hall” which is primarily a place where people gather to eat. Now as you can see, I’m all for food, and food can certainly be an element of fellowship, but real fellowship is so much more. Some of you may be aware the Greek word translated “fellowship” here is “koinonia”. It is one of those words that is really difficult to translate into English with just one word. It comes from a word that describes something that people have “in common”. I think the best way to translate that verb is “joint participation”. That is what true fellowship is – it is joint participation in which we share what we have in common as disciples. And what is it that we have in common with every other disciple? Jesus. So genuine fellowship occurs when we jointly participate in the things of Jesus. It occurs when we worship Jesus together like we’ve been doing this morning. It occurs when we gather together and study His Word. It occurs when we pray together in His name. It occurs when we serve others in the name of Jesus. It occurs when we talk about Jesus with others. And if we do those things over a meal, then I suppose that food could be considered a part of fellowship. But it is certainly not the focus. The act gathering together does not mean that we are engaging in fellowship. If all we do is eat a meal, or talk about the U of A Wildcats or the weather or our jobs or even our families, that is not genuine Biblical fellowship. For fellowship to occur there must be some kind of joint participation in the things of Jesus. One of the things that characterized their fellowship is the way that they were willing to share their financial resources in order to meet the needs of their brothers and sisters in Christ. I don’t want to spend too much time here, but I do want to point out that verses 45 and 46 are not any kind of call to engage in what I would call “Christian communism”. This is not even the norm among the early churches as we would expect it to be if it was intended to be a model for us. And we know from the tense of the verbs here that this wasn’t a situation in which all these people moved off to a commune on the outskirts of Jerusalem where everyone sold all that they owned and gave the proceeds to a charismatic leader who then decided how to distribute everything to the community. As we’ll see clearly in Acts 5, these were completely voluntary acts in which those who had adequate resources used those resources to help those in need rather than hoard them for their own benefit. From that example we see that genuine fellowship is enhanced when we are generous with our resources – not just our money, but our time and our attention as well. 5. Corporate worship We’ve already seen that Bible teaching was an integral part of their corporate worship gatherings. But that was only part of what occurred when they met together. There are two references to the breaking of bread in this passage – in verse 42 and again in verse 46, where they did that in their homes. There is little doubt that Luke is referring here to the meals that people shared together in their homes. But it is clearly also is a reference to what we call the Lord’s Supper or Communion, the ordinance that we observe to commemorate Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross. In the early church those two events were connected. Unlike today when we usually just eat a small morsel of bread and drink a thimbleful of juice, in the early church the Lord’s Supper was observed as part of an entire meal. That is quite obvious if you look at Paul’s instructions to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 11. Here in the early church that most likely occurred in people’s homes. As we’ve discussed before, one of the distinguishing characteristics of the Lord’s Supper is that it was always a community observance, not something that was to be done individually. And because of the fact that they did not yet have the New Testament Scriptures, it was a central element in their corporate worship and an important object lesson that was used in communicating the gospel to unbelievers. There is one more element of corporate worship that is mentioned specifically in this passage so we’ll deal with it separately… 6. Praying together The fact that the definite article is included with prayers – it is “the prayers” – it seems that these were particular prayers that were part of their corporate worship gatherings. Perhaps some of the prayers consisted of praying the Psalms but there were probably also other prescribed prayers as well. It’s important to note here that this is clearly corporate prayer and not just individual prayer. Undoubtedly individual prayer is crucial in our walk with Jesus, but it doesn’t necessarily do anything to develop genuine community. I don’t think that is something we do particularly well as a church. We do have some group prayer that occurs in some of our small groups, but we’ve really struggled to find ways to incorporate that into our corporate worship on a regular basis. We’ve occasionally tried to include it when we observe the Lord’s Supper and we’ve made some attempts in the past to include prayer in our Sunday morning gatherings, but for the most part it seems like we don’t get much participation. Maybe it’s just a matter of sticking with it until we all grow more comfortable with it. If you have any ideas, I’d sure love to hear from you. But because this is clearly important I’m committed to finding a solution here. Jesus’ disciples are equipped to bring His kingdom near to others by living in genuine community Wouldn’t you like to be part of a church that is being used by Jesus to bring His kingdom near to others because we are living together in a genuine community that finds favor with those who are not yet part of Jesus’ kingdom? Can you imagine what kind of impact we could make in our community if we were all committed to developing that kind of genuine community where we love Jesus and love each other like they did in the first days of the church? I’m thankful for the community that we’re developing here and I’m encouraged because I see that in large part we’re doing a pretty good job with most of these six building blocks. But I also know that all of us can identify at least one thing that we can do better in order to contribute to becoming a place of genuine community where we’re equipped to go and bring Jesus’ kingdom near to others. So what I want to encourage each one of us to do this morning is to identify one concrete step that you will commit to take in order to be part of making our church an even more effective community. And here is how I would suggest you do that: • Go through the list of six building blocks and start by identifying those areas where you’re already contributing to the growth of our community. Those of you who can honestly say you’re doing all you can in all six areas are done since there is nothing more you can do. • For the rest of us, pick out just one of the areas where you have some room to grow and circle that building block on your outline. • Finally, write down one concrete step you’re going to take to contribute more in that area. There is plenty of room on your bulletin outline to do that. Let’s all work together to see if we can’t change the lyrics from that Tom T. Hall song from “Me and Jesus, we got our own thing going” to “We and Jesus, we got His thing going”. Questions for the Bible Roundtable 1. Why are both large group and small group experiences important in developing community? What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of each? 2. When you hear the word “fellowship” what do you usually think of? How has your perception of fellowship changed as a result of what you learned today? 3. What are some practical steps we can take to help make sure we are known for what we are for rather than what we are against? 4. Do you think our corporate worship be designed primarily for Christians or non-Christians? Why? 5. What are some examples of how we can include those who are not yet Christians into our small group gatherings in a non-threatening way?