January 29, 2017
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Introduction and offering:
So what are we going to talk about today? In keeping with Our Big Deals, which is a vision series for our church, I thought it would be good for us to look at a passage of Scripture that paints a very compelling picture of our life together as Christians. It is found in Acts 2:41-47. This story starts on the Day of Pentecost, the birthday of the church. The Holy Spirit has fallen on the first believers, a crowd has gathered, and Peter proclaims the gospel. What follows is a description of these Christians’ life together in the very first days of the church.
Acts 2:41–47 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Here’s the question I want to address:
The Big Idea: What can we learn and apply from this description of the early Christians life together? What characterized their life together?
As you can see, we’ll unpack 8 things that characterized their life together that I think you would like to characterize our life together as a church. As we do, I want you to be aware of God’s nudge in your heart. See if the Holy Spirit might highlight one or more of these, and say, “I want that for you.” If He does, make a note on your handout. There will be a test!
- Devotion. 42
Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
The first characteristic is devotion. They devoted themselves. The word “devoted” is sometimes translated, “committed” or “they continued steadfastly.”
To what did they devote themselves? To their life together, which had four components.
- The apostles’ teaching. At their meetings, the apostles—the men who had lived with Jesus and witnessed his death and resurrection—would teach. How much fun would this be? Can you imagine if Peter showed up to talk with us today? To hear his stories—to ask questions—to know that this guy knows Jesus, and heard and saw it all! While Peter can’t be here in the flesh, we still have the apostles’ teaching. It’s the New Testament. The most important qualification to be included in the New Testament was apostolic authorship: it had to be the apostles’ teaching. Whenever we meet, we are devoted to the apostles’ teaching.
- Fellowship. The Greek word is koinonia; it comes from the Greek word koino, which meant “common.” Koinonia was a close relationship that comes from sharing something in common. Christian fellowship is our close relationship that comes from sharing Jesus in common. He is our common ground. He is what draws and holds us together.
- The breaking of bread. This could refer to communion (The Lord’s Supper, Eucharist)—a sacramental meal that celebrates Christ’s death and resurrection. Or it could refer to a common meal. The early church did both. They ate together a lot!
- The prayers. These first Christians were all Jews, and continued to observe the daily times of prayer at the temple. They prayed together often, at the temple and in their homes.
These four things describe what they did when they met together. They learned from the apostles’ teaching—disciples are learners. They enjoyed each others’ friendship, they worshipped, they ate and they prayed.
They were devoted to life together. In my experience, Christians who are devoted to life together—devoted to meeting with other Christians, make coming to church their habit—grow. When that devotion wanes—when they begin to come less frequently or not at all—their spiritual vitality wanes too.
ILL: Imagine a campfire. When the logs are together, they burn hot and bright. Pull one log out and what happens? Before long, its flame dies, then the embers cool, until finally it’s cold and dead.
I’ve seen this happen to too many people—don’t let it happen to you. Devote yourself to life together.
- Awe. 43
Acts 2:43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.
The second characteristic is awe. Everyone was filled with awe. “Everyone” would include not only the Christians, but the nonbelievers in Jerusalem too. God was doing stuff—amazing, awe-inspiring stuff! And everyone was in awe.
For example, the next chapter opens with Peter and John going to the temple at 3 PM, one of the standard prayer times. A man who was over 40 years old and had never walked is begging outside the gate. Peter tells him, “I don’t have money, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus, rise and walk.” Then Peter pulled him to his feet! Think about doing that! I’d be thinking, “I hope this works!” Fortunately, God came through! The man was healed and started walking and jumping and praising God! When all the people saw this and realized who it was, “they were filled with wonder and amazement.” Everyone was filled with awe!
How many of you would like more of that? I’m praying for revival. I’m praying for God to do such great things that everyone would be filled with awe! At the end of the talk, we’re all going to pray for people who need God to do something for them.
The early church was characterized by awe. God was doing things! It was part of their life together.
- Generosity. 44-45
Acts 2:44-45 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.
The third characteristic is generosity. All the believers were “had everything in common” and were willing to share. If someone had a need and you could help, you did. Their koinonia, their fellowship, included the sharing not only of their faith in Jesus, but their goods.
It is important to note that this sharing of possessions was voluntary and occasional. This is not an early form of communism. This is simply open-hearted generosity. You see a need and you meet it. You have, she doesn’t, so you share. It’s a generous response to needs as they arise.
I love the story in Luke 19 of Jesus inviting himself to Zacchaeus’ house for lunch. Zac was a tax collector, notorious for getting rich at the expense of his neighbors. Everyone hated him, but Jesus moved toward him—and was criticized for it. After listening to Jesus, Zac declared that he would repay anyone he had cheated with interest, and would give half his wealth to the poor. Jesus replied, “Today, salvation has come to this house.” Or said another way, “This dude got saved!” Isn’t it interesting that the evidence of Zac’s salvation was generosity.
When God gets a hold of your heart, when you understand the grace of Jesus and what He’s given for you, you become a generous person.
ILL: A few days before Christmas, I bought an air hockey table off Craigslist for my grandsons. I needed to pick it up and get it over to their house, and had no rig to do it, and very little time. I called up my friend Austin. He’s a recent college grad, newly married, and working hard to start a new business. He dropped everything, came and helped me load the air hockey table into his pickup, drove it to the boys house and helped me unload it. To do that meant taking valuable time off work—he didn’t hesitate. It was very generous. His truck was my truck; his time was my time. That dude is saved!
Keep your eyes open today and all week for opportunities to be generous with each other. It’s part of our life together.
- Fellowship. 46
Acts 2:46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,
The fourth characteristic is fellowship. Every day, they met together in the Temple courts and in their homes. The Temple courts provided a large space where they could meet all together—hundreds or thousands of them. And they met in their homes too. This new church in Jerusalem was over 3000 people from day one—it was always a large church. So from the very beginning, the church met as a large group and in small groups. I point this out because many people assume that you can’t have good fellowship, close relations in a large church. This church did. You just have to be devoted to it.
“Every day they continued to meet together.” The word “continued” is the same Greek word that is translated “devoted” in verse 42. They were devoted to meeting together. They continued to meet together every day. They kept their logs in the fire! They understood that Christianity is a team sport. We can’t do it alone, only together.
They met together and they ate together. I love this—mostly because I love eating! But also because something rich happens when we eat together. Sharing a meal, even sharing a coffee, lubricates conversation and deepens relationships. Jesus spent a lot of time eating with people—building relationships that were redemptive or transforming.
I would love to see you invite someone over for lunch, or go out together for a meal after church. I would love for your Life Group to regularly share a meal together. Let’s go eat! “They broke bread in their homes and ate together.” Fellowship in large groups and in small, including table fellowship—it’s a big part of our life together.
- Worship. 47
Acts 2:47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.
The fifth characteristic is worship. This was part of their fellowship, one of the things they did together at the Temple and in their homes: they praised God together. This is the same word used in Acts 3 of the lame man who was healed and was walking, jumping and praising God. What do you think that sounded like? (Demonstrate)
Worship pours out of a redeemed heart! These people were praising God because Jesus had saved them. Jesus had changed them. Jesus had given them a new life. They were so grateful, so happy that praise poured out of them.
ILL: I told you that Austin saved my bacon just a few days before Christmas. I was so thankful that I took him out for a burger to say thanks. Did you see what I did there…eating together, saying thanks?
So here’s what happens to us. When someone does something for us, we’re grateful and we say thanks. We praise them. But as time passes, the memory fades, we forget and we stop feeling grateful or saying thanks.
This happens to us with Jesus, too. This is why we worship every time we meet. Worship is focusing our attention and affection on God. Our songs remind us of what He has done, and should stir our redeemed hearts to praise God. “God is good. All the time. All the time. God is good!”
Worship—praising God—it’s an important part of our life together.
- Joy. 46-47
Acts 2:46-47 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
The sixth characteristic is joy. Notice the words: glad hearts, praising God, enjoying the favor. This was a happy church. I love this! I think we ought to be the happiest people on the planet!
ILL: That’s why I wear these: my happy socks. It’s a party on my feet—or maybe I should say, it’s the gospel on my feet! “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14)
We ought to be the happiest people on the planet and our meetings should be filled with great joy.
This word, “glad” is a pretty mild translation of a big Greek word that means, “intense joy and extreme gladness, often involving verbal expression (shout for joy) or bodily movement (jump for joy, dance for joy). This isn’t “Yeah, I’m happy.” This is, “Woohoo!” This is to be overjoyed!
Where does this joy come from? From the same place worship does: a redeemed heart. When you know who Jesus is and what He has done, when you know that He loves you and He is good all the time, you get happy.
Acts 13:52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
Friends, it’s time to cast off that gloomy spirit! The gospel is good news—happy news! When we come together to celebrate the good news, joy should characterize our life together.
- Favor. 47
Acts 2:47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.
The seventh characteristic is favor. These new Christians were enjoying the favor of all the people. That might be an overstatement. The Jewish leaders certainly weren’t happy with them, and would soon start arresting and beating them. But the general population in Jerusalem viewed them with favor. William Barclay described them as “A church whose people others could not help liking.” The NCV actually translates it, “They were liked by all the people.”
“We like these Christians. We like what they’re doing. We have a favorable opinion of them.”
Why? Well, they were joyful, generous, loving, and inclusive. Those are things that most people like. They are doing good things like healing the sick, and feeding the hungry. Those are things that most people like.
Here’s another way to look at it. One commentator wrote that “it is possible to translate the Greek ‘having goodwill towards all the people.” So rather than “enjoying the favor of all the people,” it could mean, “having goodwill toward all the people.” It could be the Christians who were showing the favor toward others. The CEB translates it, “they demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone.”
I think both together make the most sense. When we show people God’s goodness, when we move toward people with God’s grace, when we do good things, we will probably enjoy the favor of all the people.
I’m not suggesting this is a universal. Jesus correctly predicted that we’ll be opposed and hated by some. That’s unavoidable.
But I do think that some of the opposition we have generated in our culture has been our own fault. We are more known for what we’re against than what we’re for. We’ve tended to come across as if we’re against people rather than for them, with animosity rather than goodwill, with judgment rather than grace.
What would happen if we were known for our goodwill and grace? We might experience the favor of all the people as part of our life together.
- Growth. 47
Acts 2:47 And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
The eighth characteristic is growth. This church was growing by conversions every day. The Lord was adding to their number daily those who were being saved.
This is my prayer not just for us, but for the church in our city. There are so many people who need Jesus and the life He brings. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life.” With Jesus we have eternal, abundant life. Without Jesus, we perish.
This is why I reminded you two weeks ago of our mission to help people find and follow Jesus. This is why I encourage you to find, tell, bring. Find someone you love, tell them what you know, bring them with you. The gospel moves along relational lines, from friend to friend. I want us to be an army of bringers and includers. I want the Lord to use us to add daily those who are being saved.
Notice that this last verse is still describing their life together. When the church is devoted, filled with awe, generous, loving, worshipping, joyous, and gracious, it can’t help but grow. There is something magnetic, something contagious, something irresistible about this kind of church! This is the kind of church that I want us to be. I want us to be an irresistible church. I want us to be the kind of church that God says, “I can add people to that church!”
Then growth becomes a natural part of our life together.
We’re going to finish with two things.
First, what is your response? Did the Holy Spirit highlight something for you? Something jump out at you that you need to do, or receive? I’ll give you a minute to consider that.
Now, I’ll give you a minute to turn to your neighbor and tell them what your action step is.
The last thing we’re going to do is pray, and we’re going to do it a little differently. If you need God to do something in your life, in just a moment I’ll ask you to stand. Then people near you will gather around you. You can tell them in just a sentence or two what you need. And they will pray for you. And when you’re done praying, you’re free to enjoy each other!