Life among the Believers
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:43-47)
The Book of Acts is arguably one of the most interesting and important sections of the New Testament. The verses I’ve selected today are significant because they give us the four characteristics of a healthy church. These are the four things the early converts prioritized that mark the fruit of genuine conversion and life in Christ.
The Apostles’ Teaching: That’s easy for us; we have their teaching in the gospels. Jesus’ followers wrote the gospels for future generations to be able to hear the teachings that they heard. We must realize, however, that the apostles and the early church were not yet mature in their faith. They did not fully understand that Jews and Gentiles were to come together in the name of Jesus; they weren’t sure how to mix Gentile customs with Jewish Law. They had a lot to learn. But, they believed the teaching to be authoritative due to its authentication of God through miraculous signs and wonders.
Fellowship: The word Luke uses for “fellowship” has a much broader meaning than what we usually consider; it is much more than a gathering for food and chatter. Fellowship for Luke meant “joint participation” or “sharing something in common.” It is thus a kind of partnership; it is a sharing together in ministry. The most common expression of “fellowship” in the New Testament is that of sharing financial resources – giving. The early converts sold everything and held their resources in common. This is not a prescription for all people in all times. Rather, it is the idea that the resources we’ve been given, that we have accumulated, do not belong to us without condition. God expects us to show evidence of God’s work in our hearts by sharing what we have with those who have less. Giving to the church, as an example, is not about funding the annual budget, it is about obeying God’s command to contribute to the needs of the saints and pursue hospitality. Stewardship is obedience.
The Breaking of the Bread: We often assume that Luke is talking about Holy Communion here. While that is certainly something we must do as Christians, Luke has other ideas as well. He does not appear to be calling attention to the remembrance of our Lord’s death, as much as to the simple sharing of a meal with fellow believers. We should recall that in the New Testament the Lord’s Table was celebrated as part of a meal. The sharing of a meal was perhaps the most intimate form of fellowship one could have with fellow believers. It was a sharing of yourself and your resources; it was obedience to the ancient laws of hospitality; it was an image of your relationship with God.
The Prayers: I am inclined to think that Luke is telling us that in the very early days the converts in Jerusalem diligently persisted in the observance of the stipulated times of Jewish prayer at the temple. These were newly-saved Jewish believers who were just beginning to grasp the significance of the things they had done as Old Testament Jews, and how that related to their new belief. This was an immature church seeking its appropriate place in the world. Nonetheless, we must pray.
Now, what I do not want us to do is to view this as a “To-Do” list for our church. It is not just about doing the right things, it is more about having the right attitudes, having the right heart, and maintaining right relationships. Luke wanted us to see why the early church did these things. The characteristics described here are corporate activities, things the church did together. The competitive “me first” of the apostles is gone; these new believers are generous and not claiming anything as their own. They dispose of their personal property to care for each other. This is not just togetherness, it is unity. It is not just human affection, this is genuine love. A New Testament church is a church where the fruits of the Spirit are as evident as the manifestations of God’s power. That is the kind of church we desire to be.
Seeking our healthiest church,