Fellowship of Believers
Passage: Acts 2:42–47
As many of you know, the way we walk through books of the Bible is seasonal. We have been walking through the book of Acts in the fall, we have been walking through Matthew in the Spring, and Romans this summer. The hope is that we cover more genres in the Bible this way. I had hoped to finish Romans, but it didn’t work out so we are going to come back to chapters 13-16 at some point in the next year. But, in between series, I’ll often do a one off on whatever seems most helpful to the church at that time.
Today we are looking at Acts 2. We are looking at Acts 2 because it is such a great small snap shot at the local church early on. My favorite living preacher is a man named Allistar Begg. I once heard him say that if you read leadership books, what they all have in common is that successful businesses usually do the basics well. That’s it. If you can master the basics well, the chances of success are much higher and the same is true in the church. Even though we might not be the flashiest church in Orlando, with fog machines, laser lights, and a $50,000 live stream, we do have a clear mind about what we want to do here. The basics are clear and that is what we are going to see in this passage. We are going to see a church with learning minds, growing hearts, and active hands.
- Learning minds
We see in the first half of verse 42 that They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching… The apostles were chosen by Jesus to explain how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. The apostles were chosen to lead the early church in all the teachings of Jesus. Jesus has chosen and supernaturally equipped these men to remember and spread his teaching. This is what he meant when he said, 26 But the aHelper, the Holy Spirit, bwhom the Father will send in my name, che will teach you all things and dbring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. - John 14:26
These apostles carried out this role by teaching this new church and recording these teachings in the New Testament. And it’s easy to forget what a large church it was. 3000 people have believed. Just think about that 3000 new believers to teach. This is no small task. John Stott said, “The Holy Spirit opened a school in Jerusalem that day. The teachers were the apostles appointed by Jesus and 3000 people were in kindergarten.” And lest there be any doubt about the authority of the teachings of these apostles, signs and wonders accompanied their teachings. Verse 43 And awe4 came upon every soul, andemany wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. These wonders and signs were God’s way of reinforcing the authority of these men and their teaching. This is why Paul wrote to the Corinthians, 12 sThe signs of a true apostle were performed among you twith utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works. - 2 Cor 12:12
Now, I do think God can and does still perform miraculous things, but I don’t think we can or should expect them the way the early church did. While God’s character doesn’t change, his methodology can. These signs and wonders happened to establish the authority of the disciples teaching which were then recorded in the New Testament. So, it isn’t that God can’t or doesn’t do these things anymore, it’s just that we don’t require it the way the early church did.
This is also why we don’t have apostles anymore. That office was for these people who were chosen by Jesus to secure the truths that he taught. And right here, in our culture, this is where we get a lot of push back on our truth claims. The culture says, “Wait, who are you to make claims about what is true? No one should be making universal truth claims.” But, when they say that, do you know what they just did? They made a universal truth claim. There is no way to avoid universal truth claims. It’s absolutely impossible. Everyone has them.
When someone says that we can’t draw lines in the sand, what have they just done? They’ve drawn a line in the sand. As one pastor said, “We all make universal and exclusive church claims. The narrow minded are those whose truth claims make them combative and prideful. The open minded are those who have truth claims that make them humble.”
I had someone once tell me that they don’t need all the theology, they just need God. Well, do you know what the word theology means? The study of God. Jesus taught the truth. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth. The apostles were stewards of that truth. The early church devoted themselves to learning that truth. And we should be as well. This is one of the reasons we practice expositional preaching here. We expose you to the Bible. We make great efforts to make sure that the main point of the passage is the main point of the sermon. I’m not here primarily as some sort of motivational speaker, I’m here to bring the word of God. This is why we have Equipping Hour classes for youth and adults. The adult classes go deeper into scripture than we normally have time to do in worship. Right now, we only offer Equipping Hour for adults during the second service, but our hope in 2024 is that we would have an adult Equipping Hour class going during both services so we can have the opportunity to go.
The early church was committed to learning about God and so must we be. But, we can’t be a church that only has a growing head knowledge. A church that can pass a Bible test, without that knowledge transforming us. The early church didn’t only have learning minds, they also had growing hearts.
- Growing hearts
We see their growing hearts in their worship. They didn’t just keep this truth in their heads, it overflowed into their worship of God and there were both formal and informal expressions to their worship. We see this if we keep reading verse 42, And athey devoted themselves to the apostles’ bteaching and the cfellowship, todthe breaking of bread and the prayers. This breaking of bread and prayers is almost certainly talking about the Lord’s supper and a prayer service. And we see in verse 46 that it was happening in homes. And day by day, gattending the temple htogether and ibreaking bread in their homes.
So they were worshiping together in their homes, but also still going to the temple. There had not yet been a formal break between Judaism and Christianity. The Christians didn’t participate in the sacrifices, but they still went to worship and pray. Many people want to say that home churches are the only way or that formal church is the only way, but in the early church, we see both.
Gathered worship and meeting in homes isn’t an either or, it’s a both and. Either way though, in this passage, whether in the home or the temple, worshiping is an embodied experience, in both its individual and communal dimensions. The Bible is clear that the gathering is essential for the life of the church. Paul tells Christians to celebrate the Lord’s Supper when they have come together (1 Cor. 11:33). The author of Hebrews tells us to not neglect meeting together (Heb. 10:25). God did not design an individual for purely privatized worship of him, but rather a corporate gathering where we pray together, we sing together, we consider a portion of God’s word together, we take communion together, and we are sent out together.
Many of you know that in 2021, we cut our live stream. We still put up all our sermons and equipping hour lectures online later in the week, so we aren’t anti-technology. But the phrase online worship just began to bug me. If you’re using the word worship the way Paul does in this passage, online worship is an oxymoron. The internet can be helpful, but it’s not a replacement for embodied worship. It doesn’t change our hearts the way being with the body does. We worship because we need it, but even more, we worship because God deserves it. We are designed to worship and not worshiping will have consequences in our lives. I’ve said before that online worship is like a deployed soldier having a Zoom relationship with his wife. It’s better than nothing, but it’s far from ideal.
I’ll also say that it is important that we give the gift of corporate worship to our children. It has a major impact on shaping their worldview. If we don’t prioritize gathered worship in our lives, why would we think our children will do so later in life? What kind of effect will that have on our grandchildren? The gathered worship of God’s people is supernaturally powerful and it is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children so we must make it a priority in their lives.
We can also see their growing hearts as their worship was full of both joy and reverence. they received their food jwith glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God andkhaving favor with all the people. I like how some translations say they had glad and sincere hearts. There is both joy and serious reverence. There is a realization that God is present at the gathered worship in a unique way, but there is a freedom to show joy in his presence. We probably do well in the sincere reverence part, but could grow a bit in our expressed joy. I just want to say that those of you who shout and amen or raise a hand in worship are a blessing to me. I love that kind of joy in worship. This wasn’t a stoic group, they were filled with joy, awe, and wonder.
And no wonder, as a result, of their growing hearts, they enjoyed sweet fellowship. There is obviously a vertical fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but there is also a horizontal fellowship with each other. This is exactly what we want to see here at OGC. Our hope is that we would give our people opportunities to both gather and worship on Sundays, but to also gather in smaller groups in homes around Orlando. These are what we call community groups. And, it just so happens that today is the launch of our fall community groups. This is probably THE best way to be substantively connected to other people in this church. Angela and I had to take some time off from the community group while she was in school, but we are so excited to jump back in this week. Community groups are at time where we come together, process scripture at a heart level, and pray for each other. Our hope is to provide a location close to you so you can be connected to people who live in your part of town. We also hope it’s a way of connecting you to people in this church in different stages of life. Community groups are also the front line of member care in this church. If you need prayer, meals, or any other kind of help, a community group is where you will get it first. If you are not in a community group, we’ll tell you later in the service how you can be.
It does seem like God has OGC in a season of growth and while we are thankful for anyone who comes, we want to grow well. We want everyone to be substantively connected and we want everyone to be growing. I’ve said this before, but at my former church, we grew from 200-850 in about 18 months, but it was all about the Sunday service. We were a mile wide and an inch deep relationally. Then the next new cool church came into town and beamed in their hologram pastor from another city and hundreds of people left. We reaped what we had sowed. If it’s all about the Sunday gathering, you can bet someone will always come and do it better and if that’s what we’ve trained our people to desire most, we shouldn’t be surprised when they leave for the next new shiny thing.
The church has learning minds, growing hearts, and then, finally, active hands.
- Active Hands
We see their active hands working inside the church and outside the church. Internally, we see that not only are they gathering in each other’s homes, they are sharing all their possessions. 44 And all who believed were together and fhad all things in common. 45 And fthey were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
This is a very challenging part of this passage. We’re seeingThey are sharing all their possessions. They are selling possessions to provide for any who have need. I think many people, when they teach this, they either go to one extreme or the other. They use it to promote some sort of communist or communal lifestyle or they just teach why this isn’t communism and how it doesn’t apply to us today in the same way. I think both miss the point of this deep level of fellowship.
No, this is not communism because it is voluntary. The people apparently still own homes to break bread in. But, we have to let it land on us that these people were voluntarily sharing all they had. Clearly this wasn’t just for this group, because much later John writes 17 But fif anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet gcloses his heart against him, hhow does God’s love abide in him? - 1 John 3:17
As my kids remind me, ‘Caring is sharing.’ If we care, we will share. As Christians we are called to a fellowship that extends into our homes and our bank accounts. I’m regularly challenged by Christians who sacrificially provide for other Christians in need. I have a friend who has four young children in a very normal sized home and they routinely have a seminary student live with them for long periods of time for free. Years ago we knew a young mom who felt called to get a counseling degree, but she didn’t know how to do it and take care of her three young kids so another young mom committed to taking her kids while she was in class for two years. I’ve seen people sell their nice car and drive a lesser car so they can use the extra money to help someone out.
So we see the active hands inside the church, but in this passage, we also see them outside the church. We see it in their missional lives. Luke makes it ultra clear that this group of people were not some sort of holy huddle or commune. They were a church engaged with their culture. But, this is a really important thing to flesh out. What I’m about to say, I’m not saying to quip or be funny. When I was in conversations with this church about being the pastor here, the elders communicated that one thing they wanted to see the church do is engage the culture. That sounded great to me. But the problem is that we didn’t define what that means and fast forward a few years and there arose a tension over what it meant to engage the culture. Does it mean gospel proclamation, does it mean reaching the poor, does it mean bringing the gospel to bear in politics, or does it mean global missions? Real debates arose over this.
I think what we get a glimpse at here is a bit of all of that. They gave to the poor, they had favor with all the people, they clearly engaged the Roman government while honoring them and submitting to them at the same time. And the result in verse 47 is that the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. This is really important. We have to know that the people we hope to reach are too far gone. Their hearts, minds, bodies, and souls are too ravaged by sin. And for this reason we should draw so much comfort from the fact that Luke makes it clear that we are not the ones doing the saving. “And the Lord added to their number.”
We are not the ones actually changing hearts, the Holy Spirit is. And that should give us great hope. This should fuel our mission. We know there are people out there in whom the Holy Spirit is working and we get to be a part of that work! Jesus looked out at the masses and what did he say? The harvest is plentiful. There is no shortcoming in the harvest. The shortcoming is in the workers. The workers are few. We are those workers and we get to be a part of that harvest, but it won’t happen if our minds are not learning, if our hearts are not growing, and if our hands are not active.
What we see in this passage isn’t a reshuffling of believers, they are being saved! These are new believers. They are filled with the Spirit and all of their knowledge of God, all of their worship, and all of their intense fellowship thrusts them out into the world. There is an overflow of God's grace and love in their lives and that makes them missional. John Stott writes, “The Holy Spirit is a missionary Spirit who created a missionary church.” The missional activity in this church isn’t programized, it isn’t forced, it is a natural expression of what they are experiencing.
So, what if you’re here today and you’re thinking, “I’m not experiencing that natural overflow. Is there something wrong with my spiritual life?” I can’t answer that, but I can ask you if you, like the early church, are growing in your knowledge of God, making room for regular worship of him, and engaged in real Christian fellowship. I really believe that only when that is happening will you be able to answer that question.
Unfortunately, it’s common for different expressions of the church to emphasize either the head, hands, or heart over the other two. It’s also common for individual Christians that one or two will come more naturally to you. But, we need to focus on all three if we want to be well-rounded, embodied whole persons. We are not just walking brains, disembodied emotions, or servers with no heart. We want to be Spirit led people in head, heart, and hands because that is who Jesus is and that is what he has called his church to be.
Another way to think about head, hands, and heart is to know what is true, good, and beautiful. In the 20th century, the American evangelical church tended to emphasize what is true. You see it in our sermons, our apologetic methods, and our evangelistic strategies. But truth came at the expense of good and beautiful so it should come as no surprise that the culture we live in today is no longer questioning the truth of the gospel, but whether Jesus is good and ethical.
Jesus’ ministry was true as he fulfilled the law and all the prophets that we might no longer live under the curse of the law. Jesus’ ministry was good in the way he served the poor, lifted up the outcast, and healed the lame. Jesus’ ministry was beautiful in his giving his life that we might have his righteousness and be given a new heart through his Spirit guaranteeing that we will continue in the faith and live eternally with him.
Jesus is true, good, and beautiful and there is no lacking in the way he desires to minister to us, so we submit ourselves to the fullness of his ministry in our lives both individually and corporately.