When I was in grade school, one of the things I enjoyed doing was making model cars and planes. In fact, I had one that was much like this 1963 Corvette. You buy a kit which contains all the pieces that, when properly assembled, is supposed to be a scaled-down version of the real thing. The problem was that my models rarely ended up looking like the real car or airplane it was supposed to reflect. More often than not, it would end up with glue splotches on it, misaligned wings or doors, paint that looked like it had been spilled on it and crooked decals. My models often ended up being rather sorry reflections of the real thing.
This morning in Acts 2:42-427, we see a picture of the church as it existed immediately after the Holy Spirit was poured out on Pentecost. Now while the early church was far from perfect, it still contained the basic elements that make a church part of Christ’s church. In a certain sense, the early church was a good model of what the church should be. As we compare ourselves today to that early church, we will ask ourselves if we are an accurate representation of the kind of church that God would have us be. Let’s read Acts 2:36-47 which gives the conclusion of Peter’s sermon on Pentecost.
Verse 42 says that these Christians “devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching.” This was important for on Pentecost, 3,000 people were added to the small group of believers. There was a tremendous need to teach and educate these new believers. John Stott once wrote: “One might say that the Holy Spirit opened a school in Jerusalem that day; its teachers were the apostles whom Jesus had appointed; and there were 3,000 pupils in the kindergarten!” Now just imagine what those adult education classes must have been like in that early church. Peter and John and the others had sat at the very feet of Jesus and been taught by Jesus! And now, with the power of the Holy Spirit, they were remembering what Jesus had said and were passing it on to these new believers. Together they devoted themselves to learning about their faith.
Such devoted learning is something that must be found in a church. I am very thankful that here at Faith Church there is a very high percentage of people who want to learn more either through small groups or Sunday School and the like. And we need to continue learning more about God and his Word. I know that I will never learn all there is to learn about God’s Word and power. Now we have to be honest with ourselves about being devoted to learning. Perhaps you’ve heard of the man who described his early morning exercise routine in this way: “I have to talk to myself when I awaken. I say: “Ready, now. Up, down; up, down.” After two strenuous minutes I tell myself: “O.K. Now, try the other eyelid.” It is easy for us to think we are going through great effort in learning the Word, but we are barely scratching the surface.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” Is that devotion to learning evident in your life? We should gladly take advantage of the opportunities for learning either in Bible Studies, Sunday School classes or small groups. Being in the church of Christ means being devoted to learning God’s Word.
II. Secondly, we learn from these verses that the early church was a worshiping church.
The early church had two opportunities to worship every day as well. In the morning they gathered in the Temple area, the place where Jesus had occasionally taught. Then in the evening they would meet in various homes throughout the city of Jerusalem. They sound like two young people in love who can’t stand being apart from each other and find every means to spend time together; these people wanted to be together!
What happened at these times of worship? There was teaching by the apostles as we have already seen. But they also broke bread together in their homes. This term describes the celebrations of the Lord’s Supper. They would first have a common meal together and then at the conclusion of that meal, they would remember what Jesus had done in order to forgive their sins. And they also devoted themselves to prayer. They would take the time to pray for each other and for the needs of the church. And they also did these things with “glad and sincere hearts, praising God.” One gets the feeling that these times of worship were filled with reverent joy as they recounted the grace and love that God was pouring into their lives. The worship was educational, prayerful, Christ-centered and joyful.
That is a good model for us as we gather to worship our God each week. Our services too must also be focused on the Lord. We must always especially thank God for what he has done for us in Jesus Christ. And our services must certainly be times of prayer. We have needs and face issues as individuals and as a church. We must gather together and ask for His help and grace. And our services need to be times when we learn from God’s Word. Worship should not just be a pep rally where emotions are stirred. Nor should preaching just be a series of talks on how to live a better life. Worship must have content, teaching from God’s Word. However, worship should also be joyful; filled with sincere gladness. God is holy and awesome and our worship must always reflect that. But this can be done with sincere joy and gladness. There is certainly room for joyful, exuberant singing as we together celebrate what God has done for us, His people. There is a place for laughter and emotion in the worship of God because we are in a personal relationship with God, and a relationship is a very personal, emotional thing.
III. A third element of the early church was that it was a fellowshipping church.
Verse 42 says that they devoted themselves to fellowship. “Fellowship” literally means “sharing” something with someone. For Christians, the basis of our sharing is Jesus himself. The Bible teaches that everyone who believes and accepts Jesus as Savior and Lord enters into fellowship with Christ. We are crucified, buried and raised with Christ and we share in all that He has done. But this bonding to Christ also means that we are bound together.
Now in the early church they did this in very concrete ways. They shared common meals together in their homes “daily.” Their Christian life was their whole life. In these meals they could show their love and support for one another. And they physically supported each other. Verses 44-45 say, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” This was something that was done spontaneously and freely. If a person needed food, a person who had more than what he needed would sell some of his possessions and give the proceeds to the hungry. Personal property was viewed as a resource to help others who were in need. The early Christians had great love and concern for one another and they put it into action.
This is what happens in a church full of disciples of Jesus who are following him. When there are physical needs, this church has responded generously. When there is a need for food or financial resources, there has been an outpouring of gifts. Requests to help through giving to the benevolent fund have been graciously answered. I commend you for showing fellowship to one another. And I want to encourage you to continue in doing this. View your possessions as gifts from God that He has given to you in order to help others. Consider ways in which you can use your homes, vehicles and money to help others. And let’s continue to build the fellowship of supporting each other.
A magazine article entitled, “What Good is a Tree?” explained that when the roots of trees touch, there is a substance present that reduces competition between them. In fact, this unknown fungus helps link roots of different trees – even of dissimilar species. A whole forest may be linked together. If one tree has access to water, another to nutrients, and a third to sunlight, the trees have the means to share with one another. Like trees in a forest, Christians in the church need and support one another and the Holy Spirit links us together so we can share and support each other. The church is a place where disciples reach out to share with each other, help and support each other in many different ways.
IV. Finally, the early church was also a growing church.
While the early Christians were doing all these things, being the church of Christ, God was also doing something else: he caused it to grow! “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Imagine that! Every day, there would be new converts to the faith. That should not really be surprising. The apostles were getting the gospel of Jesus Christ out to the people around them by their teaching in the temple. Signs and wonders were being done which demonstrated to people just how great and gracious God is. Moreover, unbelievers would see the grace of God being displayed very concretely in the lives of the believers and be drawn to this. The people outside the church viewed the church with favor. They were impressed with what was happening and saw it as something very positive. And God was using these things to draw people to himself and the church grew.
What does that say to us as we seek to reach out to others? Let’s be certain that we are being the church. That is not to say that we should not plan how to witness to people. We must intentionally reach out and share God’s love with others. However, we must be teaching, praising, praying and caring for others with the hope and vision that God will use this to bring others in. If we are busy being the church without that desire to reach out to others, then we are missing what God intends for us to do and be.
So we have touched on several aspects of the church’s life, but now what? I urge you to pray that we may be the church and that others will join us. I also urge you to take action on at least one thing that may have struck you this morning. Perhaps it is sharing your possessions with others. Perhaps it is making the worship service a joyful, yet reverent meeting with God. Perhaps it is assisting the church to get the good news of Jesus out to our community. Take that one thing and do something with it this week. Fully immersed in God’s love and grace as we saw last week, and with the power and leading of the Holy Spirit, let’s seek to be the kind of church that God would have us be.