The Devoted Life
If you’ve been here the last couple of weeks, you know we are finishing up a three part series looking at Acts 2. Two weeks ago, Ryan preached on the good news of the gospel from verses 22-36. He talked about how Jesus Christ has rescued us from our separation from God and has taken the penalty for our sin upon himself, reconciling us to God. Yes, Jesus Christ was and is God incarnate. And last week, Luke Salik preached from verses 37-41, in which he laid out the response for someone seeking God, which is to believe, repent, and be baptized. So today, we wrap up the second chapter of Acts with a look at the early church. To summarize as succinctly as possible this series of sermons, Ryan preached on “the call,” Luke Salik preached on “the response,” and now today I get to talk about “the life.”
Our text from the end of Acts 2 gives us a glimpse of the very earliest church after Jesus was raised. It has long fascinated and inspired me. If you’ve read it before, you may have had a similar impression that it seems almost hyperbolic, just too good to be true, or too pure to be duplicated. It’s easy to compare our own church experience to that of what we see in this text and feel a bit deflated. Globally, we see divisions in the church. We read about abuses by some people called to pastor, maybe you’ve even experienced some of that personally. There is dysfunction and disunity. And then I start rationalizing the differences. I tell myself that this early church had seen Jesus, and God was acting in their lives in order to grow that early church in a different way than He would do in our lives today.
But I don’t think that is the case. I think it’s possible to enjoy this same picture in a church today. Isn’t it beautiful how simple a picture of this gospel community we see? It is fellowship among believers in the rawest and purest form. Church in simplicity. Full joy and dependence on the Lord to move and support one another. The truth is, this picture isn’t an isolated study of what church looked like early on; it’s a picture of what church can and should look like, what our walk with Christ and each other should emulate. This isn’t a snapshot in time, it’s the beginning of a transformational way of life that we’re called to even now. The amazing technology and addition of lights and A/V equipment can be helpful but not necessary to a vibrant church. What is necessary is the much more ordinary aspects that bring life to a church. It’s a focus on a few fundamentals and primarily the gospel that moves a people in mysterious and powerful ways.
So as we go through this together, let’s pray that God would divinely inspire each of us to follow him with the devotion and unity that we read in this text.
The first verse in our text today, verse 42, talks about “they.” The “they” in this verse is those who were believers in Jesus Christ. At this point, it appears that was just over 3,000 people. They were gathered together as a community, like a communal huddle, before exploding out and spreading the gospel. In reference to these 3,074 people, verse 42 says,
“And they devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
Notice this was done in community, not isolation. Once we’re in Christ, we should be part of a gospel community. Being with one another is a foregone conclusion that’s not explicitly said in this text, but it’s certainly an implicit necessity.
So, I think the crux of this whole passage this morning is found in verse 42. These followers of Christ devoted themselves to four things:
Breaking of Bread
These four disciplines are essential, but let us not miss a key component of what they did. They didn’t just casually discuss what they were learning, have fellowship time, share meals, or have some prayer time…they devoted themselves to it. These disciplines took precedence over other things. Devotion denotes a love, loyalty, and enthusiasm with which they lived. They prioritized their time, energy, and money for this particular purpose: to live for God and make him known. To have a gospel community like these earliest Christians, we should endeavor to devote ourselves as they did. Let’s quickly look at what they devoted themselves to.
1. Apostles’ teaching. They were learning directly from the apostles. They sat under their teaching on a regular basis. The men who had spent the last three years with Jesus were now their teachers. This has two implications for us. The first is to continue to study the Apostles’ teaching. Thankfully, they were kind enough and God was gracious enough to speak through them as they wrote them down. So when we read the Bible, we’re studying the Apostles’ teaching. We have access to the same lessons they were studying! The second is to learn from those who are studying the Apostles’ teaching, which is what we do through sermons and through discipleship. We should be learning more about God from those who know him more fully than we and walk in his ways. We all need this, from the newest believer to the most seasoned, from the person that’s brand new to church to every pastor. We’ll never plumb the depths of His word fully. In church, we pray that God reveals to the one preaching on any given day what He would want to be shared, for the edification of the body of believers. And so we see that being students of Biblical instruction is an essential part of Christian community.
2. The Fellowship. This wasn’t just hanging out for a bit of conversation after a time of worship and teaching. This is doing life together. It is a relationship, not an activity. The relationship is with each other and bonded through Christ. 1 John 1:3 says,
“that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”
The bond we share as brothers and sisters in Christ is because of our relationship with the Lord. He is the glue that allows us to be in each others’ lives. Do you have anyone in your life who walks with you and knows what’s really going on? Who shares in your struggles, celebrates your victories, listens to you and weeps with you and loves you? Fellowship is companionship in life, it’s stewardship of what we’ve been given, it’s accountability in walking out what we’re called to, and it’s partnership in our individual ministries. And so we see that fellowship is an essential part of Christian community.
3. The Breaking of Bread. This is communion; remembering Christ in the Lord’s supper. There is power in this act, which is why we’ve chosen to celebrate it every week. There is power in sitting down and sharing a meal with people. I hope you have personally seen the power of breaking bread together to heal relationships, to create bonds and common ground, and to celebrate milestones. But the most powerful practice of the breaking of bread is in communion. We see it here in this passage in Acts and in many other places in the New Testament. One such instance is in Luke, chapter 24. Jesus has been crucified and raised from the dead. Two of his followers are walking on a road together and discussing Jesus’s death and the preceding week. Jesus comes and walks with them, “but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” They didn’t know it was Jesus walking alongside them. Jesus is not recognized until the breaking of bread. We remember him when we celebrate communion, but we also encounter the crucified, risen, and exalted Lord Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. And so we see that breaking bread together as believers is an essential part of Christian community.
4. The Prayers. The disciples of Jesus enjoyed a rich and full prayer life. They prayed individually, and they prayed when they were together. Our prayer life should also be vibrant and full. We should pray when we’re together, we should pray individually, we should pray without ceasing. We should both set aside time to pray, and we should be in conversation with God throughout the day, shooting up little “prarrows.” (prayer-arrows) “Lord, strengthen my hand”, “Father, give me wisdom in this conversation”, “God, I’m thinking of my friend, please heal her”, “Holy Spirit, work in my wife’s life during her meeting today, make her a light”, “Lord, grant me boldness.” And so we see that prayer is an essential part of Christian community.
This first verse of our passage really shows us four things we should be devoted to in our lives once we have submitted our lives to Jesus Christ as Lord. The rest of the passage for today showcases the results of these four disciplines. Flowing out of their devotion to the Apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers we see the outworking and fruit of this devotion: awe, wonders and signs, unity, generosity, thankfulness, praise, favor with all the people, and spreading.
The first of these show up in verse 43—
“And awe came upon every soul.”
When we devote ourselves to these four things, one result is awe. We come away astonished, with a holy fear of God, a reverence for Him, an inspiration at what He’s done and what He’s doing. I experienced this awe a bit this week at our elder meeting. We spent time looking at a Psalm together, which then led to a discussion of what we’re seeing in this young church. It left me in awe of who God is and what He is doing. I want you to know how encouraged we, as the elders and pastors, have been by all of you. What a joy it is to see God using your gifts in our body. With broad smiles and soaring spirits, we discussed some of the stories of what God is doing. Awe came upon me for God’s goodness and grace, both in my personal life and in our church.
The second half of verse 43 goes on to say,
“and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.”
Signs and wonders. I have to admit that for me, this is slightly new territory. I’ve not yet been a part of a church that experiences signs and wonders like what this refers to, but I want to. People were being healed, prophetic words were being shared, tongues were spoken and interpreted. We believe that God worked through people in the early church days to bring about signs and wonders, and we believe that he still does this today throughout the world. At the end of chapter 12 in 1 Corinthians, it says,
“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administering, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.”
May we be a church through which God is glorified in signs and wonders. May he use people in this gospel community to supernaturally heal the sick, to prophesy, to speak in tongues and interpret, to teach, to work miracles. We want to do these things in a Biblical manner, with order and in their right time. We want to see them done for the edification of the body and the glorification of the Lord. It’s clear from that passage in 1 Corinthians that not everyone has these gifts, so don’t feel guilty or pressured if you don’t. But do you desire these spiritual gifts? Would He do that through you? Does He do that through you already? Do you have spiritual gifts that God would use to cause people to be in awe of Him?
The next result we see is unity. Look at verse 44—
“And all who believed were together and had all things in common.”
These people were unified, they had common ground and stood upon it together. This is a result of doing life together. For some of us, it’s often hard to be with people, much less have unity with them. After all, every church is full of sinners in need of sanctification. But the Holy Spirit is able to rewire our affections and produce unity. When we enjoy fellowship with each other, pray together, break bread together, and learn about the Lord together, He can unify us to have “all things in common.”
Here at Table Rock, we want to see this as a vibrant part of our church. We want to do life together, to huddle as they did in order to explode out into the world. The scaffolding we have decided to focus on has four main components.
The first is our Sunday worship time, that’s right now. If you’re here, you’re doing it!
We would also love for you to be involved in a Life Group. These groups meet every other week and eat dinner together and then discuss how to apply the sermon for that week to our lives. It’s not a Bible study like we traditionally think of it. Rather, it’s a time when we take the Scripture that was taught that week and think through the application to each of our lives. We collectively digest how to live out the teaching.
The third focus is through what we call Open Life groups, which is a smaller group of 3-4, all of the same gender, who go deeper into each others’ lives and spend time praying. If you haven’t taken part in one of these, I want you to experience it. It can be hard to be vulnerable and willingly expose your life with others, but so life giving. I think a good way of thinking of this Open Life time is that it is intentionally intrusive. The time is designed to give you an opportunity to share with 2-3 others those things that don’t come out in daily conversation. It gets past the common answers when we’re asked “How are you doing?” and sets the table for a deeper fellowship. After sharing, the others spend time praying for you. I’ve found these to be a very rich time with my brothers in Christ.
The last focus is a catch all: Life on Life, which is how we phrase just doing things together. We want our church family to go hiking together, meet at the park, have each other over for meals, go on vacation, have a play date for your kids, go grocery shopping, exercise, just be together in our ordinary, day-in and day-out lives. We believe that the result of these four focuses will be unity in our body.
Back to our text, the next outworking we see is generosity. Verse 45—
“And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.”
This is amazing generosity, which is humbling, and if you’re like me, even a bit concerning, as it induces a bit of anxiety in me. I’ve wondered if God wants me to sell everything I own and give it to different ministries. This particular model of selling everything was unique to this first church body, however. We don’t see it anywhere else in the new testament. As the church began, this body was in one place, but people were from all over. So as a Christian believer, if you wanted to enjoy being part of a Christian community, there was one place to do it. Again, this was the first huddle. They were preparing to break that huddle and explode out with the gospel, and in order to do that, people had to be provided for, and they were called to sell everything in order to provide. That is sold out Christianity. Right now, it’s not necessary in the same way, though.
So what does generosity look like in our time? How does God call us, as believers in Christ, to give to the ministry and to each other? The answer is that we’re called to give generously and sacrificially, with joyful hearts. This topic is an important one and the Bible has much to say on it. I’d love to preach a sermon on this, but it’s just a small piece of today’s lesson, so I need to paint with large brush strokes what the Bible says about giving. From this passage, we can take away that we should hold onto what is “ours” very loosely and be willing to give anything or everything if God would ask that of us. It is also still very true that it takes money to make a ministry happen. At Table Rock, we have four paid pastors that rely, at least in part because they are currently bi-vocational, on our giving to church so that they can live with a roof over their heads and provide for their families. Giving is a necessity. If you aren’t giving to church and you consider this your home for worship and growth and gospel community, I want to encourage you to give financially to this ministry. And there are a ton of ministries out there that operate by the support of the saints. Give to those ministries as well to keep them going.
The question may arise for you, “but how much do I need to give? I don’t feel called to sell my home and car (neither do I by the way), but what should I give?” If you need a starting point, we see in the Old Testament that 10% of what you bring is a good place to start. Set aside that amount and give to the church and other ministries. However, your giving is not about a percentage or about a dollar amount, it’s about your heart. A person may give 40% of what they make and yet it’s not sacrificial; it’s not done with a glad heart attitude, and it’s done out of a sense of obligation or compulsion or with bitterness. Or, someone may give a few dollars, but it’s done with great sacrifice because they don’t have much at all. It is possible to give joyfully in the midst of poverty and begrudgingly in the midst of abundance, and vice versa. If you haven’t ever used your resources to further the kingdom of God, I want you to know you are missing out. It is a joy to set aside some of what God has provided to you and give it back to God. It causes growth in us. It loosens the grip that money has on our hearts. It encourages those in the ministry who rely on that giving. It helps restore a focus on what is eternal, and it edifies the body of believers. Your giving and generosity may look different at various points in your life, but there is no doubt that we are called to give, and this is a result of being a devoted follower of Jesus.
Look now at verse 46 and the first part of 47—
“And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.”
Here we see three results from devotion. The first is thankfulness; they had glad and generous hearts. When we look at what Christ has done for us, I’m not sure it’s possible to not be thankful. Even among those who are going through extreme hardship and are lamenting their circumstance, I see a thankful disposition. It’s an outflowing of what we have when we are in Christ.
We also see praise. The result of four disciplines in verse 42 is praise! We get a clearer view of who God is, and that causes our hearts to stir with praise and Yahweh alone is worthy of that praise.
And we see favor with all the people. They were living their lives, and I pray we would live ours, as a fragrant aroma. They were good neighbors, and those around them reciprocated by treating them well. However, this is clearly not always the case. Sometimes we can expect to face persecution for no other reason than because we are Christians. As 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 says,
“For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other fragrance from life to life.”
I pray that God would grant that we receive favor among the people here in Boise as he granted favor among people in the early church.
Finally, we see one more result from their devotion: spreading. This one is particularly exciting.
“And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
Oh that the gospel would spread throughout our city. We pray that a multitude would come to know the Savior who went to the cross and absorbed the wrath of God for our sake. That peoples’ eternal destinations would change because they encounter the risen Christ in their lives. That many would submit their life, in its entirety, to him who is able to do far more than we can ask or imagine. May God use us in his work of spreading the gospel just as he used the people in the early church. Did you notice it’s the Lord adding the saved souls here? The Lord added to their number. It’s his work to do, but our joy to get to be a part of.
The early church got things right, didn’t they? Praise God for his work in the apostles and in those earliest believers, that we can have a model for how a gospel community should function. I love church, for lots of reasons. One way God uses our church in my life is through that idea of the huddle. I get to huddle with you all and be reminded of where my identity lies, what my priorities should be. I’m a forgetful man in need of people who can point me back to God. I go out from church ready for the week, ready to love God and love people. Like in football, sometimes that goes well and sometimes I totally forget the play or fumble the ball. I need another huddle to get back on the same page as my team.
I recently ran across this little story that touched my heart and well illustrates this point.
“Ted Malone was a radio host in the early mornings from about 1930 to 1970. He told of an Idaho shepherd who wrote, “Will you, on your broadcast, strike the note ‘A?’ I’m a sheep herder way out here on a ranch, far away from a piano. The only comfort I have is my old violin. It’s all out of tune. Would you strike ‘A’ that I might get in tune?” Malone honored the request. Later, he received a thank you note from the distant shepherd saying, “Now I’m in tune.” One of the greatest things about church and being a devoted follower with others is that the aspirant can keep tuned to the Great Shepherd. One of the joys of the Christian life is to help others recapture the missing note.”