For the last month we’ve been taking a look at the book of Acts. The full title of the book, as listed in your Bibles, is likely “The Acts of the Apostles” – but as we’ve noted previously, it might be more accurate to call it “The Continued Acts of Jesus” or even “The Acts of the Holy Spirit”. While the different Apostles certainly play a key role in the various parts of this book, it’s clear right from chapter 1 that this book is all about the incredible activity of God in people’s lives.
And that’s exactly what we saw last week. Last week, we saw how the Apostle Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit – and he was enabled, not only to speak in languages that he had never learned, but perhaps even more miraculous, the Holy Spirit enabled Peter to boldly share the Gospel with a huge crowd of people and 3,000 of them accepted Christ as their Saviour and were baptized that day!
Now remember, this was the same Peter who had denied even knowing Jesus when a little girl asked him if he was one of Jesus’ disciples! In fact, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times that night – but now here he is, an absolutely changed man, boldly proclaiming the resurrection of Christ to the very crowds who had put Jesus to death 7 weeks earlier!
What a change! Now that the Holy Spirit was living within Peter, Peter was being absolutely transformed from the inside out.
And not only Peter, but all of the Apostles too, as well as the other 120 disciples, as well as the other 3,000 people who had just accepted Christ as their Saviour after hearing Peter’s message!
And of course, that made for a really interesting scenario! Here we have the very first church – and it’s a big one – over 3,000 people. But every one of them were brand new Christians! Even the Apostles had only just recently come to understand who Jesus really was, what He had done for them, and what the Kingdom of God was really all about!
This was all brand new for everyone! There wasn’t even any other other churches in history that they could look at and learn from! They just had to make it up as they went along – trusting that the Holy Spirit would guide and direct them as they learned what it meant to be followers of Christ.
And so today, we’re going to look at the final six verses of Acts chapter 2 that describe what that very first church did as they attempted to figure out what it looked like to be a church.
Now many people would point to this passage in Acts 2 as the description of the ideal church – in fact, I think I’ve probably preached on this passage before with similar intent. But as I’ve grown in my understanding of the Bible over the years, I’m not so sure that we should read this as God’s blueprints for the perfect church.
These people that we’re going to read about were still imperfect people who made mistakes and still struggled with sin (just like you and I). In fact, as we read on through the book of Acts, we see that made quite clear to us with stories like Ananias and Sapphira lying about their donations to church or the racial discrimination that happened at the church food bank, or even (as Paul later mentions in Galatians) how Peter refused to eat with Gentile Christians.
This was not a perfect church, nor did they have perfect leaders – and so what we read here is not necessarily the prescription for what God intended church to look like. However, it is a description of what these first believers did to carry out their mandate to make disciples, to learn to love each other and to love God, and to grow in the knowledge and understanding of who Jesus is. And that’s what makes this passage so helpful for us.
While not everything they did was perfect, there was a lot of good stuff happening in that church, so I think there is a lot that we can learn from them.
So as I said, we’re looking at the last verses of Acts chapter 2 this morning, so let’s begin at verse 41, and then read through until the end. It reads like this:
41 Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.
42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.
43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
First of all, this sounds like a really incredible church! I mean, doesn’t this describe the kind of church that you would want to be part of? It sounds exciting and energizing, packed of meaningful relationships with other believers, people were learning to love each other and to love the Lord and clearly, God was doing great and amazing things through it all.
Now for the record: I do believe that we too, can have that kind of church experience – where we enjoy deep and meaningful relationships with each other, and where we are all growing in our knowledge and understanding of Jesus Christ – and where God does some amazing things in and through us. But as we see in this passage, for that to happen, it requires at least two things (and I’ll tell you what they are in a moment.)
At Jesse & Mikayla’s wedding last weekend, Gord Russell brought the message and he shared two words that define a great marriage. And those two words are Work & Love. No marriage is successful without a lot of work and a lot of love. For those of you who are married, you know how true that is!
But it’s those same two words that define a great church! Work and Love. Both of those are required for us to have a vibrant, spiritual life and a deep, meaningful relationship with God and others.
If you put little to no effort into your walk with the Lord or your fellowship with His family, you are going to have a lousy church experience! Your spiritual life will be empty & fruitless and your relationships will be guarded and superficial.
A fruitful, vibrant spiritual life requires much work! Deep, meaningful relationships with God and others require much work.
And that’s just what we see in our passage today. Verse 42 says…
42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.
They didn’t just occasionally do those things – but they devoted themselves to those things. They didn’t just do all that when things were easy and convenient – they did them no matter what. They were devoted to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. And being devoted to something takes a lot of work.
The dictionary defines the word “devoted” as “to give all or most of one’s time or resources to.” Let me read that one more time: to be devoted means “to give all or most of one’s time or resources to.”
Being devoted is a pretty serious commitment. That’s a lot of work!
Let me give you an example: I think we could safely say that Connor McDavid is devoted to hockey. This week I read an article that said when he was just 15 years old, he had a summer workout routine that began at 7:15am. Every weekday during the summer, he would do a weight-lifting routine for two hours, and then on top of that, every 2nd day, he’d hit the ice and do hockey drills for another 90 minutes. And of course, that was just his own personal training – I’m sure He would have team practices and other things all of that on top yet. But that’s how Connor McDavid spent his summer days as a 15 year old because he was devoted to hockey!
So now that we understand what the word ‘devoted’ means – let me just ask you this question: Would you say you are devoted to the Apostles teachings? (That’s God’s Word!) Would you say you are devoted to fellowship with those here in the church? Would you say you are devoted to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper) with other believers? Would you say you are devoted to prayer and spending time with Lord?
When you consider the kind of devotion that some of these top athletes have to their sports, perhaps the word “devoted” is a little too strong to describe our commitments to each other and to God. But it sure fit those 3,000 new Christians in Jerusalem. I mean, just look at verse 44!
44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity.
Now again, I’ll remind you that this passage is descriptive – not prescriptive. It’s explains what they did – it doesn’t necessarily tell us that we ought to do that.
For example: While there are many other passages that do instruct us to give generously and to care for the needy, I don’t think this Scripture is telling us that we all ought to sell our property and possessions and all live together in one big commune! There may be situations where God leads some people to do that, but this passage isn’t telling us that we all need to do that.
But rather, this passage describes what the early church did because they were devoted to God and to each other.
This is the kind of devotion that these Christians had. They were absolutely convinced that there was nothing in the world more important than loving God with everything they had and loving their neighbors as themselves. This wasn’t just religious theory to them. This is how they were going to live their lives.
Wealth was no longer something to be gained so that they could live comfortable, easy lives. Instead, their possessions became a way for them to provide for the needs of others. Worship wasn’t just singing a few songs at the temple once a week, but it spilled out into a joyful celebration every day in the temple, in their homes, and everywhere they went.
Becoming a Christian didn’t mean just tacking on a few extra religious activities to their already busy schedule. Becoming a Christian meant changing the whole way they lived their life. Loving God and serving others became their #1 focus and their priority in life.
All those things they did were evidence of one thing. And that’s where the second word comes in.
A healthy church, like a healthy marriage, requires a lot of work and a lot of love. In fact, it’s the love that produces the work. If you don’t have the love, you’re not going to do the work! Right?
You might ask, why were those early Christians so devoted to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals, and to prayer? Why did they go so far as to sell their property and possessions to give to those in need? Why did they get together to worship and fellowship every single day?
It was because of their love! Their love for God and their love for each other motivated them to do all those things.
They weren’t just checking things off a to-do list. They weren’t doing all those things because that’s what good Christians do. They had no idea what good Christians did! All they knew is that they loved God and they loved each other, and so they just naturally did all those things we just read about. It all just automatically flowed out of their love!
Which, by the way, is kinda what Jesus said would happen. In John 13, Jesus said to his disciples:
34 So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:34-35
That’s exactly what we see here in Acts 2. We see Jesus’ disciples doing some pretty radical things because of their great love for God and their great love for each other.
And that’s really the point that I want to draw out of this passage. My goal this morning is not to simply convince you to be more devoted to God and the church – attending church every Sunday or to starting a new Bible study or even to giving more generously in your tithes and offerings.
Those are all fine and good things, but if they don’t naturally flow from a heart that loves God and loves His family, those activities are all kinda meaningless. Even the Apostle Paul talked about that… He said in 1 Corinthians 13:1…
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NIV
Paul says if we don’t have love – nothing else matters! We could completely mimic all the activities of that first church – selling our possessions to share with those in need, we could meet together for church every day, sharing communion in our homes every time we get together – we could do all those things, but if we don’t have a genuine love for God and each other, none of it would accomplish a thing. It would just be a to-do list that we go through. It would be just another mundane part of our daily routine.
You see, it’s not the activities of a church that makes it great – it’s our love for God and our love for each other that makes a church great.
And that’s what Luke is calling our attention to in this passage. He’s not saying “Look at all the activities of this first church.” He’s saying “Look at how much these guys loved God and loved each other!”
They were devoted to God and devoted to each other!
And because of that, God did some amazing things through that church. Verse 47 tells us…
“And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.” Acts 2:47
Each day – people were coming to know the Lord. Each day people were wanting to be part of this community. Why?
Not only did they hear clearly about the love of Jesus – who demonstrated his love by dying on a cross for them – but they also saw first hand that same love as demonstrated by the church. This is where they saw and experienced genuine love.
Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?
And if there is any part of this passage that is the blueprint for us to follow – this is it!
I’ve said a couple times now that this passage is descriptive – and not prescriptive. It says what they did – it doesn’t necessarily say what we need to do.
And I still stand by that. I don’t believe we need to mimic all of their activities, however, I do believe we certainly need to mimic the love behind those activities. That’s the prescriptive part of this passage.
We need to be devoted to loving God and loving each other just like these guys were. That’s actually the most important commandments in the whole Bible. Jesus said in Matthew 22…
37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’Matthew 22:37-39
This is what we see in the Acts 2 church and this is what God requires of us in our church today. We are to love God and each other with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
After all, isn’t that the kind of love that God has demonstrated for us? Romans 5:8 says…
8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
If you want to talk about being devoted to someone, look at Christ’s devotion to us! While we were still sinners, He gave up his life for us! That’s devotion! That’s real love!
And we are commanded to love each other in the same way. In John 15:12, Jesus said…
12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. 13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:12-13
Suddenly selling your possessions to share with those need doesn’t seem like such a big deal any more, does it? It’s still a far cry from laying down one’s life for one’s friends. But that’s the idea here – our love for one another should make us willing to give up everything we have (homes, property, luxuries and comforts, time, and even our very lives if necessary) for the sake of one another and for God.
And so this morning, I would just challenge us as a church to consider the kind of devotion and love we have for God and for each other. While we may not mimic all of the activities of the early church, do we mimic the same kind of love they had?
Are we devoted to knowing God through His Word, and to fellowshipping with His family – to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper) and to prayer?
We read earlier how the world will know that we are his disciples by our love. Does our world know that? Do they see Christ’s love in us? Do they see the kind of love where we would be willing to sell our own property to provide for the needs of a brother in Christ? Do they see the kind of love that would cause us to lay down our lives for our friends?
What kind of love are we demonstrating?
As I was working through this message, the church in Ephesus came to mind. They too were a church, like this church in Jerusalem, that were once known for for their great love for God and for each other. But over time, things seemed to have changed…
By the time that John wrote the book of Revelation, it seems their love had kinda faded a bit. Jesus dictates a letter to the church in Ephesus. And this is what he says in Revelation 2:2…
2 “I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. 3 You have patiently suffered for me without quitting.
4 “But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! 5 Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches.
Those are some pretty strong words from Jesus – because they had forgotten their first love. They didn’t love God or each other like they once did.
And I just wonder if that might be the case for some of us. Especially us who have been Christians for a long time. New Christians, like that first church in Jerusalem, always seem to be overflowing with love for God and love for each other. But for whatever reason, over time, some of that love seems to fade. Maybe we experience some disappointments, we go through some hardships, we get hurt by others – whatever the case… But it gets a bit harder to love like we once did. Our devotion to God and to others fades a bit.
But can I just encourage you, as Christ encouraged the church in Ephesus – to first of all, repent of any lack of love that you’ve shown. Perhaps you have fallen short of the kind of love that God has called you to. Maybe you haven’t been loving your neighbour as your self. Maybe you haven’t been loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
And if that’s the case, then repent of that and turn back to God – and begin loving Him and loving others like you once did. Do those things that you use to do. Demonstrate that love by devoting yourself to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.
And as we do that, I think we’ll find that our church experience will match more and more with the church in Acts 2 – where we enjoy deep and meaningful relationships with God and each other, and where we grow together in our knowledge and understanding of Jesus Christ – and where God does some amazing things in and through us. Perhaps even adding daily to our fellowship, those who are being saved!
Wouldn’t that be fantastic! But of course, we’ll leave the results up to God. Our job is simply to love Him and to love each other. So let’s be sure we do that!