Over the past weeks we’ve spent quite a bit of time looking at the basic concepts of church – what it is, what its for, what it does. So this morning I want to shift gears just a little bit at take some time to look at an actual church and see just how all of these concepts work out in real life.
Now I’ll admit that the church that we are going to look at is nearly two thousand years old, but the characteristics we see in this church have allowed it to plant hundreds of thousands of new churches and see millions come to know and love Jesus Christ. That church is the first church in Jerusalem.
Acts chapter two will be the focus of our study this morning. Acts 2:42-47
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
The first characteristic of this church that I noticed is that they were devoted.
“42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
As Christians in the church (and I noticed this especially at camp) we talk about doing devotions a lot. We tell new Christians that they should start doing devotions. Our accountability partner might ask us how our devotions have been recently. We might have family devotions. But the way we use the term “devotions” is a far cry from what this word “devoted” means.
The word “devoted” is defined as “to give all or most of one’s time or resources to.”
Many of you have heard the name “Michael Phelps” – He is an olympic swimmer and he is very good at what he does. He has won 14 olympic gold medals and holds 7 world records for swimming. He trains for 5 hours every day, 365 days a year. Michael Phelps is devoted to swimming.
Now let’s go back at read verse 42 again.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
That verse doesn’t say they did devotions! They were devoted! In the same way Michael Phelps is devoted to swimming, this church devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. No wonder verse 47 says the church was increasing in number daily!
Can you imagine what would happen if our church devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer? What an impact we would have! What amazing things could God do with us! 15 minute devotionals are not going to change our community. But being devoted to God, being 5 hours a day 365 days a year kind of devoted to God will change Mirror like we’ve never imagined!
But it’s hard. In our busy and distracting world, it’s difficult enough to find time to spend 20 minutes in our Bibles and in prayer each day. And it’s absolutely harder when we lose sight of the prize.
Michael Phelps trains for 5 hours every day because he knows that’s what it takes to win the gold medal. That’s the prize he works for. Now, I’m not very competitive when it comes to sports, so in my mind, all that work for a little gold medallion and a couple years of fame are completely not worth it.
But is that our attitude when it comes to being devoted to God? Is all our work and effort and sacrifice worth it? Is it worth it to hear Jesus say “Well done, good and faithful servant”?
And of course we say “Yes, it is worth it!” But we’re Christians. Of course we’re going to say that. But in my life anyway, my actions speak louder than my words. The way I live my daily life show me that I am less devoted to Christ & His kingdom than some athlete is to winning a little gold medal.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
Don’t lose sight of the prize. Remember why you’re on this planet. We’re not here to become wealthy. We’re not here to become popular. We’re not here to get promoted or gain fame and fortune. We’re here to love God, be loved by Him, and let Him use us in whatever way He wants. But like Paul and like the first church in Jerusalem, we need to be devoted.
The second characteristic of the church in Acts 2 is that they were united.
44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,
Look at the unity in this church.
They were together
They had everything in common.
Those who had lots gave to those who had little.
They met together every day.
They shared meals together.
These guys did everything together. They were like a big family. They were united. Anytime I think about people being united, I always think of the tower of babel.
Genesis 11:1-6 (NLT)
At one time all the people of the world spoke the same language and used the same words. As the people migrated to the east, they found a plain in the land of Babylonia and settled there.
They began saying to each other, “Let’s make bricks and harden them with fire.” (In this region bricks were used instead of stone, and tar was used for mortar.) Then they said, “Come, let’s build a great city for ourselves with a tower that reaches into the sky. This will make us famous and keep us from being scattered all over the world.”
But the Lord came down to look at the city and the tower the people were building. “Look!” he said. “The people are united, and they all speak the same language. After this, nothing they set out to do will be impossible for them! Come, let’s go down and confuse the people with different languages. Then they won’t be able to understand each other.” In that way, the Lord scattered them all over the world, and they stopped building the city.
Did you notice what God said about these people? “The people are united, and they all speak the same language. After this, nothing they set out to do will be impossible for them!” Wow! That’s quite a statement from God – that nothing they set out to do will be impossible for them.
So what does God do? He gives them different languages. The people are divided – the unity is gone and the work stops.
I think Satan employs this tactic in the church. If God says that nothing would be impossible for a bunch of proud, rebellious men who were united, how much more would nothing be impossible for the church, empowered and directed by God, if the church is united? Satan realizes this and so he divides us. We start thinking only about ourselves, putting us first, being stingy with what we have, and following our own agenda. And when the unity is gone – the work stops.
But on the flip side, when there is unity, when all the believers are together and have everything in common, when believers sell their possessions and goods to give to anyone who is in need, when believers meet together each day in the temple courts or the local church, when believers break bread and eat together in each other’s homes – that’s when the Lord is going to add to their fellowship daily those who are being saved.
That’s what happened to the church in Acts, and that’s what can happen in our church as well.
The old King James Version puts it like this in Psalm 133:1.
”Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”
What a powerful witness to our community to have seniors and teenagers, middle aged and young parents, people from all varieties of backgrounds all working, fellowshiping, worshiping together in unity! What a statement that would make about our God!
Wouldn’t you like to be a part of group like that? Those who have more give to those who have less, wrongs are forgiven and grudges are forgotten, there are no petty arguments over things that don’t really matter anyway, people get along and they even like each other! That’s almost a foreign concept in our world, isn’t it? It’s hard to find a marriage with that kind of unity, let alone a diverse group of 50 or 100 people!
So how do we get such unity in our church? I really think it flows from having the first characteristic that we talked about – being devoted. I think when we are devoted to the Scriptures, to the fellowship of believers, to the breaking of bread and to prayer – unity will be a natural by-product.
But we’ve talked about that already, so let’s move on to the third and final characteristic of the church in Acts that we are going to talk about today, and that is that the church was helpless.
Look at the end of verse 47:
“And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
Notice that it doesn’t say “And the CHURCH added to their number daily those who were being saved.” It doesn’t even say “And the APOSTLES added to their number daily those who were being saved.” It was the LORD who added to their number.
The church was helpless. They couldn’t save a single soul. If anyone was going to be saved, it was all the doing of the Lord. Our church is no different. We are helpless. We can’t bring single person to Christ. If God wants someone to be saved, He’s going to have to bring them to himself.
But wait a minute! Aren’t we suppose to bring people to Christ? After all, didn’t Jesus say “Go into all the world and make disciples”? Well, there are two principles at work here and sometimes they seem, in our human minds to conflict each other. But they don’t – they make perfect sense to God.
The first principle is that everyone who was, is, and will be a Christian has already been chosen by God before creation.
“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.”
God isn’t in heaven wondering who will and who won’t accept Him as their Saviour. He has already chosen who will. Jesus says in John 6:44 says
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”
This should be a great relief for us. Our evangelistic efforts (no matter how strong or how weak they may be) do not determine someone else’s eternal destination. This is God’s doing.
The Bible talks about people who don’t know Christ as being spiritually dead. Dead people don’t respond to anything we do or say. They can only respond to the touch of Jesus Christ.
So where does that leave us? What are we suppose to do? If the church is helpless, why should we send missionaries to India? Why do we tell our neighbors about Christ? Why do we pray for our friends to accept the Good News?
It is true that God does not need us. God can do his will without us. God can do his will in spite of us. But He chooses to do his will through us. I don’t know why, but God has given us the privilege of being used by Him to do his will. That’s the second principle – God chooses to use the church to do His work.
Think of the church as a shovel. A shovel is completely helpless. It can’t do anything on it’s own. But although it may be helpless, it’s not useless. If it’s in the right hands, a shovel can be very useful.
Our church is God’s shovel. We are helpless without Him, but can be useful to Him. Our job is simply to be available and to obey Him. If He says, “Go preach the Gospel” then let’s go preach the Gospel to the best of our ability and let Him worry about the results. If He says “Go spend your life in India” – then we’d better spend our life in India and let Him worry about the results.
God does not expect our church to bring anyone to Christ. He just expects us to be available and obedient to Him. And when we do that, that’s when he uses us, and through his good and sovereign will, brings people to Himself.
Each of us here are evidence of that fact. None of us would be here unless God had chosen us and drawn us to Himself. And most likely, each of us can think of someone who was available and obedient whom God used to help us along in our journey.
So be encouraged this morning! God doesn’t expect you to win your friends and neighbors to Christ! But He does expect you to be available and obedient. And when you are, He’ll bring about the results.
Prayer of devotion