THE REVIVAL OF ACTS 2
The Work of God's Spirit in the Early Church: A Study of Acts 2:42-47
F. Wayne Mac Leod
Light To My Path Book Distribution
Copyright © 2012 by F. Wayne Mac Leod
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved. ESV Text Edition: 2007
A Special thanks to the proof readers: Suzanne St. Amour, Lee Tuson
These were wonderful and challenging days for the early church. Believers were stepping into totally new territory. They did not have years of experience to draw upon. Their understanding of the work of Christ and the purpose of God for this newly founded church was only now being formed in their minds. They had no Bible school to train their pastors. They had no church buildings or programs. They were often misunderstood by those around them.
They were few in number. In fact Acts 2:1 tells us that they were “all” gathered together in one place on the day of the Jewish Pentecost. Those present that day were not sure what they were to do next. Before leaving them, Jesus told them to remain in Jerusalem until they had been “baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." (Acts 1:4-5)
They had no idea what all this meant but they were waiting nonetheless.
For the most part, they were simple people. Many of their leaders were simple fishermen by trade. Their leaders had spent three years with Jesus, but they still struggled in their faith. When Jesus was arrested, they fled for their lives and abandoned Him (see Matthew 26:31; Mark 14:50). Peter, who had been the most outspoken among them, denied the Lord three times (see Matthew 26:33-35). Thomas refused to believe that Jesus had even risen from the dead and declared that unless he saw the nail marks in His hands and could actually put his fingers in the holes, he would not believe at all (see John 20:24-25). James and John asked Jesus to allow them to sit at his right and left hand when He went to heaven (see Mark 10:35-39). This request for such a position of honor over the other disciples was not well received. Matthew 20:24 tells us that the remaining disciples were very angry when they discovered that they had made such a request.
The church that gathered in one place that day lacked spiritual understanding and maturity. Humanly speaking, they were not qualified to lead this great work of God. Yet, the church of that day would become a powerful example for generations to follow. They saw the Spirit of God doing things in their day that we wish to see in ours. The church expanded and grew in number to such a point that it concerned the Jews of the day.
The key to this phenomenal growth of the church of Acts is obviously the work of God’s Spirit. In Acts 2 the Spirit of God descended on the church and poured out a tremendous blessing. Believers were filled with power and boldness. The message of salvation spread and when Peter spoke on the day of Pentecost, three thousand people came to faith in the Lord Jesus (Acts 2:41). New converts were being added to the church every day (Acts 2:47).
These early believers had no program or special technique. The growth of the church came about through simple, uneducated believers struggling with their faith. This growth was not the result of something they had planned and organized. It took them by surprise. One day, there were about one hundred and twenty believers meeting in a single room. The next day there were over three thousand believers crying out for spiritual guidance and care. This incredible work of God spread from Jerusalem to the surrounding regions. Men and women from distant lands would hear the message of Christ and turn their lives over to Him.
Acts 2:42-47 is the account of what was taking place in those days of awakening in Israel. In these verses, we catch a glimpse of what the Holy Spirit was doing in the lives of those early believers and what it was that sustained this movement of God’s Spirit in those days. As we embark on this study, it is my desire that we see the wonderful work of God’s Spirit in the early church but also that we see its application for the church of Christ in our day.
We can make the work of God’s kingdom so complicated today. We train our pastors for years in church administration and church growth techniques. While all this training may be beneficial, there is something so refreshing about the simplicity of what took place in Acts 2. God receives the glory for the work that took place because it was not of human origin. Simple people were powerfully moved by God’s Spirit to accomplish a work that would have a lasting effect even to our day. In the course of the next few chapters we will take a look at what God was doing in the lives of His people and the impact that this had on their community for the sake of the kingdom of God.
We saw in the introduction that these early believers were very simple people. Everything was new for them. Their theology was still being formed. None of them had much experience in this newfound Christian faith. Their leaders were far from perfect and struggled themselves to understand what God was expecting of them. This early church, however, was on fire for the glory of God. The Spirit of God was moving in powerful ways in those days. People were being touched by the message of the Gospel and coming to faith in Christ every day.
Let’s be absolutely clear at the outset of this study. What was taking place in those days was the work of the Spirit of God. He deserves all the credit for the wonderful growth that was taking place. These inexperienced believers did not plan for this growth. They were taken completely by surprise. God’s Spirit had a work to do and He was only too pleased to do it.
What was taking place in those days was not something that could ever be accomplished in human effort or planning. In a single day, three thousand people turned their lives over to the Lord Jesus. Remember that just prior to this, the Lord Jesus had been crucified by Roman soldiers at the wishes of the religious leaders. These leaders hated Christ and all that He stood for. They would do anything to keep this new faith from growing. In the months that followed, the church would encounter men like Saul (Paul) who sincerely believed that he was doing God a favour by rooting out and killing believers in Jesus Christ. This is why it was so surprising that so many people opened their hearts to the Lord Jesus in those days. These men and women turned from their Jewish faith and devoted themselves to the Lord Jesus who had been crucified in their midst. They risked their lives and reputations making this commitment.
Other things were happening in those days as well. A sense of awe filled the believers (Acts 2:43). The work of God was so powerful and astonishing that believers could only marvel at what they were seeing before them. Never, in their wildest dreams, could they have ever imagined such a work of God in their midst. The apostles were endued with a miraculous power (Acts 2:43). People were seeing things they could only attribute to the presence of God’s Spirit in their midst.
Believers began to sell everything they had in an attempt to reach out to those in need. Priorities were radically changed. Hearts were broken for the people around them. What we see in those days was a wave of God’s Spirit sweeping over the entire Christian community, producing this brokenness and willingness to surrender all.
The hunger for fellowship and the teaching of God’s Word was so intense that these believers began to meet together every day. They would meet in the temple court or in individual homes where they would celebrate what Jesus had done for them on the cross and listen to the teaching of God’s Word. There in those meetings, they would cry out to God in prayer; calling for His blessing and guidance. Power was released from heaven in response to those prayers. God’s Spirit was filling the hunger of their hearts.
Unbelievers around them took notice of what was happening. Despite the fact that this was a “new religion,” frowned upon by the religious leaders of the day, the people of Jerusalem and surrounding areas had no choice but to see the sincerity and devotion of these early believers to each other and to their community at large. Those early Christians gained their favor.
Such was the work of the Spirit of God in those days. It was a work He delighted to do. We have sometimes come to believe that the Holy Spirit releases His blessings reluctantly. This is not what we see here in Acts 2. Oswald Smith, in his book “Enduement of Power” makes the following statement about the Holy Spirit’s willingness to bless:
I often think of the Holy Spirit as a mighty river, but a river dammed or held back by obstacles of one kind and another. Fancy a man standing on the dam and pleading in prayer with the river to follow on. How absurd! “Why,” the river would answer, “that is just what I want to do. Don’t waste your energy in such vain repetitions. It is my nature to flow. I’m more anxious to flow than you are to see me flow.”
Ah, yes, that’s the secret. There’s a dam in your life, a dam of sin. There are obstacles in the way, obstacles of unyieldedness. You deal with sin. Do you hear me –sin! Get the bed of the river cleared and the river will flow all right. You will not even have to ask the Holy Spirit to fill you. In fact you will not be able to keep Him out. He will come and fill of His own accord. Oh, how eager He is to enter! How anxious He is to get control! Why not give Him a chance? (Smith, Oswald, Enduement of Power: Basingstoke, Marshall Morgan & Scott, 1983, pg.43.)
Do we really believe that the Spirit of God hesitates to fill us? Shall we believe that He needs to be begged to bring refreshing and renew our sin cursed land? Is it not His desire that we fall on our faces in surrender to the Lord Jesus and walk in obedience and devotion to His purpose? Is He not in reality like a great river ready to burst forth for the glory of God the Father onto our lands and nations? This is what we see happening here in Acts 2.
Like Oswald Smith, I tend to believe that the Spirit of God is more willing to bless than we are to receive that blessing. The hindrance to that blessing is me and the barriers of sin I have set up in my life. The picture that Oswald Smith paints is one of a man sitting on a dam of sin pleading with God’s Spirit to flow. There is no question that the Holy Spirit is able to break down that dam. The dam is not so much the hindrance as the man’s unwillingness to allow the Spirit of God to break it down.
What we see in Acts 2 is a powerful work of God’s Spirit in the city of Jerusalem. As I look at my life and community, I see the need for such an outpouring of God’s Spirit. I am encouraged as I see what God is doing in the book of Acts. I am challenged however, to ask what it is that hinders His work in my life. What do I need to surrender? What sins need to be exposed and confessed?
Is it not the delight of God to transform our lives and communities into the image of Christ? What keeps this from happening? The answer to this is found in 2 Chronicles 7:14:
14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
The Lord makes it quite clear in this verse that if God’s people wanted this wonderful outpouring of God’s Spirit on their land, they needed to humble themselves and pray. This humbling has to do with a recognition of guilt. The prayer is a prayer of humility before God, confessing sin and admitting failure. God’s people also needed to seek His face and turn from their wicked ways. That is to say, they needed to renounce their sin and surrender to the Lord God.
Acts 2 gives us a glimpse of what the Spirit of God wanted to do. I believe that this is still His desire today. Our refusal to surrender our sin to Him, however, is the great obstacle to this wonderful work. Instead of planning and trying to orchestrate a move of God’s Spirit, we would do well to spend the time clearing out the riverbed and removing the dams. This begins with us personally. As we continue in this study, ask the Spirit of God to show you what it is that hinders His greater work in your life.
* What was the Holy Spirit doing in the early church? What evidence was there of His presence?
* Was this move of God something that the early church had planned for and organized? Explain.
* What is the obstacle to the Spirit’s work today? Have we tried to orchestrate a move of God’s Spirit without dealing with our sin?
* Is God reluctant to pour out His blessings on us? Why do we not see more blessing and power to-day?
* Thank the Spirit of God for His desire to move in our midst and transform us into the image of Christ.
* Ask the Lord God to reveal anything that you have not willingly surrendered to Him.
* Ask God to move in you in a deeper way. Take a moment to offer yourself afresh to Him to be His instrument no matter the cost.
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)
We have seen that the Spirit of God was pleased to move among the early believers in Acts 2. While the great awakening that took place that day was purely the work of God’s Spirit, God’s people also played a role. The Holy Spirit wants to work in hearts and lives that are willing to receive what He is doing. Acts 2:42 tells us that the early believers were devoted to four principles. We will examine them in greater detail in the chapters that follow. For now it is important that we mention them as they relate to the work that God’s Spirit was doing in those days. The believers in Jerusalem, during those days of awakening, devoted themselves to the following principles:
1. The apostles’ teaching
3. Breaking of bread
Notice the word used here in verse 42. The New International Version of the Bible uses the word “devoted.” The word literally means to adhere to, to give care to or to persevere in something. This is what was happening in the early church. As the Spirit of God moved among them, God’s people gave themselves fully to instruction from God’s Word, fellowship, and remembering Christ in the breaking of bread and prayer.
We need to understand that Satan was not pleased with what was happening that day. You can be sure that there was a spiritual battle raging in Jerusalem at that time. In the history of revivals, there have been times when the church has become distracted and led astray. Sometimes the experiences and miracles take priority over the clear teaching of God’s Word. Sometimes the enemy sets believer against believer and causes division in the body of Christ. The enemy can attack in any number of ways during times of great awakening. What kept the church in those days? It was their devotion to the four principles mentioned in verse 42.
By devoting themselves to the teaching of the apostles, fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayer, these men and women were strengthened in their faith and directed in the way God intended them to go. These four principles kept them in tune with God and protected them from wandering from His purpose.
Scripture teaches that it is quite possible for us to grieve the Holy Spirit. Listen to what Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:29-30:
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
It seems from this that we can grieve God and the work of His Spirit in our lives by surrendering to our flesh. To grieve the Spirit of God is to resist the work He wants to do in our lives. There are countless ways in which we can resist what God is doing.
There is a very challenging passage in 2 Kings 17:16-20. The passage speaks about the nations of Israel and Judah and their rebellion against God:
16 They forsook all the commands of the LORD their God and made for themselves two idols cast in the shape of calves, and an Asherah pole. They bowed down to all the starry hosts, and they worshiped Baal. 17 They sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fire. They practiced divination and sorcery and sold themselves to do evil in the eyes of the LORD, provoking him to anger. 18 So the LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them from his presence. Only the tribe of Judah was left, 19 and even Judah did not keep the commands of the LORD their God. They followed the practices Israel had introduced. 20 Therefore the LORD rejected all the people of Israel; he afflicted them and gave them into the hands of plunderers, until he thrust them from his presence.
There are a number of details we need to see from these verses in 2 Kings. Notice that while Israel and Judah were the chosen people of God, they turned their back on Him to seek other gods. God did not stop them. These people of God bowed down to idols and worshiped the stars. They sacrificed their children on altars set up in the land to other gods. They were guilty of practicing sorcery and other demonic arts. The result was devastating. God removed His presence from them (verse 18). He rejected them (verse 19). He afflicted them and handed them over to their enemies (verse 20). Finally, He thrust them from His presence (verse 20).
There is a very strong warning here for us. The Spirit of God delights to move in our midst. Our unwillingness to surrender to what He is doing grieves Him. In 2 Kings 17, the Spirit of God was so grieved that He withdrew, turned His back on His people and thrust them from His presence.
As the Spirit of God moved in those days, the church surrendered to what He was doing by devoting them-selves to the teaching of the Word, fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayer. By means of these four principles, the church was able to support each other, remain in the truth and know God’s perfect guidance and blessing.
How easy it would have been for the enemy to distract the early church. They were inexperienced and simple men and women. Many had just recently come to faith in Christ and their understanding of His will and purpose was limited. As they surrendered to God and devoted themselves to these key spiritual principles, however, they were strengthened and prepared for the wonderful work the Spirit of God was doing in those days.
In the course of the next few chapters, we will look at these four principles in greater detail. As we examine them, we will see that these principles are vital if we want to see God’s Spirit moving in power in our own day.
* What were the four key spiritual principles the church of Jerusalem devoted itself to in Acts 2?
* Can we resist the Spirit of God? What is the result when we resist Him?
* How can the four principles mentioned in this passage keep us in tune with God and what He wants to do in our lives?
* Take a look at the four key principles mentioned in Acts 2:42. Are you devoted to these principles?
* What has the Lord been doing in your life? Ask Him to give you grace to surrender to the work of His Holy Spirit as He seeks to transform you into the image of Christ.
* Ask God to help you to be more devoted to His word, fellowship with other believers, remembering Christ and prayer.
* Take a moment to thank the Spirit of God that He desires to work in you.
They devoted themselves to the apostle's teaching (Acts 2:42)
In the last two chapters, we examined the desire of the Holy Spirit for the church and the devotion of that church to some key spiritual disciplines. In this next section, we need to take the time to consider each of these spiritual disciplines. The first discipline to which the early church devoted themselves was to the apostle's teaching.
The first detail we need to consider here is the word "devoted." The word, in the original language, speaks about a strict adherence to something. It can also refer to perseverance or to an undying care. Let's take a moment to consider this in more detail.
The early church was devoted to the apostle's teaching. To be devoted in this sense was to commit themselves to the truth of that teaching and to live in absolute obedience.
First, the early church believed that what the apostles taught was true. They understood that the apostles received this teaching from the Lord Jesus. They also understood that the Holy Spirit had been given to these men to instruct them in the truth that Jesus had given (see John 14:25-26). The apostle's teaching was not of human origin. It was given by Jesus and affirmed by the Holy Spirit. It was God's will and purpose for the church. The early church believed this with all their heart.
Secondly, the early church devoted themselves to this teaching by making a conscious decision to walk in absolute obedience to what the apostles taught. A husband cannot be devoted to his wife if he does not live in faithfulness to her. It is quite possible to believe that Scripture is true and not live faithfully according to its teaching. To be devoted to the apostle's teaching implied a commitment on the part of the early church to live in obedience of the truth they taught.
There is third dimension to the devotion of the early church. Consider for a moment the devotion of a shepherd to his sheep. A shepherd's devotion to his sheep is seen in the way he cares for those sheep. He will let nothing happen to them and will defend them with his life. There were people who objected to the teaching of the apostles. There was a group in that day that believed, for example, that a man needed to be circumcised if he was be a true Christian. From the very beginning, Satan tried to dilute the truth of God's Word or twist it to say what he wanted it to say. Those who are devoted to the teaching of the apostles make it their commitment to preserve the truth from misinterpretation and error.
While this may seem to be very basic teaching, it is of utmost importance that we underline its importance again in our day. Our enemy Satan is very actively involved in seeking to draw our attention away from the teaching of the Word of God. He knows that if he can cause us to doubt the Scriptures, anything is possible. All too many churches in our day have been weakened because they have failed to devote themselves, as the early church did, to the apostle's teaching. I would be as bold as to say that because these churches have not devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles, they have grieved the Holy Spirit to such a point that He has removed His presence from them.
God has a purpose for His church. That purpose has never changed. If we want to see the fullness of His blessing, we need to have the devotion of the early church to His Word. We must believe that Scripture is from God for all times and all cultures. We must commit ourselves to walking in absolute obedience to it even when we do not understand it. We must also make it our priority to preserve that truth and defend it before those who want to make compromises or deny its suitability for our times.
There are truths I see in the Scripture I do not understand. It is not that I do not understand what they are saying but rather that I don’t understand why God wants things done in a certain way. While, from my limited perspective, these things do not always make sense, I have chosen to commit myself to them because it is what God commands. He knows what He is doing and I surrender to His wisdom. I will not reinterpret these verses to suit my understanding.
There is a second point we need to make about the devotion of the early church. Notice that the devotion was to the teaching of the “apostles.” It was this particular teaching that distinguished the Christian from the Jew of that day. The apostles had a very particular teaching. They taught that the Lord Jesus was the Son of God, come to save His people from their sin. They taught that salvation was not through the observation of the Law of Moses but through the completed work of the Lord Jesus as the perfect sacrifice for sin.
This teaching was radical for the day. It stirred up the hatred of the Jews against Christians. Those who devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles were seen as radicals who went against the common understanding of the day. Jewish leaders would challenge the teaching of the apostles. Believers would be persecuted and some would even lose their lives because of their devotion to what the apostles were teaching about Jesus. The temptation to surrender and return to the old ways and doctrines was very real. The book of Galatians was written because of the temptation of believers to turn from the teaching of the apostles. Listen to the strong words of Paul in Galatians 1:
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-- 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!
This temptation to “turn to a different gospel” is very real in our day as well. We can be guilty of diluting the truth to make it more acceptable to the unbeliever or to justify our ways. We can be guilty of ignoring the clear teaching of the Word of God and doing what we feel is best. This only proves that we are not truly devoted to the teaching of the apostles.
Despite these challenges, the early church devoted itself to what the apostles taught. They believed that they spoke from God. They committed themselves to follow and obey this teaching no matter the cost. They would live or die trusting it and walking in absolute obedience to this truth because it was God’s truth and God’s purpose. It was in this atmosphere that the Holy Spirit was pleased to move.
We cannot separate our obedience and devotion to the teaching of Scripture from the work of God’s Spirit. Disobedience to God and His word grieves the Holy Spirit. The blessing of God falls on those who walk in obedience. Listen to what the Lord tells His people in Deuteronomy 11:26-28:
26 See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse-- 27 the blessing if you obey the commands of the LORD your God that I am giving you today; 28 the curse if you disobey the commands of the LORD your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known.
The devotion of the early believers to the teaching of the apostles opened the door for the blessing of God on their lives. Powerful things happened when these believers devoted themselves to the truth they heard from the apostles. Their commitment to obey and preserve that truth released the blessing of God from heaven.
I have met all too many believers who want God’s blessing but are not willing to devote themselves to His teaching. I have seen churches that cried out for the blessing of God but were unwilling to take the time to examine their lives in accordance with the teaching of Scripture. They were unwilling to deal with the sins and compromises they were making. Can we truly expect the Spirit of God to move when we are not devoted to His Word and purposes for our lives? An uncompromising devotion to the Gospel of Christ is the first necessary ingredient in knowing the fullness of God’s Spirit in our midst.
Are you devoted to the teaching of the apostles? Is your fellowship characterized by this uncompromising devotion to the teaching of the Scriptures? Is it your great desire to learn what God requires and walk in obedience to it? Only then can you truly know the fullness of His blessings on your life.
* What does it mean to be devoted to something?
* What are three characteristics of one who is de-voted to the teaching of the apostles?
* What are some ways in which we can compromise in our devotion to the Scriptures?
* How has the enemy been seeking to distract us from the teaching of the Scriptures?
* What was the teaching of the apostles? How did this differ from the understanding of the Jews about God and the Messiah?
* What is the connection between the work of the Holy Spirit and our obedience to the Word of God? Can we expect the fullness of God’s blessing if we are not devoted to His Word?
* Ask the Lord to help you to be more devoted to His Word.
* Take a moment to thank the Lord for the teaching of the apostles about the Lord Jesus and what He came to do.
* Ask the Lord to keep you from the temptation to compromise in your commitment to the Word of God.
42 They devoted themselves to ... the fellowship...
In the last chapter, we examined the devotion of the early church to the teaching of the apostles. The second principle the early church was devoted to was that of fellowship.
In our day, the concept of fellowship has been significantly diluted. We say we have fellowship when we get together to worship or to talk about spiritual matters. While this is certainly an important aspect of fellowship, it is only a small part of the overall meaning.
The word used for fellowship is the Greek word “koinonia.” This word speaks of fellowship, community and sharing. The word is used in Romans 15:26 to refer to a contribution that was made to the poor in Jerusalem:
25 Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the saints there. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution (koinonia) for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. 27 They were pleased to do it, and in-deed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews' spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.
The word speaks in this sense of a financial contribution intended to ease the suffering of brothers in Jerusalem. We understand from this that fellowship relates to the practical things we do to minister to each other in time of need. In the context of Acts 2, we see how this kind of fellowship worked itself out in the lives of the believers. They literally sold everything they had and gave it to the apostles for distribution among the poor. There was a physical cost to this fellowship.
In Philippians 1:3-5, Paul gave thanks to the Philippians for their partnership in the gospel. The Greek word translated partnership is once again “koinonia.”
3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership (koinonia) in the gospel from the first day until now
Paul thanked the Philippians for their fellowship in the gospel. What was the nature of that fellowship? While it is clear that this fellowship included prayer and concern, in Philippians 4:14-16, Paul would specifically thank the Philippians for their financial gifts which enabled him to continue his ministry.
14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need.
The fellowship the believers had with Paul was a very practical one. They shared their finances so he could do what God had called him to do. They entered into a partnership with Paul for the furtherance of the gospel. They did this by contributing to his expenses.
Paul uses the word “koinonia” again in 1 Corinthians 10:16. In the context of this chapter, the apostle addresses the problem of idolatry. He reminds the believers in Corinth of the Lord’s Supper and what it represented for them as followers of the Lord Jesus.
16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation (koinonia) in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation (koinonia) in the body of Christ?
The word “koinonia” is translated by the word participation in this verse. What Paul is telling the Corinthians is that in the Lord’s Supper they participated in the body and blood of the Lord Jesus. They were reminded in this of the cost of true fellowship. For the Lord Jesus, fellowship meant giving His life as an offering for their forgiveness. By implication, Paul was reminding the Corinthian believers that they too had a fellowship obligation to their Lord. They needed to be willing to give their lives, even as He did for them.
The fellowship the early church devoted themselves to was costly. They did so, however, with joyful hearts. There is a very strong connection in the Scripture be-tween our relationship with fellow human beings and God. In fact, the connection is so strong that a break in a relationship with a brother or sister will hinder our relationship with God.
The apostle James makes it quite clear in James 2: 14-17; that true faith is not just words and thoughts but action.
14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
The faith the Lord seeks is one that puts hands and feet to action and ministers to the practical needs of the body of Christ. The Lord speaks powerfully about this in Isaiah 58:5-11. Speaking to the religious people of His day who put on a great show of religion the Lord said:
5 Is this the kind of fast I have
only a day for a man to humble himself ?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter--
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
Notice what God required of His people. They were to untie the yoke of oppression, share food with the hungry, provide shelter for the wanderer and clothe the naked. The result would be that God’s light would break forth on them. He would answer their prayers, guide them and strengthen them in all they did.
Jesus speaks very plainly about this in Matthew 25:40 where He says:
40 “The King will reply, `I tell you the truth, what-ever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
What we do for a brother or sister in Christ we do for their Creator. The opposite is also true. When we ignore our brother’s need, we ignore Christ. When we slander a brother or sister, we speak out against their Creator. When we refuse to minister with what we have to those in need, we suffer the consequences in our own lives. Listen to what the writer of Proverbs had to say about this in Proverbs 21:
13 If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.
God feels so strongly about this that He reminds those who bring an offering to Him that if their brother or sister has something against them they are to leave their gift at the altar and be reconciled with them before offering it to God (see Matthew 5:23-24). He reminds husbands that if they do not treat their wives with respect and dignity their prayers will be hindered (1 Peter 3:7). Scripture is very clear on this matter. There is a strong connection between God and His children. When we minister to one, we minister to the other. When we ignore God’s children, we ignore and hurt Him.
Psalm 133 is a short Psalm but speaks very clearly about this connection between God and His blessing and the unity of believers.
1 How good and pleasant it is
when brothers live together in unity!
2 It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down upon the collar of his robes.
3 It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the LORD bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.
Notice in this short Psalm the connection between the unity of the believers and the wonderful blessing of God on His people. It is as God’s people dwell together in unity that the Lord bestows His blessing.
This is what was happening in the early church. They devoted themselves to fellowship. That is to say, they devoted themselves to ministering to the needs of the body of Christ. As they ministered to each other they touched the heart of God. God poured out His blessing and His power on them for they were walking in His purpose.
How easy it is for us to become self-centered in our Christian walk. Our faith becomes all about what we believe and what we can get from God. The art of sacrifice is a dying art in our day. God calls us as believers to be concerned about those around us. He calls us to be His hands and feet in this world. We minister in His name to those in need all around us. We do so at our expense. Do you want to see the Lord move in power again in our day? Do you want to see His Spirit move in your midst? The second principle we need to learn is the principle of true Biblical fellowship that is willing to sacrifice itself for others just as the Lord Jesus did for us. As long as I am only focused on myself, I will never see the fullness of God’s Spirit’s work in my life. The Spirit of God was pleased to pour Himself out on those who were so willing to minister, sacrifice and serve their brothers and sisters.
* What do we learn about fellowship in this chapter? How does the Biblical definition of fellowship compare to our practice in the church today?
* What are the particular needs of the body of Christ in your region? How can you reach out in fellowship to those who are suffering?
* What is the connection between God and His children? How does ministering to the body of Christ touch Christ Himself?
* Can we ignore the needs of God’s people and still expect to see Him work in our midst?
* Ask the Lord to teach us more about the meaning of true fellowship. Ask Him to give you grace to minister more effectively to the needs of those He puts before you.
* Ask the Lord to forgive you for the times you failed to minister to those He brought to you. Ask Him to forgive you for the hurt this caused Him.
* Thank the Lord that He is so concerned and connected with you that those who minister to you minister to Him.
* Thank the Lord that His Spirit is pleased to work in those whose desire is to minister to others in a sacrificial way.
42 They devoted themselves to ... the breaking of bread ...
So far in this study we have examined the devotion of the early church to the apostle’s teaching and to the fellow-ship. The next principle to which they devoted themselves was the breaking of bread.
It is generally understood that “breaking of bread” refers primarily to the practice of the Lord’s Supper. Having said this, we need to understand that the Lord’s Supper was not done exactly as we do it today. It is quite likely that at these times the believers also shared a meal together and enjoyed a more informal time with each other. There are several verses of Scripture we should examine in this regard.
Jesus instituted the practice of the Lord’s Supper in Matthew 26. At that time He and His disciples were eating a meal together. As they were eating, the Lord took the bread and the cup and explained the symbolism of the Lord’s Supper to them. Together, they ate the bread and drank the cup in anticipation of what was going to take place. Their time together was concluded by a hymn (Matthew 26:30). From this we understand that the first celebration of the Lord’s Supper, which was led by Jesus Himself, included a common meal, a time of reflection through the bread and the cup, and a hymn offered as an act of worship.
The apostle Paul spoke to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 11 about their practice of the Lord’s Supper. We catch a glimpse of the practice from verses 20-34. In the context of 1 Corinthians 11:20-34, the apostle Paul addresses some deep concerns over abuses in the Lord’s Supper. Notice what he told the Corinthians in verses 20-21:
20 When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat, 21 for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk.
Notice that believers were coming together for the Lord’s Supper and they were “going ahead without waiting for anybody else.” The result of this was that some were still hungry and others were drunk. Paul rebukes the Corinthians for this abuse. What is important for us to note, however, is what was taking place during the celebration of the Lord’s Table.
The fact that some people were hungry indicates that there was a meal offered at this time. For some to get drunk implied that there was plenty to drink. People were coming early to this meal and eating all they could before others could get there. This meant that those who came later had little to eat. Paul told the Corinthians that this greed was not to be part of their celebration of the Lord’s Supper. How could they share a meal together and participate in the Lord’s Supper when some among them were drunk with wine and others had to go hungry because people did not consider their needs. This was contrary to all that Jesus had taught. To celebrate the Lord’s Supper in this way was blasphemous. Paul went on, in this passage, to tell the Corinthians that there were serious consequences for those who participated in the Lord’s Supper in such an unworthy manner:
27 Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 11:27-30)
While Paul particularly addresses the abuse of the Lord’s Supper here, we see from this passage that the practice of the Lord’s Supper in Corinth involved a common meal, and a remembrance of what the Lord had done through the symbols of the bread and the cup.
The early church was devoted to breaking bread together. That is to say, they gathered together regularly, shared a meal and remembered what the Lord had done for them in a spirit of worship and thanksgiving. It seems to me that this celebration of the breaking of bread was a joyous celebration. Together they feasted and shared in the abundance of their Lord. Together they remembered the salvation that was theirs through His death on the cross.
How easy it is in life to become so busy with our daily affairs that we forget the Lord God and what He has done. The Law of Moses stated that one day out of seven was to be set apart as a day of rest. This was not just for physical rest but also to break the cycle of work and give God’s people time to remember Him. More than this, however, that Sabbath law stated that every seventh year the people of God were to let their land rest (Leviticus 25:3-5). There was to be no working of the land for that seventh year. Built into the Law of Moses was a provision for God’s people to experience the provision of God. During that year, they were to rely on Him as their Provider and Shepherd.
Throughout the Old Testament, the Lord God commanded His people to observe many such celebrations and feasts. The Passover was a time of feasting and joyous celebration as Israel remembered how the Lord God had saved His people from the angel that passed over the land of Egypt. The Feast of Booths was a time to look back and remember how the Lord God had led them through the wilderness. There were other such celebrations at the beginning and end of the harvest. God commanded His people to give a tithe of all they had to Him as a reminder of His provision and blessing in their lives. These celebrations and commands were designed to remind God’s people of His goodness and their obligation to Him as a God of grace and mercy.
Have you ever found yourself so busy that you don’t have time for God? In our busyness we fail to remember what God has done for us. We have no time to delight in Him and His work in our lives. We can sometimes live our lives as if everything depends on us. God can become distant and our experience of Him very limited.
The breaking of bread in the early church seemed to be part of a great celebration. Believers enjoyed the good-ness of the Lord and His blessing by eating together. As part of that meal, they took time to remember the Lord Jesus, whose death and resurrection had brought them forgiveness and eternal life. At that time, everything else stopped. Minds and hearts were focused on the Lord God, His goodness, mercy and compassion. They praised God for sending His Son so that they could be forgiven. By breaking bread together, the early church took time apart to remember their Savior. They set Him before them on a regular basis. They gave Him thanks, they lifted Him up and remembered the great sacrifice He made on their behalf.
The breaking of bread gave them time to stop in the business of life and reflect on the love of God for them. He who died would also provide. He who left the glories of heaven would surely reach down to them in their need. This time of reflection was a time to consider their priori-ties in life. How would they live now that the Lord’s sacrifice was always before them? Would they surrender themselves to Him? Would they lay down their lives for Him?
The devotion of the early church to the apostle’s teaching and to fellowship required hard work and sacrifice. This third principle, however, required that they cease from their work to reflect and consider Christ. I have often been guilty of becoming so involved in teaching and service that I have failed to spend the time I need at the Lord’s feet. This is what happened in the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10. Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to Him. Martha became so busy serving Him that she didn’t have the time to sit and listen. When she became frustrated because Mary wasn’t helping her, Jesus said:
41 "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:41-42)
I am not saying that we should not be busy in serving the Lord. It is quite obvious that this is required of every believer. What I am saying, however, is that in our busyness we must always find time to come and rest at Jesus feet, to hear from Him, remember His work and know His strength. The early church was very busy. They sacrificed much for the kingdom of God. In the midst of all this busyness, however, they disciplined themselves to break bread. They stopped their work, sat down in the presence of Christ, celebrated His goodness and re-membered His work on their behalf. In doing so, they kept the Lord Jesus and His work as their central focus and priority.
As I think about this, my mind wanders to the church in Laodicea in Revelation 3:20. This was a busy church but it had a significant problem. Writing to this church the Lord Jesus says:
20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.
In all their busyness the church failed to see that the Lord Jesus was not in their midst. How easy it is to be so focused on truth, doctrine and service that the Lord is ignored. Could it be that your Christian life is like this? Have you become so involved in the busyness of Christianity that you have failed to see that the Lord Jesus has been ignored?
The principle of breaking bread was a key one for the early church. At this time, they stopped long enough to reconnect with their Lord and remember Him. Jesus was their focus. His work was the subject of their celebration. The role of the Holy Spirit was to point men and women to the Lord Jesus. How it delights the heart of the Holy Spirit when His people look to Him and remember Him. How the Spirit of God delights to move among those who stop to remember Christ and set their affections on Him.
If we want to see the Spirit of God move in our midst, we will need to remember the principle of breaking bread. That is to say, we will need to keep the Lord Jesus as our focus and motivation in all we do. We must remember Him and what He has done for us. We must learn to delight in Him and in fellowship with Him. We must, at all costs, avoid falling into the trap of the Laodicean church –a faith that becomes so busy with serving Christ that it forgets Christ Himself.
* How did the early church celebrate the Lord’s Supper?
* How is the Lord’s Supper a time of celebration and remembrance? How important is it that we take the time to remember Christ?
* Is it possible to be very busy in Christian service and forget the Lord Jesus?
* Take a moment to reflect on your Christian life. What does Jesus mean to you? Is He your focus and delight or have you become so busy serving that you have no time for Him?
* Is it possible that the reason we have not been experiencing the fullness of Christ’s blessing is because we have ignored Him in favour of service and doctrine?
* Ask the Lord to help you to keep Him as your central focus in ministry and Christian walk.
* Ask the Lord to forgive you for the times that ministry has become more important than Christ. Ask Him to help you to have Him as your focus in life and ministry.
* Take a moment to consider the work of Christ on your behalf. Thank Him for what He has done for you. Ask Him to help you to get to know Him more so that your ministry flows from a heart of deeper love for Him.
42 They devoted themselves to ... prayer.
The final devotion of the early church listed in Acts 4:42 is prayer. I want to be clear at this point –these devotions of the church are not listed in order of importance. Each of these disciplines were vital and none more important than the other. Consider this matter of prayer for example. The prayers of God’s people could be hindered because they were not walking in the truth of Scripture. Listen to what the Lord spoke through Jeremiah the prophet:
23 But these people have stubborn
and rebellious hearts;
they have turned aside and gone away.
24 They do not say to themselves,
`Let us fear the LORD our God,
who gives autumn and spring rains in season,
who assures us of the regular weeks of harvest?'
25 Your wrongdoings have kept these away;
your sins have deprived you of good. (Jeremiah 5:23-25)
What is important for us to note here is that the sins of God’s people deprived them of the good the Lord wanted to do for them. They could not continue in their sin and expect Him to hear their cry for blessing. If the early church refused to devote themselves to the teaching of the apostles they could hardly expect that their prayers would be answered.
This same principle applies to the devotion of the early church to fellowship. If they were not willing to devote themselves to maintaining fellowship, they could hardly expect the Lord to answer their prayers. Matthew 6:15 tells us that if we do not forgive our brother or sister then neither will God forgive us. The apostle Peter told husbands that if they did not treat their wives with respect then their prayers would be hindered.
7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hin-der your prayers. (1 Peter 3:7)
There is a deep connection between each of these devotions of the early church. They work together like a four cylindered car. When one of these cylinders is not working, the effect is felt throughout the entire body. None was more important than the other –all needed to work together if the body was to be completely healthy and experience the fullness of the Spirit’s ministry in their midst.
Having seen how prayer must work together with the other disciplines of the early church, it now falls on us to consider the nature of prayer. We could write a whole study on prayer. Our purpose here, however, is to consider prayer in the context of Acts 2. In this context, I would like to say two things about prayer.
First, prayer has to do with seeking God, His wisdom and His favour. In our day, there is such an emphasis on education and experience that the tendency of the church is to downplay the importance of prayer. Committee meetings take the place of prayer. Experience and education take the place of seeking God’s favor and wisdom.
In recent years, I have begun the practice of prayer journaling. I write down what is happening in my life and the various matters I am dealing with. As part of this process, I also write out my prayers about those issues. The thing that has struck me as I have been doing this is the number of situations in my life that I had not been praying about. I have been surprised at how many times I trusted my education, experience or human wisdom without seeking God and His wisdom. I still wrestle with this. All too many things in my life have never been committed to the Lord for His favor and guidance.
In each of us there is a sense of pride that believes we are able to work our way out of our situations. Somehow we feel that our education and experience will take us through any problem we may encounter. We are convinced that our training and gifting can build the church of Christ.
To pray is to recognize our need. We pray because we need God. We pray because we need His wisdom and guidance. We pray because without His favor we are lost and the work of His Kingdom will never advance. We may increase in numbers and ministry but the heart, where the kingdom is built, remains untouched.
How we need the Lord God, His wisdom and blessing in our ministries and life decisions. Prayer invites the Spirit of God to fill every action and word. As we pray, we turn from our own human wisdom to seeking God’s purpose. As the early church devoted themselves to prayer, they invited God into all their decisions and activities. God was only too pleased to lead and bless what they were committing to Him.
Second, prayer also has to do with hearing God and responding in obedience. It is quite possible for us to seek the blessing of God on our own plans and agendas. We organize and do things in our own way and simply ask God to put His stamp of approval on our efforts. This is not what prayer is about. Prayer not only seeks God’s wisdom and favor but it also listens to God and follows His direction.
One of the wonderful things about prayer is that as we seek God, He answers and shows us the path we need to follow. If you are willing to listen, He will open a door before you in answer to your prayer. He will put new ideas on your mind. He will bring people to your path who will be His instruments to comfort or encourage you in the way you are to go. He will close doors or make you uncomfortable about continuing on the path you are currently following. He may bring you to a passage of Scripture that will speak plainly to you about His purpose for your life. He will strengthen and give you courage to take the stand you need to take. He will even take the desire you have for the wrong path away. God answers prayers. He longs to lead and direct us in the path He has prepared. If we are willing to listen, He will do just that. The early church believed in a God who heard and answered prayers. Their commitment was not only to seeking His favor but also to hearing Him and walking in obedience.
As the early church devoted themselves to prayer, God led them in ways they could never have imagined. Sometimes His leading was not what they would have naturally chosen for themselves. Sometimes He led them in ways that did not make sense to their experience or education. There were times when obedience to God’s leading required great sacrifice. Consider what happened in Acts 13:2-3:
2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.
During that time of prayer, the Lord spoke to the believers and asked them to part with two of their best leaders. This would not have been an easy sacrifice to make. God asked them to give their best, however, to the cause of reaching the lost. The church heard this and responded in obedience. They sent them on their way to do the will and purpose of the Father. Prayer and obedience walk hand in hand. You can’t pray with integrity if you are not willing to listen to and obey the Lord when He answers.
In answer to prayer, God will at times require that we surrender those things we cherish most in life. He may sometimes ask us to take a step of faith into the un-known. He may ask us to surrender our personal visions and goals in life to follow Him in a completely different way. When you devote yourself to prayer you are com-mitting yourself to obedience no matter the cost. You are asking God for His wisdom and guidance and determining in your own heart to follow that direction even if it means personal loss or hardship.
Don’t come to God in prayer seeking His direction and guidance if you are not willing to listen to what He has to say. The sincere prayer comes from a surrendered heart. It comes from a heart that seeks God’s purpose and will above all else. It comes from a will that is committed to doing what He asks no matter the cost. You can’t be devoted to prayer if this is not your attitude and commitment.
How the Spirit of God delights in a prayerful attitude. This attitude is one that opens the door for God to work in amazing ways. When He has a people who seek Him and His purpose for their lives, He will show them things they could never imagine. When He has the heart of such a people, He will lead them into blessing they have never before experienced. These things will not be without hardship and sacrifice. These sacrifices, however, will open doors for a work of God’s Spirit that will transform and renew society.
Prayer is the discipline of seeking God, His will and His favor. It is also, however, the discipline of listening and walking in obedience to what God reveals. If we are to expect a work of God’s Spirit in our midst today, this must surely be our attitude as well. We must have the attitude of the early church to prayer.
* What is the connection between prayer and walking in obedience to the teaching of Scripture? Can we truly pray if we are not committed to walking in the apostles teaching?
* What is the connection between prayer and fellowship? How does a break in fellowship hinder our prayers?
* Are there issues in your life you have not commit-ted to the Lord in prayer? How strong is the temptation to depend on our experience, gifting and education and not on the Lord?
* Describe the attitude of the person who is devoted to prayer. How does this attitude open the door for a wonderful work of God’s Spirit?
* Ask the Lord to teach you the importance of prayer. Ask Him to help you to have the attitude of one who is truly devoted to prayer.
* Ask God to give you a heart that wants to know His leading and blessing. Ask God to give you a commitment to obey and walk in what He leads you to do.
* Ask God to forgive you for the many times you have not sought Him in situations you have encountered but chose to do things in your own way.
* Ask God to work in your life and the life of your church to give you the same kind of devotion as the early church to prayer and seeking God’s heart in all things.
Everyone was filled with awe ... (Acts 2:43)
In the past six chapters, we examined the devotion of the early church to four important principles. This devotion opened the door for a wonderful work of God’s Spirit in their midst and in their community. In our search for new techniques and programs, we have often failed to see the importance of these four key principles. These principles transformed their society. In verses 43-47, we catch a glimpse of what took place as a result.
Verse 43 tells us that the first result of the work of God’s Spirit in the church was that everyone was filled with awe (fear, KJV). The Greek word translated “awe” or “fear” is the word “phobos” which speaks of terror, reverence or respect. The word is used a number of times in the New Testament. Consider for example what took place on the lake when Jesus came walking on the water to his disciples:
When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear. (Matthew 14:26)
When the disciples saw the Lord Jesus walking toward them they did not know who it was. Thinking it was a ghost, they cried out in fear. The fear those disciples experienced was a fear of something more powerful than them. They feared the unknown. This was beyond their ability to understand. They were not sure what to make of the situation. It threw them into a state of confusion.
There is something very unpredictable in the work of God. We are no longer in control. Our minds are over-whelmed. We can’t logically explain what is happening. We don’t know where all this is going. As people looked on at what was taking place in those days they couldn’t explain it. There was a power at work that was beyond anything they had ever seen before. It was a power they feared. It was a power that demanded respect.
A similar thing happened in Matthew 28:1-4. The body of Jesus had been lying in the tomb. The two Mary’s went to the tomb after the Sabbath. There was a violent earth-quake, an angel of the Lord came down and rolled the stone away. Matthew 28:3 tells us that the appearance of that angel was like lightning and his clothes were pure white. Notice the response of the guards to this event in Matthew 28:4:
4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
The word afraid is the same word used in Acts 2:43 (phobos). The idea here is that these guards fainted in terror because of what they experienced that day. Again, what took place before then was so overwhelming they feared for their lives.
On another occasion Jesus and His disciples were crossing the lake on a boat. As they crossed the lake Jesus was asleep. A great storm arose on the sea and the disciples began to fear for their lives. Waking Jesus up from His sleep, they asked Him to help them. Jesus got up, rebuked the wind and the waves and they became still. Notice the response of the disciples to what Jesus did that day:
They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41)
The disciples experienced terror (phobos). They realized that they were in the presence of one whose power was beyond anything they had ever seen. There was a new respect for Jesus that day. They recognized that He was no mere man. He was the Son of God. They feared to be in His presence. They were terrified of His power. They felt unworthy of being in the same boat as Him.
The word translated “awe” or “fear” in Acts 2:43 is a strong word. Included in this word is a sense of terror and deep reverence. There was a power at work in those days that demanded respect. It was a power no one dared to challenge.
Verse 43 tells us that “everyone” was filled with awe. Verse 44 speaks of “all the believers” but verse 43 speaks about “everyone.” This leads us to assume that both believers and unbelievers alike were filled with awe at what was taking place in those days. While the unbelievers in the community may not have surrendered their lives to the Lord Jesus, they could not help but notice what was happening around them. What they saw filled them with awe and holy fear. There was a power at work in the early church that even the unbeliever could not doubt.
Consider an example of this as recorded in Acts 5. A couple named Ananias and Sapphira sold a piece of property and brought a portion of the proceeds to the apostles for distribution among those who had need. The problem was that they determined in their heart to lie about the amount they received. God revealed this to Peter and when Ananias came in with the money, Peter confronted him with this lie. The result was that God struck Ananias dead for this deception. When his wife came in later and also lied to the apostles about the full amount they received, God also struck her so that she died. Notice the response of the community to this news:
Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events. (Acts 5:11)
Who among us does not want to know the presence of God in our midst? The reality of the matter, however, is that God's presence cannot be taken lightly. Our God is a holy God who inspires fear in the heart of those who are not in a right relationship with Him. Our sin is an offense to Him. Who can stand in the presence of holiness and not fear for their lives? The presence of God inspires holy terror and reverence.
When John saw a vision of the Lord Jesus in Revelation 1, he fell at His feet as though dead (Revelation 1:17). When Isaiah saw his vision of the Lord, he cried out in fear (Isaiah 6:5). These great men of God know what it was like to experience the presence of a holy God in their midst. They did not take this lightly. His presence demanded respect and worship.
How would you describe what God was doing in your life and in the life of your fellowship today? Do you experience this holy awe and reverence? Wherever God reveals His presence this reverence is evident. There is a respect for His ways and a healthy fear of offending Him by our sin. We should not assume that the presence of God is all blessing and comfort. Those who know this presence also experience something of the holy fear spoken of in this passage. They feel compelled to con-sider Him in the decisions they make and fear offending Him in their ways.
I can only but wonder what it would be like for this sense of fear and holy awe to penetrate my society. What would it be like for those who have chosen an ungodly lifestyle to stand in the presence of this mighty God and be confronted with their sinful ways? What would it be like for me to stand before my Savior knowing that I had failed to live every moment for His glory and honor? The apostle John tells us that the day is coming when the presence of God will be revealed on this earth in a powerful way. On that day, the most powerful men and women of the earth will experience terror and holy awe. Listen to what John tells us in Revelation 6:15-16:
Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand? (Revelation 6:15-17)
The presence of God was revealed to the early church. The result was a holy awe and fear. The church came to realize that the Lord God was in their midst. Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead because they dared to defy this holy presence. This awesome and holy presence of God filled their society. People knew they were in the presence of God. As God's people committed themselves to Him and walked in the fear of the Lord, that fear spread to their society.
Are we ready for this presence today? Are we ready to stand before God? While this presence inspires fear, terror, reverence and awe, it is also a presence that delights our heart and blesses us in ways we could never imagine. May we open our hearts to Him and His purposes for our lives. May we too experience this holy awe as we walk in His presence. May that holy fear, keep us in the path of righteousness and holiness for the glory of His name and the fullness of our blessing in Him.
*·What do we learn about the presence of God in this chapter? What is our response to the presence of God in our midst?
*·What would it be like for you to stand in the presence of God today? Would you feel ashamed?
*·To what extend does your society have the fear of God in their hearts? Is there a fear of offending God in your society? Is there a healthy reverence for God in your church?
*·Ask the Lord to give you a greater reverence for His name and a greater desire to please Him in all that you do.
*·Thank the Lord Jesus that He came to bring forgiveness of sin. Thank Him that because of His work, there is no sin that will stand between you and your heavenly Father.
*·Ask God to create a deeper reverence for His name in your community. Pray that people would come to recognize who He is and their obligation toward Him.
43 ... and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.
In the last chapter, we saw how the community was filled with a fear and awe of the God who was revealing Himself through His people in those days. We discover in verse 43 that one of the manifestations of God’s presence was through the “wonders and miraculous signs” that were being done by the apostles.
Before considering this in greater detail, it is important to see that these wonders and miraculous signs were only one of the ways God revealed the presence of His kingdom. Acts 2:42-47 is filled with many clear proofs of the work of God in those days. We have already examined the devotion of the early church to the truth of the apostles, to fellowship, exalting Christ through the breaking of bread, and prayer. When we see a church that is sincerely devoted to these principles, we have to say that the Spirit of God is powerfully working in their midst. We dare not underestimate the significant work of God’s Spirit in stirring up this kind of devotion in the early church. How wonderful it would be to see this again in our day.
In verses 44-47, we also read about the unity of the believers and how they were so willing to sacrifice all they had to minister to each other. We see their thankfulness and how their hearts were filled with praise to God. Again this is clear evidence of the wonderful work of God in their midst. He had drawn close to them and softened their hearts to spiritual matters. Each day, God was bringing people to Himself. The church was growing in ways they could never have imagined. Who could doubt that the kingdom of God was among them? Who could doubt that the Spirit of God was at work in their midst? I mention the context because it is easy for people to become focused on the wonders and miraculous signs that they ignore the fuller work of God’s Spirit in bringing salvation, and stirring up devotion, unity and praise in the hearts of His people.
There is something else I want to say before examining these signs and wonders of Acts 2. It is quite possible to see these wonders and miraculous signs and not have a deep personal relationship with the Lord. Jesus makes this clear in Matthew 7 when He says:
21 "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”(Matthew 7:21-23)
Notice here that the Lord actually calls those who per-formed these miracles, “evildoers.” This is a very strong word. The reality of the matter, however, is that these individuals used the name of the Lord Jesus for their own ends. Maybe they gained respect and admiration in their community for the power they demonstrated. What is clear is that these individuals did not demonstrate the other characteristics of the Spirit of God in their lives. Their devotion to the truth of the apostles, to fellowship, to exalting Christ, to unity and to sacrifice was not evident in their lives. In fact, according to this passage, they had not even come to know the salvation of the Lord Jesus and did not belong to Him at all.
The Spirit of God wants to do a work that will change us from the inside out. He works on our character and shapes us into the image of the Lord Jesus. Powerful things will happen as a result of this intimacy and close-ness to Christ. It is not our purpose here to speak to the matter of how signs and wonders are possible outside of this intimacy with Christ. What is important for us to note, however, is that the wonders and signs performed in the early church were part of a much fuller work that God was doing. They were the fruit of a relationship with Christ that radically changed God’s people from the inside out.
Having examined the context, it now falls on us to examine the wonders and signs that were taking place in those days. The word “wonder,” speaks of an extraordinary or supernatural event. This event could not be explained in human or scientific terms. It defied the laws of nature. It was an out of the ordinary occurrence that left people confused. The only explanation for this event was that there was a power above science and technology at work. This was a power that was not limited to the laws of nature. It was a power above all other powers. It defied human logic and science. It was a power to fear for it was a law unto itself.
The word used for “signs” speaks of an occurrence that was designed to confirm or authenticate. It shows us that there was purpose and order behind the wonders that were taking place. These miraculous events confirmed the presence of the Kingdom of God. They were de-signed to show that the Father’s Kingdom was now being established on the earth in the lives and hearts of those who had accepted Christ as their Savior and Lord.
Notice in this verse that these wonders and signs were done by the apostles. We should not assume from this that they would be the only ones to perform miracles. We have the record of Stephen performing miraculous signs as well.
8 Now Stephen, a man full of God's grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. (Acts 6:8)
When the Lord Jesus challenged His disciples to go into all the world to preach the gospel, He told them that there would be signs accompanying “those who believed:”
15 He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but who-ever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poi-son, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well." (Mark 16:17-18)
The phrase “those who believe” indicates that the power of God would not be limited to the apostles only but also demonstrated in the lives of many others who would come to faith in the Lord Jesus.
The apostle Paul taught that God gave different gifts to each person in the church. Notice in particular that Paul told the Corinthians that some people were given the gifts of faith, healing, and miraculous powers:
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. (1 Corinthians 12:7-11)
What we need to understand from this is that while it is clearly the apostles who are performing these wonders and signs in Acts 2:43, this ability would also be given to others in the years that followed. At this time, however, God was performing these wonders and signs through the apostles who represented Him in the early church and who had a level of maturity to minister in this way.
There were individuals in the New Testament who, upon seeing these miraculous signs, desired this power for themselves. These individuals, however, did not have the spiritual maturity necessary to handle these gifts. In Acts 8:18-20, we have the example of a former magician by the name of Simon who saw the Holy Spirit given to individuals through the laying on of the apostles’ hands. He offered money to the apostles if they would give him this ability as well.
18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money 19 and said, "Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit." 20 Peter answered: "May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!
Notice the condemnation of Peter here: “May your money perish with you,” he said. Judgement came swiftly to Simon because he depreciated the work of God’s Spirit in this way, thinking he could pay to have the gift.
We have another case in Acts 19:13-16 where seven sons of Sceva tried to drive out demons in the name of the Lord Jesus.
13 Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, "In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out." 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15 [One day] the evil spirit answered them, "Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?" 16 Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.
The result of this attempt was disastrous for these seven men. They were beaten, overpowered and stripped naked by the possessed man. They ran from the house naked to save their lives.
The power at work in the early church was not a power to be played with or manipulated for one’s own glory. This was a power to be feared and respected. In Acts 2, the Lord used the apostles to demonstrate that the Kingdom of God was in their midst. The power of that kingdom was seen not only in the devotion and commitment of the early church but also in wonders and signs that were performed by the hands of the apostles.
Our God is an awesome and all-powerful God. As He draws near, there is evidence of His presence around Him. In the days of Moses, God revealed Himself in thick cloud, lightning and thunder (see Exodus 19:16-22). As God went before His people in the wilderness, waters parted and the earth produced manna for them to eat. As Israel conquered the land of Canaan, the presence of God went before them, causing the nations to fear (see Joshua 2:24). The sun would stand still for a day so that Joshua could have victory over his enemies (Joshua 10:13). As Jesus walked on the earth, dead people were raised to life, the sick were healed and storms were stopped. Listen to the words of Habakkuk as he describes the coming of the Lord’s presence to Israel in Habakkuk 3:3-6:
3 God came from Teman,
the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah
His glory covered the heavens
and his praise filled the earth.
4 His splendor was like the sunrise;
rays flashed from his hand,
where his power was hidden.
5 Plague went before him;
pestilence followed his steps.
6 He stood, and shook the earth;
he looked, and made the nations tremble.
The ancient mountains crumbled
and the age-old hills collapsed.
His ways are eternal. (Habakkuk 3:3-6)
Should we expect anything less in our day? The God of Habakkuk and Moses is still God today. Will not the earth still shake and mountains crumble as He draws near? Will wonders still not be the result of His presence and the strongholds of Satan tremble at His approach? The presence of God in our midst is a wonderful and fearful thing. It will not go unseen or unnoticed.
In those early days of the church, God’s Spirit moved powerfully through the apostles. Through their hands the power and presence of God was being demonstrated in the church and in their community. God was proving to all that His Kingdom was being established on the earth. That kingdom was overcoming the power of Satan, healing and restoring wholeness and the worship of the one true God.
As we look at what was taking place in those days, we need to ask ourselves: Should we expect these wonders and miraculous signs today? Should we long to see this kind of manifestation again? Let me comment briefly on this in conclusion.
What took place in those days was a work of God. It came about as the Lord God drew near. The desire of the apostles, who performed these miracles in Acts 2:43, was not just to have power but to know God and walk with Him. There is a great difference between the lust for power and a longing to know God and His presence. Simon the magician and the Sons of Sceva lusted for power and paid the price for their lust. The apostles longed for God and found that as He drew near they were empowered in a wonderful way. All too many people fall prey to worshipping power and lose sight of the God of all power.
In Luke 10, we read of how the Lord Jesus sent out 72 disciples to preach and share in His name. He empowered them as they went. As they ministered in His name they saw wonderful things happen. They were over-whelmed. Returning home they spoke with Jesus about their experiences:
17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name." 18 He replied, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to over-come all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."
Notice the point that Jesus is making here. He rejoiced with these disciples that they had seen the demonstration of God’s power in their lives but challenged them not to allow this to become so important to them that they forgot their most basic relationship with the Lord. He was telling them something like this: “Don’t get so focused on how demons submit to you that you forget what it means to be a child of God. Don’t make your power so much of a focus that you forget your relationship with the Father.” Jesus speaks to an issue that is a real temptation for us all. More important than all the wonders and miraculous signs, is the fact that the Lord Jesus came down from heaven and reached out to a sinner like me. He touched me and saved my soul. Of all the wonders and signs this simple fact is the most astonishing of all. This ought always to be our greatest delight.
Should we expect God to work in wonders and miraculous signs today? The answer is an obvious “yes.” The Kingdom of God continues to expand. God continues to work in miraculous ways. I am sure that even in your life you have experienced the wonderful and miraculous hand of God. Often we do not even recognize these miraculous events. God does not always make His miracles of protection, healing and guidance known to us but they are real nonetheless.
Should we expect that God would use us as instruments of His wonders and miraculous signs? God has always used His people to be the vehicles of His power in this world. He gives us spiritual gifts and expects us to use those gifts for His glory. Every time a person comes to know the Lord through a word shared by one of His servants we see a miracle. Every time a person is physically healed as a result of the prayers of God’s people we see a miracle. God continues to use His children to expand His kingdom on this earth. He continues to empower each of them in special ways to accomplish that task. We serve not in our own strength but in the power of God’s Spirit who leads, and strengthens.
Should we seek to control and manipulate the miraculous power of God? The answer to this is an obvious “no.” God gives to each of us as He sees fit. Even the Lord Jesus was submissive to the will and purpose of the Father in this regard. Speaking in John 5:19-20 He said:
19 Jesus gave them this answer: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these.
Everything the Lord Jesus did was in submission to the greater purpose of the Father. He did not seek to control or manipulate the will of the Father to suit His own needs or desires. He was merely an instrument of God’s power—He did not seek to control it. In a similar way, we too must be in submission to the will of God in this matter of the use of the power He has invested in us. He will lead us in the use of the gifts and authority He gives. We step out in obedience to Him in this. I believe this was the heart of the apostles. They moved as the Spirit of God moved them. The result was many wonders and miraculous signs in their midst. I expect if our attitude is the same as theirs we too would see a great work of God in our midst.
* What were the many evidences of God’s presence in the early church?
* Is it possible to perform wonders without being in a right relationship with the Lord Jesus (consider Matthew 7:21-23)?
* Is it possible for wonders and miraculous signs to take the place of a good relationship with God? Can they become more important to us than our personal walk with God?
* How can we seek to manipulate or control the power of God?
* What evidence is there in your life and ministry of the power of God? What miraculous things has the Lord been doing in your life?
* How important is submission to God in the use of the gifts and authority God has given to us?
* Thank the Lord that He is a God of the impossible. Thank Him that He has done miraculous things even in your life.
* Ask God to teach you to walk in deeper submission to His will and purpose. Ask Him to use you as an instrument of His power in your society.
* Ask God to always keep your focus on Him and in your relationship with Him. Ask Him to forgive you for times when other things have taken priority over intimacy with Him.
44 All the believers were together and had every-thing in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.
These were very special days in the early church. Many had just recently come to know the salvation of the Lord Jesus. In just one day, the number of believers had increased from about 120 to over 3,000 (see Acts 2:41). What was taking place that day, however, was in the region of Jerusalem. The gospel had not yet spread from there.
This new faith would not have been well received by the Jewish religious leaders. While God was doing a wonderful work, there was also opposition to that work. Jesus had been accused of blasphemy and hung on a cross. In a short while, the Jews would begin a campaign to get rid of these followers of Jesus. Saul, who would later be known as the apostle Paul, would become a key leader in this effort to stamp out Christianity.
The apostles Peter and John would confront the anger of the Jewish leaders in Acts 4 and as a result were thrown in prison for their teaching. They were warned not to speak again in the name of the Lord Jesus and released. When they refused to comply, they were again captured and thrown in prison. This time, however, they were flogged before they were released (see Acts 5:17-42).
In Acts 7, we read the story of the first martyr for the Christian faith. Stephen was stoned to death for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This incident was the beginning of an even greater persecution of the church. In Acts 8:1-3 we read:
1 ... On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.
To this point we have read about the wonderful things that God was doing in the early church. What we need to understand is that these wonderful things were taking place in very difficult times. Believers were not always accepted. They were seen as traitors to the Jewish faith. The apostles were being beaten for preaching the Gospel. Men and women were being thrown into prison for this new faith. They risked their lives to live for the Lord Jesus.
In times like these, it was important that believers joined together in support and encouragement. This is what we see taking place in Acts 2:44-45. In Acts 2:44 we read that all the believers were together. We can understand this in two ways.
First, all the believers were together in the sense that they all lived in the same region. The church had not expanded beyond the region of Jerusalem. The persecution that broke out in Acts 8 would change this. Because of this persecution, Christians would be forced to leave Jerusalem and the surrounding region and find refuge in other places. At this point in time, however, all believers were living in the same region.
Second, believers were together not only geographically but also in spirit and heart. That is to say, there was unity among the believers. They were concerned for each other in these times. They supported and stood with each other in the face of opposition and persecution. Notice how this unity worked itself out practically in the community of believers. We read in Acts 2:45:
45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.
We are not told specifically in this passage why believers sold their possessions and gave them to anyone who had need, but the context of Acts 2-8 gives us a hint. In these chapters, we read about the persecution of Christians. Acts 8 specifically tells us that Saul had been going from house to house and dragging off men and women and throwing them in prison for being Christians. His intent was to destroy the church (Acts 8:3).
What would have been the implication of this persecution in Jerusalem? Imagine the family where the husband was taken from his home and thrown in prison. With the sole provider for the family in prison, this family would now be in need. The children would go hungry. How was the church to respond to this need? They chose to do all they could to minister to each other so that everyone was provided for and no family would suffer needlessly. We are not told how many families were affected in these difficult days.
The practice of believers selling all they had was a voluntary one. We have a clear hint of this in Acts 5. In that chapter, we read the story of Ananias and Sapphira. Together they sold a piece of property and gave a portion of the proceeds to the apostles. In an effort to appear more generous, however, they decided to tell the church that they were donating all the money received from the sale. Ultimately, God would strike them dead for this lie. What is important for us to note, however, is Peter’s response to Ananias when he discovered he had been lying about the amount he received for the sale of his property:
4 Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God." (Acts 5:4)
Peter made it very clear to Ananias that the property belonged to him and he had the right to do as he pleased with the money he received from the sale. Ananias was not being forced to sell his property. Nor was he being forced to give all his money to the church. He was free to sell and give what he wanted. He would die not because he kept a portion for himself but because he had lied to the church about what he had given.
The practice of believers selling everything was also a temporary one. It demonstrated the commitment of the believers to each other but the practice would not be continued. In fact, in the years to come the church at Jerusalem would struggle with poverty and need. Writing to the Corinthians, Paul urged them to take up a collection to help meet the needs of the believers in Jerusalem:
1 Now about the collection for God's people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his in-come, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. 3 Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. (1 Corinthians 16:1-3)
Notice that Paul had also urged the Galatian church to do the same (1 Corinthians 16:1). Writing to the Romans, Paul speaks about a gift he had received from the church in Macedonia and Achaia for the service of the poor saints in Jerusalem:
25 Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the saints there. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. (Romans 15:25-26)
He also mentions this in Acts 24:17 in his personal defense before Felix:
17 "After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings. (Acts 24)
In the years that followed, needs were not always being met. Believers would suffer poverty and need in Jerusalem and around the world. The apostle had to urge believers to take up a special offering to meet those needs.
While the practice of selling everything and giving it to the church did not continue, the principle the early church followed is an important one. These believers demonstrated a deep concern for each other and a willingness to sacrifice all they had so that no one was in need. Jesus taught this principle of generosity in Matthew 5:40-41 when He said:
40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
The apostle James rebukes those who wished their brother or sister well but did nothing to contribute to their physical needs:
14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-17)
Writing to the Philippians, the apostle Paul encouraged them to consider the needs of others as being more important than their own:
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3)
A selfish and self centered Christianity is a dead Christianity. God calls us to use what He has given for the good of others. He gives to us so that we can minister to each other in times of need. The church in Jerusalem, in Acts 2, shows us the extent to which these believers were willing to take their commitment to each other. They were willing to sell all they had to minister to each other. They were willing to sacrifice all for the good of the whole.
The work of God’s Spirit in those days was clearly evident in the sacrificial attitude of the believers for one another. There is certainly a challenge in this for us. Where God’s Spirit is at work, there is a growing concern for fellow believers around us and around the world. The Holy Spirit opens our eyes to needs that touch His heart. He motivates us to give of our time, resources and energy to minister to those needs. He teaches us that our blessings are not just for ourselves but also to minister to the needs of those God places before us. A Spirit-filled church is a church that gives joyously and sacrificially to minister to the needs of brothers and sisters around the world. Its delight is not in big buildings and padded pews but in hungry believers being fed and their needs being met.
* What was taking place in Jerusalem during the time of this great work of God’s Spirit? What was life like for believers in those days?
* How did believers care for each other? What does this tell us about their attitude toward the things of this world?
* Was the practice of selling all they had forced up-on these early believers? What evidence do we have that this was a voluntary practice?
* How important is the principle of generosity? How have you been using what God has given you to minister to others?
* Are there believers in your community who are experiencing persecution or physical needs? What are those needs? What would the Lord have you to do about them?
* Ask the Lord to give you a deeper concern for people around you.
* Ask the Spirit of God to bring needy people you can help into your path.
* Ask God to forgive you for holding on so tightly to your possessions. Take a moment to surrender them to the Lord. Ask Him to use them as He pleases.
46 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, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.
In the last chapter, we saw the devotion of the early church to each other as they voluntarily sold their possessions, and gave the proceeds to the apostles for distribution among the needy. Their devotion to each other is also seen in how they frequently gathered together for fellowship. Acts 2:46 teaches us that the believers met together in three ways.
MEETING IN THE TEMPLE
Notice first that these early believers met in the temple courts. The early Christians did not see themselves as having denied the Jewish faith. Jesus was the Messiah who had been promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He was the one of whom all the Jewish prophets spoke. Jesus had taught in the temple and even cleansed it when it was filled with merchants and money changers (see Matthew 21:12). It was very natural for these early believers to continue meeting in this place.
The word, “continued” brings with it a sense of perseverance and devotion. In other words, it was the commitment of these believers to meet with others for worship, prayer and study. Their faith was not lived out in isolation. They were devoted to gathering together for corporate worship and study. As important as private worship and prayer is, our faith is intended to be lived out in community. The early church was certainly committed to community. God gave them a heart to be with each other, blessing and encouraging each other in their faith.
Remember that the Scriptures were not readily available at this time. Families did not have a personal copy of the Scriptures in their homes. If they were going to hear the Scripture, they needed to go to the temple. It was the commitment of these believers to take time to listen to and reflect on the Scriptures. Here in the temple they would hear the reading of the Word of God, have opportunity to reflect on it and pray. Verse 46 tells us that they did this every day.
BREAKING BREAD IN THEIR HOMES
Believers in Acts 2 did not limit their meetings to the temple. Verse 46 also tells us that they broke bread in their homes. We have already discussed this matter of breaking bread. Often it refers to the practice of the Lord’s Table and remembering Christ and His work. It was accompanied by a common meal. The breaking of bread did not take place in the temple. There may have been a very good reason for this. The practice was “offensive” to the Jews of that day. The Lord’s Table was not part of the Jewish tradition. It remembered Christ, His death on the cross and the hope His followers had in Him. The celebration of One who had been killed for “blasphemy” would have been very objectionable to the Jewish leaders and one that they would certainly not want to see practiced in the temple. While believers were free to pray and study the Scriptures in the temple court, the breaking of bread would take place in the homes of Jesus’ followers. These smaller groups would have been more personal and likely would have given Christians the opportunity to worship and remember Christ in a way they could not in the temple.
Verse 46 tells us that the early church also met for common meals. This would serve two purposes. First, it would provide all who had need with a meal. Second, it would give believers time to get to know each other and to share in a more informal way. How often do we worship with fellow Christians but do not know anything about their lives, their struggles or the opportunities God has given them in ministry? As we get to know each other in these informal ways, relationships are developed and we are more able to minister to needs. While eating a meal together or having a coffee together may not seem terribly spiritual, it is nonetheless a very important part of ministry to each other. In these times, relationships are built and bonds are formed that can last for a lifetime.
Verses 46-47 tell us four things about these times of fellowship.
Notice first that the believers met together with glad hearts. They were happy to be with each other. The fellowship they experienced with each other filled them with joy and delight. Meeting together was not a burden for these Christians. They were excited and thankful to God for the privilege.
Believers also met together with sincere hearts. The word used for sincere here communicates the idea of some-thing that takes place without hindrances or blockages. Imagine a farmer ploughing a field filled with rocks. He pulls the plough for a short distance and then has to stop and dig out a big rock. There are relationships like this. You can only go so far and then you encounter an obstacle. It may be a prejudice or a past hurt. It might be something that was never forgiven or an offense that was never resolved. Until this offense has been dealt with there can be no more progress made in the relationship.
As the early believers met together they did so with hearts that were not hindered by grudges, prejudice, lack of forgiveness or pride. The poor believer was as welcome as the rich. All hindrances were cast aside. All believers were welcome and appreciated.
Next, the church met together, praising God. They had this wonderful thing in common. Their hearts were filled with thanksgiving and love for the God who had saved them. They glorified His name in their relationships. They related to each other in such a way that God received all the glory. God’s love poured through them to each other and when it was expressed to another believer, He received all the glory. Hearts were lifted up to God in praise when a need was met or an encouragement received. God was receiving glory through the relation-ships these believers enjoyed with each other. Who among us has not lifted up a shout of thanksgiving to the Lord for a need He provided through another believer? Who among us has not praised the Lord for a word of encouragement the Lord sent through a brother or sister? God was receiving great praise through the relationships believers enjoyed in those days.
Finally, the church enjoyed the favour of all the people. We need to see this in the context of the difficult times in which these believers lived. There was persecution in those days. Men like Saul would go from home to home dragging believers out and throwing them in prison. What this passage tells us, however, is that those who watched these believers saw something very different in their lives. They could not help but admire the dedication of the early church to each other. They saw their compassion and voluntary sacrifice. They saw their devotion to meeting together and sharing their meals. Even the unbeliever had to admire what was happening in the church in those days. They saw how they loved each other. They saw their devotion. In this, somehow, they also saw the love of God being demonstrated.
Beyond this, the unbelieving world saw the commitment of these early believers to truth, honesty and godliness. These believers were people who could be trusted. The word of a believer could be relied on. There was sincerity in these early believers that no one could question.
The believers of Acts 2 were devoted to each other. They cared for each other in times of need. They strengthened each other in times of weakness. They met regularly together for worship and prayer. They met with glad and sincere hearts. Their relationship not only brought glory to God but gained the respect and admiration of the outsider.
Is this the kind of relationship that exists in your church fellowship? The enemy knows the power of Christian unity and fellowship and will do all he can to destroy it. Maintaining this kind of fellowship will not be easy but it will certainly be a rich blessing and a powerful tool in reaching the world for the cause of Christ.
* How important was it for the early church to spend time together studying the Scriptures and in worship? Do you have this time in your daily routine?
* What benefit did the believers receive from informal times together over a meal?
* What was the attitude in the church of that day as they met together? Do you experience the same delight in fellowship in your church today?
* How did the relationship between believers bring praise and glory to the Lord God? Do the relation-ships in your church bring God praise and glory?
* How did the relationship between believers in the early church serve as an evangelistic tool to reach the unbeliever?
* Ask the Lord to give you good times in His word and in prayer. Ask Him to teach and bless you in those times.
* Ask God to bless those who are leading worship and teaching the word at your church. Ask Him to use these leaders to strengthen and encourage the church.
* Ask God to deal with any hindrances in the fellowship of believers in your church.
* Take a moment to pray that the relationships in your church would bring great glory to God and serve to draw many into the body of Christ.
And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:47)
Wonderful things had been happening in the early church. The Spirit of God was moving in a powerful way among the believers. This was noticed by the community and while there were those who rejected Christianity and sought to persecute the believer, others saw the hand of God in what was taking place. The result was that people were becoming Christians every day.
What was the secret behind these daily conversions to Christ and the phenomenal growth of the church of that day? There is no question that what was taking place here was the work of God. Notice that verse 47 tells us that “the Lord added to their number daily.” This was God’s work. It was not something the apostles and the early church could ever have done on their own. No plan or program could have produced such results.
While the work that was taking place in those days was the work of the Holy Spirit from beginning to end, we also need to see that God required that His people walk in obedience and submission to Him. It is quite possible for us to hinder the work of God by our sin and stubbornness. Consider the story of Achan in Joshua 7. Achan was the man who took forbidden treasures from the city of Jericho and hid them under the floor of his tent. God specifically told Joshua and His people that they were not to take anything from this city but to completely destroy it. Achan disobeyed this clear order of God.
The result of Achan’s disobedience was seen when Joshua and his army attacked the small city of Ai and were defeated. Thirty-six Israelites were killed in that battle (Joshua 7:4-5). God made it clear to Joshua that the reason they were defeated was because Achan had been disobedient. Only when Achan and his family were killed could the blessing of God be restored.
What is important to see here is that sin and rebellion hindered the blessing of God. God wanted to bring victory to Joshua but because of sin in the camp, He held that blessing back. God will withhold His blessings when His people turn from Him. In 2 Chronicles 7, God speaks to Solomon about this very matter:
13 "When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, 14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble them-selves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
Notice here in 2 Chronicles 7:13-14 that the Lord shut up the heavens so that there was no rain. He sent locusts to devour the land and plagues among His people. Verse 14 tells us that the only way for this blessing to be restored was for God’s people to humble themselves, pray, seek God’s face and turn from their wicked ways. Clearly the sins of God’s people had stripped them of all their blessings.
Speaking to His people through the prophet Hosea the Lord says:
1 Hear the word of the LORD, you
because the LORD has a charge to bring
against you who live in the land:
"There is no faithfulness, no love,
no acknowledgment of God in the land.
2 There is only cursing, lying and murder,
stealing and adultery;
they break all bounds,
and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
3 Because of this the land mourns,
and all who live in it waste away;
the beasts of the field and the birds of the air
and the fish of the sea are dying. (Hosea 4:1-3)
Notice the connection between the disobedience of God’s people and what was happening in their land. The land mourned because God’s people did not demonstrate love and faithfulness. The people of the land wasted away because they did not acknowledge God. The beasts of the field, the birds of the air and the fish of the sea were dying because God’s people were stealing, committing adultery and murder.
What we need to understand from these passages is that the Lord God wants to bless His people. He was doing this in Acts 2. As He moved among His people, they surrendered to His work. They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles, to unhindered fellowship, to remembering Christ in the breaking of bread and to prayer. Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead for daring to lie to the church and to God. This submission and obedience to God kept the channel of God’s blessing open.
How often do we want God’s blessing in our lives and our sin as well. Jesus made it very clear that we must make a decision when He said in Matthew 6:
24 "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be de-voted to the one and despise the other. You can-not serve both God and Money. (Matthew 6:24)
God will not share us with anyone else. He demands total obedience and consecration to Himself. We cannot expect to know the fullness of God’s blessings if we are not serious about our sin.
As God’s people surrendered to His work in their midst and walked in obedience to His command, God was pleased to reveal His presence in even deeper ways. He gives to those who will receive what He gives and use it for His glory. He gives to those who will walk in purity and obedience.
In Acts 2, we have a wonderful picture of the work God was doing in the lives of those who openly and willingly surrendered to Him. The presence of God was so powerful that people around took notice and opened their heart to the Lord Jesus. One of the most powerful tools in evangelism today is a surrendered and obedient Christian. All too often the world looks at the church today and wants nothing to do with it. This is because they do not see the power of God at work in the lives of believers. They see nothing more than tradition and doctrine. They see believers who are not living lives of surrender and obedience to their Lord. They see all the sins of the world in the church as well. They see church meetings that end up in arguments. They see division among believers. There is little evidence of changed lives and the power of God.
I was speaking with a believer who worked in prisons in my country. He told me that one of the greatest frustrations for him in this ministry was that when a prisoner came to know the Lord Jesus, his enthusiasm for Christ was too great for the average church to bear. He told me that many of them had to “backslide” in order to fit into the local church. What a sad picture this is of the church. We have settled for something less than complete surrender. We have lowered our standards when it comes to sin. We are not willing to make the sacrifices necessary to walk in complete obedience. We bury sins and choose not to deal with them. We dare not expect God’s blessing if this is the case.
The blessing of God was evident in the life of the early church. God moved among His people in a special way in those days. He stirred up within them a desire for His Word and for fellowship. God’s people surrendered to that and willingly gave their all. His presence was so evident in their devotion to Christ and to each other that the world took notice. There was something very real taking place in the church of Acts 2. The reality of Christ in their midst drew people to the church. That presence and the beauty of that presence was so strong that people willingly risked their lives to have what these Christians had. They would be despised by the Jewish community. They would risk their reputations, their jobs and their lives, however, because the beauty of Christ, as seen in His people, was too wonderful to resist. Every day men and women were surrendering their lives to the Lord Jesus Christ and joining believers in the worship of His name.
Do you want to have an influence on your community? Do you want the power of Christ to be evident in your life and in your church? Do you want to see the blessing of God poured out? This is the desire of the Lord for you today. The secret to knowing this blessing is to learn to walk in obedience and surrender. The church of Acts 2 was devoted to four key principles.
First, they gave themselves to the study and application of the Word of God. Every day they spent time in the temple listening to the Scriptures and studying them. They wanted their lives to be in accord with the purpose of God as recorded in His Word.
Second, they committed themselves to unhindered fellowship with other believers. They knew that if they were not right with their brothers and sisters, this would affect their relationship with God as well. They wanted to be sure that there was no hindrance to God‘s work as a result of ungodly attitudes or broken relationships with a brother or sister in Christ.
Third, the believers of Acts 2 kept the work of Christ central in their thoughts and hearts. They regularly reminded themselves of what He had done for them on the cross as they celebrated the breaking of bread. In doing this, they reminded themselves of the cost He had to pay for them. They also, by celebrating the breaking of bread, committed themselves afresh to surrender and obedience even as He had done for them.
Finally, the church of Acts two gave themselves to prayer. They committed all they did to God, seeking His will and blessing. They did not take matters on them-selves to accomplish in their own strength and wisdom. Instead they sought God in all their ways. His will would be done. They did not trust themselves but surrendered to God’s leading. This wonderful atmosphere of surrender and obedience to Christ provided the atmosphere where God’s Spirit could work in even greater ways, strengthening believers and drawing unbelievers to Himself.
The growth of the church in Acts 2 began with the work He was doing in the lives of His people. They were transformed by the power of God and as they surrendered to Him, their lives shone with the light of Christ. The sweet-smelling fragrance of Christ was on them wherever they went. This attracted the unbeliever. They saw Christ in His people and wanted what they had. Can this be said of your life personally? Can this be said about your church? How we need a fresh surrender of God’s people to the work of God in their midst. Such a move of God will not be easy. It will require sacrifice, the swallowing of pride and the confession of sin. Some men and women are not ready to surrender in this way. Others, however, will, and their lives will be forever changed. They will reflect the beauty of Christ in their community and know His presence in a wonderful way. May God give us grace to surrender to Him so that, through us, many see the beauty of Christ and come to Him.
* What was the “secret” behind the growth of the early church? What was God’s role? What was the role of the believer?
* How does sin hinder blessing? What is the connection between blessing and obedience?
* How would you describe the state of the church today? What do you think God would do if His people were willing to deal with their sins and surrender more fully to Him?
* Is the unbeliever attracted to what he or she sees in your life or in the life of your church fellowship? What particularly do they see that would make them willing to consider Christ?
* Ask the Lord to show you any hindrance to His greater work in your life.
* Thank the Lord that He wants to bless and make His presence more real in you and in the life of your church. Ask Him to forgive you for the hindrances in your life to that blessing.
* Ask God to give you grace to surrender to Him and His purposes. Pray that He would become more real to you and that this would be evident to people around you.
Light To My Path (LTMP) is a book writing and distribution ministry reaching out to needy Christian workers in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Many Christian workers in developing countries do not have the resources necessary to obtain Bible training or purchase Bible study materials for their ministries and personal encouragement. F. Wayne Mac Leod is a member of Action International Ministries and has been writing these books with a goal to distribute them to needy pastors and Christian workers around the world.
To date thousands of books are being used in preaching, teaching, evangelism and encouragement of local believers in over sixty countries. Books have now been translated into a number of languages. The goal is to make them available to as many believers as possible.
The ministry of LTMP is a faith based ministry and we trust the Lord for the resources necessary to distribute the books for the encouragement and strengthening of believers around the world. Would you pray that the Lord would open doors for the translation and further distribution of these books?