ACTS2v42to47: THE FELLOWSHIP OF BELIEVERS
(A) Introduction (Read the passage.)
The outline for this exposition owes a lot to the comments made by John R.W. Stott on this passage in, 'The Message of Acts.' It is certainly interesting and, I hope, instructive to look at the characteristics of the church in its infancy. It is important to realise some of the features of a church in its infancy are not necessarily appropriate for a church in its maturity.
The early church had four outstanding characteristics:
(B) It was a learning church. v42: They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching...
There are three points to note:
I love to hear; Things I would ask him to tell me
If He were here:
Scenes by the wayside,
Tales by the sea,
Stories of Jesus,
Tell them to me.
(b) The new converts to Christianity had some wonderful teachers. They listened to men who had spent 3 years with Jesus. What stories they had to tell! The ministry of the apostles was authenticated by many wonders and miraculous signs. v43. Yet most of us have many more advantages than these early believers.
We have the whole of the New Testament at our disposal - a body of sacred writing that interprets and applies the life and teaching, the holy example, the death, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus - a canon of holy books that have stood the test of time. We also have the benefit of 2000 years of comment upon these books. We can read what the great students of Scripture have written on both the New and Old Testament.
The followers of Jesus who met every day to listen to the apostles had only a short time to assimilate the teaching they were given. The first believers certainly needed an intensive course because soon they would be dispersed throughout Southern Europe where they would have to witness without the support of the apostles. It would not be easy for us to keep the faith alive if we were exiled, without a New Testament, hymnbook or devotional literature of any kind, to a town with no Christian witness.
One of the reasons the Indians grow their rice seedlings in fertile nursery plots before transplanting them into padi fields is to give the rice a good start. God ensured the early Christians got a good start before persecution dispersed them throughout the Roman Empire.
(c) The first converts to Christ were enthusiastic to learn more about him. They would have sung the hymn, 'More about Jesus would I know,' from their hearts:
If our desire to know Jesus better diminishes we are in spiritual decline. Pundits often explain the deteriorating performance of a sports star by saying, "She has lost her hunger." Many Christians lose their hunger for the bread of heaven and their thirst for the living water. It is very sad - it means the church of Christ is under performing. An athlete needs to be in training to get the best from his muscles - as do the participants in the race set before them.
(C) It was a loving church. v44: All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.
Jesus gave up work as a carpenter to commence his teaching ministry and the disciples left their boats to follow him. For three years they were dependent upon well-to-do women for financial support. Students still rely upon financial support to complete their studies. Eventually, though, we have to earn our living. Not many can find a rich woman to keep them!
The period immediately following Pentecost was unusual and special. The whole church was together in Jerusalem. Many of its members were Jews who had travelled up to the Holy City for the Passover and Feast of Pentecost. They were due to return home when they were converted. It was vital they remained in Jerusalem and learned from the apostles. However, their money was running out and they needed hospitality. It may have been this that prompted, and made necessary, the policy of possessing everything in common.
This practice is obviously unsustainable. Eventually there is nothing to sell if no one is working. It is not good for men and women to be idle for long. Paul makes quite clear what the norm should be when writing to the Thessalonians. See 2Thes3v6to13.
(b) It remains true that genuine Christians will make sacrifices for one another. They will go without, or do without, for the sake of the brethren. After my father died I re-entered the teaching profession at a very demanding time. The National Curriculum was introduced, inspections became more rigorous, the GCSE syllabus was modified and league tables of results published. For ten years I worked without ceasing! I was so busy that I hardly had a holiday away from home. But I never gave up my church work. It would have been so easy to make the demands of my secular job a reason for relinquishing church responsibilities. Many do!
(c) The most important thing in the lives of those early Christians was the fellowship of believers. It was a higher priority than possessions and goods! Do you enjoy being with other Christians? I always liked being part of a school community. It was fun sitting on a bench in the sunshine watching the children play during their lunch hour and chatting with groups of pupils passing by. I found the buzz of parent's evenings exciting if exhausting. I have had a lot of happiness playing cricket for Brockley for over 40 years. It is remarkably pleasant sitting in an old English pub after a good match sharing a drink with friends and revelling in a close victory. However, the fellowship I cherish the most is that of the little church to which I belong. I have been an almost fanatical cricketer but I would not miss a prayer meeting to play cricket. I was more deeply upset when people left our church than when my parents died.
Before our Father's throne
Before our Father's throne
The early church continued to meet formally in the Temple because it was the place of public prayer. Prayers were held at 6am, noon and 6pm. It remains crucial for Christians to meet regularly for prayer. I wonder why it is that this meeting is so unpopular in many churches? It is the one meeting that nominal Christians rarely attend.
During my time as a sports organiser at the Christian camp for young people I attended each summer all the workers got up at 6am for an early morning prayer meeting. Every worker was there. Some were bleary eyed, a few unwashed and one or two harbouring uncharitable thoughts - but all were there. We sat in a circle and prayed in the round. The prayers were brief and to the point. We asked for God's protection, God's strength and above all God's blessing. We asked God, through his Spirit to save the young people at camp. God heard and answered our prayers. We thanked God for his goodness. Those were times of sweet fellowship.
The first Christians could not spend long enough together such was the tie that bound their hearts in sacred love. They met for meals in each other's homes. The meals would end by taking bread and wine and remembering the Lord's death with glad and sincere hearts.
Some of the happiest times of fellowship that I have experienced have been in people's homes. Until recently one of my Christmas chores was to go carol singing around the village of Brockley. I expect readers who have never spent three hours singing in the cold will wonder that I describe this jolly, festive, activity as a chore. It is not fun singing in a biting wind with your nose dripping onto your carol sheet - stumbling from one puddle to the next. However, while Mr and Mrs Albert White were alive the evening ended on a high note. We divested ourselves of Wellington boots and anoraks and poured into their warm, well lit, gaily decorated, lounge for supper. What a wonderfully cheerful, glad, time we had with that hospitable Christian couple. We enjoyed for an hour or so the spirit of the early church.
It is a pity when awe and gladness are no longer exhibited in our worship. There are early mornings and evenings when the birds sing for gladness. I love to stand in my little garden on a fine summer's evening watching the swifts chase each other across the darkening sky and listening to the blackbirds sing. They repeat their glad and glorious song over and over again. One year at Pioneer camp a boy with a lovely treble voice was converted. I used to hear him sing, like the blackbird, over and over again:
(E) It was a growing church. v47: And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
The early church was a tremendous witness. Something like 3000 turned up to the Temple each day for prayer. All through the week you could find a jolly party to attend somewhere. These first Christian were very popular. People found them likeable and excellent company. They were enthusiastic, cheerful, joyful, hospitable and caring. But for all that it was the Lord who added to the church. There would have been no genuine growth without him.
I read an account of Max Faulkner saving a drowning boy. The first words the boy said to Max were, "Thank you sir, you saved my life." Nobody says that to the preacher the Holy Spirit uses to save a soul from destruction. When a person is saved they thank Jesus. One Sunday morning two women listened to me preach and believed in Jesus for eternal life. They never showed any allegiance to me - but only to the one who saved them. Only Jesus saves.
The Lord added to their number those who were being saved. In other words there were few nominal believers in the early church and all those who were saved were added to the church. No one attended the meetings as a non-member! The congregation of my own church is very different. Half never take communion because they are not baptised and several more, although baptised, are not members. This is a sad state of affairs and must grieve the Holy Spirit.
The Lord added daily to the church in Jerusalem. It makes me sad to read this because it is such a long time since anyone joined our church. It wasn't long before the Jerusalem fellowship had grown from 3000 to 5000.
It is easy to forget that the entire church of Christ consisted of those meeting together in Jerusalem. The Lord is still adding daily to his church! Today there are approximately 2 billion who profess to be Christians. Even a small and stagnant church like my own can rejoice in what God is doing all over the world; we can pray for, and support financially, missionary work in areas where the response to the gospel is positive.
We should not begrudge the Christians in Jerusalem those first, few, heady, days of success and glorious fellowship because a great change was coming.