We have fewer verses to cover today but I’m sure that there’ll be plenty of discussion coming from them in your groups. What are we to take from this section as a description of what happened and which parts are we to adopt as a prescription for us?
Jesus was exalted to the right side of God and sent the Holy Spirit to be poured out on all who believed (2:33). Peter convinced about 3000 people to repent and turn to Christ to be saved. They were all baptized into the name of Jesus and so the age of Christianity began. Jesus had chosen 12 men (including Matthias) to be apostles – his witnesses to take the good news into all the world.
The whole section (42-47 and even including verse 41!) seems to give a snapshot of the church following the sermon by Peter. It reads like a Segway to the next scene in the book of Acts or of the Luke-Acts narrative. In particular, the phrase: ‘the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.’ There are no speeches in this section or details of events but a broad brush stroke of what was happening at this stage of the account – a little like a montage in a movie. There are several ‘transition’ texts like this in the book of Acts: 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20; 28:30-31. Not only do they provide a Segway but also move the story further along the Acts 1:8 progression.
Verse 42 – the heading for this montage!
‘They devoted themselves…’ This devotion captures the idea that the hearers of Peter’s message, the ones who were then baptized into the name of Jesus, they were not just idle Christians now. They threw themselves into this new teaching. They were ‘devoted to’/’persisted obstinately in’ four things: 1) the apostle’s teaching, 2) the fellowship of believers, 3) the breaking of bread and 4) to prayer.
1) Apostles’ teaching: it was Jesus himself who appointed the apostles. Matthias was appointed through godly discussion and prayer with God having the final say on who will be part of the 12. The apostles main project was to bear witness to the risen Jesus (1:8) but this was done through the teaching of scripture as we’ve seen Peter do. Jesus himself had time to take the apostles through the scriptures to show how they speak about him (Luke 24:27; 44-45).
Notice that the new believers were listening to all of the apostles’ teaching and not just to Peter. We too, today, are to devote ourselves to the apostles teaching. This is what we do when we open our bibles to read from both the old and new testaments. We read the New Testament to listen to the apostles teaching directly (perhaps not their own hands but their very teaching). And we open our Old Testaments with the lens of the New teaching us.
Verse 44 describes how God continued to accredit the apostles as working in his power. Just as Jesus had been approved by God through signs and wonders (2:22) the apostles were being given a similar support from on high. These powers and wonders were strong with the apostles and there is no encouragement in the later New Testament pages that Christians are to look for these powers past on to future leaders of the church.
2) The fellowship: this reflects the common unity the believers had. They were not in conflict with one another – something that Paul would need to remind the church to embrace and work hard at doing later on.
Notice that they embraced the idea of being together. They were devoted to it. And Hebrews 10:24-25 gives us the charge to not stop doing this.
Verses 44-45 describes the type of fellowship enjoyed: They were together and shared everything in common. The ‘fellowship’ was so strong – the community was so real – that possessions and material things were placed secondary. Is this prescriptive or descriptive? Should we take this as a lesson for how we enjoy fellowship together? Mi casa es su casa? Well, wouldn’t it be great! I think the answer is yes and no – the reality is that it’s too complicated. But what a beautiful picture of true fellowship! Stuff does not matter! What matters is being together in the name of Jesus! Sounds like heaven.
It seems that they didn’t really just throw everything into one corporate pool and live collectively but that they had the heart to look out for one another. Those in need were helped. It’s still amazing to read how things were sold in order to give to those in need. Note that the ‘anyone who had need’ were those enjoying this fellowship and who were in need – not just a broad giving to the needy. We may touch on this more in chapter 3.
Verse 46 tells us that they met daily in the Temple courts. This tells me a couple of things. Firstly, that they didn’t just meet in private but openly. They wanted their fellowship to be known and ideally, to grow as it describes in verse 47. Secondly, they met in the Jewish Temple courts. They were not seeing themselves as a religion. They aligned their worship with the Jewish teaching. Thirdly, the Temple was still standing at this time and while it was there, the apostles saw no reason to remove themselves from it – once the Temple was destroyed at 70AD, the Christians had no trouble continuing to spread the word since the presence of God was now with them and not in the Temple.
3) The breaking of bread: our minds might go straight to the Lord’s Supper (Communion) at this point but the passage has in mind the simple idea that they ate together! See Acts 2:46! Putting food on the table is always an ingredient for fellowship. Some growth groups enjoy this every week as part of their routine – not just a supper but a meal! It’s not the same thing as sharing communion together.
Verse 46 describes the breaking of bread as a cheerful and enjoyable time of fellowship. Homes were opened to meet together and eat and praise God. I worry about the place that communion can be elevated to and structured which misses the real joy of meeting together in the name of Christ. One application to correct this is for us all to devote ourselves to inviting people to our places for lunch on Sundays! And when we meet, how good would it be that we praise God for our fellowship and common faith in the risen Lord.
4) Devoting themselves to prayer: Verse 47 says that they praised God in their prayers. It is a great habit to thank God in our prayers but it is also excellent to simply praise him! The difference between thanking him and praising him lies with one being for specific things that God has done and the other being who he is! It’s a good practice to lead into our prayers, especially in Growth Groups, with praises to God for who he is before we throw our anxieties at him.
The other aspect to prayer in the bible is that we shape our prayers around the promises of God. Of course, we can ask God for whatever we dream of, but do we call on God to fulfill the things that he has already promised. Things like returning soon! Like working in us to create new hearts and minds that love like God loves (Eph 2:8-10). Like praying for God’s kingdom to come and for our daily bread.
Prayer has come up quite a few times already in the book of Acts (1:14; 1:24 and presumably in 2:1). Prayer demonstrates a dependence on God where only God can help. To put off prayer is to be devoted to our own courage, strength and power and to deny the need for God to be with us and to be our God.
Verse 47 – the church grew
With all the positive activity of the early believers – apostle’s teaching, fellowship, breaking bread and prayer – it is the Lord who added to their number. It’s not the actions of the church that drives it but the Lord who adds to the number.
‘The Lord’ is the one who has been exalted to the right hand of God! His name is Jesus! The Lord Jesus Christ is actively growing his church.
‘those who were being saved’ – there is a sense of progression here. Not so much that salvation is a progression (although this could be playing into the idea of perseverance and purification that Hebrews and other books address) but that the number of people saved kept growing. They were not saved until they were confronted with the apostle’s teaching and called on the name of the Lord.
The gospel exploded into the first church – people with one mind, one heart and one Lord. The message of the gospel was expanding through both the teaching of the disciples and the actions or response to the gospel of the first believers.
The Christian church has begun.
- The early church were fanatics. This is not a negative term or an insult! They responded to the message of salvation through Jesus Christ like it was their lifeboat – no other thing would do. How deep do people need to go before they recognise your devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ and his teaching?
- The pouring out of the Holy Spirit did not create a church filled with ‘spiritual gifts’ as some might know them, but a church growing through the apostle’s teaching – affirmed by the power of God among them. It’s the apostle’s teaching that people were devoted to, not their powers and wonder.
- Nothing seemed to matter any more to the believers except to understand God’s word and meet together in cheerfulness and sincerity. This is what a revival looks like. If you want to be part of a revival, then devote yourself to what the early church devoted themselves to. And don’t let material things get in the way.
- Hospitality. What would it look like to be meeting together in homes and enjoying food and good Christian company? What should it look like at church to be cultivating this further. It’s not more rosters and scheduled programs that we need but a heart to share time and conversation together.
- The early church prayed. How can you cultivate the prayer time in your group better? Ask your group directly how you can improve in this area. Here’s a few ideas to help:
- get everyone to write down a prayer that they would like prayed and then hand the paper to someone else in the group (to their left?) and then everyone pray the prayers on their paper;
- break into pairs and pray;
- as leader, write out a prayer or print out the prayer of the week below and get everyone in the group to pray that together;
- ask someone in your group to take ‘ownership’ of the prayer time and see what they do with it!
- explain to your group that you are going to pray through a set format like the A.C.T.S. prayer and then during prayer time, direct the group through that format – ie, everyone pray only for ADORATION – praising God for who he is; then CONFESSION where we admit that we are not living like today’s passage suggests; then THANKSGIVING where we thank God for things we can name and finally SUPPLICATION when we ask God for help with various things.
Prayer of the week
Our Lord and our God, we praise you for growing your church through calling people to be saved. You have shown us what a great heart you have for the lost and we confess that we often think more about our own survival and lifestyle than we do for your glory. Thank you for the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. We ask that you would help us to practice the closeness of the gospel that your early church experienced. Amen.