Acts (Week 2)
The Fellowship of Believers (Acts 2:42-47)
I never want to be that guy who complains about kids these days and talks about how good life was back in the day. But if there’s one area that I think that’s true, it’s in the area of movies. Specifically epilogues. Movies these days generally tend to just end. But back in the 80s and 90s, it seemed like every movie had an epilogue. At the end of Sandlot you find out Benny eventually becomes a baseball player and Smalls becomes a sportscast. In Stand By Me, you find out that Vern got married and settled down while Chris became a lawyer. Animal House ends with us learning that John Belushi’s character becomes a successful senator. I like epilogues because they give us a little something more than simply “And they all lived happily ever after…”
We’re continuing on in our series through the book of Acts, or as we’re calling it The Acts of Jesus Christ through Holy Spirit-filled Apostles. This morning we’re looking at what could effectively be considered an epilogue to the first section of this book. It’s one of Luke’s many summary statements where he’s not talking about a specific event as much as he’s giving us a general sense of where the church is at this point.
Before this summary statement, in chapter 1 we have Jesus final words to the apostles and his ascension. The apostles then choose a new apostle to replace Judas. In chapter 2 we see the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. At which point Peter stands up and addresses the crowd around him, many of whom put their faith in Jesus and get baptized. Then chapter 2 gives us an epilogue in verse 42 through 47. If you have a Bible or a Bible app with you, you can turn there with me now. Otherwise, all the text will be up on the screen behind me.
Acts 2:42-47 says this, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
This passage gives us a summary of what the church looked like right at the beginning. Peter stood up and gave a speech empowered by the Holy Spirit, 3000 people responded and now this is the church in its earliest form. This is what it looked like before they started to develop some kind of organizational structure around it.
And verse 42 gives the most succinct summary. The rest of these verses expound on it more, but in verse 42 we’re told, “They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and to fellowship, to breaking of bread and to prayer.”
Last week we talked about how the church is called first and foremost to bear witness to the resurrection. That’s the mission of the church. But here we see what you could essentially call the first values of the church. The first followers of Jesus are bearing witness to the resurrection, and as they do that, they’re maintaining these four values of the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer.
N.T. Wright says this about these four values, “Acts 2:42 is often regarded as laying down ‘the four marks of the church’. The apostles’ teaching; the common life of those who believed; the breaking of bread; and the prayer. These four go together. You can’t separate them, or leave one out, without damage to the whole thing.”
So while bearing witness to the resurrection is what the church is all about, this is what the church needs to look like while it carries out that mission.
Let’s go through each of these four marks one by one. We start with the first value. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. In verse 43 we’re also told, “Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.” This is written regarding a church that is days or weeks old. Which means the New Testament has not been written yet. However, what this early church does have is a group of apostles who have been with Jesus.
What this is essentially saying is that the early church was committed to learning as much as they could about the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus as they could. And the apostles were able to demonstrate their authority to teach about Jesus through wonders and signs. In the next chapter, chapter 3, we see Peter and John, two of the Apostles heal a beggar at the temple. The early church was hungry to follow Jesus and in order to do that, they wanted to know as much as they could about him. So they committed themselves to the apostles’ teaching.
The parallel for us today is pretty obvious. There is no one alive who was with Jesus’ in the first century, but we have the recorded writings of the New Testament. The New Testament is all written by people who either had the first-hand experience with Jesus, like in the gospel of Matthew, gospel of John or the epistles of Peter. Or people who could talk to those with first-hand experience, like the Gospel of Luke and Acts. Luke didn’t know Jesus personally, but he was able to talk with those who did and record firsthand testimonies from the people who knew Jesus the best. Just like the early church could commit themselves to the apostles’ teaching, we can as well when we study Scripture. We should dedicate ourselves to learning more about Jesus and what it means to follow him in the world today.
The early church also dedicated themselves to fellowship. Typically, when we think fellowship we might think of the “fellowship hall” or people getting together to talk and maybe pray together. However, what Acts is saying is much more powerful. This isn’t simply describing people getting together to talk over coffee and saying they’ll pray about that job interview. Luke describes what he means by fellowship in more detail in verses 44 and 45, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.”
All the believers had everything in common. Luke isn’t describing a form of communism where no one actually owns anything and the organization owns everything. But rather as needs arose, anyone and everyone with extra was willing to give whatever they had to help others. What this passage is describing is a group that essentially regarded everyone as family. Every Christian saw themselves as one great big family. And in a family, you don’t think about who owes what, or who brought what into the relationship. Everything ultimately belongs to everyone.
Next, these early Christians devoted themselves to the breaking of bread. When we hear that phrase, we can easily assume this meant that they participated in the Lord’s Supper together. However, we have to remember that this early church hadn’t yet developed a lot of the rhythms and rituals or the liturgies that would eventually be part of the church. That means that this breaking of bread wasn't the formalized version of the Lord’s Supper that we practice regularly.
There was certainly an understanding that as they ate meals together, that Jesus was in some way present. But as the second half of verse 46 and into verse 47 describes, “They broke bread together in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people.” When Luke says they devoted themselves to the breaking of bread, he’s saying that they devoted themselves to eating with each other.
We’ve talked about this before, but in the first-century table fellowship, who you decide to eat with was a big deal. Who you ate with was essentially a statement about who you approved of; who you accepted as an equal. This is why the Pharisees and religious leaders had an issue with Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors. Jesus was making a statement that these sinners and tax collectors also had worth and value. And here in Acts 2, Luke tells us that all the believers ate together. They shared meals that included but were not limited to the Lord’s Supper. These meals took on dual meaning. First, they reminded all who were present of the death and resurrection of Jesus. And they also were an opportunity to reaffirm the inherent value of everyone who sat around the table.
Finally, Luke tells us that these first followers of Jesus committed themselves to prayer. In verse 46 he also says that “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.” For these first followers of Jesus, they didn’t view themselves as a new religion separate from Judaism. They saw Jesus as the fulfilment of Judaism. And so they continued to meet in the temple. They continued to pray at the prescribed times during the day. They continued to think and to act in authentically Jewish ways. And that meant devoting themselves to prayer. There was a recognition that they were ultimately sustained by God. For these first followed of Jesus, prayer wasn’t simply an attempt to get God to do things for them or a list of requests, it was an opportunity to reorient their lives toward God.
In the same way, if we are not people of prayer, it’s so easy for everything else we do as a church to fall apart. We don’t just pray as a way of getting God to bless what we already want to do. Prayer is about seeking God, hearing from God, casting all of our cares on God (as the Psalmist says), being changed by God and then going out and doing the work of God. And just like in the early church, this can of prayer can and should happen in groups. They collectively devoted themselves to prayer. They prayed together daily at the temple and in homes.
We see these four values that the church manifests, the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer. As they bore witness to the resurrection, they lived these out. And what might be easy to miss is that all of these had to happen in community. None of these could happen by yourself. Even when it comes to prayer, Luke tells us they met together in the temple courts to pray. They prayed together. They ate meals together. They fellowshipped together, selling possessions and giving to whoever had need. They learned from the apostles’ together.
What this text shows us is that from the very beginning, in the most idealized version of the church, there is community. There is no such thing as a lone ranger Christian. We need each other in order to have a vibrant, Jesus-centred faith.
On Friday and yesterday, I ran a race called the Tartan Twosome. It takes place in Eastern Passage and it was a 5k run on Friday evening and then a 10k run on Saturday morning. Back in May, I decided to sign up for the race because I’m the kind of person who needs motivation in order to work out. I want to be a healthy person, but it’s so much easier to just sit on the couch.
I signed up for the race as motivation to actually get out a go for some runs. And it kind of worked for a little while. But then Karly and I moved into our new house and the terrain isn’t as good for running because there are more hills and I got kind of busy and my training for this race really dropped off. And even when I would go for runs, I found that I would cut them short or I’d take more walk breaks than I really needed. My training went okay, but not great. And as a result, I completed the race, but I didn't do great.
However, what I’ve found in the past is that when I run with a partner even without them saying anything, I run further and I run for longer. There’s something psychological about running with someone else that actually helps me be a better runner. And when I have plans to go running with something, it compels me to get up off the couch and actually go running.
Our relationship with Jesus works the same way. We need spiritual running partners that will help us follow Jesus well. We need people we can call when we’re struggling with temptation. We need people who will pray with us, carry our burdens and walk with us during difficult times.
But here’s the catch, we need to develop those relationships long before those difficult times come. We need to put the long, hard work in of developing relationships where we can be open and honest and transparent with people who we know will love and accept us. Because when those difficult times come, and they will come, that’s not the time to start looking around and wondering where we can find some Christian community. None of us can successfully follow Jesus on our own. We need others to help us follow Jesus well.
One of the ways we do that here at Faith Community Church is through fellowship groups. Andy is leading our fellowship groups this year. We have a couple groups that people can join. Andy already has a signup sheet out near the kitchen. And the whole point of fellowship groups is to live out these values described in Acts 2:42. Fellowship groups are a perfect way to learning more about what it means to follow Jesus. It’s the perfect way to devote ourselves to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Fellowship groups will start up at the beginning of October and meet roughly every two weeks, although the meeting schedule itself is up to each individual group. One group is going through the book “This Book Understands You” by Kevin Adams. The other group, we’re still putting the details together as far as topic, location and meeting time. I’m hoping to get a survey out to everyone this week, either through Facebook or by email to find out what time and topic would interest people the most.
None of us can be lone ranger Christians. We all need spiritual running partners that will help us be better, healthier followers of Jesus. So let’s devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, the breaking of bread and to prayer.