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Monday, 17 August 2015

Acts part 6: Devoted to the fellowship

Building the right foundation part 6

Acts 2:42-47

And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

It would easy at this point to make all sorts of assumptions as to how church should normally function from this passage of scripture. In fact for many individual Christians and their churches do use this passage as a paradigm for their church practice with some very interesting results. This has given rise for some to believe that we must celebrate the Lord's supper every time that we meet together. Others expect there to be accompanying signs and wonders every time that the gospel is preached. For some to have all things in common must mean that God expects us to live in communes. For others it is obvious that we must sell all, take a vow of poverty and give all that we have to those less well off.. Whilst others believe that we ought to be in meetings every moment of the day and of course they must be in homes where we break bread or have communion. Happiness is the hallmark of the church and thus we then gain favour with all people. The result of all of this is that when either one or all of these are put in place then people will become Christians and then we will become just like the early church which was both powerful and effective.
It might be easy to come to those conclusions but they are totally erroneous. None of them in fact hold any licence from the passage that we read. To try to understand what God the Holy Spirit would teach us from our passage we need to look once again at the background of Acts.
As we said in our first study that Acts was written by Luke and is his second historical book. Luke was a Gentile believer who researched firstly the life of the Lord Jesus. This history is the gospel according to Luke. Luke's gospel ends with Jesus commanding His disciples to wait in Jerusalem for God's promise to come upon and His ascension into heaven. All four of the gospels are narrative which means that they are primarily a record of events and are not intended primarily to teach the doctrines of the faith. They are a record of events and as such they do not usually comment on the rights or wrongs of the recorded events. Each incident must therefore be assessed in the light of the truth of scripture from the teaching passages.
Acts is also narrative in which Luke records the events accurately and just as they happened. That is what makes him an excellent historian. Our modern historians would do well to take note of Luke in this, they tend to put a spin on events and interpret them within their own political or social framework. Sadly as Christians we come to the narratives of the bible with a similar mindset. We are so used to delving into the teaching passages and searching for the depths of truth found within that when it comes to the narratives and also the parables we tend to look under the theological microscope at the passage and then we develop theologies out of historical events. The result of this is the parody that we looked at earlier, we end up attempting to replicate the unique happenings of a specific day in history. When we do this we are simply jumping to the conclusion that because it happened like at that time then so it must happen in just the same way 2000 years later. Of course it is possible that this be the case but it is not to be expected. The events of this particular Pentecost were unique and authenticated the coming of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church after Jesus' ascension as we saw last time therefore can it be expected to happen just like this ever again? The answer to this must be yes if it is taught by scripture in other places but is dangerous for us to take this passage in isolation and build up a belief system that demands the signs, miracles etc that accompanied this event.
Luke's purpose for writing his gospel was to prove that Jesus was the Christ and that an orderly account was needed for his friend Theophilus to this. In Acts he was once again writing for the benefit of Theophilus, his purpose for writing on this occasion was to show that the church came into being following the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. He therefore begins his account by recording how the church began with a few disciples in Jerusalem. His focus being upon the Apostle Peter in the first half of the book after which Paul takes centre stage. The reason for this is that Jesus had said to the disciples that they were to take the gospel out first to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and then on into all of Judea, Samaria and following into all of the world. It only takes a cursory reading of Acts to see that Luke is recording events that follow that exact pattern. The book ends up with the gospel reaching Rome which was the capital of the then known world.
Why am I saying all of this now part way into our study of “Building a right foundation?”
We must safeguard ourselves from making gross errors due to a poor hermeneutic which is simply the method of bible interpretation. We must build the foundation of the church on solid ground and not experiential events. In the light of this let us consider what this event resulted in.
  • 3000 were saved.
  • The converts committed themselves to something.
  • Their number continued to increase.
3000 were saved:
Last week we considered the 3000 who called upon the name of the Lord and were saved. We saw that they were obedient to Peter's exhortation in that they were baptised which was a public demonstration of their trust in Jesus and their commitment to Him as Lord and Saviour.
Becoming a Christian is the most radical, life changing experience known to man. Paul tells us that when we are converted then we are a new creation and that we are no longer under the condemnation of God. We are forgiven all of our sins of the past, the present and the future. All the wrong that we have ever done has been transferred from our account and has been paid in full through the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the most amazing truth that is imaginable and on that day for 3000 people discovered it to be true. They were immediately serious about belonging to Jesus and so they made a public declaration to that effect. The way to do this was baptism which is a simple way of saying that I have had an exodus that is similar to that of the nation of Israel many years previously. They had by the death of a first born been released from slavery in Egypt and had gone through the water of the Red Sea into the safety of God's covenant care as the people of God. Our exodus is from sin which has been accomplished by the death of the first Born Son of God and so it is logical and theological that we demonstrate that truth by being baptised which is simply a picture of belonging as was the passing through the Red Sea for the Israelites Baptism does not buy our salvation as some think but it is simply our way of declaring that we are saved.
Are you baptised?
The converts committed themselves to something:
This is another proof of what had happened in the heart of each of these converts. They devoted themselves to the Apostles teaching and to fellowship, the breaking of bread and to prayer. Each of these are what God had taught His people to do throughout the Old Testament period and so it should be no surprise that these new converts immediately became committed to them.
Let me explain a little more. God has given His word to His people formerly through the prophets, priests and kings. Therefore what Moses wrote in the first five books (which is often referred to as the Law) was to be known and embraced by the people of God. They were never to let it out of their mouths and their thoughts or their sight. See passages such as Deuteronomy 6:4-9.
The New Covenant had now been accomplished and so alongside the Old Testament scriptures comes the apostles teaching both of which are the foundation of the church. The church is built on the foundation of the prophets and the apostles. See Ephesians 2:18-22. it is therefore to be expected that these new converts committed themselves to the apostles teaching, it is part on the DNA of faith. You cannot be a Christian if you are not devoted to the study of the Word of God! D.L.Moody said that: “he had never yet met an effective Christian that was not a student of the bible.” As Christians we must be devoted just as were these first believers and every good saint that is recorded within scripture. How these new believers responded was perfectly in line with what God prescribes throughout the bible!
Are you devoted to the study and understanding of the bible, is it in your DNA or is it easier to read the latest facebook posting or the daily news than it is your bible? If it is then something is terribly wrong and you need to put it right.
They were also committed to fellowship. Again this is no surprise. Fellowship is at the heart of the people of God. You do not have to read very far into the Old Testament before you discover that God called a family who were to be special to Him. That family which was to become Israel loved to be together. Despite all of their inconsistencies they were a people who were known for their pride of being Israelites and for their united relationship with God. They had somewhat lost their way by the time of these events but fellowship as one family was always God's expectation of them. In this they were supposed to model the perfect family which is the company of all believers. These new believers immediately bonded together which is what becoming a Christian does for us.
In the time of the Judges Ruth demonstrated this perfectly when she said to her mother-in-law that she was intending to go to Bethlehem with her! Her declaration was simple but profound. She simply said that Naomi's people would from then on be her people and that Naomi's God would be her God. This is in line with the teaching of scripture which tells us that when we belong to God then we automatically belong to each other. Jesus taught this also when He told His disciples that their Christian identity would be seen by outsiders as they truly loved each other.
There can therefore be no room for hatred and disunity in the church.
Love is our witness, love first of all for Jesus which will always result in love for each other and for every other believer that lives. Look around this room for one moment and see if this is true of you.
Is there anybody here that you do not love as Jesus has loved you?
Is there any other Christian that you do not love as Jesus has loved you?
If there is DEAL WITH IT.
But you must be realistic in this also that the Lord told us that we must live at peace with all people as far as it is possible with us. Sometimes others make it impossible. Some have done you harm and it is not wrong to deal with that biblically also. Remember that Paul had to rebuke and turn away some because they had done much harm to him or the gospel! Sometimes we have no other choice but to reject those who you us either individually or as the church.
These new believers were also committed to the breaking of bread. This could mean either eating a meal together which was also one of the marks of belonging to the Israelite nation and is consistent again with belonging to the church. It could also mean the celebration of the Lord's Supper. My guess is that on this occasion it is referring to the Lord's Supper and if that is the case then again there is no surprise that it is consistent with God's directives for His people. There are many feasts that God has gave for His people to celebrate. Most of them conclude with a feast, not least of all the Passover which celebrated the death of an innocent victim on behalf of the people of God. Consider the passover meal which includes the eating of the sacrifice made in order to celebrate the nation's freedom from Egyptian oppression. Jesus is our passover and so it is no surprise that believers devote themselves to eat a meal of bread and wine which acts as a memorial to what He accomplished on the cross. Again we would expect new believers to devote themselves to this celebration.
Are you devoted to the breaking of bread as were these new believers?
Prayer is our way of communicating with God. He has always expected His people to speak to Him. Again we should not be surprised at their being devoted to prayer. It was lovely for us to be together in prayer a few weeks ago. It was amazing the unity that we all felt on that occasion. Prayer is the lifeblood of the Christian and also for the church.
If we want to stay in true fellowship together then we ought to pray much together.
We can learn much and be inspired by how their new found faith affected these 3000 people.
Are you inspired?
Their numbers continued to increase:
The Lord added to their number daily! That is enough said! God was at work in and through them. The signs, wonders and actions of the believers are all secondary to what God had done in their lives. 3000 and now more were saved, that is a miracle. It is not at all ordinary! It is death to life, a whole new creation being repeated time and time again but each time it had the affect of more souls being rescued for heaven. This in turn causes the whole company of heaven to rejoice and also the saved one not only to rejoice as never before but they also fully embrace the church and all that this means! They were committed to the things that God expects of His people the result of which was that God blessed them. On that occasion it was with conversions an a massive scale. For us it may be different but I am not sure that we can say that God blesses our efforts if they are as poor as it might seem!
Are you continuing in the way that you started your Christian life?

Remember what you were like when first converted, have you still got the same vibrancy and enthusiasm to do things right? If not then let us together go back to basics!

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