The final verse in this reading of Acts says that “…the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
What can we learn from this growing church in the New Testament?
It helps to understand that Luke is not describing the cause of their growth.
Rather, he’s describing the character of the community or context to whom God entrusted new Christians. I wonder who you would trust to care for your children?
Well, Luke describes the community whom God trusted to care for His new children. So let’s not just look at the picture that Luke paints.
We need also to look in the mirror, to compare ourselves with the full picture and see what we might need to change.
The Apostles’ Teaching
They gave priority to the teachings, but why?
In Acts 1:21-22, we saw the criteria when choosing a new Apostle, in lieu of Judas. It needed to be someone who had heard Jesus teaching, and discussed it with him.
Someone who had seen Jesus in action and knew him personally.
Someone who was a disciple of the Rabbi, totally immersed in following him and living life with him. These new Christians were learning from those who had known and followed Jesus for longer.
We can still find this today, in the teaching as it is recorded in the Bible. And also, among those who have walked with Jesus for longer than we have.
Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.Acts 1:21-22 (NIV)
This is the first time the word ‘fellowship’ (Greek κοινωνία koinonia) is use in the New Testament.
And it does not mean what we sometimes assume it means!
How often are people invited to “join us for fellowship after the service?”
In British churches that invitation commonly translates as: “Do come and drink some weak instant coffee served in ancient green cups, have some broken biscuits (because they are cheaper) and talk about the weather or your illnesses!”
But koinonia speaks of being partners, sharers, companions …people who are “in this together.”
It speaks of deep, rich community relationships.
All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.Acts 2:44-45 (NIV)
We see what this sense of community means in other New Testament passages, too:
- In Acts 6:1-2 practical arrangements are made to resolve complaints, ensuring that people are cared for and that the apostles are able to focus on their own roles.
- In Ephesians 4:3,32 we are urged to make every effort to maintain unity, and to be kind, forgiving towards one another and compassionate.
- In Philippians 4:2-3 two women who have fallen out with each other are urged to find common ground. Another person is asked to the peacemaker who helps that happen.
- In 1 Corinthians 12:25-26 the Church is described as a body, with a reminder that whatever affects one person actually affects all of us. Whether for good or ill.
In the book of Acts. Luke describes a community of people who are immersed in the life of God’s Kingdom, not just spectators or occasional visitors.
They are part of the team, the gang, the squad, the family.
We do life together. We. Are. Church.
What do we see when we look in the mirror and compare ourselves with the church in Acts?
The Breaking of Bread
Luke writes about the disciples breaking brad together, but what is he actually describing here?
Enjoying lunch together, or celebrating communion?
I think he’s talking about both, and that there’s a great example of this in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.
This passage starts with a criticism of mealtime table manners, but by the end we realize it is describing the Lord’s Supper. Both matter deeply.
Jesus himself used mealtimes to build relationships.
BBQ’s on the beach, picnics on the hillside, dinner guest of tax collectors and other sinners, relaxing with well-loved friends. He even invited himself round to Lazarus’ home for food.
They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.Acts 2:46 (NIV)
I’ve shared meals after worship with a Chinese church in Flushing, New York.
I’ve enjoyed lunch with a multicultural congregation in Edmonton where different people groups take it in turns to prepare the day’s meal.
We have our own occasional Sunday lunches here. These are all opportunities to build connections through food.
Nothing brings us together like eating together, as this video portrays…
It would be too easy to complain that “Nobody has invited me.” The real question we have to ask is: “Have I invited them?”
The Breaking of Bread (again!)
The phrase does also refer to the Lord’s Supper, or communion.
It’s something that Jesus commanded, and it builds our relationship with him. Something happens in this moment.
This is not ‘just’ bread & wine…somehow it is the body & blood of Jesus. “Do this” he said, “in remembrance of me.”
This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them.Mark 14:24 (NIV)
Something profound and deep takes place.
It is hard to put in words, but somehow Jesus is present in this moment.
He is present personally and present among us as community. We don’t need to understand in order to benefit.
How often do we take pain killers without actually understanding how they work? Most of us can’t explain them, but we still benefit!
This early church is a praying community.
- They engaged in prayer (v.42 )
- They were a people who praised God (v.47)
- Who gathered in the Temple (v.46)
It is notable that prayer is something that the church did together.
In Acts, prayer is always corporate.
I was recently at a gathering of Elders from local a United Reformed Church, and heard several churches lamenting the low numbers who actually meet for prayer.
Yet when we look at what happened in this growing New Testament Church, we see people who met together in order to pray.
What do we see in the mirror?
Luke describes a church who saw supernatural things happening.
He already quoted Peter’s comments about the miracles, wonders and signs that were part of Jesus’ life (v.22).
Now he points out that the same was true of the Apostles, for the Holy Spirit had come upon them earlier in the chapter! These signs and wonders pointed to the power and presence of God.
They continue through the book of Acts.
Theirs is a noticeably supernatural faith: Lame people get to walk; sick people are made whole; evil spirits are evicted; prophetic words are spoken.
Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.Acts 2:43 (NIV)
A loving community is attractive- people feel welcomed and included.
A supernatural community demands attention, as people begin to realize: surely God is in this place!
Let’s not just look at the picture in Acts, let’s also look in the mirror and ask what we see in our own church life?
Two Deeply Challenging Phrases
I found these two simple phrases deeply challenging for myself.
First is the word “devoted” (v.42).
It’s the same Greek word that is used in Acts 1:14, where people joined together constantly in prayer.
It is used again in Acts 6:4 where the Apostles devote themselves to prayer and to the word.Second is the phrase “Every day” (v.46).
As we look at ourselves and our…
- Meeting to worship
- Meeting to learn from Apostles’ teaching
- Meeting to pray
I wonder whether we would be described as “devoted” and “every day?”
My choices – and yours – affect whether we are the kind of community to whom God entrusts His new Christians.
Are you looking for a way to help your Church grow, not just in numbers, by coming to life in Christ? Are you open to growing in the knowledge and work of the Holy Spirit, but aren’t sure how to help your congregation join you in that process?
Learn the 7 dynamics of cooperation with the Holy Spirit so that you and your congregation can enter the grow with Christ and the Holy Spirit, through which Christ grows His Church!