Acts 2:42-47 - The Church: Together in Gospel Unity (Rev. Erik Veerman)
Recently, we’ve been watching the TV show Alone. It’s a reality show where 10 people are dropped of in separate remote wilderness areas. There’s no camera crew, because they are the camera crew. And the person who lasts the longest wins. The ingenuity and survival skills are impressive. But over the weeks, there’s something that weighs on every single contestant. Being alone, without family or friends… without a community. And most can’t endure the isolation and so they make the call to be picked up… not because they couldn’t physically handle the environment, but because they were alone.
You see, it doesn’t matter who you are, where you live, or how old you are. You were created for community. To be in fellowship with other people. This goes all the way back to the book of Genesis. We were created as a reflection of God, who himself exists in community – God the Father, Son and Spirit. That’s why in Genesis chapter 2. God said it was not good for Adam to be alone, so he created Eve.
And it’s why every single one of us seeks community in some way. That word “community” in fact is one of the buzz words today. We hear it all the time in the news and in conversation. The intelligence community, the gay community, the Latino community, the college community, the science community, the faith community… or as has risen in the last 25 years, the online community.
Every generation has emphasized community in different ways. A generation or two ago, community life for the most part centered around your school or neighborhood or church. Generally, it involved a physical boundary. But today, no, your community is more about what you think. People who share your beliefs, your convictions, your goals.
Recently, a large state university asked the question to its students: “what is community?” The responses were varied, but phrases like “Common goal” “like minded” “belief in the same thing” and “united over an issue” came up over and over. Something has changed.
As one scholar said, “It used to be that people were born as part of a community, and had to find their place as individuals. Now people are born as individuals, and have to find their community.” I think that’s a correct assessment of our culture. Community being driven by individuality.
And we have to ask the question… is this what God intended for His community – the church? And if not, what is God’s intention for the church? Because, let me just say, if we don’t let God through His Word shape our understanding of church community, then we’ll be driven by ever shifting sands of culture’s emphasis. That will only lead us away from God and his purposes for the church.
Well, as we come to these 6 verses, we’re given the very foundations to community life. These verses describe for us the very beginnings of the church. And I think you would agree, it’s a beautiful picture of unity and fellowship. Something that we should strive for. And I’m not talking “we” in a general church sense. No, I’m talking about you and me – Tucker Presbyterian Church.
And so, what is it? What gives these disciples and followers of Jesus focus and purpose and unity? What are they striving for? How are they accomplishing it? And what gives them such harmony? As we answer these questions from the text, we’ll be directed towards God’s model for his church. This is profoundly important… because if we fail to see and understand God’s intention for the church, we’ll fail to become the church God intended for us to be.
Well, as you can see, my sermon outline didn’t make the printing deadline this week.
Devoted to the Word, prayer and worship
The first point this morning focuses on the activities of the church: Devoted to the Word, prayer and worship. 2x. The Word meaning Scripture. Prayer as we come to the Lord, seeking him, exalting him, asking for his help. And worship… corporate worship. Gathering together like we are doing here… to praise God, intercede for one another, hear from his Word, and celebrate the sacraments. The Lord’s supper and Baptism.
Sometimes we call these the “means of grace.” Particularly the word, prayer and the sacraments. The means of grace. The ordinary ways through which God applies his extraordinary grace to us.
And the very early church was devoted to these means of grace. If you look at verse 42, you’ll see that emphasis, “they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” We’ll come back to fellowship in a minute.
Now remember, they didn’t have the New Testament yet, but what they did have was the Apostles teaching. And what were they teaching? Well, we’ve already seen Peter’s teaching in this chapter, and we’ll see many more examples of the apostles teaching throughout Acts. They were teaching about Jesus. How he fulfilled the Old Testament promises. They taught about Jesus death and resurrection. They taught about how we should respond to the Scriptures, about faith and repentance. In other words, they were teaching the Word.
They couldn’t get enough of it! The 12 disciples and other teachers… they were pouring out what Jesus had taught them. Day and night declaring the truth and hope of God in Christ. Who God is… what the Scriptures taught about creation, and the fall, and sin, and redemption in Christ. The Spirit was mightily at work through the Word. And think about what had just happened. It started with the 12 and the 120 – 12 disciples, 120 followers. But 3000 had just professed faith… had repented and believed. This was life transforming for them.
For those of you here who received Christ as an adult… do you remember that desire within to learn and grow. I grew up in a Christian home, believed in Christ at an early age… but something happened to me when I was about 20. I couldn’t get enough. Reading the Bible, reading books, listening to sermons and talks… yearning and desiring to be fed and nourished. It’s like God had stirred that fire within me to grow to know him more. And for these new believers – they were hanging on every word of the apostles… filled with the Spirit… God was blessing them as they grew in godliness and grace.
Besides the apostles teaching, it says they were also devoted to prayer. This connects us back to the time just before Pentecost… chapter 1:14… devoting themselves to the prayers… this was a community engagement here. Going before the Lord constantly… in adoration, seeking his help, confessing their sin, praying for His Kingdom. They devoted themselves to prayer.
Verse 42 also uses the phrase, “the breaking of bread.” In the original Greek, there’s the definite article. “the breaking of bread,” that’s different than the second use of the same phrase in verse 46. There it doesn’t have a definitive article… just “breaking of bread in their homes” …where it’s just about eating together.
And so we have to ask the question… is verse 42 just saying they were just eating together or is it referring to something more? Well, that language of the breaking of bread… it’s the same language as the last supper, where they broke bread. Some have argued that verse 42 is particularly referring to them partaking the Lord’s Supper. Others have said that it’s just their fellowship around a meal. There’s good arguments both sides…but I think the language and context leans towards their participation in the Lord’s Supper. “the” breaking of bread. It’s something they were “devoted to.”
But whether or not “the breaking of break” included celebrating the Lord’s Supper, these verses certainly emphasize their worship. Verse 46… “day by day they attended the temple together” … and verse 47, they were “praising God.” So, part of the emphasis of this early church community was gathered worship. And that involved both formal aspects… going to the temple… and informal worship together in their homes.
So you see, they were devoted to these things. The Word, and Prayer and Worship.
And when we get away from these core activities of a church… then we lose the central part of God’s calling for us. It’s easy for churches to have lots of activities, and social programs, to be busy bees, even push political agendas. I’m not saying that activities and programs are always bad …but they need to support the foundation of what God has established for His church. His Word and Prayer to Him and Worship of His name.
May we devote ourselves to these things as the Lord builds us up as His church in Tucker.
Together with joyful generosity
A second emphasis of this community was their togetherness. “Together with joyful generosity.” That’s point #2. And we see that word “together” both in verse 44. “And all who believed were together” And verse 46… they attended the “temple together” …and all throughout we see these Christians living together, communing together, worshipping together, praying together. Everything was done as a community. As a family of believers. They were committed to one another. Caring, loving, serving, sharing.
There was a strong ministry of presence. Being with one another, in person.
One of the hardest things over these last 8 months has been presence. I’m so thankful that we’ve been able to gather in person now. But there are still so many restrictions and precautions we’ve had to take… it hasn’t been the same. It’s a deep loss. Even today, there are those our church family who’ve been isolated for health reasons, cautious because of family situations. It hurts. Because the community we’ve been created for is being together. Yes, having the technology has helped, but nothing replaces being together, ministering alongside one another, praying and worshiping in each other presence.
[It would be like having a stuffed animal tea party…but bunny is in a different room than turtle, and lamby is in the basement, Giraffe is in the kitchen. Bear is in the dining room. That wouldn’t be any fun. They couldn’t talk to each other, hug each other, Puppy couldn’t look into aligator’s eyes and ask how he is doing. Or share tea. No, God wants them to be together. In the same room]
With COVID and health situations aside… let me say it this way. God designed His church to be together. Present with one another. There’s nothing that can replace that… that should replace that. There’s no such lasting thing as virtual church. If you say you are a Christian, you should not forsake gathering together as a local body of believers for worship, and prayer, and serving one another.
Unless you are hindered by health reasons, God calls you to be present as part of a church family. Not when you want to or feel like it, but as part of his design.
Several years ago, a co-worker of mine professed faith in Christ, but he never went to church. This was before I finished seminary and made a career change. He argued that the church was just believers in Jesus, but there was no requirement to be part of a local church family. We’d had a couple long conversations about it.
My argument was this: a huge focus of the New Testament is the local church. The gathering of people… in the book of Acts, beginning with these verses… and in the planting of churches all over, the establishing of elders for the churches, the gifts of believers applied to a local body of Christians. Many of the other New Testament books are about community life together. Unity called for in 1 Corinthians, the organization and structure of the church given to us in Titus and the letters to Timothy. All the other exhortations written to the different churches. In Revelation chapters 2 and 3… several local churches were identified… with highlights of their faithfulness and failings.
I know I’m preaching to the choir here, because you are all here… but chances are you know people who say they are Christians, yet they are not living out their faith in the community that God has ordained for them, the church. And there’s an increasing temptation to watch worship online, to follow your favorite celebrity pastor…. And not to be part of a local church. I’m worried that Covid is only going to accelerate that trend.
Yes, there are extenuating circumstances for some, but for many, it’s unfaithfulness to God’s Word. And it misses out on the togetherness that the means of grace calls for… and the fellowship with and service toward one another.
Back in verse 42. That word fellowship… it’s the Greek word koinonia. When we think of fellowship, we think of hanging out. doing something fun together. But this koinonia fellowship was wholly different. At its root is a commonality together. The Greek language at the time was called koine Greek. Common Greek. That was the common language throughout the Mediterranean. And koinonia involved a common shared goal and participation in what they were doing. In other words, it was more than just being together, it was intentional life ministry, which involved praying, and worshiping and learning… and serving.
Verses 44 and 45 pick up on this koinonia theme… how they had all things in common – same root word for common. Koinos.
Now, let me take brief but important tangent. Are verses 44 and 45 making a case for Christian communism? You know… “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” Because it sure sounds like it. And in fact, these 2 verses along with a couple others… they’ve been used to make a case for that… the shared ownership we find in both socialism and communism. But let me say, no. Emphatic no. There’s no re-distribution of wealth here, private ownership of property is not being jettisoned. Nothing is being forced. And most importantly, this is the church community, not the civil government.
No, what we’re shown here… is a community that’s deeply generous. Their hearts desire was to provide for the needs of one another. Many sold possessions to help. This process was intentional and thoughtful, so that the community could care and support each other well. And that should be convicting to us… that we too may be a church together… with joyful, generous hearts.
What an amazing beautiful picture of unity in community… the love with which they loved each other, their pursuits together in prayer, in worship, in the Word… their joy and favor. Isn’t that what we want to be like? To strive for? Of course!
But there a problem. It will never work. We’ll fail. Maybe I should say that in a different way…. If we just see this community in terms of their activities, their presence together, and their service… we’ll never obtain this unity. In fact, every community has disagreements and fractures. It will only take a couple chapters more in Acts to see this disunity. And much of the New Testaments addresses the failures, the arguments, the sin against one another in the church… the false teaching, the divisions, the discord. It’s all over the place.
We’d only be setting ourselves up for failure if we think… and I mean Tucker Pres… that we can somehow obtain this idealistic community… if we just follow the pattern here in these verses.
No, there’s something more. And it distinguishes this community… the one here in Acts 2… from all other social communities ever. Because it was a unity that was eternal. You see, their unity was in Christ through the Spirit. The very center of who they were was their faith in Christ. They were united by faith in the Gospel.
That’s point #3, united by faith in the Gospel. This common heart in Christ is the spring of living waters, from which all these other things flow. Without it, our pursuits are merely work’s salvation. That’s a false belief… thinking that somehow you can be good enough, that your merit is deserving of God’s love… if you just try hard enough… that God will save you. No. that belief is not what the Bible teaches. As it says, “we were dead in our sins and trespasses… but God made us alive in Christ, by grace you have been saved.” And here, we’re just applying that works salvation to the church community if the Gospel is not the core.
And what is this Gospel? Going back to last week… it’s what united this community together. As Peter preached, Jesus was delivered up to death… by God’s gracious plan. But death could not hold him. He overcame death and is living and reigning now. Why? For the
forgiveness of sins… back up in verse 38. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved… that involves repenting of unbelief, repenting of sin. Acknowledging that nothing in our own strength can ever accomplish what God has accomplished for us through Christ. That is the Gospel hope.
And when that message went forth… these 3000 believed and were given God’s Spirit. They were united in Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
And so, as we consider this very first manifestation of the church. Yes, it is a model for us to emulate. But the only way for us to pursue it, is to begin with the same Spirit and truth that they did, seeking the redemption of God in Christ, uniting ourselves around the same hope and belief. Because Christ is the only lasting Foundation to the church.
The last part of verse 47 reveals this unity. “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” You see, everything about everything they were doing focused on the Gospel. And it testified to all those around them… because as they loved each other and prayed and worshiped, they gathered their neighbors and family to see and experience of God’s amazing love. And daily, the Lord added – not them – the Lord added to their community.
And you see, when we begin with that same Gospel heart and unity… we can devote ourselves to all these things. Through our unity in Christ, we’ll have the passion to learn from God’s Word…. We’ll have the heart from which to worship God and partake the Sacraments… we’ll have the realization of our need to pray. It will motivate us to care and love one another. To be in presence together with one another.
Beloved, this is community. Our unity in Christ is the only thing that will give us lasting, eternal community together as a church.
So yes, we are created for community. But the community that matters most, is not a community that is focused on earthly pursuits or virtual relationships. It’s not a community that exalts the individual, or rallies around a cause. No, the community that God calls us to is one that goes to our very identity… who we are in Christ. That community is the church, God’s church. Where we are united one to another in Him, and He is exalted.
When we treat the church just like any other community… crafting it in our own vision, or deciding whether it suits our needs… then we’ve missed God’s calling and purposes for his people. To worship Him, pray to Him, to Study His word. As the Apostle Peter says in 1 Peter chapter 2 – “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
So may we faithfully fulfill God’s call for us as a community in Christ – his church… ministering to each other, giving God the praise, coming to him in prayer and worshiping his name.