READ – Acts 2:42-47 | THE FIRST CHURCH
“Can’t I have Jesus without the church?” “Do we really need organized and institutionalized religion?” “What is the church for?” These are questions many people are asking. You may be asking these questions yourself. As the one and only history of the first church, the book of Acts is the best place for us to go to find answers to these questions. The best place for us to start is on the day the church was born.
It was a dramatic start. The first day of the church included rushing wind, fire and people speaking languages they had never heard before. The first sermon was powerful and inspiring. In one day 3000 were baptized into the church. But Acts 2 says the real highlight wasn’t all these extraordinary and spectacular events and or big results. The real awe, power, gladness and attraction was found in the ordinary and daily life of the church. A church like this is the blueprint for the kind of church Jesus seeks to build today.
1. WE WHY NEED A CHURCH LIKE THIS
The bible teaches that our need for community is rooted in the very nature of God and reality itself. God exists in community as Father, Son and Spirit. As human beings made in the image of God, we were made for community and relationship. This is why the book of Acts isn’t a collection of stories of Jesus working in isolated individual lives, it’s the story of Jesus building churches like the one in Acts 2 in every place across the ancient world. We need a church like this because it’s only in community where we find Jesus in all his fullness and where we find what we need to become more like him.
Acts 2:42 is a one sentence summary of the kind of community every person needs. We need a church like this because there are 4 things we were never meant to (and can’t) do on our own.
1. Learn – The apostle’s teaching is listed first intentionally. This teaching was centered on the gospel. Every day they learned more about who Jesus is, all he did and is doing for broken sinners. This was the heart, center and priority of the church. They needed a community to learn it, to ask questions about it and to work out its implications in their lives.
2. Have Stuff – Acts says they were devoted to “the fellowship”. “Fellowship” means the sharing of life and resources. They “held everything in common” (v44). This doesn’t mean they gave up on the concept of private property; but it does mean they gave up on the concept of anyone’s ultimate ownership of their stuff. If it was all God’s, he could redirect at any time to meet the needs of others.
3. Eat – “the breaking of bread”. The one program, strategy and context for all ministry in this church was eating in people’s homes. Eating is meant to be a communal act - an act that fosters belonging and creates bonds between people and with God.
4. Pray – The phrase here can be translated “the prayers”. It refers to regular set times for corporate prayer. Private and unplanned prayer is essential, but it is not sufficient for us to sustain our spiritual lives. We are meant to connect with God together through prayer.
2. HOW WE RESIST A CHURCH LIKE THIS
Although we may be intrigued and inspired at the thought of being a part of a church like this, the reason finding a church like this is so hard is that we all resist it. Why we anyone resist being a part of such a vibrant community?
#1 - We resist the commitment – The word devoted in 2:42 carries a radical intensity and commitment. Nothing about this church was accidental, casual or “organic”. The met “every day in the temple and from house to house”. This makes us uncomfortable. If we’re honest, most of us think, “I’m all for community, but it needs to be on my terms. I’ll need an opt out clause which I can use at any time if things get awkward, difficult or hard.” But this church’s vibrancy and power came from everyone leaving their opt-out clauses at the door.
#2 - We resist the ownership – “Now all the believers were together and held all things in common” (2:46) The phrase “were together” is hard to translate. It means that each person said, “I have a part in the church being and becoming what it is meant to be just as much as anyone else. That’s ownership. The language we use for our part in the church reveals an underlying perspective. We talk about “going to church” as if it were an event among many on our calendars. This church shows us what it means not to “go to church” but to “be the church”. Church was who they were. They knew that God saves us each from sin but also saves us each into the church. Every Christian is a member and part of the church. So, we each have a part to play, a part to own in a particular church. The bible knows no such thing as solo Christianity, private faith, Jesus without the church or quitting the church.
3. HOW JESUS BUILDS A CHURCH LIKE THIS
If everyone needs a community like this yet everyone resists it, how can we ever build a church like this? The answer is that we can’t. No human effort, strategy or resolve is enough. It must be built by Jesus. When we read this passage in context, it’s clear that this church’s devotion and ownership didn’t happen as a result of a pastor’s vision or a church’s programs. What we see is Jesus ascending, Jesus sending his Spirit, the Spirit speaking the gospel about Jesus through Peter and – a church like this is born. This passage isn’t a strategy or a program – it’s a fulfillment. It’s Jesus building what he intended to build for humanity from the beginning. A human community where needs are met, God is worshipped, joy is contagious, and people are truly one.
But how can Jesus build this church through broken and resistant people like us? It’s the good news of forgiveness that cures us of our avoidance of commitment and ownership (2:38). Forgiveness means God says to every Christian:
· I don’t see you as a sinner or problem but as a holy saint and beloved child. Your sin—past, present, future—is forgiven.
· I will never make you pay for your sins and failures. The debt is paid.
· Your sins/faults don’t stand in the way of our relationship or my love.
· Your sins/faults will never stop me from doing good for you and being for you always.
Because Jesus paid the full cost of our forgiveness at the cross, God always responds to our sin this way. No exceptions. With regard to God’s community, the church, forgiveness means the cost to get in and the cost to stay in has been paid in full by another. There’s no other community like this. When we are free from earning our place or trying to keep our place in a community, we are free to love, accept and serve other broken sinful people as they are. This is how Jesus builds a church like this.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. What about the sermon most impacted you or left you with questions?
2. Which of the 4 things we were never meant to (and can’t) do alone (from Acts 2:42) do you most find yourself trying to do all alone? How might this change?
3. Which do you find yourself resisting more when it comes to church – commitment or ownership? Why?
4. Read the section below. Do you agree/disagree? How is the dynamic at work in your life?
We believe that the freedom from commitment is what guards our happiness. We can’t be tied down to some boring same ole, same ole. What if we miss out on something better? We want the individual freedom to seek happiness elsewhere, so we think we need to safeguard our joy, happiness in life by having freedom from commitment. Acts 2:42-47 shows us that it’s the other way around - The freedom in commitment is what guards true happiness. If everyone can opt out at any time for any good reason, no one is safe enough to be themselves, no one feels safe enough to be honest. But with commitment comes the safety to be ourselves and – by God’s grace – to be forgiven, loved and served despite my flaws, mess and sin. This is how we experience true wonder, joy and happiness in relationships.
5. What difference would it make in our churches if we applied the gospel to our relationships in this way:
· The people in my church are more weak, sinful, broken than they’ll ever realize or admit. I’ll expect sin, misunderstanding and friction.
· The people in my church are more loved, accepted and forgiven than they’ll ever know. Sin, misunderstanding and friction are opportunities for me to show them this by forgiving them.
· I’ll never have to forgive more than I’ve been forgiven.