A Devoted Church

We are at a very unique point in our life together as a church. A time where we get to ask, not “How have we always done things?”, but “How should we do things?” We get to ask, not “Who were we?”, but rather “Who should we be?” We get to ask not, “What was?”, but rather “What should be? What kind of a church should we be as we step into the future together, and what part will we each play in that process?”

Chris Hutchison on September 25, 2022
A Devoted Church
September 25, 2022

A Devoted Church

Passage: Acts 2:36-47
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Next week we begin a 9-week series in Matthew chapters 8-10. After that, we’ll spend several months, from December to June, in the book of Genesis, picking up with the story of Noah in chapter 6 and walking all the way up until chapter 22 and the death of Sarah.

Today’s message comes from Acts 2, and this isn’t connected to a series. Most of the time, we just want to let the Bible set the agenda for what we talk about, but this was one of those rare times where we as elders thought that there were some things that this passage addresses which we really needed to hear.

And let me explain why. We are at a unique moment in our life together as a church. The last 15 years of EBC history have included a lot of change. 15 years ago, EBC was still meeting in the white building across town, and was busting at those seams, but was still mostly a church where everybody knew everybody else. Many people had been here for years and years, the relationships ran deep, and people felt safe and comfortable in a close-knit family environment.

13 years ago we moved into this building, and if you look at attendance patterns over the next years, you can see that EBC slowly transformed from a church where everybody knew everybody into a church where it became increasingly common to think, “I’ve seen that person here for a few weeks but I don’t know their names yet.”

And that’s a good change. Who doesn’t want their church to grow? But it comes at a cost. That cost was the loss of the warm, predictable feeling of knowing who was going to be in church each week and having knowing those people for a long time.

And then of course more changes happened half-way through this 15-year period with the passing of a long-term pastor, and all of the changes in leadership that happened over those next three years. We had a number of long-term people like Wilf Hopfe and Catherine Healy go to be with the Lord. And then in 2020 this thing called Covid rocked our world, and in the aftermath of Covid the composition of our church looks even more different than it did before.

Practically, what that means these days is that it is all the more likely that you’ll come on Sunday morning and worship with people whom you don’t know very well. And while that’s normal for some churches, it’s a change for EBC, especially compared to who we were 10-15 years ago. And what this means is that, when it comes to many unspoken assumptions in our church culture, a lot of things are up in the air right now.

Given how much has changed in the last number of years, who are we, really, and what are we going to be as we move into the future, and what role should we each be playing in that process?

Those are the big questions that we get to answer in this season. And now do you see what I mean by this being a unique moment in our life together as a church?

And I believe this is a gift. We are at a point in our life together as a church where we get to ask and answer some very important questions.

We get to ask, not “how have we always done things?”, but “how should we do things?” We get to ask, not “who were we?”, but rather “Who should we be?” We get to ask not, “What was?”, but rather “What should be? What kind of a church should we be as we step into the future together?”

And so where should we turn when we want to answer those questions? Do we pass out surveys and tabulate our preferences and coin some slogans and hope something sticks?

Or, do we look intently to the sufficient Word of God, and listen to what God has told us about how to be a healthy, vibrant, God-blessed church?

That’s why we’re making this stop this morning. We want to go back to Acts 2 and be reminded again about what happens when God draws a people together around His Son. And I think we’ll see there’s a lot for us today in these words.

1. What Produces This Kind of Community?

So we’re going to look at verses 42-47 and see what kind of community the early Christians formed and what we can learn from them.

But before we get there, we have to ask the all-important question, which is, “What produces this kind of community?”

The Acts 2:42 church didn’t just happen. And you can’t make that kind of church happen today by just telling people “okay guys, let’s devote ourselves to these four things, and let’s just do it.”

In order to understand the Acts 2:42 church, we have to go back to Acts 2:1-4, where the risen Lord Jesus fulfilled ancient promises by pouring out the Holy Spirit upon His disciples.

And then we have to go to verses 14 and following where Peter stood up and proclaimed this Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, the fulfillment of Israel’s story, and the fulfiller of all of God’s promises, especially the gift of the Holy Spirit.

And Peter summed up his powerful sermon with these words in verse 36: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).

This crucified Jesus is God and Messiah, and therefore it is by calling on His name—the name of Jesus—that people will be saved.

And so, verse 37, “When they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?””

For centuries they had their hopes hung on the Messiah, and they just found out that they killed him. What do they do now?

And here comes the good news of the gospel. Jesus chose His death as the way to pay for His people’s crimes. And He didn’t stay dead. And so, “Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 2:38).

Yes, you murdered your Messiah, but you can be forgiven for that! This Holy Spirit that the risen Christ has poured out—He’s for you! Repent of your sin and be baptized in Jesus’ name.

Verse 41: “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41).

Three thousand people that day received the word and were baptized. And it is these people who went on to devote themselves to the apostle’s teaching and the other elements we see in verse 42 and following.

Don’t miss this. You can’t get a church without the gospel. You cannot create this vibrant community without the razor sharp preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen. A gospel which lays bear people’s hearts, convicts them of their sin, and then gives them the good news of Christ’s atoning and forgiving work on the cross. A gospel which calls people to pledge their allegiance and union to Jesus in baptism. A gospel which produces a people centred on the risen Jesus, gathered around His throne, and filled with His Holy Spirit.

You can’t get an Acts 2 church without an Acts 2 gospel.

And we can also flip this around and put it this way: don’t miss that an Acts 2 gospel always produces an Acts 2 church. 3,000 people that day believed in the gospel, and they didn’t just go their separate ways as spiritually enlightened people enjoying a personal relationship with Jesus.

No, look at verse 41. Those who received the word and were baptized were added to the church. That’s what happens when someone believes the gospel. They get added to the church. And not just the universal church—although that’s true. This entire passage assumes that these people were added to that local church in Jerusalem. They were literally counted among that group of Christians.

The gospel does not produce lone-ranger christian. To be saved is to be added to the church.

2. What Characterizes This Community?

So that’s what process this community. Next we want to ask, what characterized this community? What happened to those early Christians when they believed the gospel, were filled with the Spirit, were baptized, and then gathered into the church?

And verses 42-47 give us five characteristics of that early community. Four of these are above the surface, relatively easy to spot, and one of these is below the surface, which we’ll consider at the end.

A. Devotion to the Apostle’s Teaching

The first characteristic is devotion to the apostle’s teaching. That’s right there in verse 42. “And they devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching.”

The apostles were the authoritative spokesmen for the risen Jesus. You can go back to John 14-16 or Acts 1 and see how Jesus had commissioned these 12 men to be His unique witnesses. They spoke for Jesus. And so the early Christians devoted themselves to their teaching.

It would have been so rich in those days to hear the apostles unpack the Scriptures and teach how it was all fulfilled in Jesus. The apostles’ teaching is preserved for us in the New Testament, but in those days it came right from their mouths. The people had so much to learn and they had a team of 12 teachers, personally commissioned by Jesus, to instruct them in what they needed.

And so one of the characteristics of a Spirit-filled Christian, and therefore a Spirit-filled church, is that they are hungry for the word and devoted to the apostles’ teaching about Jesus from all of Scripture.

B. Devotion to Fellowship

The second characteristic of this community was fellowship. Verser 42 tells us that they were devoted to “the fellowship.”

“Fellowship” is a word we often use as a verb. “Let’s meet for some fellowship.” But in this setting, it’s a noun. And this noun, “fellowship,” has to do with sharing. In fact, when this word is found in its verb form in the New Testament, it’s most often translated as “share.”

i. Sharing Christ

When we speak about Christian fellowship, we’re speaking about a shared life together. This shared life begins with our participation or sharing in Jesus. That’s why it’s so important we start with the gospel. The roots of our fellowship lie in the fact that we all share in Jesus.

1 Corinthians 1:9 says, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9).

That’s what baptism is a symbol of. We have become united to Jesus, sharing in His death and His resurrection life.

And if Jesus is my life, and Jesus is your life, then we share the same life. The fellowship that Christians have with each other is, at it’s basic level, the fact that we all share in Jesus.

ii. Sharing life together

And this sharing together of Jesus leads to a sharing in all of life. Acts 2:44 helps unpack for us what it looked like for those early Christians to be devoted to “the fellowship.” It meant that they shared all of life, which included meeting together. Verse 44: “And all who believed were together.” We know from Acts 5:12 that they were literally together, in one assembly, in that huge space in the temple, just like we’re gathered all together now.

But not only did they gather; as the rest of verse 44 says, they had “all things in common.” They were sharing life with each other, literally, as verse 45 unpacks: “And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:45).

Many of the people who received the gospel had come from other countries. And so they were in Jerusalem without regular income. And the church banded together to take care of each other.

Now this was not some form of early communism. If you go to chapter 5 you’ll see that they still believed in the private ownership of property. Nobody was forced to sell their possessions and give the money away. Nowhere in the Bible are Christians told to quit their jobs, pool their money, and live in a commune.

So the point is not that Christians must do this all the time. The point is that Christians would do this if and when they need to. If our brothers and sisters are in need, we’ll help them out, even if that means selling some of our stuff to pay for it.

Because we share in Christ together, how much more will we share in the things of this life together?

C. Eating Together

Now this theme of fellowship and sharing together bleeds over into the third characteristic of this community, which was “the breaking of bread.” And here there is some uncertainly here about what’s being referred to.

There are some times in the New Testament where the language of “breaking bread” is clearly used to refer to the Lord’s Supper, or communion (Matthew 26:6, Mark 14:22, Luke 22:19, 1 Corinthians 10:16, 11:24). But there are other times where it’s just used to refer to eating a meal, because breaking a loaf of bread is what they’d do before they ate it (Matthew 14:19, 15:36, Mark 8:6, 19, Luke 24:30, Acts 27:35).

And then there’s a few times here in Acts where it’s a little uncertain (Acts 2:42, 46, 20:7, 20:11). Was this just a meal? Was this the Lord’s Supper? Was it both?

I’m inclined to see the “breaking of bread” here in Acts 2 to refer generally to them eating together. That’s because verse 46 says, “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts.” The does not seem to be on the Lord’s supper per se, but on sharing meals together.

And these early Christians were devoted to this practice of shared meals. With all of the out-of-town guests, this probably meant a lot of hospitality for the Jerusalem citizens. But it was just a way of life for them. As they shared in life together, they shared their homes and their meals with joy.

D. Devotion to Prayer

The fourth characteristic of this community was prayer. Back in verse 42 we read that they devoted themselves to “the prayers.” This probably meant the regular times of prayer at the temple. That’s what verse 46 points to when it says that “day by day” they were “attending the temple together.” An example of this is just a few verses down in 3:1: “Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.”

These early Christians kept going to the temple together, not to offer sacrifices, but to pray. Praying together was a part of the fabric and rhythm of their shared lives. And it’s hard to imagine them not praying together as they met regularly in their homes and all together at the temple.

E. Commitment

A fifth characteristic of this community was commitment. Verse 47 tells us that they were “praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).

To see what I mean by commitment, we need to remember that there was quite a cost to being a Christian in those days. Just think: they were following a man who had just been executed by the authorities just seven weeks prior. This was dangerous stuff.

We see that in how Acts 2 flows right into Acts 3 and 4 where we read about Peter and John, the two key leaders of the Christian movement, getting arrested for preaching. And then again in chapter 5 the apostles get arrested, and then in chapter 6 Stephen is arrested and then killed in chapter 7.

Following Jesus was dangerous, and you didn’t do it casually. When you crossed over the line of saying, “I’m in, I’m a part of this family,” you were in. You were committed.

This commitment shows up in the way in which the church had a really crisp understanding of who was and who was not a part of their number. Here in 2:47, the church had favour with “all the people.” This implies that knew the difference between “all the people” and those who were actually a part of the church. And when people crossed over to be a part of the church, they were “added to the number” of the Christians.

Not only was someone counting, but we see here a definition of who was and who was not a part of the church. And you didn’t join the church unless you really been born again and become convinced that Jesus was worth living for and worth dying for.

We see this same dynamic in 5:13: “None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women” (Acts 5:13–14). Once again you see a distinction between those who were a part of the church and those who weren’t. And people became a part of the church when they believed in Jesus.

And all of this implies that joining the church wasn’t something you did casually. They had to be really committed to do this.

And of course this commitment shows up simply in that word “devoted” back in 2:42, a word which speaks of constancy and perseverance. These people were committed to being the church together.

3. How Do We Be This Kind of Community Today?

And so, we’ve seen five characteristics of the Jerusalem church. There’s surely more to be seen in these verses. And we also know that these verses don’t tell us everything. These verses don’t say much about the outward focus of the church, how they cared for and shared the gospel with those who had not yet come to faith in Christ. These verses also don’t recount how the church became more structured in time, with elders and deacons and regular, more organized meetings. The church developed from this point, and those developments were not bad.

So we can put it this way: being a biblical church involves more than just Acts 2:42. But I don’t think it ever involves less than Acts 2:42. When the Holy Spirit draws a person to faith in Jesus, they will be drawn into a committed community together with others which will be marked by devotion to the Apostle’s teaching, to fellowship, to celebrating the Lord’s supper and sharing meals together, and to prayer.

So now we come to the really important question. How do we be this kind of community today? How can our church be marked by these same characteristics that marked the early church?

We’re going to try to answer that question in four ways.

1. Stay Centred on the Gospel

The first angle is that we start where Acts 2 starts: with the gospel. We want to be a church that stays centred on the gospel. A church that celebrates and preaches and treasures and applies the gospel.

And you may think that this is naïve, but I really believe that as we focus on Jesus, as we celebrate His gospel and keep our eyes on Him, much of this community that we long for will just happen.

Because if I’m focused on Jesus, and you’re focused on Jesus, then we’re focused on the same thing, and a shared life will just flow from this.

So for some of you, applying this might mean believing in the gospel for the first time. I don’t want to assume, ever, that because someone is in church it means that they have received the gospel. Do you believe that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus who was crucified? Do you know that you’re a sinner who deserved to be on that bloody cross? Do you know that Jesus paid it all, and that by trusting in Him you can be forgiven for all of your sins and invited to share in Jesus for eternity? Have you repented of your sins, and have you pledged your life to Jesus in baptism?

We’re having a baptism on October 16 and I’d love to include you in that if you haven’t. That’s where this all starts: believing the gospel and responding to Jesus in baptism.

And if you have believed the gospel and have been baptized, don’t tune out the gospel. We know from the rest of the New Testament that the gospel is not just for unbelievers. We all need the blood-bought grace of Jesus in our life, today.

We need the gospel here and now. So listen to it and receive it and remind yourself of it and speak it to each other and do your part in helping ensure that whatever community we build here, we build it on the gospel.

So that’s the first answer: we stay centred on the gospel.

2. Join In

The second answer I can give to “how do we do this?” has to do with what I’ll call our “official activities” that we do as a church. I’m thinking about things like our Sunday evening gatherings, or small groups, or even hospitality Sunday. I hope you can see how each of these activities flows out of the priorities we saw in our passage this morning.

We don’t just do stuff because it seems like it’s a good idea. We seek to be a Scripture-shaped church which means that we want our activities to be shaped by biblical priorities. And that applies even to occasional events like baby showers, which are a way to share life together with others.

Now I know that there are various reasons, like schedule and distance, that may keep you participating in our different activities. And we certainly don’t expect everybody to be at everything all the time.

But let me put it this way. If you want to be devoted to the apostle’s teaching, a.k.a. the Bible, we’ve got some great ways for you to get started on that. If you want to be committed to sharing life together, we’ve got some great ways for you to get started on that.

Now I want to speak specifically for a moment to those of you who have not been here for very long. I have been the new guy at other churches before, and I know the feeling of hearing about things like Adult Sunday school or a men’s Bible study, and assuming that they are not for me. Assuming that they’d just be full of people who know each other really well, and I would be the sole outsider, and I wouldn’t really know what was going on, and everybody would look at me strange when I showed up.

And I just want to say that this is not true. We’re at a stage as a church where we’re all just getting to know each other. We’re all figuring out this stuff together. And these different things we do are for you.

So don’t think, “I won’t go because I don’t know anybody.” Going is how you get to know people. And that even goes for occasional, more personal events like baby showers or even funerals.

When my mom died, we were relatively new at our church, and we had a bunch of people show up whom we didn’t know very well. And it wasn’t weird—it was comforting and wonderful. It helped build relationships. I remember the same with Judah’s baby shower—people showed up and gave us gifts whom we didn’t know very well, and it meant a lot.

So don’t stay away from these things because you don’t know people. Showing up is how you build those relationships.

Now for those of you who have been a part of EBC for a while, you can be a powerful part of helping this happen by inviting people to come along with you, knowing that it might be hard for them to come on their own. Be the person to say “I’m going to the Bible study tonight; would you like to come?”

“I’m going to the baby shower this Saturday; would you like to come? No, I don’t know them very well either, and I don’t know how many people will be there, so let’s go together and bless them anyways.”

So, that’s a second answer to this question. How do we be this kind of community today? As we’re able, we can participate in the events that we plan, and that’s true whether you’ve been here a short time or a long time.

3. Live this Out In All Of Our Life

But we need more. Because Acts 2:42 is not fundamentally about church events and programs. Church events and programs are a great place to start. But look again at Acts 2:42: “They devoted themselves.” Verse 45 - “And they.” Verse 46- “And day by day… they.”

Nobody had to force anybody to do any of this. This was about being a full-time Christian, with every person in the church giving themselves fully to life together.

We talked about this last week. The Christian life is all about people getting close to other people to help them get closer to Jesus. And that’s why the different “official” events we plan are just a starting place.

Behind every official activity we plan is a dream that we would be the kind of church where it’s normal for us to hear people say things like, “Why don’t the three of us do a potluck meal together on Thursday night?” Or “Want to meet up over our lunch break to read the Bible together?” Or “Let’s pray for a few minutes before you go.” Or, “I heard about your loss, and I know we don’t know each other very well, and I’m not sure exactly what to say, but I wanted to say I’m praying for you.” A church where we can’t wait to come early and stay after the service to talk and pray with people. A church of full-time disciple-making disciples who naturally share life with each other.

In other words, an Acts 2:42 kind of church.

So often we stay away from this territory because it feels awkward, at least at first. It’s out of our comfort zone.

But what if our comfort zone is slowly poisoning us? What if, like I just read last night, life starts at the end of your comfort zone? What if there is a lifetime of territory to explore just beyond the edge of what you’re used to? Can you imagine the depth of relationship we could experience if we were willing to take a step and actually put Acts 2:42 priorities into practice?

4.  Make a Commitment

There’s a fourth and final step this morning, and it has to do with commitment. I believe that commitment is very often the missing ingredient that keeps North American churches from experiencing the kind of close-knit and vibrant community that we see here in Acts 2.

In other countries around the world, commitment is built-in. If you’re in China or Iran, and you show up to a church gathering, you’re in. Those are your people. But here in North America, we can attend a church for years with no commitment, no accountability, and just walk away whenever we don’t like something.

It wasn’t always that way. In previous generations, people didn’t talk to much about attending a church. They spoke about joining a church. Because committing to a church was just normal. And here at EBC, we want to bring that back. We want to make the privilege of commitment a normal and celebrated part of what we do together.

The word that we use for that commitment is membership. And I know for some people, that’s a negative word, because in some other church settings, membership was really negative. It was all about politics. Or all about control.

Here at EBC, even though we might use the word membership, what we mean isn’t what you might think we mean. Membership is simply the way that we express our commitment to each other to be the body of Christ together. It’s how we say, “I’m in. You’re my people, and I’m committing to be accountable to this family.” Membership here is not about committing to a group of leaders or an organization, but fundamentally it’s about our commitment to each other to be the body of Christ together.

I’d love to talk more about this, and we’re actually going to do that at a membership seminar on Saturday, October 15. We’re going to gather that morning to talk about what membership is and what it looks like at EBC and what it means to commit to being the body of Christ together with this body of believers. Anybody is invited to come, even if all you are is curious.

But until then, I just want to ask: if you haven’t made that commitment to a specific local church, could it be that this commitment is the missing piece in helping you really experience the close relationships you’re longing for?

Secondly, if you have made that commitment, are you living it out? Are you sharing life with your fellow members, holding them accountable and inviting them to do the same with you? Are we acting like our commitment to each other actually means something?

There’s so much more we could say this morning, but as we end, I just want to encourage all of us to determine to take a step. Becoming an Acts 2:42 church can feel big and overwhelming. So just take a step. Even a small one.

We’ve seen lots of examples of what those steps could include. And you don’t have to take them all at once. You probably shouldn’t. But why not pick one? One step that you’ll take, this week, closer to deep relationship with the people of God.

And the greatest way we can do that, as we’ve seen, is by focusing on Christ. And so that’s why we’re going to end by singing “All I have is Christ.” And as we sing these words together, I want you to listen to the voices around you. Listen to this room-full of people singing “Jesus is my life.”

And just think—if Jesus really is your life, and if He really is their life, then how much life do you share? And what might it look like to actually express that?