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GATHER | Acts 2:42-47

October 18, 2015 Preacher: Ryan Gilbert Series: Be the Church

Topic: Church Scripture: Acts 2:42–47

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Good morning, Raintree. What a great song to transition into our time together in God’s Word. Christ is the cornerstone; He must be our Cornerstone. I’m looking forward to spending time with those of you who are 60-ish and older today. Even if you didn’t bring food, just come! Right after the service in the Fellowship Hall. I spent time with the youth last week, and want to spend some time with those of you are less young. This helps me to get to know the Body in smaller groups, and honestly, get to know the two groups that are sometimes forgotten in the life of the church. Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, the youth are not JUST the future of the Church; they’re the present. They’re not just going to be used by God in the future, but they can be used by God right now. On a similar note, our “Young at Heart” group (or whatever you’d like to be called), is not the past of the Church; they’re the present! They weren’t just used by God in the past, but they can also be used and do great things for God right now– Just a quick encouragement for those of you who might be in one of those groups.

This week will be the 2nd installment of our “Be the Church” series. Last week we asked and answered the question, “What is the Gospel?” Today, we’re going to ask and hopefully answer the question, “What is the Church?” And therefore, “What is the church to be doing?”

There are a lot of opinions about what the church should be doing. In fact, I want you to ask yourself right now, what are my expectations for Raintree? Just ask and think about this? Maybe they’re broad expectations or hopes, maybe they’re specific. Think about them for a moment. Here’s my question: are these expectations or hopes based upon my preferences or God’s preferences? I want our church to be all about __________, fill in the blank. We could list probably 10 things that could seem like good “main things”. But we can’t have 10 main things. In my Q and A with you as a potential candidate for Lead Pastor, you asked me what were some things I’ve learned in ministry, and I mentioned that I have learned that focused excellence is better than broad mediocrity. So, of course, the question is, what, then, will we be about? What will we do? We’ve been praying, and asking God to teach us that over these last few weeks, and will continue to do so, and you’ll hear more about that at next week’s “family meeting” at 5pm on Sunday, and all of you are invited.

But as far as when we gather, what should we do? What are some things we should definitely not leave out as far as the time that we have together, particularly on Sunday mornings.

 

Introduction to Text

Turn with me to Acts Chapter 2 again. We’re going to take up the text close to where we left off last week, starting in verse 42. If you remember, last week, we read through most of Peter’s sermon he preached at Pentecost. He spent time explaining who Jesus is, that he’s the Messiah, that Joel and David prophesied about him, and that he died for our sin, and rose again defeating death. We talked last week about The Gospel, and how important it is to be clear and specific as to what it is and what it isn’t. This week we’re picking up with a summary of what happened after this. 3000 people got saved on the day of Pentecost after Peter preached. So what did these 3000 plus the 120 believers that met together in the first place—what did they do?

This might be relevant for us, right? What did the first Christian church ever do? The very church that existed while some of the people whom God used to bring us the New Testament were still living among them?! I think we might be shocked at the simplicity of this first church, and perhaps can learn a thing or two about what God intended for the church.

Start with me in Acts 2:42.

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 favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

In the time we have together, I want to ask and answer these three questions: What is the church? What is the church to be doing? And what happens when the church is the church? So the first question:

 

  1. What is the Church?

The Church is the people of God, those who are saved, who have repented from their sin and placed their faith in Jesus Christ alone. Vs. 42 says “they” devoted themselves, who’s it talking about? Well, if you look back at vs. 41 it’s clear that Luke is writing about the 3000 who were just saved! The church is made up of Christians. As soon as someone meets Christ, repents and believes, he or she becomes a member of the universal church. So that’s the universal church.

But there is also a manifestation of the church that’s different from the universal church, and that’s the local church. In fact, to show the importance of the local church, let me just mention that almost every single reference in the New Testament to the church, “ecclesia”, is in reference to a specific local body of Christians. It’s a common thought in our culture that God’s not really a fan of churches. Well, they definitely have their faults, but it seems clear in the Bible that he places a whole lot of priority on the local church. If you’re not a fan of organized religion, let me ask you a question: Are you still not a fan if God is the one who organized it? According to Matthew 16:18, Jesus says upon this rock (which I take to be referring to Peter’s confession of Christ as the Messiah) I will build my church. He goes on to show us that the church cannot fail! God has declared that the gates of hell will not overcome the church! Some local bodies may close their doors, but ultimately, the church of God which has its primary presence in the local body of believers, cannot fail, won’t fail, and is God’s primary vessel for ministry.

To be a Christian and not be a part of local body doesn’t work. You and I were not made to live our Christian walks alone. The Christian faith is not a private affair! In fact, not only are we limiting our spiritual growth as Christians by not being plugged in to a local body, but we also are missing out on a major part of the very meaning of being a Christian. We were called out (set apart) with other people to be holy. Our Christian faith CANNOT truly be lived out alone. It can’t. Our walks with Jesus, as God has laid it out in Scripture, involves other Christians.

This is why church membership matters as well. And maybe membership isn’t the best thing to call it, because in our minds we immediately think of some sort of club, in which we pay our dues, and benefit somehow, maybe take advantage of the meetings, etc. The church is NOT a club, but instead a family of sorts. I wrote a little blurb on my blog about why church membership matters, and I’ll share that today right after church on Raintree’s Facebook page, if you’d like to check that out, answering the question, “Does membership matter?” But, in summary, to answer the question, “What is the Church”, it is the people of God who have been saved by God, and who, according to Scripture, have regular fellowship with a local group of Christians. That’s the church. So the second question we have is…

 

  1. What is the church to be doing?

What should we regularly do as Raintree Community Church?

In this text that we just read, we see, pretty clearly, four things that we’re to do on a regular basis, that are summarized in verse 42, then somewhat expounded upon in verses 43-47. This can really help guide us for Sunday mornings, what should we do? We’re going to spend most of our time discussing the first two, and not as much time on the last two, because the text seems to spend a lot more time on the first two. So, we’re going to look at these four things, with the assumption that we, at least to some degree, can learn from this early church, and even imitate it. We are to be…

 

  1. Devoted to God’s Word.

Verse 42, what is the first thing that Luke writes these 3100 or so Christians did?! They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. The apostles’ teaching would include Jesus’ early teaching, and what he taught the apostles, specifically. They devoted themselves to this teaching, the teaching of those whom God inspired to write His words.

Obviously, we can learn from this first truth! We are to devote ourselves to God’s Word, to teaching, to learning. Truth matters, learning matters, knowledge matters, theology matters. Some of these things at times get a bad rap because some will separate knowledge of God from life transformation. But let’s make sure not to throw out theology just because some people who like theology might act a bit arrogant at times. Theology matters. What we believe about God, theology, is INCREDIBLY important, not just for pastors, but for all Christians. Studying truth matters, and I’m not talking necessarily about studying a book about the Bible, but opening the Word itself. Even on our own, we need to make sure and read, study the Bible, not just read books about the Bible or about Biblical truth, but go to the source and study biblical truth itself. We are to devote ourselves to God’s Word, His teaching.

And this definitely is not just for our official times together on Sunday mornings or in our small groups. I want you to take note of the attitude they had toward God’s Word. They devoted themselves, they desired to learn and know God better through His Word. They wanted to be together simply so they could study truth together! It says day by day they met up to study and interact and encourage one another. This isn’t just on Sunday mornings, but even during the week when we’re hanging out, or on Facebook or over the phone, there is much value in encouraging one another, not with our own thoughts, but with the truth of God. They desired God’s Word.

What about this morning, do you desire God’s Word? Are you eager to open the Bible when we get to the message, and not just because I’m new and way funnier and better looking than Kenny, but specifically, because you want God to teach you. You know, worship doesn’t stop when the music stops. Real worship includes obedience, and we learn to obey through what, God’s Word. Worship, if anything, is heightened or at its climax when we get to this time. This instruction, this truth, involves our entire week; it teaches us how to follow Christ later today, or at work, or at school.

Worship is not music. “Worship” may not even be the best way to describe what we do on Sunday mornings. Do we worship, absolutely! At least I hope that’s your heart in being here. But, it seems like often, and I’m including myself here, often we’re more interested in talking to God than hearing from Him. I want to tell God how great he is. Oh, and then we’ll let the preacher preach, because we have to. The worship doesn’t stop when the music stops. It continues! In the New Testament church, it’s almost as if the gatherings were more about instruction and teaching and interaction around God’s Word more than about “worship” in the sense of an experience or singing. Sunday morning is not primarily for worship, it’s for opening God’s Word and learning how to worship throughout the week! That might be a good summary of this thought. Sunday morning is when we learn how to worship and obey throughout the week.

Not only was the first church devoted to the apostles’ teaching, but they were also…

 

  1. Devoted to the Fellowship

Now when we think of fellowship, I don’t know about you, but I think about pot-luck. I think about food. And to be completely honest, that’s part of it! Spending time together, not even with a religious activity in the formal sense, but just being together, this is important! In fact, vs. 46 says that they broke bread together in their homes and received their food with glad and generous hearts. We can do normal things together, while sharing laughter and joy that we have because of Christ. We don’t have to just be reading the Bible, even though we should naturally talk about what we’ve been reading and have been impacted by in the Word, because we’re devoted to it. But there’s also true fellowship in just spending time together and eating together.

Some of you have probably heard of the Greek word for fellowship, “Koinonia”. Now, the meaning of koinonia, to put it most simply, is “sharing” or “the sharing of a gift”. The way I like to picture it, and I think this is representative of the meaning in the Greek, is the sharing and community that we have because we’ve been given the same gift. This gift of salvation is such an incredibly impactful gift that brings us together no matter our perceived differences. It’s the relationship and community we have because of Christ. It’s NOT this warm feeling you get like you swallowed a teddy bear or something. It’s not just a feeling, it’s reality. And it’s not the building of personal relationships between each other, even though that’s a by-product of fellowship, or koinonia. But it’s, specifically being brought together by what we share, Christ, the Gospel. Technically speaking, you and I can have real biblical fellowship with people we don’t even know. Why? Because if they are children of God, and you are a child of God, you already have the greatest thing you could possibly have in common. The greatest thing we could possibly have in common is the Gospel, Jesus Christ himself.

This is why local bodies, local churches can and should reflect the diversity in the community. Not diversity in the sense that we just let sin abound, but diversity in the sense that this local body, potentially, could have poor people, rich people, white people, black people, Republicans, Libertarians, Democrats (save abortion, of course), people in debt, people without debt, people that like hymns, people that like rock concert type of worship, people who dress nice for Sunday, people who prefer casual, I could go on and on and on. Even with all of these differences and more, we still have the greatest thing in common that we could possibly have in common. And the reality of this common-held gift, the Gospel, Jesus himself, brings us all together. It’s a beautiful thing. I wish we could use the rainbow for our symbol of the Church, but obviously in this culture that has different connotations. Again, we don’t let sin abound—“we’re diverse, even people who don’t believe in God are welcome as members of the church”—no of course not. Instead, we have repented and given our lives to the Lord, and we can celebrate the diversity of the body, and even more than that, celebrate what brings us together. We are not diverse in our ultimate goal: bring glory to God by loving and obeying Him. We are diverse in our backgrounds, in our family traditions, in our preferences, in many things.

This koinonia manifests itself in very real ways. Look at verses 44 and 45 again: “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.” They had all things in common, primarily referring to what unifies us, the gift that we share, the truth of God’s Word, to which they were doevoted. And what happens when we share that gift? The reality of the Gospel so outweighs the reality of possessions that we’re willing to give some or all up for the needs of others. People sold their homes! This first church was so devoted to the teaching of the apostles and the fellowship that they would do anything to help each other.

Just for clarity, this is not some form of Christian communism. The leaders of the church didn’t force everyone to sell everything, in fact, many didn’t. It’s clear from verse 46 that not everyone sold their homes, because they still met in homes. BUT, people voluntarily sold their possessions. The reality of the Gospel, the reality of koinonia, this sharing of the Gospel, completely overshadowed the reality of possessions. What a stark contrast to the average lifestyle of an American Christian. When you read this passage, maybe your first instinct was to immediately go on the defensive, like “Well not everyone sold their stuff so I don’t have to give up my stuff.” Was that your first thought? Or was it, “I’m going to do whatever God wants me to do.” That’s a challenging question, not just for you, but for me. Ask yourself the question, am I willing to sacrifice for the needs of my brothers and sisters in Christ?

Jesus is our example and our fuel for giving our time, energy, and money. He gave all so we could have all. Can we not follow suit and at least give some so that others can have some. I know this is my second week as your Lead Pastor, and I’m already talking about money. But money is not just external. What we do with our possessions can reveal a lot about our hearts. This is where we hold our privacy most dear. What I do with my money is my business and no one else’s. I struggle with this as well, but I have to say it: It’s God’s business too. Again, this was never something forced upon these believers, even by church leadership, just to be very clear. But they were so devoted to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship that some sold the majority or all of their possessions. Wow, be challenged today, as I am.

So, what is the church to be doing? We’re to be devoted to God’s Word and to the Fellowship. What else does the church do? These last two we won’t spend but a brief moment on, because the text really only spends a brief moment on them. The 3rd thing mentioned in verse 42 is…

 

  1. The Lord’s Supper

They were devoted to the breaking of bread, that’s what verse 42 says. There’s some discussion over whether or not this is referring to the Lord’s Supper, but I think this is at least part of what is meant, because it seems to be a pretty formal thing, they were devoted to “the breaking of bread”. Now why is the Lord’s Supper so important? The Lord’s Supper symbolizes our partaking of Christ’s death on the cross. It’s a memorial, a celebration of our Redeemer. This is something that is incredibly important, we are told to do in Scripture, and is a great way of remembering what Christ did on the Cross. The next time we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper is the Sunday before Thanksgiving a little over a month from now.

The fourth thing brought up in verse 42, that the first church was devoted to, and to what we also will be devoted is…

 

  1. Prayer

Now the reason I’m only mentioning this particular thing is because we will spend an entire Sunday with focused teaching on prayer in a few weeks. But, for today, let me simply ask the question: do you pray for the other people in this room regularly? Do you pray also for those in your sphere of influence who don’t know Christ? In the near future, we will be providing specific tools to help you pray for the people in this Body, as well as pray for others as well.

So these four things—God’s Word, the fellowship, the Lord’s Supper, and prayer– are the four mentioned in this text. There are, of course, other specific things that the church is to be doing, for example, evangelism while not explicit, is implied by verse 47. The Lord was adding to their number every day; well obviously God was using the church to reach the people around them. So evangelism, among other things, are to be done as well, and that also will be covered in the near future as a part of this series. But this is a pretty good summary of what we’re to be doing when we gather. And it’s so nice to see how simple it is!

Sometimes I think we over-complicate things. We try and please everyone and meet everyone’s preferences and expectations, even teaching and preaching what people want to hear (which will potentially get a lot of people inside your building), but what we end up doing is good things at the cost of neglecting these four simple things this first church did. When the first church gathered, it wasn’t some experience-driven event, like it seems to be in today’s mainstream Christian culture. It was a gathering of believers around God’s Word, sharing in the Gospel, praying, and often partaking in the Lord’s Supper. What has been lost from the average church in our culture? Koinonia. Fellowship. Most churches nowadays don’t seem to modeling themselves after the early church, even in the slightest ways. And I struggle with this. As a new pastor, I know we can do certain things to get people here pretty quick, which, admittedly, would make me feel affirmed. But I can’t help but see in the Bible that God desires simplicity. He desires holiness more than he desires relevance. And don’t get me wrong, the early church wasn’t perfect! Read the rest of the New Testament and you quickly see how many problems Paul and other writers had to address. But, we can definitely learn from the simplicity of this first church in Acts. The church is a group of born-again Christians gathering to learn, pray, and to share in the gift of the Gospel, and be equipped to make disciples; it is not some performance we sell as an EPIC experience. I’m so torn, sometimes, because I hate being negative, I hate thinking that most modern churches are just missing it. I don’t want to think that. But I can’t help but think it’s true, when we look at the heart of the early church, when we look at who they were and what we did. It looks like we’ve lost some or a lot of what it means to be the church.

One thing we conclude no matter what: I want to be devoted to God’s Word, I want koinonia amongst each other, I want to share with you and bask in the grace of God. Is he not so merciful and does he not show us perfect grace? We share that, and it brings us together, no matter how differently we might think on other issues.

We now, briefly, come to the third question we’ll ask this morning.

 

  1. What happens when the church is the church?

When God’s people devote themselves to His Word, and to the fellowship, God does great things. In Acts 2, God uses the apostles, specifically the apostles, to perform miraculous works, “signs and wonders”. This brought about an awe or a reverent fear among the people themselves, and also among the people in the community!

That’s what can happen among this fellowship when we devote ourselves to God’s Word and to the fellowship. He will move, maybe not through signs and wonders in the sense of a whole bunch of miracles all the time, it does seem that at least part of those gifts were given specifically to the apostles, as opposed to all Christians. But he will definitely move nonetheless, and awe will come upon the people. And then we will respond with praise and adoration, vs. 47. Are you in awe of God this morning? If we do this, you better be ready for God to do awesome things, and I’m not talking about things we might consider awesome. But what God Himself considers awesome.

The other thing that happens when the church is the church, is that people get saved. Vs. 47: “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” I love that the credit so clearly goes to God. He uses us, implied here is that the people were going out and sharing the Gospel and making disciples, and yet, ultimately, God gets all the credit.

When the church is the church, and does what God wants, people will come to know the Lord. I don’t know about you, but I greatly desire to grow numerically as a church, not necessarily because people start liking us better than that other church, though at times, you need to make changes, but because God is saving individuals from their sin and bringing them into the fellowship. People that may not even know what a chapter and a verse are. Let’s pray that Raintree, that we decide to Be the Church that God wants us to be.

More in Be the Church

November 29, 2015

Radinary Obedience | Acts 6-7

November 22, 2015

The Lord’s Supper | 1 Corinthians 11:20-34

November 15, 2015

The Organized Church | Acts 6:1-7