Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1400
June 2, 2019 Acts 2.42-47
Dr. Ed Pettus
(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)
“A Devoted Community”
The church’s story begins with the stunning enthusiasm of Holy Spirit activity: speaking in tongues, preaching, proclaiming repentance and forgiveness, three thousand saved. But it does not end with this burst of emotional excitement. It is not just one exciting day, but the Holy Spirit becomes so embedded into the lives of the Christians, that excitement becomes devotion, enthusiasm is transformed into commitment, and the fire of the miraculous does not diminish, but is entrenched in the spirit of faith and trust.
The devoted themselves to certain activities, disciplines, passions, or marks of church life. In devotion we give extensive time and energy, we are loyal to the cause and message, we are loving and completely committed. Devotion takes commitment and consistency. Devotion requires time and energy and concentration. Devotion needs focus. Devotion needs trust in order to continue.
The apostles and disciples of Jesus Christ trusted and believed fully in everything He had said and done and had experienced the anointing of the Holy Spirit and there was no stopping their devotion to Jesus and to one another. Such devotion needs trust, but it also requires love. We are devoted to the things and the people and the God we love. Love compels us to forgive and endure through what are sometimes difficult times in human relationships, but when we love someone, we press through all the problems and become deeply devoted whether it is between husband and wife or friend to friend or parent and child, whatever the relationship, we devote ourselves fully to being in that relationship.
With God in Christ, it is a unique devotion to the One whose love far exceeds our own. We are devoted to the One who died for us that we might know life in the kingdom of God and life eternal. Keeping that devotion and love can also pose troubling times. When the world seems set to destroy Christian values, thoughts, and actions. When the struggles of life seem to overwhelm us. When sickness and death push us to despair. These are the times when our devotion must persevere. I think this devotion we see in the early church is kind of circular. They devoted themselves to the teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayer, and what all those things do is build greater and deeper devotion! The more devoted we become through studying the apostle’s teaching, the more the teachings build our devotion.
Let’s look at these four areas of devotion as we contemplate our devotion to the Lord and His Church.
First, they devoted themselves to the apostle’s teachings. What teaching might that have been? I first think of the things we have been reading since Luke 24, all that Jesus taught. Remember how it says He opened up the Scriptures from Moses and the prophets and the Psalms. He taught them on the road, in the upper room, and countless other times during His appearances. But remember too that Jesus promised they would be taught by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was said to bring all things that Jesus said to their remembrance. These are the things they taught and we have much of what they taught recorded in the gospels and in the letters that make up the New Testament. And all of those things are found also in the Old Testament. That is, the Bible includes for us all we need to know for salvation and life and our relationship with God and one another.
The teachings of the church are what keeps the church on the straight and narrow of truth. The teachings prevent the church from straying out of God’s purpose and will. The teachings are given that we might be reminded again and again of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ and what God calls us to do for the sake of bringing people to Him.
We practice this same discipline of devotion when we study the Bible. We are studying the apostles' teachings and Jesus' teaching and the Law, Prophets, and Psalms. Devotion, word, and growth all come together for faithful discipleship. If you are not yet fully devoted to studying the Bible, then take up the fourth thing the church did here and pray that God will pour out a spirit of devotion upon you!
The devoted themselves to fellowship. You may have heard the Greek term koinonia. It is the sharing of life together, sharing time, discussion, heart issues, thoughts, prayers – all things in common (Acts 2.44-45). The early church shared so that all had what they needed. Perhaps one of the things they learned in the apostle’s teaching was Deut. 15.4-5 “But there will be no poor among you; for the Lord will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess— if only you will strictly obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all this commandment that I command you today.”
The church spent time in fellowship. When we fellowship, we share meals, shared conversation, share concern for one another. We grow together in love and unity given us by the Holy Spirit. Fellowship is about sharing our lives together. In their case this meant selling their possessions and give to others in need. People who completely miss the meaning of scripture try to justify socialism using this text. The big difference is the Christians shared all things in common voluntarily while socialists force their system of governance upon people. In one sense, we still care for one another as each has need. We help people all the time, some we may not even know, and we especially care for those within our fellowship. It is a part of our identity as Christians, to help those in need, and even if we get scammed by one, we still desire to trust the next person in need.
Fellowship builds trust among us and it leads us back to the devotion to Christ that we see so evident in Acts.
To Breaking Bread
They devoted themselves to the breaking of bread. When we first read that we might think that this is a particular reference to communion. But there is also evidence that it could have meant shared meals or communion or both. But on the debate as to meals or communion, there is probably not much distinction – “In good Jewish fashion, when the blessing is said at the table, the table becomes a holy place and eating together a sacred activity” (p. 41, Interpretation: Acts, William Willimon).
They broke bread together. There is something special in any church in eating together. Certainly we know that there are few churches in our nation where food is not a central element of gathering, but even more crucial to the bond of the church is the gathering we share around this communion table. It is here that we are nurtured, not just with God's gift of food and drink, but with spiritual food of body and blood, of the spiritual presence of Christ in the Holy Spirit. This is the holy sacrament, the mystery of unity in Christ shared by breaking bread.
When I think of this devotion, I think the church shared meals and communion together just as they would sell things to make sure everyone had what they needed. We still do that today. Any time there is a crisis, we take food over. Any time there is a desire to draw more people to an event, we serve food. Food is a gift that binds us together in fellowship and even more is the gift of the Lord’s Supper that binds us even deeper in God’s Spirit.
They devoted themselves to prayer – in one accord as from the beginning in the upper room. It just about sounds like they had specific prayers they used, or perhaps they devoted themselves to the discipline of prayer. Whatever we make of the way it is phrased, we know that the early church prayed and prayed a lot. We pray as well, but we know that we can always grow in our devotion to prayer by learning more ways to pray or studying the scripture and the language of prayer. A great source is the Psalms, reading the prayers of the Bible where the human experience is poured out to God in prayer.
I also think that the church in prayer is a reference to their constant worship. As it says toward the end of our reading, “...and day by day, attending the temple together.” They worshiped! This is the devoted maintenance to the Jewish practice of prayer and worship. Hebrews speaks of not neglecting the assembly of God's people (10:25). We need to attend worship as often as possible, if not here then somewhere else when out of town. Worship is vital to the life of the church and to the life of each of us. It is here that we praise and thank and celebrate as one the goodness of God.
All these things embody the presence of the Holy Spirit. Maybe, just maybe, these are the things the Churchs need to reclaim. Perhaps this is the one thing needful (Luke 10.42), devotion to teachings, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayer. All this in devotion to Jesus Christ. This is a way of being the church in our time as it was in their time, to be devoted to these things. The book of Acts is committed to telling the story of the early church, the community of faith devoted to these things. It is not so much about the individual personalities as it is about the community and its witness to the world. If we do nothing else, we certainly must devote ourselves to these things. Devoted to study the teachings of the apostles, the Bible. Devoted to one another in love, koinonia fellowship, support. Devoted to breaking bread, suppers in the fellowship hall and the Lord’s supper around this table in the sanctuary. Devoted to prayer and worship.
At the end of this first day of the Church, we see that everything they did did not matter as much as what God Himself did in Acts 2.41 & 47...The Lord added to their number. This is the Lord’s work, to our own. It is the Lord's work to bring people into saving faith. It is only our work to do those things inside and outside the church as God's people – witnesses, prayerful, devoted, breaking bread, and worshiping. I know that there are people that we desire would come to Christ and it breaks our hearts when they reject the gospel, but we cannot save them. What we can do is pray for them, give some sort of witness to them in word or deed, and trust in God's saving work.
The early church was greatly empowered by the gift of the Holy Spirit. They could do great and amazing things and today that same Spirit gives gifts and power to us, his church. There is an ongoing debate among many evangelicals as to whether or not the gifts of the Spirit we see vitally active in Acts continue today. Some believe that these gifts were only around long enough for the church to get established and later ceased to exist. Others, like myself, believe that the gifts continue to this day. I have witnessed things of the Spirit that I cannot explain and I have deeply trusted friends who have told me stories of healing and miracles that seem unbelievable until we realize that, yes, the Holy Spirit has not stopped pouring out blessings and gifts when and where they are needed.
The devotion to these things empowered them to go beyond themselves into the world to proclaim to those outside the church the gospel and the repentance and forgiveness Jesus commanded. Can we do the same? Yes, by the power of the Spirit. Will we do the same? I pray so. Amen.