When you drive through small towns across America and look at the signs on the various churches, invariably you will spot a name like: The First Christian Church of XXX; The First Baptist Church … Seems a bit presumptuous after so many hundreds of years of church history to call yourself the First of anything … but this morning we are truly studying a Snapshot of the First Christian Church period – the church formed by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. God provided an incubator type of environment to protect the life and health of this new born church. They are quickly headed for hard times and severe persecution … but the snapshot we look at this morning is one of joyful celebration of their new life in Christ and their fellowship together by the Holy Spirit.
As we noted earlier in our study of Acts, because this is an historical record of a transitional time – the establishing of the NT church – we need to carefully analyze what should be normative for our times and what might be special for just these transition times. Keep that concern in mind as we work through these verses.
We see a church gaining some important momentum here – the type of momentum that gets you over the hump and enables you to exist long-term as a viable entity. There are important lessons for us … because we are struggling to gain that same type of momentum – not the numbers talked about here – but the display of some contributors to church momentum that will be essential for our long term viability. Today we will be asking ourselves some hard questions. We need to take the next steps forward as a local church. Our Lord intends for us to grow in the context of church community – not as isolated believers. We need that strength and encouragement that comes from community.
This early church was definitely a happening place. It was exciting and alive with divine activity.
CHURCH VIBRANCY AND GROWTH SHOULD BE REFLECTED IN SUSTAINED MOMENTUM IN EXPERIENCING THE BLESSING OF GOD —
Let’s look together at:
4 CONTRIBUTORS TO CHURCH MOMENTUM
I. (:43) SUSTAINED CREDIBILITY
We have to be convinced that God is at work in our midst before others will be convinced. People are bound to be skeptical. The questions come fast and furious: Who are you to start a church? Who vetted your leaders? Are your leaders even legitimate in terms of meeting the NT qualifications for elders? Where is the evidence that God wants you to be involved in this work? Are you just being presumptuous and employing wishful thinking? These are hard questions – we certainly expected more growth and evidence than what we have seen to date.
Let’s look at the early church – Credibility was not a problem for them.
As the church grew, many false leaders would arise and seek to create a following for themselves; seek to become popular and powerful; seek to exploit people for money and selfish ambition – We need to make sure that our motives are pure and our Credibility comes from God
2 Key Ingredients to this Sustained Credibility:
A. Awe = Recognition that God is Performing an Amazing Work
“And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe;”
The word ????? – in the sense of reverential awe of God is used here …
When you got up this morning and thought about today’s worship service, were you overcome with a sense of awe – a conviction that the Almighty God is at work in our midst and we are in the center of His kingdom building will and Great Commission Plan?
Or would our outlook be characterized by other types of feelings:
– Maybe complacency and boredom – things just continue along as every other Sunday and I have no great expectation that God is doing anything special
– Maybe feelings of duty and obligation – Sunday has rolled around again, so I guess I had better show up and check the box
– Maybe a sense of uneasiness and anxiety – Are we really doing what God wants?
These believers in Jerusalem were all united in this sense of awe – I think of the chorus”
You are beautiful beyond description
Too marvelous for words
Too wonderful of comprehension
Like nothing ever seen or heard
Who can grasp you infinite wisdom
Who can fathom the depth of your love
You are beautiful beyond description
Majesty enthroned above
And I stand, I stand in awe of you
I stand, I stand in awe of you
Holy God to whom all praise is due
I stand in awe of you.
Probably refers mainly to believers (since that is the context from vs. 42), but with spill-over impact on the watching, unbelieving community (especially since the designation of “all those who believed” could be viewed as a subset of the “everyone” referred to here) – cf. 3:10 for specific example of impact on the non-believing community
Imperfect verb ??????? used twice in this verse – at the start and at the end of the verse –
bracketing the two results of Awe and Authentication
This is a happening place!
MacArthur: Now this word awe is reserved for special times in Scripture. It’s reserved for those times when people’s minds are struck with an awe that is based on something divine that they can’t explain. And there are Many good illustrations of its use one classic one is in Luke 7:11, “And it came to pass the next day that He went into a city called Nain and many of His disciples went with Him and much people”, this is Jesus, “When He came near to the gate of the city behold there was a dead man being carried out the only son of his mother and she was a widow”, here comes a funeral procession marching along and they’ve got the guy in his little bier thing, casket, “And when the Lord saw her He had compassion on her and said unto her, Weep not”, don’t cry – I love this, “And He came and touched the bier and they that bore him stood still. And He said, Young man I say unto thee Arise”. Can you imagine what that must have caused, the reaction? “And he that was dead sat up and began to speak.” Just imagine what that must have caused. And He said, “And He delivered him to his mother, and there came a fear on all“. Now that doesn’t mean they were afraid. It says in the next statement, “And they glorified God”. You see, it’s that idea that God is doing something. And they said, “There’s a prophet come to our place”. It is being unable to explain the divine that leaves you in a sense of awe.
We need to take time to stop and reflect – What is God doing in our midst?
Do we have that sense of awe which is essential to Sustained Credibility – essential for ourselves and essential to impact others who are watching what is going on here?
Most people will not join anything until the momentum factor has been clearly and visibly demonstrated. It takes great faith and vision to be on the pioneering side of any movement.
So one key ingredient to Credibility is this sense that God is at work … The miracle of Chap. 3 will further enhance this sustained sense of Awe
another is Authentication
B. Authentication of the Message, Methodology and Ministers of this Movement
“and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.”
You need to understand WHY these wonders and signs were happening:
– Not because God’s intention was to heal everyone and fix everyone’s physical hardships – the Apostle Paul could not even fix his own physical affliction
– Not because God put a supreme value on showy, flashy spectacular miracles – He has always been most concerned about the quiet inward transformation of the heart
Why did Jesus perform signs and miracles such as those recorded in the Gospel of John?
“these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” John 20:31
These wonders and signs had a specific purpose for this time and place in God’s program of redemption – authenticating the message, methodology and ministers of the New Covenant – this infant church movement
– The Message – the gospel united Jew and Gentile into one new body of Christ
– The Methodology – primarily the preaching of the Word of God and the forming of local church bodies organized around divinely authenticated leaders
– The Ministers of this movement – all believers as priests; all spiritually gifted to make significant contributions; but still certain ones designated as leaders
Wrong to expect these wonders and signs today without the same need to authenticate; all believers were not performing these signs
Longenecker: Note reference to the phraseology of Joel’s prophecy from 2:19 and Peter’s characterization of ministry of Jesus in 2:22
2 Cor. 12:12; Heb. 2:3-4
No apostles in today’s church – that is very important
Where did the Apostle Paul point to for his Authentication?
“my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” 1 Cor. 2:4
How does this Authentication take place today? By conformity and consistency to the revealed Word of God –
Is. 8:19-20 “When they say to you ‘Consult the mediums and the spiritists who whisper and mutter,’ should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn [no light]”
Acts 17:11 remember the commendation of the Christians at Berea: “Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” – Check it out!
2 Cor. 4:2 “but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” – True to the Word of God
MacArthur: Now, of course, when the word was finally completed in the Scripture, the age of miracles as such ceased. If five people come into this building and they all teach five different things I can tell very quickly who’s teaching the truth. I compare him with the book. Right? I don’t need miracles anymore I have the standard right here.
We need Credibility – in our own eyes . . . in the eyes of others around us – gain it in 2 ways:
– Maintaining sense of Awe – God is at work
– Maintaining consistency with Word of God – our Authentication
2nd Contributor to Church Momentum:
II. (:44-45) SOLIDARITY IN SACRIFICIAL SHARING
A. (:44) Solidarity
“And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common;”
1. Solidarity of Place
How together are we? Gathered together in the same place — America is a nation of proud individualists – we don’t need help from anyone else; we stand on our own; we no longer live in communities – we might live close together in townhouses … but we don’t even know our neighbors
Talking about spending time together – significant time; quality time; quantity time – did not forsake the assembling of themselves together; not just a once a week experience
Our Solidarity starts with our common faith in the Lord Jesus Christ – “who had believed” = Aorist participle rather than Present Participle??? Depends on the text you use – pointing back to moment of conversion of repentance and initial faith – but certainly they were abiding in this state of believing as well — most basic characterization of Christians — this is not some variable spiritual pilgrimage where every person tries to find his own way to God – we are knit together in one body – the body of Christ by one Spirit – celebrating the high calling Paul details in Ephes 4 – “being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.”
Illustration: A young fellow who was fed up with church went to see this wise old Christian in his cabin to get some advice. He told him all the things that were bothering him about church, and how he felt that he would be better off without the company of other Christians. As he was speaking, the old man silently took the fire tongs and removed a red-hot glowing coal from the middle of the fire and set it on the hearth. The coal glowed for a while, but eventually dimmed and turned black. He let it sit there a while and then took the tongs and places the coal back in the middle of the fire. Within seconds the coal was glowing red hot once again. The young man took the wordless lesson and left determined to stay with church. Just as coals soon burn out when they are removed from the company of other coals, we will not last long in the faith if we are removed from true fellowship.
2. Solidarity of Possessions
Had all things in common —
Not talking about communal pooling of all resources, elimination of private property and living in some type of communal state; they still owned houses, etc. Sold their possessions as needed according to perceived need and their ability to meet that need; not holding tightly to their own possessions but embracing the concept of Christian stewardship
B. (:45) Sacrificial Sharing
“and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.”
Characteristics of this radical form of sharing:
– Voluntary – motivated by Christian love
– Distribution based on financial need
– Special Circumstances dictated that this was a temporary situation — Look later in Acts and you see disciples still had personal property 11:27-30
5:4 problem with Ananias was lying; he had the right to hold on to the proceeds from the sale of property or choose not to sell it at all
But don’t want to mitigate the force of this example – we need to be balanced between responsibility to bear our own burden (taking care even of our extended family) and taking on responsibility for those in the church who have legitimate financial needs
Toussaint: The selling of property and the common possession of the proceeds may imply that the early church expected the Lord to return soon and establish His kingdom. This may explain why the practice was not continued. ???
Boice: The early Christians shared their possessions, not because they were communists or socialists – not because they were forced to share their things – but for a far better reason. They shared their goods because they were generous, and they were generous because they had learned generosity from God. God had been generous with them. So because God had been generous with them, they were determined to be generous with one another.
III. (:46-47a) SANCTIFIED COMMUNITY – EXPRESSED IN CHURCH WORSHIP AND FELLOWSHIP
Sanctified = Set apart from the world and set apart to God
A. (:46a) Consistent and Unified Worship
“And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple,”
“day by day”
Christians were not content to just be one another once a week for services; they were a true community – meeting as often as possible – both informally and for teaching and worship times
“with one accord” – 11 of 12 NT usages are in book of Acts! The unity of the early church simply amazing; they acted as a true body, directed by one mind to accomplish the same goal
With one purpose; by common consent
Must understand the Jewish background of this first church; not continuing to participate in the sacrifices … but found the temple to offer space for daily prayers and worship as well as a platform for proclamation
B. (:46b) Joyful and Genuine Fellowship
“and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart,”
We have developed our church model predominantly around structured services whereas we need a balance between structured and unstructured times of fellowship and worship
Stott: And certainly it is always healthy when the more formal and dignified services of the local church are complemented with the informality and exuberance of home meetings. There is no need to polarize between the structured and the unstructured, the traditional and the spontaneous. The church needs both.
Toussaint: One of the subthemes of Acts is joy, because a victorious church is a joyful one. (5:41; 8:8, 39; 11:23; 12:14; 13:48, 52; 14:17; 15:3, 31; 16:34; 21:17)
Tony Miano: The Greek word for “sincerity of heart” has an interesting origin. It literally means “simplicity” and comes from the root word that means, “free from rocks” (Robertson, v. 3, p. 39-40). As John MacArthur has said, “There were no stones of selfishness in their hearts” (p. 89). Although it didn’t always remain that way (the church in Jerusalem would eventually have its share of problems), in the early days of the church their fellowship was simple. It wasn’t bogged down by agendas, ulterior motives, and “What’s in it for me.” Their fellowship was healthy, reverent, and pleasing to God.
C. (:47a) Vertical and Horizontal Blessing
“praising God, and having favor with all the people.”
They spent their time blessing God and God spent His time blessing them
Unity comes from everyone praising God rather than promoting self
Again this is a snapshot in the time … later God would not lead them in such easy, pleasant pastures … they would be maligned and attacked – in both circumstances, God is accomplishing His sovereign purposes; we need to stay constant in our activity of praising God
Favor = grace
“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” That is what was happening in this early church.
Bock: In sum, Luke affirms the internal fellowship, intimacy, and engagement of the community. This positive activity is accompanied by joy and glad hearts, and their worship and praise of God are ongoing. But this is not an isolated, private club or a hermetically sealed community. Their reputation with outsiders also is good. This good reputation apparently impacts their witness.
Prov. 16:7 “When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” Something winsome and attractive about these believers
IV. (:47b) SOVEREIGN GROWTH – BASED ON LIFESTYLE OF WITNESSING
“And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
The good hand of God prospering us
We do not have the ability to add people to God’s church
We are privileged to even play a role in the process:
1 Cor. 3:5-9 – we can plant and water but we are mere men; it is God who gives the increase
God is in the business of building His church – so additions should be the norm – should be our expectation to see fruit
Stott: He did not add them to the church without saving them (no nominal Christianity at the beginning), nor did he save them without adding them to the church (no solitary Christianity either). Salvation and church membership belonged together; they still do.
If you don’t have these 4 contributors to church momentum, you tend to stall out
I. (:43) SUSTAINED CREDIBILITY
II. (:44-45) SOLIDARITY IN SACRIFICIAL SHARING
III. (:46-47a) SANCTIFIED COMMUNITY – EXPRESSED IN CHURCH WORSHIP AND FELLOWSHIP
IV. (:47b) SOVEREIGN GROWTH
Ps. 127:1 “Unless the Lord builds the house they labor in vain who build it” – not said by Solomon to discourage the nation but to encourage them to focus their hopes for experiencing blessing and prosperity on the Lord; we need to seek the Lord’s face for these 4 contributors to church momentum … but we also need to be opening our wallets to share, witnessing as we have opportunity, joining together in glad fellowship and praising the Lord for what He is doing in our midst