“The Practice of Christian Community”
42And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. 44And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; 45and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. 46And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
The Gospel is preached by Peter, the Gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and men are brought under conviction. Men are converted, and a Christian community, a Church, is brought into being. These people, these 3,000, became a “communion of saints,” a community of faith! Now I want you to note with me the focus of their activity as a body of believers. I want you to note the four main categories with which they were concerned! Verse 42 states, 42And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
There were four major ingredients that bound them together. These same four ingredients must be characteristic of your life and my life, our lives as a body of believers, if we are to function in a way that is pleasing to the Lord!
First, you and I must be continually devoting ourselves to the Apostles’ Teaching! Remember, the Great Commission has three emphases: evangelistic, ecclesiastical, and educational. At the very outset, there were definite requirements for involvement in the life of the Church. It was not an easy-believism. It required repentance, baptism, and a continual devotion to these four things, the first of which was a continual devotion to the teaching of the Apostles. The word translated by the phrase “continually devoting” means “to be strong towards.” It conveys a sense of commitment! It conveys a commitment that sticks with you. It is not an occasional practice or a casual pursuit of the Apostles’ teaching, but a continuous, on-going pursuit. As a body of believers you and I are to be “continually devoting” ourselves to God’s Word revealed to us through the prophets and apostles. This is how the church grows and prospers: when it is fed and nourished on the truths of God’s Word! It should be your desire to know and do all of God’s Word. You should not be satisfied with a cursory knowledge of Scripture! You need to be exposed to and to learn to observe all of the full-bodied truth of the entire revelation of God. What the Apostle Paul called the “whole counsel of God.” Acts 20:20,27 20“how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house…27 For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.” You should not be satisfied with an occasional reading of the Bible, a verse here and there! You and I should develop the habit of being daily in the Word of God; daily devotions: prayer and Bible reading and study. Peter puts it this way in 1 Peter 2:2, 2“like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.” Is this what characterizes your life? Is this what characterizes this church? Preaching, teaching, Sunday School classes, Fellowship Groups, etc.
Individually and corporately, we should be continually devoting ourselves to the Apostles’ Teaching, all of it. This is why we must be focused on the teaching of Scripture in the Church. This is why we do not have sermonettes in the Church. This is why I have committed myself to expository preaching, verse by verse through entire books of the Bible. You and I need to be exposed to and continually devoted to the whole of Scripture. How do you teach men to observe all things that Jesus commanded? “To observe” means far more than just “to know.” It means “to know” and “to do!” How do you teach people to know and to do God’s Word? It requires what you see in verse 42, it requires that you be “continually devoting” yourselves to the teaching of the Scriptures. This is what Jesus expects of His church, Matthew 28:19-20 19“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
They were regularly submitting themselves to the Word of God! As the Holy Spirit was poured out upon them and as the Gospel was preached, disciples were being made, the Great Commission was underway. Disciples were being made, disciples were being baptized and added to the Church, and now disciples must be taught.
Second, you and I must be continually devoting ourselves to fellowship! They were sharing in each others’ lives; meeting needs, supporting and encouraging one another! Verse 44 gives us an example of how this continual pursuit of fellowship expressed itself. 44And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; 45and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.” Now I would like for you to note two things about their devotion to fellowship.
First, I want you to note that a spirit of unity prevailed! This not intended to convey some kind of a communal life as though they all left their homes and lived in some compound. Rather, it is intended to convey the spirit of unity that prevailed among them. The word translated “fellowship” is the word that conveys the idea of having things in common. They were united to one another by their common bond in Christ! Do you realize that you have far more in common with the each other as Christians than you do with any other group of people with whom you have a relationship. When a group of people become a body of believers they become united! The same spiritual life-blood flows throughout the whole body. They become brothers and sisters in Christ! They are of the same household of faith, and their hearts are knit together with the threads of the love of Christ! This is the unity of which the Apostle Paul speaks in the fourth chapter of the book of Ephesians. He sets forth a seven-fold foundation for our Spiritual unity: One body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of us all. Verse 44 states, 44“And all those who had believed were together…”
Second, I want you to note that the practice of unity prevailed! These believers were committed to each other. Their devotion to fellowship was more than sharing a cup of coffee in between a worship service and Sunday school. Now there is nothing wrong with the “fellowship” that we have in that context, but I wouldn’t say that it qualifies for a “continual devotion” to fellowship. The fellowship these believers experienced was a sharing of each others’ lives, their goods, their possessions, etc. It is a selfless sharing of whatever I have to meet your needs. In fact sometimes the Greek word is translated with respect to the giving of money, as in Romans 15:26 26“For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.” How is our devotion to fellowship here at Trinity Church? How is yours? Have you experienced the true fellowship of believers? Is your home open?
Third, they were continually devoting themselves to the breaking of bread! Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the sacraments, are not some secondary practices of the church that can be set aside or ignored, as though they were not central to the life of the Church or the fulfilling of the Great Commission. Baptism is explicitly commanded in the Great Commission and the Lord’s Supper is one of those things that Jesus commanded that must be taught. The sacraments were and are central to the life of the Church. Matthew 26:26 26“And while they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.”1 Corinthians 11:23-24 23“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
Jesus said in John 6:32-35 32“Jesus therefore said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. 33“For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.” 34They said therefore to Him, “Lord, evermore give us this bread.” 35Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” Just as we are in constant need of physical nourishment, so we are in constant need of spiritual nourishment as well. And the Lord Jesus Christ has offered us the observance of this Holy Meal as a means of continual spiritual nourishment! By His Spirit He feeds our hungry souls. The Lord’s Supper was observed by a “continual devotion.” Not occasionally or casually! Then how frequently? I’m not sure, but my guess is that it was weekly on the Lord’s Day! It is our great privilege to come to the Lord’s Table when we are called to do so! Do you begin to anticipate the spiritual nourishment that awaits you there? I remember as a boy playing outside and hearing my mother call me to supper. I would run in the house with great anticipation and enjoy all of the wonderful aromas, etc. Do you come to the family meal with an sense of anticipation that the Lord Jesus has prepared a banquet of grace for you and is going to feed and nourish your soul? It is a means of spiritual nourishment for your soul! (See: 1 Corinthians 11:23ff) What is your attitude toward the observance of the Lord’s Supper here at Trinity Church? How do you think of the “breaking of bread?” When these believers were baptized they were added to the membership of the Church. Once admitted into the membership of the Church, they are now nourished and fed by a constant communion with Jesus. Communion by a continual devotion to His Word and prayer, and communion by a continual devotion to the “breaking of bread.” In the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, the breaking of bread, the Lord Jesus Christ offers Himself to us as that which is true “spiritual food.”
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 16“Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? 17Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.” In several places in the Bible the phrase “breaking of bread” is used to refer to the Lord’s Supper. They were regularly coming to the Lord’s Table and sharing in the family meal! In baptism they received the family name, and in the Lord’s Supper, i.e. the breaking of bread, they sat at the family table and partook of the family meal.
We remember Christ’s death, the pouring out of His blood, for our sake! 26“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” We remember His grace in adding us to His body, the Church: 29“For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly.” We renew our commitment to forsake our sins! 28“But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” We look forward to the return of Christ to complete in us the good work which He began! 26“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” We have a true spiritual communion with Him by His Spirit, and we renew our vows of allegiance to follow Him as our Lord! 24“and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, “This is My body, which is for you…”
Fourth, you and I must be continually devoting ourselves to prayer! They were continually devoting themselves to prayer and public worship together on the Temple grounds; the center of Jewish religious life, and also a great gathering place for those interested in knowing the truth of the Gospel. John Calvin writes, “…but because there was there great concourse of people, who having laid aside their private cares, wherewith they had been drawn away elsewhere, did seek the Lord; they were continually in the temple, that they might gain such unto Christ.” And there was this continual devotion to prayer! We don’t know exactly what this looked like. Private prayer, public prayer, prayer in homes, in small gatherings? We just don’t know, but it was probably all of the above!
All four of these things combined are the life-blood of a community of believers, a Church of the Lord Jesus Christ! And look at the results, the by-products, of their functioning as a body of Christ! The Church was growing spiritually and numerically! “And the Lord was adding to their number…” Does this mean that this just happened to follow, or that it is the necessary consequence of the faithful pursuit of the four things mentioned above? I believe that it should be our expectation for the Church to grow as we are faithful to pursue these basic ingredients of ministry: Apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer.
People will be converted, and when people are converted or saved, they will be added to the Church. And note, the Lord always adds those that are being saved to the Church. Those that are not added to the Church may not truly be saved. Those who stand aloof from the Church may not be saved. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:6-7 6“I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. 7So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.” It is the Lord who adds to our number. We cannot cause the growth of the church. However, we have a part to perform. We must be faithful in the pursuit of these four things: apostles’ teaching, breaking of bread, fellowship, and prayer. They were continually devoted to one another and the practice of a true sacrificial sharing of whatever they had. And it was not occasional or casual. It was a constant practice of life. This is true fellowship! They knew each other, loved each other, pursued each other. Verse 46 states, 46“And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart…”