As we travel along through the Book of Acts, we come to verse 41-47 in chapter 2. This is the first look at the early church. And these verses show us the traits that characterized the daily lives of believers. Here they are in a nutshell and then we will look at them a little closer.
1. A people who received the Word gladly (v. 41).
2. A people who were devoted (v.42).
3. A people who stirred everyone with a godly fear (v.43).
4. A people who were together—sharing in ministry (v.44-45).
5. A people who were unified (v.46).
6. A people who worshipped and praised God daily (v.46-47).
If SEBC were all that, we could stop right here, have a prayer and go home. But we’re not. So let’s look now at what God is trying to tell us.
When it’s functioning properly, the Church is the hope of the world. It’s the only organization that has ever existed that is capable of healing broken lives, pointing people to God, and fulfilling the deepest longings of our souls. It’s in the Church that the rejected find acceptance, the sinners receive forgiveness, and the lonely experience love.
1. It is in the Church that we discover and live out our true life-purpose. (Worship)
2. It is in the Church that we receive teaching and training for how we can be the people that God has called us to be. (Discipleship)
3. When the Church of Jesus Christ is functioning properly, each member is using his or her God-given gifts and talents and abilities to serve one another and the world beyond. (Ministry)
4. And there is community and fellowship, withing the Church of Christ, that fulfills our longing for friendship and intimacy with others (Fellowship)
5. When the Church is functioning properly, the lost—those without a relationship with Jesus—have the Gospel preached to them, and receive the opportunity to accept Christ as their Savior and come within the folds of the Church and experience everything we just talked about. (Evangelism)
When it is functioning properly, the Church of Jesus Christ is the hope of the world.
And so, let’s spend some time talking about the type of church that God wants SEBC to be. It’s not enough that we come to this building on Sundays, if we fail to be the Church God wants us to be. It’s not enough that we sing the songs, it’s not enough that we take communion, it’s not enough that we give our offerings, it’s not enough that we sit through the sermon—it’s not enough that we come to church, if we fail to be the church.
In Acts chapter 2, this is the account of the very first church. The Holy Spirit had come upon Peter and the other apostles, and they preached the Word of Christ in Jerusalem with great success. Many were converted to faith, and a church was born. And the account of that first church demonstrates for us the characteristics that God wants in the New Testament Church. READ v. 41-47.
This church had some characteristics that God wants in churches everywhere, for all time. Let’s look at these tonight.
I. The New Testament Church Grows Warmer Through Fellowship. That’s what the church we read about was doing. Look at verse 42 READ. And verses 44-46:
They were devoted to fellowship. They were sharing their lives with each other. They were becoming a family.
We live in a world where families are fragmenting and disintegrating. We all know that divorce is an ever-present reality. But it’s not just divorce that causes families to splinter. We live in a mobile society. Kids grow up and move away. People move in and move out of neighborhoods and homes because of job transfers and new opportunities. While many of you have lived in this area all of your lives, there are many other people living in the area today who did not grow up here.
We live in a world, because of our mobility and our failed marriages, where “family” is no longer a constant; no longer something we can count on. And all around us there are people who feel disconnected, who long for closeness with other people, but they don’t know where to find it.
Do you remember watching The Waltons? Do you remember how everyone lived together — Grandma, and mom and dad, and the kids? And every member of the family was able to rely upon every other member of the family? Why was that? Because they were family. And most of us wish our families were a little more like the Waltons. We long for a simpler time when families stuck together and took care of one another. Some of us may have families like that, but a whole bunch of us don’t.
That’s why when God created the Church, He created it to be a family where real fellowship and community is experienced, where the members can count on one another for support and encouragement and love. That’s why God wants us to be a church that grows warmer through fellowship.
Second, the New Testament Church Grows Deeper Through Discipleship. “Discipleship” is a word that basically means, “to learn to follow Jesus.” That is what the church that we read about in Acts 2 was doing. READ v. 42 again. These Christians wanted to grow in their Christian walk. They wanted to learn about Jesus so they could become like Jesus, so they were devoted to what those who had been with Jesus were teaching them. Now, “devoted” is a word that means “committed to” or “dedicated to.” These first Christians were committed to learning what it means to follow Jesus.
God wants the Church to be like that. He wants the Church to be filled with men and women and boys and girls who genuinely want to become more like Jesus, and who are excited to learn about Him and grow in their understanding of His word and apply His word in their daily lives.
The third characteristic of the New Testament Church: The New Testament Church Grows Stronger Through Worship. That’s what the church in Acts 2 was doing. Verse 42 talks about how they were devoting themselves to “the breaking of bread” which probably refers to celebrating the L.S. together, “and to prayer.” And then verse 47 talks about how they were “praising God.” These words are “worship language.” These people were taking time out to worship God.
God has created all of us with a desire to worship Him. And, when we fail to worship of God, there is something missing in our lives. That’s why there are people in San Antonio who have money, have health, have fancy lifestyles, but are still searching for something to fill their emptiness.
Have you ever noticed how much better you feel when you have really worshiped God? Worship is something we do — it’s us praising God for all His goodness to us — yet, worship is also something that helps us feel better; worship is something that pumps us up and gives us the spark that we need to face the coming week.
Worship, though, is more than singing songs in Church. I think that’s all I need to say about that.
The fourth characteristic of the New Testament Church: The New Testament Church Grows Broader Through Ministry. Some people have the idea that the reason a church hires a minister is so that the minister can do “all the work of the church.” I thank God that SEBC is not like that. Some might have that attitude, but most of you want to work for the Lord.
I am a firm believer in what the Bible says: God has given every Christian gifts to use for Him; and the only way the church can function as it should is if every Christian discovers what his or her gifts are and begins using them for God. That’s what this church in Acts 2 did. The apostles were doing signs and wonders, but the people were letting God use them to take care of each other’s needs. That’s really what ministry in the church entails: using the gifts God has given us to meet the needs of others.
Now, the problem in many churches is that “ministry” or “service” has been defined very narrowly. Teaching the children’s classes is defined as service, and leading songs is service, and serving communion is service, but if you can’t do one of those things, in many churches you feel like you must not have any gifts to use to serve.
But the Bible says that every Christian has been given gifts and talents and abilities by God to use for Him, and the Bible lists a wide range of such gifts and talents and abilities beyond those highlighted in most churches. And the Bible’s list of gifts is not exhaustive—there are many more besides. And the Bible says that the Church is only truly functioning as God desires when every member is using his or her gifts to glorify God.
Now, my job as minister is to help you discover the gifts God has given you, and help you utilize your gift. That’s what our Spiritual Gifts classes are all about. Your job as a Christian is to put your gift for service into action, thereby helping the church become all that God wants it to be.
One final characteristic of the New Testament Church: The New Testament Church Grows Larger Through Evangelism. The Bible is very clear: one reason the church exists is to tell people about God’s offer to forgive them because Jesus died to take our punishment. The Christians in Acts were apparently telling others about Jesus, because verse 47 says, “And the Lord added to their number -- daily -- those who were being saved.”
Now, not every church is going to experience daily conversions. But, every church should be a church that is reaching out to its community and proclaiming the gospel message in a way that draws people to Jesus. And churches that do that will experience conversions, because our God is in the business of saving people.
Churches somehow have slipped into the thinking that all we have to do is come at least once a week to worship. Some think once a month. Some once a year. I think sometimes Christians feel that if they make the L.S. service they have done their duty. We might even think that if go along with the latest Christians fads and slogans that we are doing all we need to do. “WWJD” Purpose Driven Movement.
Looking at these characteristics of the first Christian church is about so much more than celebrating the Lord’s Supper, or our local church autonomy, or having the right slogans. But here is what the NT Christian church should be:
1. Yes, New Testament Christianity is about WORSHIP. It’s about God’s people really worshiping Him with their whole hearts and whole lives.
2. And it’s about SERVICE. It’s about God’s people giving themselves in service to Him and for Him by using their abilities to serve one another in love.
3. It’s about DISCIPLESHIP. It’s about Christians who are truly disciples of Christ—Christians who are devoted to meeting God in His Word, and learning about Jesus, and falling more in love with Him as they learn more about how wonderful He is, and striving to become more and more like Him.
4. New Testament Christianity is about FELLOWSHIP. It’s about true, intimate community, where people find a place to belong, and the loneliness and isolation that is so often a part of this world melts away.
5. And New Testament Christianity is about EVANGELISM. It’s about reaching out to the lost, and sharing with them the good news that God loves them and Jesus died to save them.
New Testament Christianity is about far more than slogans, or church government, or order of worship, as important as those things are. New Testament Christianity is about being fully devoted followers of Jesus. I pray that is the direction SEBC seeks to go.