Part of A Living Fellowship (e)
Several years ago studies
were conducted among former American prisoners of war to determine what
methods used by the enemy had been most effective in breaking their spirit.
The findings revealed that they did not break down from physical deprivation
and torture as quickly as they did from solitary confinement or from disrupted
friendships caused by frequent changing of personnel. Attempts to get the
prisoners divided in their attitudes toward one another proved to be the
most successful method of discouraging them. It was further learned that
the soldiers were not sustained primarily by faith in their country or
by the rightness of the cause for which they fought. They drew their greatest
strength from the close attachments they had formed to the small military
units to which they belonged.
These observations help
us understand why Christians need the group experience of fellowship with
other believers to help them sustain the new life in Christ.
To have a new beginning
in Christ we must understand the primary force behind Christian fellowship,
the nature of the fellowship and the response we make in fellowship.
Thus far in the previous
studies in Acts, we have seen several necessary ingredients for beginning
life anew. In the first chapter we have seen the disciples dependent
upon God's plan, which came in his own timing, as they joined together
constantly in prayerful supplication. In the beginning of chapter 2, we
have seen the earlier believers dependent upon the enabling power of God's
Spirit as the Spirit descended upon them on Pentecost. They were enabled
to communicate to people of different languages. This power enables Peter
to stand up and proclaim, "Whosoever calls on the name of the Lord shall
be saved." The Spirit guided message allowed them to see clearly the revelation
of God's Son and its personal application.
The Spirit leads Peter
to proclaim the fulfillment of God's promises and the power of the resurrected
Christ. They begin to see the confidence and assurance, which comes to
each of them personally. Christ is now Lord and Master. The hope of a new
beginning comes to each person as the Spirit-guided message penetrates
their hearts and reveals God's plan to salvage their lives. Three thousand
Those who accepted his
message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number
that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the
fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled
with awe, and the apostles did many wonders and miraculous signs. All the
believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions
and goods, they gave to anyone, as he had need. Every day they continued
to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes
and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying
the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those
who were being saved.
Here in the later part
of the second chapter we catch a glimpse of the first fellowship of believers.
This is the first worship service of believers. However, it is not described
by the order of worship, nor is it described as a ritual. Luke describes
it by describing the impact God had made in their hearts. He describes
it by describing the actions of the believers as they came together for
the first time. It is here that we find another very important ingredient
to begin life anew . . . the devoted heartfelt fellowship and worship of
Nowhere do we get a
closer look at the nature and character of the first fellowship of believers
than in the later part of Acts 2. Here we have a brief but clear description
of the fellowship of the first believers. It serves as a model for all
Devoted To Apostles'
This new fellowship
was focused on the apostles' teaching. The amazing thing about
Pentecost is that their attention was not drawn to some man or church doctrine.
It was drawn to the apostles' teaching. The fundamental activity of the
first fellowship was a firm continued adherence "to the teaching of the
apostles". There was an objective basis for their subjective experience
of being together. What was happening was thoroughly rooted in the scriptures.
It was biblical. The Lord guided them through the teaching and preaching
of his word, just as he endeavors to do today.
The importance of the
apostles' message was that it revealed the truth about God. The message
sought to focus their attention upon God. It was the message that brought
them into fellowship. It was the God- centered message upon which fellowship
would be sustained and maintained.
There was no church
until they responded to God's call of salvation. There was no creed
book. Actually, there wasn't even a New Testament. Their preaching was
entirely from the Old Testament. The New Testament believers were founded
upon the fulfillment of God's promises as revealed through Moses and the
prophets. It is troubling to think that at times we think we only need
the New Testament. We really can't understand how our faith
by the power of God until we see it supported by everything that God has
done in redemptive the history of the Old Testament.
They were moved
and motivated by the Spirit-guided message of the apostles. The
original language carries with it the idea of being persistent listeners.
They weren't passive listeners; they were active listeners. There is a
thirst to hear and learn more about their newfound life of spiritual freedom
in Jesus Christ. Our teaching of the Bible has become too static as we
formulate our own doctrines. Not so with the first believers, they were
active participants in what was being taught by the apostles. What they
were being taught was impacting their hearts and lives.
Try to imagine the pioneer
spirit of the first settlers in this country as they probed deeper and
farther into this vast wilderness. They were seeking new horizons. There
was a great excitement in this newfound country. The excitement led them
to probe into the deep wilderness. It is here in Acts 2 that we catch a
glimpse of the pioneering spirits of our spiritual forefathers. When Peter
stood up and proclaimed the possibility of their spiritual freedom, they
only had a thirst for more. They were looking for new horizons. The excitement
of seeking and finding God was in the air. The excitement of a New World
created in the image of the Firstborn was in the air. (Ephesians 2:10)
"Worship does not satisfy
our hunger for God; it whets our appetite." ( --Eugene Peterson (quoted
in Leadership, Wint 1995) Jesus said, "If any man have ears to hear, let
him hear." And he said unto them, "Take heed what ye hear: with what measure
ye mete, it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall
more be given. " (Mark 4:23-24)
They were not
caught up into the charisma or personalities of the people proclaiming
the message. The focus is on God and his message of salvation.
Fear came upon them as they beheld the many wonders and signs done by God
through the apostles. They never lost sight of God. His message proclaimed
their salvation . . . their freedom. The excitement of a new beginning
for a new life was in the air.
They were focused
on the message of the cross. The breaking of the bread tells us
the focus of the apostles' teaching and their fellowship.Breaking bread
is a phrase that refers to partaking of the communion that Christ instituted
during the Passover. Bread and wine were common fare at a Jewish table.
These were the emblems used for the purpose of focusing their minds on
Christ. Their focus was on Christ's sacrifice winning the victory for them.
This was the central focus of their new life. The apostles presented Jesus
as the fulfillment of the messianic promise of the Old Testament. It was
God's wisdom and power that made their salvation possible. No more animal
sacrifices for them . . . God had made his Son to be sin for them. (2 Corinthians
5:21) Peter had shown them that Jesus was approved of God by the miracles,
wonders and signs he did in their midst. It was a fellowship focused on
God through the message of the cross.
That's where the possibility
of being born again begins for every man, woman and child. It begins by
focusing your life on the cross. The first believers were excited because
they were focused on building a new life in Christ through the enabling
power of God.
All The Believers
Beginning a new
life focused on Christ brought them together in a devoted fellowship.
to Luke's simple description of worship. "All the believers were together
and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they
gave to anyone, as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together
in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together
with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all
the people." (Acts 2:44-47)
important because it is encouraging. Church attendance is often
substituted for fellowship. To some fellowship is like a jar full of marbles.
The marbles are in the same jar but there is little togetherness. The marbles
have little effect on each other as they roll around in a jar. They just
bump into one another. But real fellowship is more like a jar of grapes
that bleed on one another. Fellowship should allow our faith to rub off
on one another. The first believers had real spiritual needs that led them
into fellowship with others. As they came into this fellowship of other
believers with the same needs, they naturally bled on one another.
Too often church attendance
turns us into iceberg Christians where we just float around and bump into
one another. One fellow visited a church and gave his description of those
in attendance. He said, "I don't want to say that it was a cold church,
but the ushers had on ice skates." The first fellowship meeting had little
to do with church attendance and everything to do with togetherness. Although
fellowship can't be had or be exciting without a bodily presence.
Philip Slater has written
that today's enormous technology appears to have made it unnecessary for
one human being ever to ask anything of another in the course of his daily
activities. He implies that this has increased the tendency of people to
live independently. He goes on to say, "Even within the family, Americans
are unique in their feeling that each member should have a separate room,
a separate telephone, and his own car when economically possible. We seek
more and more privacy, but are more alienated and lonely when we get it."
To me, nothing points
this out more profoundly than the little computerized Tamagotchi pets of
recent. It is a little computerized gadget that tells you when it is hungry,
when it needs to go to the bathroom, etc. You can send a kid in his room
to play with this computerized pet. It seems to me, to breed more isolation.
There was an intense
feeling of responsibility for each other. This is one of the major
drawing powers of worship. They were, "Selling their possessions and goods,
they gave to anyone as he had need." These offerings were coming from those
who had "glad and sincere" hearts. No one could bear to have too much while
others had too little. They are not just giving money; they are giving
up their possessions and goods; they are giving themselves. These
offerings were coming from those who had "glad and sincere" hearts. It
reveals the heart and core of worship as they responded to God by responding
to each other.
A Worship Filled
With Awe and Wonder
At The heart of
their worship was the celebration of God. It wasn't the design
of the service . . . contemporary or traditional . . . it was God.They
understood God's love made their worship possible. His love and devotion
made possible a new life. It wasn't their behavior; they had just finished
nailing God to the cross. Their response in worship was due to the
power of God. Hearts were responding to God's presence. Their worship was
a result of being drawn to God through the effect of the cross. They were
confident that Christ lived and died so they could be free from sin. This
was the drawing power of the occasion.
Luke describes the worship
service in the simplest terms. "Everyone was filled with awe, and many
wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers
were together and had everything in common." (Acts 2:42-45)
The first fellowship
of believers was made up of those who had a sure knowledge of their salvation
through Christ's death and resurrection and were now enjoying his living
presence. They were sure of who they were because they were sure of Christ.
They were thoroughly convinced, soundly converted, and Holy Spirit-filled
Imagine for a moment,
sitting in a packed Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, just as your home team
wins. Imagine the excitement in the air as the home team scores the winning
touch down in overtime. But imagine for a moment, being the only one seated
in that empty stadium when that winning touch down is scored. Would you
shout near as loud? Would you be nearly as excited in an empty stadium
as you would in a packed stadium? Excitement breeds excitement.
However, the euphoric
excitement of your favorite football team winning would pale into significance
when compared to the excitement on Pentecost. There is no comparison of
me winning vicariously through the men on the field and what I have won
through the vicarious death of God's Son. Now, there is a real win! Now
there is a brand new life, which can be had each day of my life. When Christ
won that victory over Satan on the cross, it was my personal salvation
that was won. He won for me a new life filled with glories of God's grace.
I wish that every worshipper of God today could restore the excitement
of heart seen on Pentecost.
It was an emotional
worship filled with fear and awe. A worshipful response was forthcoming
as they saw the miracles, wonders and signs that God was doing through
the apostles. They have no doubt but what the apostles have God's approval.
They were worshipping God because of their experience of God. They had
experienced the reality of their salvation. They saw the one behind it
all. They never lost sight of God.
"Praising God" was the
natural expression of their hearts for the supreme blessing they had found
in Christ. What would happen to this church today if we sought to duplicate
the spirit of that first assembly? It would probably be scary to most of
An Attractive Fellowship
A sincere fellowship
is always attractive. Attractiveness is the natural quality that
flows from a genuine fellowship. People want to know the source of it all.
That helps church growth more than anything does. There were no outsiders
or insiders. No charter members on Pentecost. Everyone was in the "in crowd."
They were simply in Christ. They were from different nations, spoke different
languages, and I am sure that their cultural dress was much different,
but Jesus Christ had broken the barriers. This made the first century believers
attractive to outsiders.
There was a great
quality of togetherness. Because
we are "in Christ," we are reconciled together forever to God. An old tract
called "The Seven Togethers" summarizes the completeness of our union with
Christ. It says we are:
(1) crucified together
with Christ (Gal. 2:20);
(2) dead together with
Christ (Col. 2:20);
(3) buried together
with Christ (Rom. 6:4);
(4) made alive together
with Christ (Eph. 2:5);
(5) raised together
with Christ (Col. 3:1);
(6) sufferers together
with Christ (Rom. 8:17);
(7) glorified together
with Christ (Rom. 8:17).
The word together is
significant. In that one word we see all the barriers to fellowship removed.
This made them attractive to the world. This resulted in God adding to
their number daily those that were being saved.
There was a winsome
attractiveness about these believers. Luke records that they "praised
God and had favor with all the people." There were no arguments over names,
formulas, creeds, rituals or tradition; it was just a simple heartfelt
response to God and one another. No argument over baptism, church names,
or the kind of music, or the order of worship, or the kind of worship .
. . contemporary or traditional . . . or which church to join. There wasn't
even an argument of whether they should or shouldn't attend the temple
gatherings where the blood of daily animal sacrifices continued to flow.
There is attractiveness about this spirit. In fact, it was there that others
saw the attractiveness of the fellowship of the first believers. It was
that attitude that brought others into a relationship with God.
Nowhere is the pure
pristine spirit of fellowship more eloquently described. The early believers
were walking as the Spirit gave them enabling power. They were following
the Spirit-guided teaching of the apostles.
It was here that we
see the first believers unified, magnified and multiplied. It was a powerful
testimony to the unsaved. The risen Lord continued his ministry from heaven
and people continued to be saved.
It was the continued
searching, learning and worship of those who believed that made a new beginning
for each of them possible. It was in their fellowship that they received
the instruction, encouragement and power to begin life anew.
They were not even
called Christians at this early date. In fact, at this early date this
body of believers doesn't even have a name. They were simply described
as those " . . . who received his word" and as "those who were being saved."
The King James Version does use the word church in this context, " . .
. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." (Acts
2:47) Yet, the translators in 1611 were looking in retrospect as they were
translating. In retrospect it is an accurate description of what was happening,
but it was not a precise translation. They had no official name, no creed
book, or organization. They were simply believers who received the truth-saving
message of salvation, which set them on a new road headed straight for
their new life in Christ.
These verses do not
close with the establishment of the church, they really only show us the
beginning of the church. It was here that the transformation of life on
planet earth begins. It is where it begins for each of us. It is here that
the all-powerful Spirit of creation sets about the work of recreating life
anew for each of us.
It was here that their
minds were enabled by the Spirit of God to know the unlimited wisdom to
maximize the thought of the mind for the purpose of developing their God-given
That is where it begins
with each of us. Essentially, it begins as we make the same responses they
made when God harvested their souls during the greatest harvest festival
of all on Pentecost.
It all begins when we
are willing to personally experience the seven togethers: When we are willing
(1) become crucified
together with Christ (Gal. 2:20);
(2) become dead together
with Christ (Col. 2:20);
(3) be buried together
with Christ (Rom. 6:4);
(4) be made alive together
with Christ (Eph. 2:5);
(5) be raised together
with Christ (Col. 3:1);
(6) become sufferers
together with Christ (Rom. 8:17);
(7) become glorified
together with Christ (Rom. 8:17).
Their final concluding
commitment to togetherness began at baptism. Now that they have buried
the old me, they are beginning to discover the new me through the Spirit's
enabling message and through the mutual encouragement of those of like