The Kind of Church Jesus’ Spirit Creates
March 19, 2017 Speaker: Bret Rogers Series: The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus
Topic: Church Passage: Acts 2:42–47
We look today at the kind of church Jesus’ Spirit creates. If you’re not a Christian, and you want to know what church is about, this will be a good intro. Maybe you’ve had bad experiences with the church—let me say this is a picture of what the church should be; and we are grieved when the church acts differently than what you’re about to hear. If you’re a Christian, this passage will provide you a good picture of what to pray for and work toward as church. Let’s read it together from Acts 2:42-47:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
My son Luke has a very creative mind. He builds all kinds of complex things with Legos and blocks and sticks and whatever else. And he loves to tell me about them. I love to listen; it’s just that sometimes I’m surprised at all they can do: “And it’s an airplane with rocket power…and it turns into a boat…and it can also rescue people on land…” “That’s amazing, son—” “And you can attach a refrigerator…and when the bad guys attack…and they eat over here…and…” You get the idea.
Maybe you’ve had someone use a whole string ands: “and then…and then…and then…” That’s the way our passage sounds: “And they devoted…and awe came…and many wonders…and all who believed…and they were selling…and day by day…and breaking bread…and the Lord added…” Luke has so much to say. Each and adds another brush stroke to a beautiful picture of the church. But more than that, Luke paints a picture of what Jesus is about when he puts his Spirit into the church.
Now, this is but one picture. It’s the ideal picture. But we must remember that’s not all Luke will say. He’ll later be very candid about problems the church faced: people lying (Acts 5:3, 9), people complaining (Acts 6:1), people being presumptuous (Acts 8:20), people disagreeing (Acts 15:39), people debating (Acts 15:2). So, no reason to think that Luke is trying to paper over the more messy aspects of church life. What he does do, though, is give us a picture of what the church could be when people like us are filled with the Spirit and embrace the gospel and enjoy its blessings together.
The big idea goes something like this: Christ’s Spirit and the apostles’ teaching produce glad dependence on God by the church, generous fellowship within the church, and great impact outside the church.
1. Christ’s Spirit indwells the church.
Let’s break down that big idea into five parts. First of all, don’t forget that we’re dealing with Christ’s Spirit indwelling the church. Everything to this point has been the exalted Christ pouring out his Spirit. Now we’re getting the results. The Spirit indwells and creates a new people, because without him we’re only crooked people.
Peter said in verse 40, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” The crooked generation is opposed to Christ. The way they think suppresses the truth about Christ. Their moral framework is out of whack with God’s law. They value what makes much of self, not what makes much of Christ. They crucified God’s Son.
But when Christ saves people out of that crooked generation, and he puts his Spirit in us, we become a new people. The Spirit creates an alternative community to that crooked generation. We won’t read them again today, but we need to keep in mind those Old Testament promises from Isaiah 32:15-17 and Ezekiel 36:25-27 and Joel 2:28-32 that expected God’s Spirit to come and create a new people for Christ.
The Spirit would establish righteous values and a peace-filled society in a new creation. The Spirit would turn an idolatrous bunch of individuals living for self-glory into a true family of servant-hearted missionaries who live for Christ’s glory. Pentecost comes, and God the Spirit comes down to indwell a people, and they start living together in ways the world cannot make sense of apart from Jesus.
So as we go through these things today, please don’t forget: the Spirit of God creates the people of God. We can’t live this way on our own. The Spirit must work these things in us. He makes crooked individuals into a Christ-like community. We must pray and ask him to work these things in us.
2. The apostles’ teaching guides the church.
Second part of our big idea: the apostles’ teaching guiding the church. Verse 42: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” Now, the devotion extends to everything in verse 42. The teaching, the fellowship, breaking bread, prayers—all of it is to be constant in our attention. We can’t be a church that’s devoted to sound teaching and ignores life together—both must be constant in our attention.
At the same time, our life together will be superficial and won’t glorify Christ apart from sound teaching. The church doesn’t determine its own priorities. The church doesn’t operate on intuition or felt needs or cultural trends. The apostles’ teaching is our guide. The Spirit-filled church will be a word-saturated church. The Spirit does not guide us apart from the word, but through the word. If you want to know what the Spirit is saying to the churches, open and read the Bible.
You’ll notice in verse 43 that “many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.” That’s significant to Luke’s storyline, since the last person to perform “wonders and signs” was Jesus Christ. Peter reminded us of that in 2:22. The people couldn’t deny that God’s hand was upon Jesus; now people couldn’t deny that God’s hand was on the apostles—or better, that God had raised Jesus from the dead and Jesus was still working through the apostles.
Second Corinthians 12:12 and Hebrews 2:4 speak of how God used signs to authenticate his apostles (cf. Acts 4:30; 5:12; 8:6; 14:3; 15:12). It’s not the only thing that authenticated them—there was also Christ-like suffering and Christ-centered doctrine—but they also performed Christ-like signs. They were Christ’s authorized representatives, and the church was to follow their teaching.
In terms of God’s story of redemption, this is another key moment. For the old covenant community, the Law of Moses was their guide. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus changed that. Jesus inaugurated a new covenant to follow. That doesn’t mean we ignore the Law. That doesn’t mean the Law is now less important. Rather, we just can’t read the Law apart from how the apostles interpret it and apply it to the church under the new covenant. Jesus and the apostles are the guide to understanding all prior revelation, because all prior revelation reaches its apex in Christ. He fulfills the Law and he lives in his people to do the same through love (Matt 5:17ff; Rom 13; Gal 5-6).
Devotion to the apostles’ teaching is also key, because it says that we’re a people of the word. We’re a people that feasts on and follows the word. It was daily. It was something done in formal settings like attending the temple together and informal settings like gathering daily in their homes. It was as essential as eating.
Since the apostles’ teaching is now bound together in our Bibles, that means we must take time to read it and study it and memorize it and make it part of us. It’s not just the pastors’ job. Pastors must certainly devote themselves to the word to ensure the church hears Jesus’ voice and not their own. But the whole assembly devotes themselves to the word. Charles Spurgeon once put it this way:
Oh, that you and I might get into the very heart of the Word of God, and get that Word into ourselves! As I have seen the silkworm eat into the leaf, and consume it, so ought we to do with the Word of the Lord—not crawl over its surface, but eat right into it till we have taken it into our inmost parts. It is idle merely to let the eye glance over the words, or to recollect the poetical expressions, or the historic facts; but it is blessed to eat into the very soul of the Bible until, at last, you come to talk in Scriptural language, and your very style is fashioned upon Scripture models, and, what is better still, your spirit is flavored with the words of the Lord.
I would quote John Bunyan as an instance of what I mean. Read anything of his, and you will see that it is almost like reading the Bible itself. He had read it till his very soul was saturated with Scripture; and, though his writings are charmingly full of poetry, yet he cannot give us his Pilgrim’s Progress…without continually making us feel and say, “Why, this man is a living Bible!” Prick him anywhere—his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his very soul is full of the Word of God...
I commend his example to us all. Whenever the word is not something we desire, or is not something we want to be part of our fellowship, we must ask each other with all sobriety why? The Spirit of God compels the people of God to devote themselves to the word of God.[i] The apostles’ teaching not only gives us gospel truth but gospel implications. They are both doctrinal and practical, and we’re doing well as a community when both are constant in our attention.
3. Glad dependence on God by the church…
Third, when these two work together—the Spirit and the word—they produce certain activities within God’s new community. One is glad dependence on God by the church. You’ll notice in verse 42 that they also devoted themselves to “the prayers.” As I showed you a while back, corporate prayer saturates the book of Acts. One of the main activities of the early church when and wherever they gathered was prayer. You’ll find formal times of prayer and spontaneous prayers, but prayer characterized all of life.
Prayer is when we express our dependence on God. A healthy church is a praying church, because a praying church realizes that it’s a needy church. We’re nothing without God. We can accomplish nothing for his glory without prayer.
But something else characterizing their dependence was gladness. In verse 46, “they received their food with glad and generous hearts.” Verse 47, “they were praising God.” The Spirit produces gladness and praise in the church. Praying people become praising people, because they know the Giver gets the glory.
Prayer trains our eyes to see God at work. The apostles’ teaching tunes our hearts to rejoice in his generosity toward us in Christ. Isn’t that what Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!” When you’re in the Lord, there’s so much to rejoice in. Your worst day is behind you—because Christ took your place in it. Anything we now suffer is only preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. We get that from the apostles teaching.
That’s not to say the church never mourns. That’s not to minimize the pain we will feel in this life. But it does bring it into perspective with all that God has given. We must be careful not to become a church full of curmudgeons and puddle-glums. There’s too much good news and too much glory in Christ to become that way. Is the gladness we have in Christ contagious? Are we dependent in prayer? If your assessment is No, then pray for the Spirit to fill us and make us so.
4. Generous fellowship within the church…
Fourth, the Spirit and word also produce generous fellowship within the church. Luke adds in verse 42, “they devoted themselves to the fellowship.” The word behind “fellowship” means to share in something with someone. It moves beyond the mere relationship to what holds the relationship together. When the New Testament uses this word, it’s talking about what we share in Christ through the Spirit.[ii]
In verse 44 he says, “and all who believed were together.” It was noticeable to the public that these people were always “together.” It’s not that all 3,000 were always together in one place; the stress is on their togetherness in every place. It was noticeable. People who wouldn’t have been together before were now together in Christ.
Sometimes brothers and sisters feel disconnected. But then you press in a little further: “Are you involved with a ministry?” “No.” “Do you attend their small groups?” “No.” “Do you come to prayer nights or Bible studies or Sunday School?” “Not really.” “Have people invited you to their house?” “A few times.” “Did you go?” “Once.” “You know where I’m going with this, right?” “Well…yeah.”
Or maybe you press in and see that it’s not necessarily the individual but the church. The church as a whole needs to redouble efforts in inviting new people in or chasing after those on the fringes.
Fellowship is a matter of the heart. Our commitments reveal our values. When the Spirit changes our hearts, though, we value what Christ values, his people, his church. He gave everything for them, to serve them, to die for them, to be with them, to unite them to one another…to put his love on display through them. Why so many “one-anothers” in Scripture? Because Christ’s lordship and his love are displayed through the “one-anothers.” We can’t fulfill the one-anothers alone. They require togetherness.
Let’s be clear: community itself isn’t unique to Christianity. Even in a culture like our own where individualism is rampant, people want some kind of community. The world forms communities around sports, our favorite college team, art, literature, hunting, movies, service projects, various religious pursuits, you name it. The world is looking for something more. Loneliness isn’t satisfying. We were created for more; and so the world grasps for community somewhere. The problem is that any community that doesn’t have Christ at the center will eventually fail and prove empty.
What distinguishes Christian community is that the benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection form the center and foundation. True fellowship is only possible through Christ. Paul says that by nature we went about life hated by others and hating one another. But Jesus’ death forgives us for that old way of life. His resurrection power enables us to forsake that way of living. The Spirit then indwells a people and all changes. Jesus now lives in his people and compels us to love one another as he loved us. Even when it costs us everything, we live to serve our brothers and sisters as Christ served us. The Spirit not only creates the alternative to individualism; he makes provision for loneliness by giving us God and each other.
Two very tangible ways Christian fellowship expresses itself is showing hospitality and meeting needs.
You can see the hospitality in verse 42: “the breaking of bread.” Then again in verse 46: “day by day, attending the temple together, and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts.” They ate together often in each other’s homes. Hospitality was the pattern. It even becomes a command. “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality”—Romans 12:13 (cf. Heb 13:2).
Table fellowship is some of the closest fellowship. It’s family fellowship. One place I love taking people to is Galatians 2. Peter, as a Jew, was eating with the Gentiles; and by eating with the Gentiles he was showing that salvation is by faith in Christ alone. Jew and Gentile alike can share in the closest fellowship because of their common union to Christ. But then, when his Jewish buddies show up, who are rather proud of their Jewishness, Peter withdraws and separates himself from the Gentiles; and Paul rebukes him for not walking in step with the gospel over how he acted at a meal.
Eating together is a big deal. Who we’re willing to invite into our homes and serve a meal shows how well we understand the gospel of grace. We need to learn that home isn’t a place to escape from others, but “a place to extend grace to others”—I’m indebted to Dustin Willis for pointing that out.[iii] Home is a hub for ministry to each other in one of the most intimate of settings, not a place to avoid each other.
For others of us, it’s not so much that we’re avoiding people; we just want to impress people, or others to be impressed with us. And so we have this mindset that turns opportunities for hospitality into entertainment. The house has to look like something out of a Martha Stewart magazine before we have anybody over.
I understand that a clean table and bathroom might serve your guests, but let’s not paralyze care with unrealistic expectations that our houses have to look like nobody even lives there before we invite them over. I invited a family over after church the other day—wasn’t planned, just spontaneous. On the way home Rachel says, “Your laundry’s on the couch; we’ve got breakfast dishes everywhere.” Just roll with it. A clean home doesn’t commend us to God; Christ does, and he’s why we’re getting together in the first place. Hospitality is about opening our life to others and saying, “You’re welcome here. As Christ welcomed me, so I welcome you.”
The other tangible way fellowship expresses itself regularly is meeting needs. We see this in verses 44-45: “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” Part of fellowship is learning needs and meeting them. Healthy churches not only stay alert to real material needs; they strive to meet them.
Now, we must not read into this an equal distribution of wealth and property from without. The people were compelled from within to sell their possessions—it was the Spirit’s doing. It was also voluntary instead of imposed by a totalitarian regime. Still, the way they viewed their own possessions challenges the common materialism and individualism so embedded in the American culture.
Those who had many possessions didn’t hold them with a tight fist. They didn’t set their hopes in them. They didn’t wait around to see if someone else was going to do it. Rather, they held their possessions as belonging also to those in need. Is that how we view our bank accounts and budgets and cars and trinkets? Name any number of things you have: could you hold them in common, treating them as what might be useful to meet someone else’s needs in the church?
That’s not to say we create a need by giving to meet a need. Each of us must consider the reality of our circumstances. Even Paul advises in 2 Corinthians 8:12-13, “If the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.” The point is that our abundance at any particular time shouldn’t mean higher living while needs persist but higher giving that needs are met.
The Spirit’s work leads us to repent from idolizing the things of this world to loving others with the things of this world. You can tell whether the Spirit is present or absent in a church by the way the people treat their stuff. Christians should be more concerned with people than with their stuff. Our possessions are the resources God uses to serve others in need.
One thing I’ve loved about Redeemer Church is that you’re a generous people. In my experience, whenever you learn of a need, you work hard to meet it. Somebody has immense, unexpected medical expenses and you give to meet them. Somebody needs help with adoption expenses and you give to meet them. Somebody needs to rest and get away and you give to send them on a trip. Somebody makes an unwise choice that puts the family in a hard place, and rather than condemning, you give to assist them.
We should rejoice and give thanks in this work of the Spirit. One area we can grow, though, is working to know the needs. Once you know them, you meet them. But sometimes we’re not drawing close enough to even know them. That goes back to the fellowship part, doesn’t it? The “togetherness” part. Draw near to know needs; make plans to meet needs; and then don’t forget: you’re not alone. The whole church is involved here, not just you. When we live this way together, the cut-throat world sees an alternative society whose actions shine the spotlight on Christ—he is the one who was rich, yet for our sake became poor, that we by his poverty might become rich (2 Cor 8:9).
5. Great impact outside the church.
Lastly, the Spirit and the word working through the church produce great impact outside the church. Notice verse 43: “and awe came upon every soul.” Something similar in verse 47: “having favor with/toward all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” The Spirit and the word working inside the church have missional impact outside the church.
Part of Luke’s apologetic is to show that Christianity is a positive influence on society when operating as the Spirit directs. If others hated them, it wasn’t because the church was a brash bunch of folks disgruntled about life. It wasn’t because the church complained about everything they felt entitled to but the world wasn’t giving them. It wasn’t because the church gave superficial answers to honest questions by skeptics. If others hated them, it was because of the message they believed and preached—the cross of Christ.
The church itself became a living theatre that verified the Spirit’s work and the apostles’ teaching. Their life together made others ask about this Jesus whom they served and called Lord and who freed them from their sins. The church shared the gospel, and as it says, the Lord added to their number.
The local church, and its compelling life together, is one of the Lord’s chief evangelism methods. Jesus said that when his disciples loved one another as he loved them, then the world would know that they belonged to him, that the Father had in fact loved us by sending the Son (John 13:34-35; 17:23). The love and fellowship within the community would have impact outside the community. We live together in such ways that others can’t help but ask about the hope within; and then we proclaim Christ.
Question: if we packed up shop and moved to another meeting location, would our neighbors know any difference? Would your neighbors count it a loss if you moved out of their neighborhood? The question is convicting, but important to consider. Yes, it’s the Lord who adds to the church. It’s the Lord who calls. It’s the Lord who saves. But he uses the church. Is our community compelling? Can we have more impact?
By the Lord’s grace, we can. The same Spirit at work in these people is at work in us. He hasn’t changed. Jesus is still on the throne. He can fill us with the Spirit and make us a compelling community. He can make us competent ministers of grace. He can make us engage the broader public in ways that impact the city for Christ.
One recent example is the church buying Ben and Terra a van. They entered the adoption process without the means to get one. You got them one, and it’s had an incredible impact on other non-Christians in their lives. They’re stunned that a church would buy them a van. When they ask why would a church do that? Enter Jesus and his generosity toward us. That’s how it works.
Or, it’s like the Wedgwood care group meeting the other day. Gary has a Buddhist neighbor. This guy’s house gets burglarized, and so he stops by Gary’s house to get help. It’s care group night. What does Gary do? He pulls an audible, cancels the regular care group meeting, and then gets all the brothers to come help clean this guy’s home up a bit and pray for him at the end. What’s going on while they’re cleaning up? He gets to witness the Spirit of Christ at work in the community, and it only confirms the message of the gospel that Gary has shared with him before.
That’s the Spirit at work in you already. Be encouraged in it and ask the Lord to increase the impact wherever we live, work, and play together. Christ’s Spirit and the apostles’ teaching produce glad dependence on God by the church, generous fellowship within the church, and great impact outside the church. Let’s pray for the Spirit to do more through us. Let’s devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching, that it may guide us in our priorities and pursuits. The Lord has begun a good work. May he bring it to completion for the day of Jesus Christ.
[i]Cf. Stott, Acts, 82.
[ii]Cf. also 1 Cor 1:9; 2 Cor 13:14; Gal 2:9; Phil 2:1; 1 John 1:3, 6-7.
[iii]Dustin Willis, Life in Community (Chicago: Moody, 2015), 150.
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