Text: Acts 2:42-47 — And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people.And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Introduction: A few short weeks ago, we launched into a series called The Building Blocks of Ministry. Our goal in these seven messages is to look at what the Bible says are the foundational elements that are necessary to grow the body of Christ. So far, we’ve considered the teaching from Ephesians 4:11-13 that God designed the church to be made up of many ministers. In fact, we’re all called to service and ministry on the behalf of others. The more of us that own that, the greater the impact we’ll have. This is what we call THE POWER OF MINISTRY. The second week we considered THE POWER OF PRAYER from James chapter five to deal with hindrances to serving others such as suffering, sickness and sin. Only a church in prayer can minister to people during the tough times of life and set us free to sing God’s praise. And then, last week, we looked at the parable of the sower from Luke 8. We noticed that it is the person who receives God’s word that is able to multiply himself into the lives of others. This is THE POWER OF GOD’S WORD! When it takes root in us, it enables ordinary people like you and me to have an extraordinary and eternal impact on the world.
Now this morning I want to look at THE POWER OF LOVE to transform the church into a thriving and growing community. In Matthew 22:37-39, Jesus summed up the law and the prophets (the Old Testament) by this: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind…And you shall love your neighbor as yourself. These words are a very good summary of the 10 commandments. The first four relate to our love for God and the last six to how we love one another. Look it up in Exodus 20 and you’ll see what I mean.
Now, in our passage for this morning, we’re given a glimpse of how the early church, once they had received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, sought to express their love for God and others. It’s important that we pay close attention, because it is a perceived lack of love that is currently influencing millennials and those next in line (the Generation Z crowd) to be very skeptical regarding Christianity as they experience it. A report from Pew Research has concluded that these younger generations tend to have increasingly less positive views when it comes to the church and they have the stats to back up their claims. In 2010, nearly three out of four (or 73 percent to be exact) of those under forty agreed that churches had a positive impact on the country. Five years later, that number had dropped to 55%. That’s a steep 18 percent drop. Sadly, generation Z is fast becoming known as the least religious generation in American history. Hannah Fingerhut; “Millennials’ views of news media, religious organizations grow more negative,” Pew Research Center (1-4-16).
The question we must ask ourselves is this: Is there anything we can do to reverse that trend or should we just chalk it up to a lost cause? I believe there is a way to reach them. Now, more than ever, we need the Power of GOD’S Love at work in and through us to challenge the growing skepticism that the young people in our country are expressing about Christians in general. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how the early church overcame any “image” issues that unbelievers might have had regarding them by becoming the most loving people on the planet. Here are four observations from our text about what Christianity looked like in its earliest days. The first two reflect their love for Godand the last two, their love for people.
THEY WERE A LEARNING COMMUNITY. The Scriptures are God’s revelation to us regarding Himself and His will for all of creation, including mankind. Of course, the apostles understood this. And they knew that obedience was the best way for a believer to express his love for God. Having been eyewitnesses of Christ, they were the most qualified to teach the people truth as they’d received it from the Lord. So, it makes sense that immediately after the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, the new believers gathered round the apostles and devoted themselves to their teaching. It’s as if on that day, a new school was opened with more than three thousand students in attendance (Acts 2:41 – So those who received his word were baptized and there were added that day about three thousand souls) and the twelve apostles served as the faculty, providing instruction on the Christian life and proclaiming in Christ the resurrection of the dead. This is important because it reminds us that any church that is truly “apostolic” must be one that is built upon the foundation of the apostles teaching. As believers we do not form our beliefs about God and His creation from Youtube, popular opinion or even those who claim to speak on behalf of God, but we look to the Bible as the final authority. It guides us in every matter pertaining to life and godliness (See 2 Peter 1:3). This is how we get close to God. We discover God’s will and then we earnestly seek to obey it. And in a fallen world, sometimes God’s ways don’t align with the powers that be. When that happens, Christians have to make a choice. Even the apostles had to decide who they would follow. In Acts 5, we’re told that because of their growing popularity among the people and their demonstrations of the power of God in casting out demons and healing the sick, the High Priest and the Sadducees were “filled with jealousy.” So they ordered all of them arrested. They didn’t stay in jail for long, however. That very night, an angel of the Lord released them and instructed the apostles to get back to sharing the good news in the public arena. The next day, when the high priest and his associates discovered that the twelve were not where they were expected to be, he ordered the captain of the temple guard and his officers to bring them in again. Then the high priest said, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” I admire so much how Peter and other apostles responded: “We must obey God rather than men! It’s as if they were saying, “We love God and His Son Jesus more than we love our standing in this community or even our freedom for that matter. We will never renounce the truth of the Gospel. In fact, we intend to teach it to every new believer so they can experience for themselves what we already know to be true in Christ.” THE EARLY CHURCH WAS DEVOTED TO THE TEACHING OF THE APOSTLES AND IT LED THEM TO LOVE GOD ALL THE MORE FOR HIS GRACE, MERCY AND GOODNESS.
THEY WERE A WORSHIPPING COMMUNITY (Acts 2:42– And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. The early church was committed to a shared fellowship with the apostles. I like how Kenneth Wuest says it in his expanded translation of the New Testament — Acts 2:42 — And they were giving constant attention to the teaching of the apostles and to that which they held in common with them. The word “fellowship” means – to hold in common. The early church was a tight-knit bunch. And a big part of their life together was the worship of the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s what Luke (the author of Acts) means when he mentions both the breaking of the bread and the prayers. Regarding the former, he’s referring to a meal the believer’s shared together which was followed by the Lord’s Supperand in the latter to prayer gatherings, both of which were significant parts of their services of worship. According to verse 46, the early church sought the Lord while in the Temple Courts and also while they met in homes. Later in verse 47, Luke mentions that they were praising God together. The whole thing suggests regular, ongoing worship that was every bit as essential to their existence as the teaching of the Word had proven to be. Application: Today, we know that worship transforms the Christian’s relationship with God from a duty to a privilege. It helps us recalibrate our spiritual compasses so that we are focused on the right thing…or should I say…the right person. One of my favorite memories of worship occurred way back in 1983, when Campus Crusade’s high school ministry hosted a conference for thousands of teens in Kansas City called KC ‘83. On New Year’s Eve, the last night of the conference, instead of playing games or eating a lot of food or consuming alcohol, which many young people would do that night across the country, we all gathered to pray and praise and worship the Lord as we welcomed in the New Year. I remember that at the stroke of midnight, we were singing, “Our God Reigns.” I’m convinced that almost all of us were profoundly affected that night. We knew we were engaged in the best possible activity as the clock struck twelve! We were worshipping the Lord together. And we discovered that when God’s people enter into His presence and get even a small glimpse of His glory, suddenly the Christian life is not about a burden to be born, but a beauty to behold. King David said it like this in Psalm 24:7, “One thing I ask of the Lord and this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the House of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple.” THE EARLY CHURCH EXPRESSED THEIR LOVE FOR GOD THROUGH THE APOSTLE’S TEACHING AND THROUGH WORSHIP, BUT THIS WASN’T ALL THEY WERE ABOUT. THEY ALSO TOOK TO LOVING THEIR NEIGHBORS.
THEY WERE A CARING COMMUNITY (Acts 2:44-46 — And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts). Some people think they practiced a form of communism where everyone owns everything. But that isn’t the right way to look at it. These believers still had private ownership of their things. However, they loved each other so much that they could say, “What’s mine is yours…if you need it.” Whenever they found it necessary, they freely sold their possessions and gave the money to help feed and care for others less fortunate. I guarantee that if you do this, you’re going to grow pretty close to one another. And it’s clear they did. That’s why they attended temple together, broke bread in their homes, together and did so with glad and generous hearts. They were learning to love the body of Christ they way our Lord loves us, lavishly and extravagantly. Application: What do you think would happen if Christians today were to care about one another like they did in the early days of the church? Suppose we were to say to each other, “If you need it and I have it, you’re welcome to it.” Isn’t this the kind of demonstration of love that people are starving for in the world…self-sacrifice for the good of another? It’s no surprise that because of these kinds of demonstrations of love, the early church piqued the interest of outsiders. And this brings me to my last observation.
THEY WERE A GROWING COMMUNITY (Acts 2:47 – praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved). Even unbelievers couldn’t get over what they were witnessing among these Christ-followers. It was something new, authentic and intriguing and they found themselves wanting to share in the experience. In fact, many jumped on board, putting their trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord (…and the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved). Of course, this implies that the gospel was shared so that these unbelievers would understand what Christ did for them and why He did it! But it turns out, the people were eager to respond to the invitation to trust in Christ because His effect on His followers was undeniably good. Application: Why did so many turn to Christ? Because the Holy Spirit, who came upon the believers at Pentecost to indwell and fill them, is a missionary Spirit. He convicts the world of guilt with regard to sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8). And He gives life to those who believe (John 3:6-7). This being the case, we know that a Spirit-filled church is an outreaching church because it loves the same people that God loves.
Conclusion: The early church was a loving church. They loved God as evidenced by their desire to know Him through the teaching of the Apostles and to worship Him in the body of Christ. They also loved others and fleshed it out by caring for one another and inviting outsiders to be insiders by believing in the Gospel. Author Tyler Edwards, in his book, Zombie Church, floats a vision for love that I would like us to consider this morning for River Ridge Church. He shares that just as bombs have what’s called a “blast-radius,” defined as the distance from the source that will be affected when an explosion occurs, (In case you’re wondering the nuclear bomb that hit Nagasaki had a blast radius of 18.5 kilometers) churches should have love-radiuses—anyone within a certain number of miles of it should know it and be positively affected by the church’s love. How far do you think our love radius reaches out? I’d like to think it extends to Richmond, Spring Grove, Genoa City, Lake Geneva, Burlington, Twin Lakes, Pell Lake, Silver Lake, Wilmot, Trevor, Camp Lake, Antioch, Lake Villa and Lindenhurst. That would be pretty amazing, wouldn’t it? And I know it can when we lay hold of the POWER OF GOD’S LOVE. This is how we grow the churc