Acts 2:41-47

Acts 2:41-47

The Holy Spirit Builds Strong Bodies 

Introduction:  When I was a kid, I absolutely loved Wonder Bread.  It was so soft and white, and it made such excellent dough balls when it was wadded up.  And when my mom hesitated to buy it, I made sure she knew that Wonder Bread builds strong bodies twelve ways, a truth I was privy to from watching Gene Autry and Howdy Doody, which only the geezers in our audience will relate to.  I can’t recall what any of the twelve ways were, if indeed we were ever told, but apparently the twelve ways aren’t judged sufficient for today’s health-conscious society, because kids rarely get any kind of white bread today, much less Wonder Bread.

Well, the Wonder Bread people are not the only ones professing to be concerned about building strong bodies.  The Holy Spirit is also interested in the subject.  I would gather from 1 Cor. 6:19 that He is concerned about building strong physical bodies, but He is even more concerned about building strong spiritual bodies, namely churches.  And without doubt, the work was cut out for Him here in Acts 2. 

We learned last Sunday that on the Day of Pentecost Peter preached a dynamic sermon on the Lordship of Christ, and when he gave the invitation, some 3,000 responded.  Three thousand infant Christians desperately needing nurture, love, instruction, warning, attention, encouragement, correction, and edification!  And all that happened with no church constitutions, no manuals, no New Testaments, no pastors, no elders, no deacons, no Navigators, no seminaries, no Bible Study Fellowship, and no buildings.  Amazing!

The task before the Apostles must have seemed overwhelming, even hopeless, except for the fact that the Holy Spirit was available, and He is an expert at spiritual pediatrics.  He knows how to mold the church into a formidable Body capable of literally assaulting the gates of Hell.  In one of Charles Schultz’ memorable cartoon strips, Lucy demands that Linus change TV channels and, when he hesitates, threatens him with her fist.  “What makes you think you can walk right in here and take over?” Linus demands to know.  “These five fingers,” responds Lucy.  “Individually they’re nothing, but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold.”  “Which channel do you want?” asks Linus.  Turning away, he looks at his fingers and says, “Why can’t you guys get organized like that?”  

I think that’s a legitimate question for any church to ask.  Why can’t we get organized to “form a weapon terrible to behold?”  The answer is that we can; but the Holy Spirit is key; He must do it. But we are at least given a blueprint here in Acts 2 of the elements He used in the early church to build a strong body.  Let’s read Acts 2:41-47:

41 So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. 42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

43 Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. 44 And all the believers were together and had all things in common; 45 and they would sell their property and possessions and share them with all, to the extent that anyone had need. 46 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, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Now the first way in which the Holy Spirit builds strong bodies is through teaching.

Teaching: the Church is an equipping center.  (42)

Verse 42 says, “And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching.”  Apostolic teaching was the test of truth for this early Christian community.  The Holy Spirit had opened a school in Jerusalem.  He had appointed the apostles to be the teachers in the school and there were 3,000 pupils in the kindergarten.  There was no hint of anti-intellectualism; these new Christians did not disdain theology; they did not badmouth doctrine in favor of experience.  They did not suggest that because they had received the Holy Spirit, He was the only teacher they needed, and they could, therefore, dispense with human teachers.  

Instead, they sat at the apostles’ feet and devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.  They were eager to learn all they could from those whom Jesus had authorized to be the teachers of the church.  In time, under the Spirit’s direction, their teachings were written down, and because of that, we have access to apostolic truth today in the gospels and epistles of the New Testament.

It is absolutely essential for the church today to recover an understanding of the unique authority of the apostles.  In some circles the success of a church is judged by its social impact; in others it is judged by its creative experiences; in still others it is judged by its growth.  But the early church saw as its first priority a humble submission to the teaching of the apostles.  Another way to put it is to say that a renewed church, a Spirit-filled church, must be a biblical church, a church where people are devoted to the teachings of the Apostles.

Now the second way the Holy Spirit built a strong body is through fellowship.

Fellowship: the Church is a healing communion.  (42) 

Verse 42 continues, “They were continually devoting themselves to fellowship.”  Few words in the Christian vocabulary today are more abused than “fellowship.” We have come to associate it with a good time at church.  We refer to buildings where we eat as “fellowship halls,” and the “fellowship time” is sort of the Christian answer to the “happy hour,” when coffee and donuts are free, or at least available.  But in the New Testament the word fellowship, or koinonia, stood for sharing in the Holy Spirit.  At the heart of the word koinonia is the adjective koinos, which means “common.”  To fellowship means to share things in common.  

Now let’s consider two ways in which this is manifest in the Christian church.  First, there are things we share together or possess in common.  For example, there is God himself and His saving grace.  John wrote at the beginning of his first letter, “Our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.”   We have a common Lord, a common faith, a common Gospel, and even common suffering. 

But there are also things Christians share as their common gifts to others.  When we give of ourselves, our money, our possessions, and our time, that is another indispensable mark of true koinonia.  Where there is no generosity, there is no fellowship.  Luke speaks of this generosity in Acts 2:  “They were together, they had all things in common.  They sold their possessions and gave according to every man’s need.”

This aspect of early church life disturbs some of us, and the more affluent we are, the more it tends to disturb us.  Especially is it true that American Christians, brought up on the principles of independence and self-sufficiency, are eager to find some soft spot in this text that will enable them to avoid its implications.  But what are the facts?  Must every Spirit-filled Christian follow this example of the Jerusalem church literally?  

I believe Jesus does still call some of His followers to a life of radical voluntary poverty.  Mother Teresa is an incredible example of this, and her influence for God and righteousness is almost beyond evaluation.  Such Christians bear witness that a human being’s life does not consist in the abundance of material possessions.  But I am also persuaded that Jesus does not call every disciple to voluntary poverty.  Nowhere did He or His disciples forbid owning private property.  

Yes, in the first flush of religious enthusiasm, the early church lived this way.  But not even here in the early church was there any requirement that new members divest themselves of their wealth.  The selling of property was voluntary.  The sin of Ananias and Sapphira, which we will examine in Acts 5, was not that they kept back a part of the proceeds from the sale of their property, but that they kept back a part while pretending to bring the whole.  Their sin was deceit and hypocrisy, not greed.  Peter said to them, “Before you sold it, was it not your own?”

However, we must not try to get ourselves off the hook too easily.  The early Christians really cared about the poor in their midst.  They shared of their abundance according to need.  The Christian community is the one community in the world in which poverty really should be abolished.  There is no excuse for Christians going hungry or lacking shelter or being destitute of proper clothing.  

Nor is there any excuse for a church not having the community spirit we more commonly associate with fellowship.  One of the reasons some churches do not grow is because they are not pleasant places to be around.  When a family breaks into an open feud, a guest feels embarrassed.  No one wants to be around a tension-filled household.  But show me a congregation where people love each other, enjoy the hours spent together, care for each other, and serve members in need, and I will show you a growing, successful church.  There is magnetism in genuine Christian fellowship, a hidden power that will draw the lonely and empty-hearted into its embrace.

The third factor the Holy Spirit used to build a strong Body is worship.

Worship: the Church is a responding family.  (42) 

The third thing we see in verse 42 is that “They were continually devoting themselves to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”  Then in verse 46 the following information is added, “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, praising God.”

The picture we get of early Christian worship involves remarkable balance.  They worshiped both in the temple and in each other’s homes.  To abandon the temple would have been to cut themselves off from the religious people who needed to be saved.  But to confine themselves to temple worship would have been to miss out on the teaching and fellowship which was available only among believers.  

There are many in our own day who face the same dilemma the early church faced.  They may be members of a very liberal or tradition-bound church, and then they become born-again by faith in Christ.  Their teaching and fellowship may come from a home Bible study or from Bible Study Fellowship or from CBMC, but they don’t want to abandon their church because they have so many friends and family who need to hear the good news.  Eventually, however, as was the case with the early Christians, they usually find the environment in the unbelieving church (temple) becoming increasingly hostile to their faith, and if they aren’t forced to leave, they leave for spiritual survival.  The new wine of the Gospel splits the old wineskins and leaves them worthless for spiritual renewal.

There’s another lesson in balance we might draw from the early church’s worship practice.  And that is that the church should provide opportunities for both formal and informal worship experiences.  Tension comes into a Body when people become rigid and demand their favorite kind of worship every time the church meets.  The more exuberant types pronounce every formal service as “dead,” and the quiet, contemplative types pronounce every informal service as “emotional” and “disorderly.”  The early church enjoyed both dignity in the temple and spontaneity in the home; people weren’t forced to choose between the two. 

Still another lesson in balance comes from the fact that early church worship was both joyful and reverent.  There is no doubt about the joy of those early Christians.  They met to praise God with glad and sincere hearts.  The word for “gladness” in Greek means “exultation.”  I’ve gone to churches where I’ve wondered if I really hadn’t come to a funeral by mistake.  The hymns were played like funeral dirges.  There were no smiles, no sharing, no “amens.”  The Pastor was somber and his message judgmental.  I couldn’t wait to get out to fresh air.

Not so with these early Christians.  They had reason to be filled with joy, for had not God sent His Son into the world to take human nature to himself, to live, die, rise again, ascend to Heaven, and send the Holy Spirit?  Had the Holy Spirit not come to take up his residence in their hearts?  How could they not be joyful?  

But the joy of these early Christians was never irreverent.  Fear came upon every soul—that kind of fear which is reverence, or awe, in the presence of God.  John R. W. Stott, a great evangelical Anglican preacher, has written, 

“Some people think that whenever the Holy Spirit is present in power there is noise; the more decibels the better.  I enjoy noise, too….  But sometimes when the Holy Spirit is present in power, there is silence; there is nothing to say.  We can only bow down in speechless wonder and reverence before the greatness and the glory of almighty God, ‘The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.’ (Hab. 2:20).”

The living God had visited the city of Jerusalem; he was in their midst and they knew it.  They knew it because “Many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.”  Some want to tell us that wherever the Holy Spirit is in evidence today there will also be signs and wonders.  But I notice that the miracles even in the early church were being done “by the apostles,” the Twelve, and since there is no evidence of apostolic succession in the NT, it would be very hard to use this passage to prove that signs and wonders are to be common fare in every age.  

Now before leaving this matter of worship, let’s examine the elements of it.  First, there was “the breaking of bread.”  This is an obvious reference to the Lord’s Table, as commanded at the Last Supper.  It probably was observed at the end of a meal, but it is distinguished from the meal itself in verse 46.  And yet we shouldn’t divorce the breaking of bread from the meal entirely.  The meal was called a “love feast,” and Christians ate together as a way of expressing their covenant with each other.  At the end of the meal, they received the Lord’s Supper as a way of expressing their covenant with the risen Lord.

Communion in the early church was practiced day by day in homes.  There is no commandment that it be practiced that frequently, any more than there is a commandment for us to sell all our property and give it to the church; in fact, 1 Cor. 11, which is the only passage that gives specific instructions concerning the observance of the Lord’s Table, simply says, “as often as you do it, do it in remembrance of Me.”  I believe it ought to be done often enough to keep the sacrifice of Christ before our minds, but not so often that it becomes a meaningless ritual.  

The second element of worship specifically mentioned is prayer.  To many people prayer is a sort of last resort; if all else fails, talk to God about it.  But these people were continually devoting themselves to prayer.  This brings to mind Paul’s exhortation in 1 Thes 5:17:  “Pray without ceasing.” One of the best tools we have as Christians is prayer.  It should never be a last resort, but a way of life, a staple in our spiritual diet.

The final way in which the Holy Spirit built a strong Body is through evangelism.

Evangelism:  the Church is a deploying agency.  (47)

In verse 47 we read that the early Christians were “having favor with all the people.  And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”  If the Holy Spirit was trying to build the Body only through teaching, fellowship and worship, the result would be a very self-centered community.  What about the alienated world outside the church?  

The first thing I note here about evangelism is that people are added to the Church by the Lord.  Nobody else can add to the church.  We can lead people to make a profession, we can baptize them, and we can add them to the rolls, but only Christ can put their names in the Lamb’s Book of Life and admit them to membership in the Universal Church.  

A second thing we see is that Jesus adds to the church those whom he is saving.  He does not save them without adding them to the church and he does not add them to the church without saving them.  Salvation and church membership go together.  They did in those days and they should still go together today.  

Third, it happened daily.  Evangelism in the Jerusalem church was not an occasional or sporadic thing.  They did not schedule a revival every spring and bring in an evangelist to win the lost.  They did not set aside Thursday nights as evangelistic visitation night.  They evangelized continually. This is quite alien to many churches today.  Some churches have not had a genuine convert in decades.  But the lifestyle of early Christians was contagious, possessing evangelizing power.  Notice the emphasis upon “day by day” in verses 46-47.  When the church is truly Christian in its day-to-day life and activity, evangelism will occur naturally and the church will grow.  Not because of preaching, but because of lifestyle.  

In order for Christian people to become concerned about the lost, of course, it is necessary for them to adjust their thinking about the world.  For too long the non-Christian has been considered the enemy.  He is not the enemy; he is the victim of the enemy.  And he desperately needs the compassion and help of those who have found answers to life’s deepest questions.

Conclusion:  Everyone desires a renewed church.  The problem is that we have been looking to the wrong sources for that renewal.  We look to programs, we look to seminars, we look to the seminaries for better educated pastors.  If I may appeal to my amateur theologians once again, Charlie Brown was making one of his many trips to the psychiatrist.  “Everything seems hopeless,” he tells her.  “I’m completely depressed ….”  “Go home,” says Lucy, “and eat a jelly-bread sandwich folded over ….  That will be five cents, please.”  After Charlie leaves, Lucy leans back in her doctor’s chair and says, “There are some cures you don’t learn in medical school.”  

There are also some cures you don’t learn in Seminary or at seminars.  But the cure is available.  In four straightforward, easy-to-understand ways, the Holy Spirit builds strong bodies.  May we let him do so here at First Free.


Holy Spirit