You’ve probably heard the one where a Sunday School teacher asked her class, “What eats carrots, has long floppy ears, and hops around the yard?” And after none of the children answered right away, one little boy timidly raised his hand and said, “Well, I know the answer is Jesus, but it sure sounds like a rabbit!”
I share that joke this morning because it’s easy for us to get into a rut of always expecting the same things over and over in life or at church, and therefore always doing the same things over and over again in life or at church. We can get locked into the routine of asking the same questions, and getting the same answers, and not really expecting to be challenged. If you’ve been a believer for any length of time, you might occasionally feel like you’re just going through the motions of things that you feel like you’re supposed to do as a Christian. Whether that’s when you’re reading your Bible, or going to church, or even doing the things that we do at church, sometimes living out our faith can start to feel a little stale.
When you feel that way, you have a decision to make, and it can go one of at least three ways. First, you could resign yourself to the routine of it. You might say, “Well, it’s not exciting, but at least it’s what God wants me to do, or it’s what I think that I ought to do, so that’s what I’m going to do.” So you might go through the motions, but secretly resent God, or the church, or even your closest family members for your lack of joy.
The second way you could respond to this situation would be to rebel. So you might say, “No! If this is Christian life, I don’t want it! I want to really live, doing the things that bring me joy!” So you might still call yourself a Christian, but you live just like you did before you claimed Jesus as your Lord.
The third way, which is the remedy to how the Christian life might sometimes feel stale to us, is to remember why we do the things we do, and to live not according to a checklist, but according to faith in the living God, who is doing something in us and through us far greater than we can think or imagine.
You see, God doesn’t want you to be bored in your life or faith. He wants us to be renewed, so that we’re full of joy, and we begin to truly live. So, this morning, I want us to be reminded of some of the things that God calls us to do as a church, but even more importantly, why we’re to do them, so that we don’t start to think that the Christian life is boring, but continue to be excited as we rest and rejoice in Jesus.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with joyful and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)
Father, fill us with awe as we worship together, so that we see the amazing things that You’re doing in and through us for Your glory. In Jesus’s name, Amen.
So my sermon today is kind of a part two from last week’s sermon. Last week, we talked about how our church isn’t primarily my church or your church, but how it truly is God’s church. We belong to God because Jesus purchased us with His blood. So the church doesn’t exist for us, as if it’s all about what we want, but for God, and ought to be all about what He wants.
I saw a t-shirt once that said that we are twice His. We belong to God for at least two big reasons: He made us, and He bought us back. The Bible says:
You were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body. (1 Corinthians 6:20)
So if that’s who we are as a church, what should we do as a church? That’s what the sermon today is about. What should we be doing here, as God’s church?
Now, strictly speaking, our passage this morning in Acts 2 isn’t talking about churches as we know them today, but rather about what the very first church looked like just a few weeks after Jesus died and rose again. Just days after Jesus ascended to heaven, Peter preached the gospel on the day of Pentecost, and the Holy Spirit descended on the believers, and three thousand people were saved in one day. But even though it’s not specifically talking about our churches today, this passage is probably the most succinct text in all of the New Testament that speaks to what churches ideally should look like today.
If I had to summarize it in just one word, it would be joy. The believers in the first church were full of joy! It says that they were filled with awe, and they ate together with joyful hearts. They didn’t treat church as a chore, but were excited to gather together, because they were excited about what God was doing in them and through them.
And if I had to summarize the first church in just two words, it would be joyful devotion. The believers were joyfully devoted to God and one another. They served one another, and sacrificed for one another, and were eager to not just to learn from the apostles, but to support them and support each other since they saw that they had all things in common in Christ. And it’s this joyful devotion that we need to need to be challenged to have today.
Do you have that kind of joyful devotion, both in your relationship with God, and in the church? That’s what God wants for you: not just to obey Him, but to obey Him with joy! He wants you to be like a tree planted by a stream of water, that produces fruit not out of sheer effort, but because you’re constantly refreshed by the stream of living water. God wants you to have joy.
As God’s church, He wants us to cultivate this joy and have a culture of this joy as we worship Him. So, how do we do that? Our passage this morning names several things that the first church did out of a joyful devotion to God, which I believe even fueled their joyful devotion. It says in verse 42 that the believers devoted themselves to four things: the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayer. I want to look very briefly at each of these.
First, as a church, we ought to be devoted to the apostles’ teaching. In other words, we receive instruction directly from those who received their instruction directly from Jesus. Jesus carefully selected His apostles who would begin preaching the gospel, and writing the letters of the New Testament, and we receive the teaching about Jesus from them.
That means that we’re not just making stuff up as we go along. We have God’s word, and we’re to be faithful to God’s word. I would even say that we’re to be joyfully faithful to God’s word. God doesn’t want us to read the Scriptures just because we’re supposed to read the Scriptures, and to obey the Scriptures just because we’re supposed to obey the Scriptures. No! Even the Pharisees did that, and Jesus pronounced woes on them because of it. But Jesus taught that we’re to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We’re to be joyfully faithful, joyfully devoted to God and His word.
I had a professor in college who really stressed the “mind” part of the greatest commandment. You’re to love the Lord your God with all your mind. The “mind” kind of gets forgotten in that list sometimes. Like, it makes sense to us to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength. We know we’re supposed to love Him with all our emotions and will, our heart, and all our being, our soul, and even all our works, our strength, but Jesus also said that we’re to love God with all our mind.
That seems kind of impossible, doesn’t it? Our minds wander. Our minds often seem to tempt us in various ways. Our minds seem to be a constant stream of thoughts and desires and plans, and if we’re honest, a lot of the thoughts in our minds don’t seem to be very glorifying to God. And yet, God calls us to love Him with all our mind.
At the very least, that means that we ought to love His word. We ought to read the Bible, and study the Bible, and meditate on the Bible, and memorize the Bible. And we ought to do these things not as a chore, but as an expression of our love for God. God invites us to know Him and rest in His love for us, and explore that and come to a deeper understanding of that through His word, the Bible. And as we do that, God renews our mind so that even our thoughts and plans come under the Lordship of Jesus.
We, as a church, are to be devoted to the apostles’ teaching, which is the word of God.
Second, we’re to be devoted to fellowship. We often think of fellowship as eating together, but that’s not at all what verse 42 is talking about. Fellowship is the deep, intimate companionship that we have with one another because we’re a family in Christ. Fellowship can take place during a meal, but a meal alone should never take the place of fellowship. Fellowship happens as we realize just how much God has loved us.
I was talking this last Wednesday night with Ronald and Tina about how I love all the technological advancements we’ve seen in the last decade or two which have allowed us to minister online like never before. We can broadcast our services online, and connect with one another online, and entire churches have now even been planted online so that they are truly a virtual church rather than a physical one. And I think that’s all great, and I’m glad that we’re using these technologies to reach people with the gospel because it takes all kinds of churches and all kinds of methods to reach all kinds of people. But I fear that with the implementation of all of these technologies, we’ve minimized the importance of fellowship in the life of the church.
We should be careful about giving people the impression that simply watching a church service at home is the same as being in church, because it’s not. Now, I actually do think that fellowship can take place online, even in the context of an online church service, but it has to be really intentional. Many young people get this, because they’ve been doing this online all their lives, and they can often see both the advantages and pitfalls of trying to engage in an online community. Real, genuine community takes place when people can truly have deep, meaningful conversations about life and faith, and that doesn’t happen just by watching a service, being a passive spectator.
And, ironically, this also applies to how we participate in church in person as well. Because, as we just said, fellowship is more than simply watching the service. It’s participating. It’s singing. It’s encouraging. It’s engaging with one another in such a way as to relate to one another and share our lives and faith with each other.
The more I think about it, this is why Sunday School is so important. In our Sunday School classes, each person is able to contribute and encourage the faith of everyone else in the class. Sunday School classes are intentionally small by design so that each person can have that kind of interaction. We often think of Sunday School as discipleship, but it’s also truly fellowship as we come together to pray for each other and be built up in our faith together.
So, whether you feel like your faith has been stale or not, my desire as your pastor would be that all of us would be in Sunday School next week. If you’ve never been to Sunday School at our church before, I promise it’s not a weird thing. We don’t worship God normally during our worship service, and then do secret cult things during Sunday School. No! It’s simply a very crucial opportunity for every believer to come as a participant. It’s far too easy to come to a worship service and be lost in the crowd. But our small groups allow us to pray for one another specifically, encourage each other personally, and disciple one another faithfully. This is what church is supposed to be!
So not only are we to be devoted to God’s word, we’re also to be devoted to God’s people, which is fellowship.
Third, it says that they devoted themselves to the breaking of bread. There’s some debate as to whether this is referring to the Lord’s Supper, or to eating together in general, and I think the answer is yes. They ate together, and they observed the Lord’s Supper together. Which makes perfect sense because that’s how Jesus instituted the first Lord’s Supper. As they were eating the Passover meal together, Jesus took the bread, and said, “This is My body, broken for you,” and the disciples all looked at Him and thought, “What are you talking about?” So Jesus took the wine, and said, “This is My blood, poured out for you,” and they were like, “Jesus must have had a little too much of that wine.”
It’s interesting that observing the Lord’s Supper is one of the main four things that verse 42 says that the earliest believers devoted themselves to. We say that it’s just a symbol, and it is, but it’s also a very vivid reminder of what Jesus did for us. He gave His life for us! His body was broken, and His blood was shed, and when you receive Him as your savior, Jesus comes to abide in you.
You see, devoting yourself to reading the Bible and to fellowship with others are great practices, even godly practices, but those kinds of things don’t mean much without the more personal reminder that Jesus has completely forgiven you personally, and all of the church collectively, of all our sin through His death for us on the cross. That’s the basis for our devotion to God’s word and God’s people: that God Himself has shown His devotion to us through Jesus.
Finally, it says that they devoted themselves to prayer. In one of His angriest moments, quoting Isaiah 56:7, Jesus said:
Is it not written, My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations? (Mark 11:17)
Of course, He was talking about the Jewish Temple, but the New Testament idea of the Temple is carried over to mean our very bodies. We are the Temple of God, since the Holy Spirit has come to live in us. And when we gather as a church, we are a body of believers, the church of God.
So, are we a praying people? Paul tells us to pray without ceasing. That’s the ideal, and there have been various ways of explaining what that means, whether it means a continuous spirit of prayer or at the very least a practice of an abundance of prayers throughout the day. But the point is, are we a praying people?
Prayer takes us out of ourselves, and into the mind of God. Prayer reminds us that our efforts are not ultimately what bring about the solutions to our problems. Prayer is the acknowledgment that as much as we often make life about us, God is the One in charge. And He invites us to know Him, and have a relationship with Him. And one expression of that relationship is prayer.
To be clear, that relationship doesn’t start with prayer. It started with God Himself. Before any of us existed, God alone existed, and He made us in His image so that He could share Himself with us, so that we would know Him and experience His goodness. But then we rebelled. Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, and we all shared in that same rebellion whenever we’ve sinned. And because of our sin, we severed our relationship with God, being deserving of His wrath.
But then God, being rich in mercy, continued to love us. Even as we were objects of His wrath, He continued to love us, and so He sent Jesus to forgive and redeem us through His sacrifice for us on the cross. God’s wrath has been satisfied, because Jesus died in our place, as our substitute. And with our sin forgiven, our relationship with God is restored. So, you see, our relationship with God doesn’t start because we prayed a prayer; it started because God showed mercy, which ignited faith in us, so that we were saved.
And then, being saved by grace through faith, we begin to be transformed. One of the very first ways that we begin to live out that transformation is to pray that prayer, which we sometimes call the sinner’s prayer, in which we admit to God that we’re sinners in need of His forgiveness, receiving Jesus as savior. And that’s a great prayer, but I just want to point out that theologically, the sinner’s prayer doesn’t save a person. The sinner’s prayer is simply an expression of faith in the God who saves, and that faith had to be present in the sinner before he actually prayed.
Now, am I just splitting hairs with all this theology? Maybe.
And am I saying new believers shouldn’t pray the sinner’s prayer? Of course not. In fact, I’m saying just the opposite. New believers ought to genuinely pray it, because it’s an expression of genuine faith. But don’t stop there. As believers, we ought to express our faith in a multitude of ways. Prayer. Baptism. Gathering. Giving. Going. Serving. God calls us to live out our faith both inside and outside the church all the time, in all kinds of ways. But He wants it to be a genuine faith, not just going through the motions of things we think we ought to do.
So, so far, we’ve looked at a few things that we are to do as believers in the church. Among other things, we’re to study the Bible, be devoted to fellowship, observe the Lord’s Supper, and pray. And, of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list. This passage also mentions things like giving sacrificially to the work of the church, and engaging in evangelism so that others are saved. Really we could add a whole bunch of commands in the New Testament regarding what we should do as a church.
But why? Why should we do any of these things?
The answer is found in the context of this passage. You see, the reason that these early believers were devoting themselves to these things was the same reason we are today. They were just filled with the Holy Spirit because they placed their faith in Jesus, who saved them. I mean, think about how huge that is! Sometimes we can forget how awesome it is to be a Christian! The God of all the universe came to live in them! Can you believe it? It seems so unbelievable. And yet, this is how much God loves you. He doesn’t want you to know Him at a distance, but intimately, in a close, personal relationship.
The way that we can continue to have a real, vibrant relationship with Christ is the same way that we began to have a real, vibrant relationship with Christ. The way that we can be a loving, vibrant church is the same way that we initially became a loving, vibrant church. As we rest in the grace of God, which is perfect, and overwhelming through Jesus, we cannot help but want to serve Him and His church! When we treat the grace of God as if it’s no big deal, that’s when we start to think that the Christian life is boring. But when we remember just how good God is, just how good He’s been to each of us, and just how much we’re forgiven of, we won’t see the Christian life as a chore, but as a blessing as we rejoice in the God who loves us unconditionally.
The second sermon I ever preached here as your pastor, I preached on July 26, 2009, and it dealt with this same passage in Acts 2. I ended that sermon with these three questions:
- Do I get excited about the possibilities of this church?
- Do I give of myself sacrificially to the needs of those around me?
- Do I allow the message of the gospel to overflow out of my life?
I think those same questions are still relevant for us to ask ourselves. Number 1:
Do I get excited about the possibilities of this church?
Do I just go through the routines of coming to church, singing some songs, and going home, or do I believe that God is doing something amazing in us and through us, and that greater is He that is in us that he that is in the world? If we’re ever going to have a joyful devotion to God, we’ve got to believe that God is up to something, and that we get to be a part of that as His church.
Do I give of myself sacrificially to the needs of those around me?
When I come, do I make church more about my needs, or about the needs of those around me? Do I seek to love others and be sure to make everyone else at church feel loved and welcome? Joyful devotion to God means being joyfully devoted to His people.
And number 3:
Do I allow the message of the gospel to overflow out of my life?
Do I rest in Jesus so that I rejoice in what He’s done for me? Am I in awe of who God is, what God is doing, and what He’s going to do in and through His church, and do I show that by serving Him and others, giving my life for them, just as Jesus gave His life for me? God wants you to have joy, not in the things of this world, but as you serve Him, even sacrifice for Him, finding your joy in eternal things, rather than the temporary pleasures of this life.
So we’re going to have an invitation this morning.
If you’ve never trusted in Jesus to forgive your sins so that you have real, full joy in Him, I invite you to place your faith in Him this morning. Jesus invites you to have real joy in Him, and it comes when you turn from the sins that you’ve been seeking satisfaction in, and turn to Jesus, who can give you true satisfaction, because through Jesus you can have a personal relationship with God. If that’s the decision you need to make this morning, I invite you to come during this next song, and just say to me, “Pastor Chris, I need Jesus.”
Or maybe you already know Jesus as your savior, but you haven’t been devoted to His church. God doesn’t just want us to receive Jesus as our ticket to heaven, He wants us to be transformed so that we have joy in serving Him and His people! As we rest in Jesus, we’ll also begin to rejoice in Jesus by serving Him. So I invite you to a higher level of commitment in the church. Maybe that means committing to be in a Sunday School class, or committing to begin serving in the children’s ministry, or even just saying to me, “Pastor Chris, I don’t know what I need to do, but I want to serve wherever you need me to serve in the church.” I love when people say that, because it shows a true desire to do whatever God wants for you. If that’s the commitment you need to make this morning, I invite you to come during this song as well.
And as we begin our invitation this morning, since we’re to be a praying people, I want you to pray for the person on your left and on your right. Pray that they would have the boldness and conviction to make the decision they need to make this morning, whether to receive Jesus or to make a commitment to the church. And if you’re sitting at the end of a row, pray for the person at the other end of the row. You don’t get to pray for just one person because of where you’re sitting.
Whatever decision you need to make this morning, I invite you to come.