By Andy Woodfield
What a joy and blessing it was this last Sunday to celebrate the promotion of our children. In this promotion and in the evident growth we have seen at Hickman Community Church, over the past year, we honor the Lord Jesus Christ who said, “I will build My church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” Church growth reflects spiritual health in the body. Jesus, the great physician of the human soul, is in the business of making us healthy, sanctifying us by His Spirit, through His Word. To God be the glory!
A healthy church functions in such a way that God receives the maximum glory. This is the primary, dear I say it, the only reason for the existence of the church. The church exists to please Him and honor Him in every facet of its existence. It has been said that “if I please God it doesn’t matter whom I displease, and if I displease God it doesn’t matter whom I please.” [Steve Lawson].
So, what does a church that glorifies God look like? We get a glimpse as the early church is born in Acts 2. This church was empowered by the Holy Spirit and required no church growth expert or book to be a body of people that God was exalted through. Read and experience the atmosphere of a church that truly magnified God in its daily life.
Luke the historian records, “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. 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 and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42–47)
Wow! What a picture of life and vitality. This is a church that is on fire for God. A church that brought maximum glory to God.
Luke lists at least seven activities that we could call the defining marks of a healthy Church:
1. They Were Devoted to Knowing God’s Word. v. 42 “They were continually devoting themselves to the Apostle’s teaching…”
This is what Christians do! They study and learn about their Lord and Savior. The Greek word translated “continually devoting” points to constancy, purpose, and resolve. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching. When the Holy Spirit regenerates you, all you want to do is get to know Jesus and obey whatever He wants you to do. The only way you do that is by studying His Word. The Bible is not about us, it about Jesus and His work and character, from Genesis to Revelation. Your level of devotion to the Bible is your level of devotion to Jesus Christ. Make no mistake about it – the church will only be as strong as its devotion to the truth. It is to the measure that God’s Word dwells in us that He gets the glory through us.
2. They Were Devoted to Christian fellowship v. 42b “…and to fellowship.” You could say they devoted themselves to Christ centered living.
The word fellowship means to share in, to have a common participation in Christ. Notice it doesn’t say they were devoted TO Fellowship but to THE fellowship. Biblically fellowship means much more than a social get together around some food. It is speaking to our partnership in Christ. 1 John 1:3 sums this thought up saying, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”
These saints in the early church loved being together and fulfilling their roles of edifying each other and encouraging each other in the Lord. They were devoted to one another in brotherly love. They selflessly exercised the gifts that God gave them for the strengthening and comforting of the one another to the glory of God. They bore one another’s burdens and forgave one another their sins. The coveted each other’s friendships and served each other to the end that God might be glorified. One commentator wrote, “We cannot be devoted to the Head, who is Christ, and at the same time cut ourselves off from the body, His church. That would be like a young man saying to his date, “I like your face, but your body is gross!” – That would be his last date with her!
3. They Were Devoted to the Breaking of Bread v. 42c They devoted themselves to formal times of worship. The breaking of bread was a community celebration of the Lord’s Supper introduced by Jesus just before His death (Luk. 24). This ordinance of the church is an expression of the believer’s devotion and love for Christ and the work He did on our behalf for our salvation. It is an overflow of a worshipping heart, that recognizes Jesus as being worthy of our affections and praise. As we corporately partake of the bread and cup we are publicly declaring our participation in Christ as our Lord and Savior.
4. They Were Devoted to Prayer v. 42d “…and to prayer.” They made communicating with God a priority of their lives. The text Literally reads, “they were continually devoting themselves to … the prayers.” This refers to set times of corporate prayer. Whenever and wherever the church meets, whether in a large meeting (“in the temple”) or from house to house, prayer ought to be woven into the fabric of church life. Even many of our songs can and should be directed to God in prayer. Prayer acknowledges our total dependence on the living Lord. Let us pray without ceasing – in other words let us be in constant communion with our Lord Jesus over every detail of our lives and every detail of the church.
This spirit-filled activity produced an atmosphere where “Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe” (v. 43a). There was no doubt in these believer’s minds that something supernatural was happening. There was no one was playing church here. There was no dead formalism in this camp. People were in awe at the evidence of God’s saving power and presence amongst them. Prayer glorifies God because it is the acknowledgment that we can do nothing without God. Nothing in this world appealed to them anymore. The things of earth had grown strangely dim to them, and the heavens seemed open and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles (v. 43b).
5. They Gave Generously v.44-45 “And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.”
The generosity of the saints to meet needs was a major part of the churches spiritual activity. The situation in Jerusalem was somewhat unique. Thousands of pilgrims had traveled there for the Feast of Pentecost. Many had been saved after Peter’s message, and they wanted to stay longer to get grounded in their new faith. They needed hospitality and financial help to do this. To meet these needs, the church opened their homes and their pocketbooks. This giving to one another was not forced or governed by some church leadership, rather it was simply the overflow of generous hearts that had experienced God’s generosity and provisions of grace.
6. They Actively Built Community v. 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.” They loved to gather, they loved community. They didn’t need to wait for the door of the church building to open, they were having meals in each other’s homes with gladness and sincerity of heart. These were true brothers and sisters in Christ. Why were they doing all this? Because they understood the organic nature of being united together in Christ. The knew they needed each other. Theirs was a mutually interdependent lifestyle. There is no place in the church for self-centered individualism. This quenches the blessings of fellowship and the richness of relationships built in Christ. But notice that those who actively build community “praise God” and find themselves “having favor with all the people.”
7. They Evangelized the Lost. v. 47b “And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
While it says the Lord is adding, we know that this is the result of the preaching of the Gospel. We are sowers and harvesters for the Lord of the harvest. We long to see God glorified through the salvation of souls. So, we speak of the redeeming work of Jesus Christ wherever and whenever we can. The result is that when a sinner is saved there is joy in the presence of the angels because he/she is restored to their Creator and the church grows on. The gates of Hades cannot overpower it. God is calling souls to Himself every day. Today is the day of salvation! Maybe today you will hear His voice and soften your heart and ask Him to forgive you…
So, what Luke has helped us see in this description of the early church, is an active healthy body of people focused on doing the right things. Focused on God’s word, the fellowship of Christians, the breaking of bread, prayer for one another, giving to meet needs, actively building community, and evangelizing the lost. And all of this brought glory to God because this is the heart of God manifested in the work of God. It is the manifestation of His Spirit poured out in the hearts of these people. May the church you attend be known for these same God honoring activities. Let us glorify God while it is still day and there is opportunity to lift Him high before the darkness comes.