They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
I’ve always thought of this paragraph as an action-packed “slice of health” from the first days of the early church. This was a community, vibrantly alive.
Before Pentecost, the believers had banded together “continually” in prayer, Luke using a descriptive word that implies devotion, passion, engagement and steadfast commitment. That same word is now used twice over in this passage to describe the activity of the newborn, Spirit-filled church. There’s passionate devotion running right the way through.
All of this becomes instructive for us. Their communal life and health, challenge and inspire. Here are some sightings of the things to which “they devoted themselves”:
· Teaching. This wasn’t academia. These early believers simply wanted to know their Lord better. So, with devotion, they were steadfastly attentive to everything the apostles taught. Although we ourselves can’t hear their voices, we have the huge advantage of having all their teaching inscribed in the New Testament, right at hand. What a gift. What an occasion to display our own passion.
· Fellowship. More than a cup of tea, this implies connection and community, often involving sacrificial sharing. The early church didn’t hold back. They plunged right in.
· Worship. “Breaking of bread” is a reference to Communion, the central act of worship for those early believers. Each time they took part, they remembered that the death of Jesus was specifically for them. And they gave thanks.
· Prayer. The word is actually in the plural (prayers) implying the full range of intercession and petition, both individually and corporately. We see their passionate commitment both prior to Pentecost (Acts 1:14) and certainly after (Acts 4:24), as they realized the gift of open access into the throne room of heaven, as well as the absolute necessity of the Lord’s sustaining work and powerful interventions.
These four elements were foundational. But other sightings of health flow out from them: a pervasive sense of awe, miracles, sharing of practical resources, meeting needs, hospitality, praise, favour with the surrounding community, people coming to faith daily.
What a season to be alive! Of course, the church wasn’t perfect – shortly, they will run up against some of their own foibles. And there will also be opposition, some losing their lives for Jesus’ sake. But the church continued to thrive, even in hardship and human frailty.
In it all, Jesus continued to do his kingdom work. The Spirit continued to be present and active. Both are just as true in our day. May we expect nothing less.
Risen Lord Jesus, revive your church to engage with passion, just like these earlier believers. Revive me. Amen.
Reflect: Which aspect of the early church’s devotion (teaching, fellowship, worship, prayer) most needs renewal in your own experience? What is one step you could take to enter into it more fully?