April 28, 2024. Sermon Title: Acts: The Difference Devotion Makes

First Mennonite Church

April 28, 2024

The Difference Devotion Makes

Text: Acts 2:41-47

Last Sunday, we reflected on the last part of Peter’s first sermon, as he responded to the inquiry of those wanting to know what was happening on that Pentecost Day. Peter explained that the extraordinary capacity of the disciples to speak in a foreign language was the result of God’s Spirit coming upon them. Also, that the coming of the Holy Spirit was as Jesus previously promised his disciples, and was also that it was the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, where God in the end-times will pour out his Spirit on all flesh. The people were so moved by Peter’s message that they were asking what they should do. Peter urged them to repent and to be baptized. Three thousand people did. Therefore, on that day, to the group of 120 disciples, three thousand more were added after a massive baptism.

After that report, Luke pauses his narrative flow to give his first summary of how those early believers lived their new faith and what God was doing through them.

Please note that in the Book of Acts, there are three major summaries. In each of these, summaries, miracles are part of the story. See (2:42-47; 4:32-35; 5:12-16).

These summaries provide a general picture of the activities the new believers engaged in when they congregated under the leadership of the apostles. Our text for today is the first major summary and comes after a massive baptism that resulted from Peter’s first proclamation. As we know, a summary does not tell the full story, and we see that here about the nascent group of believers that constituted the early church. As in this case, this first summary does not tell us about the community’s problems. Interestingly, however, after each summary, Luke gives the story of a problem within the community. Shortly after this first summary, Luke tells us of the first problem the disciples encountered. The authorities began to intimidate the disciples; they wanted the disciples to stop preaching. Thus they arrested Peter and threw him in prison.

After the second summary, Luke tells of another problem. Ananias and Sapphira wanted to pretend to be as generous as other disciples who sold properties to donate the entire proceeds. However, they kept part of the money from the sale and agreed to lie that their donation was the full amount of the sale.

After the third summary, Luke talks about the dispute that arose over food distribution. The widows of Gentile background complained that they were not treated as their Hebrew counterparts.

What are we supposed to do with this report about the early church? Is it intended to be the model for every Christian community of faith? There have been many efforts to imitate the life of the early church by Christian groups. Within the Mennonite family, the Hutterites in Canada live as a community. There are the Bruderhof communities. Of these last, there are 29 communities living in both rural and urban settings in the US, England, Germany, Australia, Paraguay, South Korea, and Austria. This is how they describe themselves: The Brudenhof is an international community of families and singles seeking to follow Jesus together. Members of the Brudenhof are committed to a way of radical discipleship in the spirit of the Sermon of the Mount. Inspired by the first church in Jerusalem (Acts 2 and 4), they renounce private property and share everything in common in a life of nonviolence, justice, and service to neighbors near and far.[1]

But before we consider the communal aspect of the Early Church life, let us look at the other aspects.  In verse 42, we read: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. There are four relatively uncontroversial activities the early church practiced: teaching or discipleship, fellowship, sharing meals together, and praying together. Of these four practices, there are two that are obviously religious in nature: teaching and praying together. The other two might seem a bit mundane at first glance: fellowship and breaking of bread.

The word “fellowship,” koinonia in Greek, appears only here in the book of Acts, but for Paul, it is an important idiom he uses to describe the newness of life experienced by those who come to faith in Jesus. Koinonia is the openness of heart and the spiritual bond the Holy Spirit causes within the community of believers. That means that where there is koinonia (fellowship), believers share much more than just a core of beliefs or a common faith. In fact, where there is fellowship in the Spirit, as Paul says in 2Corinthian 13:14, the community of believers displays a profound concern for one another’s spiritual and physical well-being as a community of friends. When Christ calls us into the fellowship, he not only gives us the power to have faith and hope in God, but also to have “sincere love for each other, deep love one another, love from the heart” (1Peter 1:22).   

The other practice is “breaking of bread together.” Some wonder if breaking bread refers to the Lord’s Supper or to a communal meal together. According to the history of the early church, the Lord’s Supper took place in the context of a full communal meal. We can see that in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, chapter 11. The church gathered at the end of the week to worship and to eat a meal together, in which the Lord’s Supper also took place. But in Corinth, some well-to-do member were using that occasion to display their abundance, disregarding those who did not have much to bring. These well-to-do members of the Corinthian church even got drunk, while the poor or slave believers went home hungry again. But here in Acts, Luke tells us of how beautiful these meals were when he writes: They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. Imagine the impact these communal meals had on those watching. At a time when rigid and even enforced social divisions existed between men, women, and children, between masters and slaves, between Jews and Gentiles, between social economic classes, and having these meals where everyone joyously and without any pretense of any kind, sat together to enjoy a meal! That was revolutionizing. That was a powerful witness of God’s transforming power in people’s lives.

Next Sunday, we will have our monthly potluck. The invitation is yours! Come with joyous and sincere hearts to the table.

Now let us look at the communal aspect of the early church life. Verses 44 and 45 read: All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  Here, the question again: Is this a model for Christians of all times to follow? If so, we have failed tremendously. And if not, on what scriptural grounds?

First, we must notice that besides this first group of believers in Acts, the practice of communal life is not found elsewhere in the New Testament. We do find in the New Testament, that Christians are called to prayer, both as a personal spiritual discipline and also to pray for one another. Christians are called to care for the spiritual and physical well-being of their fellow members. Kindness, generosity, and sympathy are the hallmarks of those indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Time and time again Christians are urged to engage in teaching and learning the word of God. And, Christians are urged not to neglect to gather for worship. But we do not find anywhere else in the New Testament the call to practice communal life.

In Luke chapter 6, when Jesus defined his Messianic ministry, he said that he came to “announce the favorable year of the Lord—the Jubilee. It seems that the coming of the Spirit upon the disciples empowered his disciples to get a taste of that Jubilee. Those who had more than they needed are to share with those who don’t have. The Jubilee spirit, however, is still emphasized in the New Testament. We are called to help first those in need within our fellowship (Gal. 6:10). We are called to share with those outside the fellowship too.

As we noticed, the early Christian church lived the newness of the Spirit’s transforming power in the way they lived, worshiped, and cared for one another.  But there is a word in this passage that is often missed. The summary begins: Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching.  They devoted themselves to fellowship. They devoted themselves to the breaking of bread.  And they devoted themselves to prayer. These Christians were fully devoted to these four practices. The Geek word, prokartereo, means to give steadfast attention to something; to give unremitting care to a thing or person. These early Christians plunged themselves to learn the word of Christ under the teaching of the apostle. These Christians dedicated themselves to seeking companionship with their fellow brothers and sisters. These Christians endeavored to participate and contribute to the daily communal meals, Eucharist, prayer, and worship. They attentively gave themselves to those practices.

Devotion to God is reflected through the willful and diligent pursuit of learning his word, of keeping the bonds of mutual love in the fellowship, and of unceasing prayer within the fellowship of the body of the Lord.

Here is this, we might study the word of God, but we might not necessarily devote ourselves to the study of it. We might like to worship on occasions, but not necessarily dedicate ourselves to doing it regularly. We might like to participate in the Lord’s Supper, but not necessarily count ourselves as active members of the body of Christ. We might pray, but not with earnestness seeking the face of God.

Devotion makes the greatest difference in everything we do and who we are as Christians. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.

May the Lord impress his word in our hearts. Amen!

Pastor Romero

[1] Plough, Summer of 2022. P. 6 (Plough Publishing House. Walden, New York.)