Acts 2 records the birth of the church on the day of Pentecost. As the disciples prayed in the Upper Room, the sound of hurricane-force winds swept through Jerusalem. Investigating the sound, the crowd found the disciples praising God in languages they had not learned.
The crowd dismissed the disciples as drunk. Then Peter arose and addressed the crowd. The disciples were not drunk but filled with the Holy Spirit. He proclaimed that Jesus – whom they crucified but God raised from the dead – was the Messiah. Cut to the heart, the people repented of their sins and trusted Christ for salvation. Acts 2:41 says, “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”
Acts 2:42-47 picks up the story. It is a summary of the life and growth of the church in Jerusalem. This historical summary of the first Christian church is a God-breathed model of what the church should be and do. Most great institutions or organizations start tentatively and go from bad to good to great over time. The church at its birth was the church at its best. The next big thing in the church should be the old first things. The early church was not perfect. But it reflects the norms and nature of the New Testament church. What should the church be like? It should be Spirit-filled. Some Christians and churches call themselves “Pentecostal.”
- They emphasize the phenomenal experiences at the beginning of Acts 2.
- They neglect the ordinary congregational life at the end of Acts 2.
The Holy Spirit has been given to the church dynamically, completely, and permanently. We do not need another Pentecost. A sin-filled world needs a Spirit-filled church. What are the marks of a Spirit-filled church?
A Devoted Church
On Pentecost, 3,000 souls were added to the church. Verse 42 states the objective evidence of their conversion: “And they devoted themselves.” A real church is a devoted church. What should the church be devoted to?
Christ-Centered Membership. Verse 42 gives four priorities of the church: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
The Apostles’ doctrine. The apostles were the foundational leaders of the early church. Their authority was in their message, not in their office. Matthew 28:20 says, “Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” The apostles taught the commands of Jesus. They also taught about his Messiahship, crucifixion, and resurrection. The teachings of the apostles are recorded in the New Testament.
- Real churches are devoted to the apostles’ teaching.
- Real Christians are devoted to learning more about Jesus.
The Fellowship. The Greek word for “fellowship,” koinonia, is used here for the first time. The New Testament was written in Koine Greek – the common language, not classical Greek. Koinonia is to hold or share something in common. These new believers were bound together in Christ by the Holy Spirit. Their commitment to one another demonstrated their commitment to Christ. In a real sense, verses 44-47 are about the church’s fellowship. Their fellowship was about what they gave, not what they received. True fellowship costs.
The Breaking of Bread. 1 Corinthians 11:23-24 says, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you.’” The early church thus referred to the Lord’s Supper as “breaking of bread.” We are not told how frequently the church received the Lord’s Table. But Communion was a regular part of their life together to remember the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.
The Prayers. Acts 1:14 says, “And these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” The disciples held a ten-day prayer meeting between Christ’s Ascension and the Spirit’s Advent. In Acts 1:24-25, the critical decision about who would replace Judas was made in prayer. The church was born in a prayer being. They did not stop after Pentecost. They devoted themselves to prayer. Colossians 4:2 says, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.”
God-Honoring Ministry. Verse 43 says, “And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.” “Awe” translates the Greek term from which we get our word “fear.” It is used here for the deep sense of reverence for God that consumed the early church. “Upon every soul” indicates this reverential awe impacted believers and unbelievers alike. When Christ is central in the church, God is honored in the church.
Luke adds, “Many signs and wonders were being done through the apostles.”These miracles confirmed the ministry and message of the apostles. 2 Corinthians 12:12 calls them “the signs of the apostles.” The church was built around the apostles’ teaching. Their teaching was attended by supernatural miracles that left all in awe. God is still looking for churches in whose hands his glory is safe, through which he may do great things!
A Loving Church
John 13:34-35 says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love is the badge of discipleship. Their mutual love of the first church was reflected in two ways.
Spiritual Unity. Verse 44 says, “And all who believed were together and had all things in common.” Those who profess true saving faith practice togetherness. Spiritual counterfeits are exposed by their abandonment of the local church. 1 John 2:19 says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.” The most fundamental way Christians demonstrate love for one another is by faithful attendance in corporate worship.
Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” But this togetherness is more than being marked present for the church’s gatherings. It is a spiritual unity expressed in mutual care for one another. Verse 44 says they “had all things in common.”
- They were all on one accord spiritually.
- They shared what they had practically.
The disciples in the Upper Room were locals. Those who were added were Jewish pilgrims who traveled to Jerusalem for Pentecost. After the Lord saved them, they did not go home. They remained in Jerusalem to learn about Jesus and to be with the saints. They had no jobs, homes, or goods. In spiritual unity, the church had all things in common so that no one’s needs went unmet. Acts 4:32 says, “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.”
Sacrificial Generosity. Verse 45 explains and exemplifies verse 44: “And they were selling their possessions and belongings and disturbing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” This verse is used as a biblical argument for communism and socialism. But this was not a compulsory act administered by government or church authorities. It was a voluntary act of sacrificial generosity. When a need arose, the believers sold real estate and material goods to meet the need.
Acts 5:34 says, “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”
These acts did not violate the right to private ownership. In Acts 5:4, Peter asked Ananias “While it remained unsold, did not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal?” Believers willingly sold their possessions and belongings. They made personal decisions to use the proceeds to help the needy. No one was pressured to do this. Not everyone did it. It was a temporary measure to address the growth crisis in the Jerusalem church. Yet verse 46 says they were “breaking bread in their homes.”
We hear a lot about justice and equity. They are not the same thing. Justice is a matter of right and wrong. Equity is about the equality of outcomes. Mark 14:7 says, “For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them.” The New Testament does not regulate how much a person should have. 1 Timothy 6:17-19 says, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of what which is truly life.”
A Worshiping Church
Verses 46-47 further summarize the fellowship of the first church. But it is described here in the context of worship. Worship is fellowship. Christian fellowship is rooted in and flows from Christian fellowship. Verses 46-47 teach us what it means to be a worshiping church.
Corporate Worship. Verse 46 says, “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes.” The first church did not have a building. No church had buildings until the fourth century. The Jerusalem church met in two venues. They were “attending the temple together.” This does not suggest the saints continued in the now obsolete temple sacrifices. Solomon’s porch in the temple complex was the only place large enough to accommodate this church membership. They coopted the facilities of the religious authorities who put Jesus to death and used them to worship the risen Savior! They did what they needed to do to worship together. They also met together in small groups in their homes to break bread together in Christian worship and fellowship. Healthy churches grow larger and smaller at the same time.
Joyful Worship. Verse 46 says, “They received their food with glad and generous hearts.” On social media, worldly people celebrate their affluent lifestyle, high fashion, and exotic trips. These saints found joy in the simple act of sharing a meal in Jesus’ name. Their hearts were glad to be together. Many professing Christians are glad to be with fraternity brothers or sorority sisters. It is not apparent that they love to be with kindred spirits who love, trust, and serve Christ.
Their hearts were also generous. The Greek word for “generous” means to be “smooth” or “free from rocks.” It refers to an act that is simple, sincere, and singular. Proverbs 23:1-3 says, “When you sit down with a ruler, observe carefully what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite. Do not desire his delicacies, for they are deceptive food.” Not every act of generosity is generous. It may be “deceptive food” that comes with strings attached. Unfulfilled expectations break fellowship. True generosity comes with no expectations of anything in return. Acts 20:35 says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Proper Worship. Verse 47 says they were “praising God.” God is the subject and object of worship. It is about and for him. Worship built around our styles, tastes, or needs is man-centered, not God-centered. John 4:24 says, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” Proper worship is expressed in grateful praise for his ways, works, and word. The saints sang praise to God at the temple and in their homes! Worship should not be a carnival of ecstatic experiences. It also should not be like attending a funeral, being stuck in traffic, or waiting in a doctor’s office. All things should be done decently and in order. That does not mean high praise should be policed out of the church. Psalm 145:3 says, “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.”
A Growing Church. Verse 47 says, “And the Lord to their number day by day those who were being saved.” This endnote is not so much about the church as it is about the Lord. The church had “favor with all the people.” They no doubt used this favor for evangelistic purposes. We talk a lot about divine favor. But we view it as a means to personal advancement, not gospel opportunities.
Pray for favor with people to tell them that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Our sincere motives, good works, and best efforts cannot make us right with God. But God sent his Son Jesus, who lived in perfect righteousness, died as an atonement for sin, and rose from the dead triumphantly. Romans 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
The disciples shared this good news with lost people. But the Lord added to the church those who were being saved. Jonah 2:9 says, “Salvation belongs to the Lord.”
- The Lord did not add to the church anyone that he did not save.
- The Lord did not save anyone he did not add to the church.
This closing statement of Acts 2 is not just a historical summary. It is a statement of the ongoing work of the Lord Jesus Christ. There has not been a day since Pentecost that the Lord has not added those who are being saved to the church. And he is still adding to the church those who are being saved today. Thank the Lord that he added you when you were worthy! Ask the Lord to keep adding those who are being saved to the church. If you need to be saved, run to the cross!