The Start of the Church: A Community committed to making a difference
July 14, 2019 (click here for PDF version)
Overarching theme: Living a year in God’s presence through the practice of following Jesus.
Core Point: The beginning of the early church started with some very simple activity by the growing community. The early church grew through the activity of people devoting themselves to teachings, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. These four simple, yet galvanizing, practices helped the church to develop into a life changing organization.
Over the course of the next three weeks, we will be looking at this model of the early church. This week of July 14th, we will dialogue about the aspects of Teachings and Fellowship. The week of July 21st, we will dialogue about the aspects of Break Bread and Prayer. The final Sunday of July, we will wrap the concept up with focusing on being Called and Sent.
Start point: Acts is the second letter of a two letter series written by Luke. The first letter is the Gospel of Luke. Luke was a physician who traveled with the apostle Paul. The date of the writing is believed to be around 62 A.D. when Paul was under house arrest, awaiting trial before Caesar. Many scholars assume Acts was written then because it does not record Paul’s defense, release, and further gospel preaching. The themes in Acts center on the Holy Spirit empowering the believers to declare the Good News of Jesus the Christ to both the Jews and the Gentiles. As they declared the Good News, people started to believe, resulting in the Christian church being established. Luke’s purpose for writing his Gospel (see Luke 1:3–4) applies to Acts as well: to give an “orderly” account of the early church after Christ’s resurrection. Dedicating the two-volume work to Theophilus, Luke wanted him to have “certainty” about what he had been taught. Basically, Acts is the story of how the church was established and how it grew through the power of God’s Holy Spirit, with the story of Christ Jesus, and service of the disciples.
Reflect on this Scripture:
Acts 2:42-47 (NRSV)
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Acts 4:8-20 (NRSV)
8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. 11 This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’ 12 There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” 13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus. 14 When they saw the man who had been cured standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. 15 So they ordered them to leave the council while they discussed the matter with one another. 16 They said, “What will we do with them? For it is obvious to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable sign has been done through them; we cannot deny it. 17 But to keep it from spreading further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” 18 So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; 20 for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
Questions to Ponder:
What jumps out at you from the text?
What do you think “devoted to the apostles teaching and fellowship” looked like?
What are the apostle’s teachings?
How should the church of the today model this?
Why do you think the early Christians, especially the apostles, were so bold and risky in the ministry and message?
Let us first focus on the “Apostles teachings” in Acts 2:42. Note that the idea of devotion in the Greek text is better translated as “continually steadfastly” in the teachings of the Apostles and in fellowship. So, devotion means a continual activity in both aspects. Think on this, the early Christians did not have the stories of Jesus written down so they could not be referenced easily. The stories of Jesus were new and could only be learned by listening to the repeated stories by the Apostles, those who were eyewitnesses. The amazing thing about the speaking of the stories was the boldness of the Apostles to believe in the stories and to stand up for them, even though the prevailing culture of that day was against the spread of Christianity. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ was the heart of the message in which the apostles proclaimed. They so believed in the movement of God through Jesus the Christ that they were ready to proclaim and act on the message. Both the Jewish and Roman cultures tried to kill the spread of the Good News of Christ Jesus. From Acts 4, you can see that the Apostles were willing to stand up to the Jewish rulers with the message of Christ Jesus. It is amazing what a person can do or say when the power of the Holy Spirit is recognized in one’s life. Believing in something that is beyond ourselves empowers us in a direction. When a person believes in nothing, then that person will fall for everything, but if a person believes in something, then that person will not fall for just anything. Hearing and remembering the teachings of the Apostles give a person a base on which to believe in the power of God. In regards to fellowship, the Greek word is “koinonia.” The emphasis in the root meaning of the word is a relationship between individuals that denotes a common interest and a mutual, active participation in that interest and in each other. So, the aspect of fellowship is the overarching participation in the teaching, breaking bread, and prayers with a like-minded participation that galvanized the community. The growth of the early Christian church was a result of not only the move of God, but also the visible unity of believers in like-mindedness actively practicing their faith on a daily basis. The idea of the believers having fellowship together was a way for the community to be encouraged and empowered to go out into the prevailing culture with a truth to live and spread for the dynamic changing of their broader environment. God uses us to help change the world for the better.
Questions to Ponder:
What is the most important part of the Good News of Christ Jesus that galvanizes you to other Christian believers?
What are ways that we can be bold with our fellowship with one another that could lead to growth of our community of faith?
For what are you willing to die?
Question to Ponder in relation to the sermon and the curriculum:
In the Biblical Story of Noah, God called Noah to start building an ark in order to save humanity and creation in the future (120 years later). How did the early church build in a similar way (not an ark, but a community)? What is God calling us to start building today in order to make a lasting impact for the salvation of our community?
Activity of for the life of a disciple:
1. Think and feel what it must have been like for those in the community:
“Acts 2:43-44 (NRSV) 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common.”
Think on what would have to happen, or what you could do to help make this happen in your life and the life of the community of believers in Christ Jesus.
2. Think on who you could invite to be a part of your community of faith. Invest in them and invite them this week.