The Start of the Church: A Community committed to making a difference
July 21, 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.
Last week of July 14th, we will dialogue about the aspects of Teachings and Fellowship. This week of July 21st, we will dialogue about the aspects of Break Bread and Prayer. The final Sunday of July, we will wrap up the four pillars of the church and begin 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 20:7-12 (NRSV)
7 On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight. 8 There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were meeting. 9 A young man named Eutychus, who was sitting in the window, began to sink off into a deep sleep while Paul talked still longer. Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead. 10 But Paul went down, and bending over him took him in his arms, and said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” 11 Then Paul went upstairs, and after he had broken bread and eaten, he continued to converse with them until dawn; then he left. 12 Meanwhile they had taken the boy away alive and were not a little comforted.
Luke 22:14-22 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
14 When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. 15 He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.
Questions to Ponder:
What jumps out at you from Acts 20 and Luke 22?
What do you think break bread means?
What are the results of spending time with people over a dinner?
Thinking about prayer, what do you think the early Christian’s prayed about?
What do you think both private and public prayer does?
Sometimes our prayers are limited in scope, how can you broaden your prayer life?
The practice of breaking bread could have taken two forms in the early church. The first form of breaking bread would refer to believers getting together to have a meal. The meal would last for a couple of hours as the believers fellowshipped and told stories. These meals could have been referred to as Love, or Agape, feasts. The second form of breaking bread added a distinct feature to the meal which was the active practice of mimicking the Lord’s Supper as found in the Luke passage. The words of Christ would be used in the giving of thanks, and the remembrance of what happened to Jesus. Contrary to our practice of communion today, in the early church, the believers would be eating a dinner together. As the bread would be laid on the table, one would refer to the bread as the Body of Christ. Likewise, after the wine was poured, the wine would be referred to as the Blood of Christ. Through that practice, the believers would always affirm the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus. Fellowship around the meal was very important in helping establish, and strengthen the relationship bonds. Notice the setting in Acts when Eutychus was healed after falling out of a window having fallen asleep. He fell out of the window during a long evening meal after he had worked a long day. That meal was a Passover meal in which they would have celebrated the practice of giving thanks for Christ by remembering the Body through the bread and the Blood through the wine.
The believers used prayer to communicate with God both concerns and joys. Philippians 4:5-7 states, “5 let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Prayer is a communication with God in which we just talk to God about our life and issues of the world. Like dialoguing with a spouse or a friend, our dialogue with God develops a depth in relationship. Prayer shows a trust that we place within our relationship with God. In the end, prayer can lead to a peace in the soul as a person faces the issues of life, both good and bad. I would imagine that many Jewish Christians kept the practice of praying at certain times of the day. In that way, believers would stop what they were doing to pray for a short time throughout the day. We can be encouraged by the words found in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Many times we refer to this statement of Jesus when people are gathered to pray. So when we read that the believers gathered to pray, we know they were seeking God in the midst of life’s issues. Not only were they seeking help and wisdom from God, but they knew God’s presence would be with them resulting in a level of peace.
Questions to Ponder:
How would you practice the celebration of the Body and Blood of Christ in your meal setting?
How could you teach your children on the meaning in your own setting?
How do you view prayer?
How do you practice prayer on a day basis?
What do you think prayer does for you as you pray, and when a group prays together?
How should the church of today model these two aspects of fellowship?
Activity of for the life of a disciple:
1. Focus on this verse:
“Philippians 4:6-7 (NRSV) 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
2. Think on ways and times you can broaden your prayer life so you can have a closer relationship with God and find peace as you move through the challenges of your day.
3. Who would be good for you to have a meal with so you can be a provider of uplifting fellowship? Make it happen.