Acts 2:41-47 - Qualities of the First Church

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*this is the first look at the early church.  It shows us the traits that characterized the daily lives of believers.  Luke describes the beauty of the growing and developing church.  He portrays the dedication and devotion of the early Christians in relation to God in the worship services.

Those who love Jesus Christ constitute the true church, the Body of Christ.  We belong to the collective Body of Christ, whether we’re alive or in glory.  The Greek word for church is ekklēsia, which means an assembly of called-out ones.”  The church is made up of people called by God to be His children. 

The world cannot detect the invisible church of real Christians.  They see only the visible church, which includes those who only profess to be Christians.  The Lord intended to establish a visible church for a testimony to the world.  When we gather together on the Lord’s Day, we are a testimony to the world that Christ has indeed risen.

 In the book of Acts the invisible church became more visible.  Although the visible and the invisible church were initially the same entity, the picture changed as false believers began to associate with the church.  The invisible church became visible as believers began to gather together.  Originally, they met in homes.  However, by the third century, the church was meeting in its own building as it continued to grow in numbers.

Let’s examine qualities of the early church: Now, although there are new ways to communicate, new methods to utilize, and new problems to deal with in the twentieth century, I believe the Lord intends the twentieth-century church to follow the same principles that the first-century church did.

A.                 A people who received the Word—gladly (v.41).

1.                  “Those who gladly received his word were baptized, 3 thousands souls were added…” (v.41)

a)                  Receiving the Word of God.

(1)                 A person can either receive the Word of God or reject it.  Just like soil needing to be prepared for seed to be planted, mans heart needs to be prepared as well.   
(2)                 Jesus tells a parable about this (Matt.13:3-9, 18-23).

Paul commended the Thessalonians for the way they received the Word, he says "We also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.”  (1 Thessalonians 2:13, NASB95)

(3)                 So understand that the Word of God is so powerful that it has the power to transform your life:

The Lord says "As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." (Isaiah 55:10-11, NIV)

(4)                 Luke commends those in Berea:

Speaking about the Berean’s, Luke says "Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.”  (Acts 17:11, NASB95)

b)                  Result 1: Were baptized (v.41a).

(1)                 Baptism: is the outward sign of repentance.  It is the physical sign that a person is identifying himself with Christ and turning his life over to God.
(2)                 Baptism is a command, the first command given to those who are repenting:

Our Lord Himself said "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," (Matthew 28:19, NIV)

He also says "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned."  (Mark 16:16, NIV)

(3)                 A critical note: Just because a person changes his life and is baptized does not mean he is saved.

!!!!!! (a)                 A person can change his life by the power of his own will, his own efforts and works and he can very simply request to be baptized.

(b)                There are many good and morally upright people who have been baptized.  But there is more to being saved than merely changing one’s life and being baptized.  What is it?  
(c)                 It is the essential of faith, of believing “in the name of Jesus Christ.”  And note, believing in Jesus is not just having a head knowledge of Him.
(d)                Saving faith is believing in Jesus, who and what He is, that He is the Savior and Lord of life.  It is a man giving and turning his life over to Jesus & casting himself upon Jesus as Savior and Lord.

c)                  Result 2: A large church (v.41b).

(1)                 From this verse I understand that it is the Lord who adds people to the church. 

While I read this verse, ask yourself, “who added to the numbers” "Jesus said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”  Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink." (Luke 5:4-7, NIV)

(2)                 I don’t believe that we need some sort of way to attract people into the church other than teaching the Word of God.
(3)                 Now of course we have events, retreats, etc. but those are to help us grow in Christ, not to attract people.

B.                A people who continued—steadfastly (v.42).

1.                  They continued steadfastly…”  (v.42a).

a)                  They were a saved church.

(1)                 The three thousand who confessed faith in Christ and were baptized in (v.41) are those who showed the genuineness of their faith by continuing.
(2)                 Despite the hate, ridicule, and persecution they suffered, they remained faithful.  That is a mark of genuine salvation.

Jesus said in John 8:31, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine.”   

(3)                 As we read earlier, the good see will not wither and die under persecution (Matt.13:3-9, 21).

Now, in contrast, the apostle John writes of false believers, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19).

(4)                 That the church should be composed of saved individuals seems obvious:
(a)                 Sadly, however, many churches today are made up largely of unsaved individuals.
(b)                 Amazingly, some even try to design a church where non-Christians can feel comfortable.  This can’t be the goal in a church that is devoted to holiness and righteousness in all areas of life.
(5)                 That is not to say that unbelievers are not welcome to attend the preaching of the truth and the worship.  They are welcome to hear the gospel preached and the Word of God expounded.
(6)                 However, to design the activities of the church to appeal to unbelievers, or to allow them to play a major role in the life of the church, is to give them a false sense of security.  The result for them may be eternal tragedy.
(7)                 Luke later points out that while many were drawn by the Lord to salvation, unbelievers were actually afraid to go near the church in Jerusalem because sin was being dealt with so severely.

!!!!!! (a)                 You remember when Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit about how much they sold their land for?  The Lord took both of their lives…

And we read in Acts 5:13-14 "But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem.  And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number," (Acts 5:13-14, NASB95)

2.                  “In the apostle’s doctrine…”  (v.42b).

a)                  They were a scriptural church.

(1)                 God designed the church to be a place where His Word is proclaimed and explained.  Paul mandates such a priority all through the Pastoral Epistles.

Paul described the ongoing process to Timothy like this, he wrote, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2Tim. 2:2).

(2)                 A commitment to the apostles’ teaching is foundational to the growth and spiritual health of every church.

Peter wrote, “Like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Peter 2:2).

To the Romans Paul wrote, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2).

Paul’s letters to his protégés Timothy and Titus also reflect the priority of preaching the Word, “In pointing out these things to the brethren [Paul said], you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following” (1 Tim. 4:6).

Listen to the following passages, I will just read them

·         “Prescribe and teach these things” (1 Tim.4:11) – “Give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching” (1Tim.4:13) – “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things; for as you do this you will insure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you” (1 Tim.4:16) – “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Tim.4:1–2).

·         And the last one speaks about an elder must be one who holds “fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9).

3.                  “And fellowship…”  (v.42c).

a)                  They were a fellowshipping church.

(1)                 Fellowship is the spiritual duty of believers to stimulate each other to holiness and faithfulness. 
(2)                 It is most specifically expressed through the “one anothers” of the New Testament: Let me read to you some of the “one anothers” in the New Testament.  We are to…
(a)                 be devoted to one another – to be of the same mind toward one anther
(b)                to love one another – to build up one another; to accept one another
(c)                 to greet one another – to serve one another – to show tolerance toward one another
(d)                to be kind to one another – to regard one another as more important than yourselves
(e)                 not lie to one another – to teach and admonish one another
(f)                  to forgive one another – to comfort one another – to encourage one another
(g)                to be hospitable to one another – to be humble toward one another

!!!!! (3)                 Those who receive Jesus Christ become partners with Him and with all other believers:

In 1Jn chapter 1, he proclaims to his readers a very special promise, he says "what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”  (1 John 1:3, NASB95)

(4)                 Those who choose to isolate themselves from fellowship are disobedient to the direct command of Scripture. 

Hebrews 10:24–25 charges believers to “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near.”

4.                  “In the breaking of bread…”  (v.42d).

a)                  They were a Christ centered church.

(1)                 In Communion, all believers meet on common ground at the foot of the cross since all are sinners saved by the grace of God in Christ (Eph.2:16; Col.1:20),.
(2)                 Communion acknowledges the wondrous work of the Lord Jesus on the cross.
(3)                 Communion further exemplifies the unity of believers, since in it all partake together symbolically of the same Lord (Eph. 4:5).

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:16–17, “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ?  Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?  Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.”

5.                  “And in prayers…”  (v.42e).

a)                  They were a praying church.

(1)                 Today, prayer is much neglected in the church.
(2)                 Programs, concerts, entertainment, or the testimonies of the rich and famous draw large crowds.
(3)                 Prayer meetings, on the other hand, attract only the faithful few.  That is undoubtedly the reason for much of the weakness in the contemporary church.
(4)                 Unlike the early church, we have forgotten the Bible’s commands to pray at all times
(5)                 The first fellowship knew the critical importance of pursuing spiritual duties.
(6)                 They knew the church must be made up of saved individuals, devoted to studying the Word, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer.
(7)                 Those elements are the unique expressions of the life of the church. They are the means of grace by which the church becomes what God wants it to be.

C.                A people who stirred souls with a godly fear (v.43).

1.                  “Then fear came upon every soul…”  (v.43).

a)                  They were an awe-inspiring church.

(1)                 This fear describes the feeling produced when one realizes God is at hand.
(a)                 It is used in Acts 5 to describe the reaction to the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira.
(b)                In Acts 19 it depicts the reaction of the citizens of Ephesus to the attack on some Jewish exorcists by a demon-possessed man.
(c)                 Luke 7:16 uses it to portray the reaction to our Lord’s raising of the widow’s son.
(2)                 The life of this first fellowship was so genuine and spiritually powerful that everyone, whether inside or outside the church, kept feeling a sense of awe.

!! D.                A people who were together—sharing in ministry (v.44-45).

1.                  “They were selling their possessions and belongings, giving to those in need…”  (v.45).

a)                  They were a sharing church.

(1)                 What actually happened was that personal property was sold as anyone might have need.
(2)                 It was an indication of generosity, as people gave not only their present cash or goods, but also their hearts in acts of sacrificial love to those in need.
(3)                 Let’s look at this sacrificial giving in some other passages (Acts 4:32-37).
(4)                 Let’s look at another man whose life was changed by the Lord (Luke 19:1-10).    

E.                 A people who were unified (v.46).

1.                  “Continuing daily with one accord in the temple, with gladness and simplicity…”  (v.46).

a)                  They were a joyful church. 

(1)                 The phrase with one mind again expresses the unity the first fellowship experienced.
(2)                 It also comes as no surprise that a unified, sharing church was also a joyful church.
(3)                 One of the key reasons for that joy was the sincerity of heart they manifested.
(a)                 Simplicity appears only here in the New Testament.  It derives from a root word meaning “free from rocks,” or “smooth.”
(b)                There were no stones of selfishness in their hearts.

F.                 A people who worshipped and praised God daily (v.47).

1.                  “Praising God… having favor with all the people…”  (v.47a).

a)                  They were an attractive church.

(1)                 They were still going to the Temple and being open about their faith, so that all could see and experience their transformed lives.  Later came the intense persecution by the Jews.

They proved true the words of Jesus in John 13:35, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Their unity was an answer to our Lord’s high priestly prayer "that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me."  (John 17:21, NASB95)

Listen to this, this is written by a philosopher early in the second century

Now the Christians, O King, by going about and seeking, have found the truth.  For they know and trust in God, the Maker of heaven and earth, who has no fellow.  From him they received those commandments which they have engraved on their minds, and which they observe in the hope and expectation of the world to come.

For this reason they do not commit adultery or immorality; they do not bear false witness, or embezzle, nor do they covet what is not theirs.  They honor father and mother, and do good to those who are their neighbors.  Whenever they are judges, they judge uprightly.  They do not worship idols made in the image of man.  Whatever they do not wish that others should do to them, they in turn do not do; and they do not eat the food sacrificed to idols.

Those who oppress them they exhort and make them their friends.  They do good to their enemies.  Their wives, O King, are pure as virgins, and their daughters are modest.  Their men abstain from all unlawful sexual contact and from impurity, in the hope of recompense that is to come in another world.

As for their bondmen and bondwomen, and their children, if there are any, they persuade them to become Christians; and when they have done so, they call them brethren without distinction.

They refuse to worship strange gods; and they go their way in all humility and cheerfulness.  Falsehood is not found among them.  They love one another; the widow’s needs are not ignored, and they rescue the orphan from the person who does him violence.  He who has gives to him who has not, ungrudgingly and without boasting.  When the Christians find a stranger, they bring him to their homes and rejoice over him as a true brother.  They do not call brothers those who are bound by blood ties alone, but those who are brethren after the Spirit and in God.

When one of their poor passes away from the world, each provides for his burial according to his ability.  If they hear of any of their number who are imprisoned or oppressed for the name of the Messiah, they all provide for his needs, and if it is possible to redeem him, they set him free.

If they find poverty in their midst, and they do not have spare food, they fast two or three days in order that the needy might be supplied with the necessities.  They observe scrupulously the commandments of their Messiah, living honestly and soberly as the Lord their God ordered them.  Every morning and every hour they praise and thank God for his goodness to them; and for their food and drink they offer thanksgiving.

If any righteous person of their number passes away from the world, they rejoice and thank God, and escort his body as if he were setting out from one place to another nearby.  When a child is born to one of them, they praise God.  If it dies in infancy, they thank God the more, as for one who has passed through the world without sins.  But if one of them dies in his iniquity or in his sins, they grieve bitterly and sorrow as over one who is about to meet his doom.

Such, O King, is the commandment given to the Christians, and such is their conduct.

2.                  “The Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved…”  (v.47b).

a)                  They were a growing church. 

(1)                 Effective evangelism was the ultimate impact of the first fellowship’s spiritual duties and character.
(2)                 The imperfect tense of the verb translated was adding, along with the phrase day by day, indicates that people were continually being saved as they observed the daily conduct of the believers.
(3)                 Now what we looked at in our study today is a brief glimpse of the first fellowship that gives us valuable insight into what makes a healthy, growing church worthy of the name.
(4)                 The proper devotion to the duties of the Spirit produces the proper character, which in turn produces a powerful and saving impact on sinners.
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