Big Idea: Truly authentic biblical community is irresistible.
Read at beginning of message:
1 John 1:1-10 (NIV)
1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete. 5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.
In the Bible, Acts chapter 2 records a most incredible day. Less than two months after the public execution of Jesus ? 50 days after his crucifixion to be exact ? Peter, one of the 12 most loyal and devoted followers of Jesus stands up in the crowded city of Jerusalem to make an announcement. Because it was during a religious festival during which many people made a pilgrimage to the Holy City, a diverse crowd from all over the known world was on hand.
The point of his message was simple – this Jesus that you put to death? Well, He is the Lord of everything as well as the long awaited Messiah, or “chosen one” that the prophets foretold many years ago.
And through the power of the Holy Spirit, Acts 2:41 says that 3000 people accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and savior and were baptized into Him right on the spot.
The church that at sunrise consisted of 120 devoted persons numbered 3120 by the end of the day. Now that?s some pretty explosive growth. The original members of the church were outnumbered 30 to 1.
I can just see it, can?t you? During the baptisms, one of the church members walks up to Peter and says, “Don?t you think our church is growing too fast? I mean I didn?t even really know everybody when we were running 120 ? how can we possibly get to know everyone now? And what about our meeting place? How will we have room for all these new people when we get together? And I know I?m not alone in saying this, but some are questioning if you?ve thought about the commitment level of these people. Aren?t we now going to be a church that?s a mile wide and an only an inch deep? The 120 of us were strong doctrinally, but we can?t be sure these people can even recite the books of the Law in order. We had a good thing going. How can we be sure this massive crowd will really follow through on the decision they are making today?”
Those would have been some legitimate questions. Imagine Hanover Pentecostal Church growing from 80 to 3080 by the end of service this morning!
But think about it. Were those who were baptized that day destined to simply stand alone? Did they just show up for worship once a week in order to live out the new commitment they had made to Jesus? NO!
I?m convinced that the early church was far more prepared to incorporate 3000 new converts in one day than the average church today is to involve just 30 new people in a year.
That?s because the first church immediately involved these 3000 new people in what they had been doing all along. And the average church has yet to do what they were doing with just 120.
Let?s do a quick recap. We?ve been learning about what it means to live out this vision of becoming a church where no one stands alone, where it?s a place to call home, a church that is a city on a hill.
Two weeks ago we examined God?s essential nature is a fellowship or community. He exists as three equal yet distinct persons in one being. His favorite word is “one.”
Last week we read from Genesis and considered how we are made in God?s image ? in part that means we were made to reflect God?s essential nature of community ? yet the image has been marred because of sin.
Today we will look at the first ever Christian church ? over 3000 strong ? and see how they sought to recapture that image of community.
What does authentic biblical community look like?
In his book, The Connecting Church, Randy Frazee lists the 3 biggest obstacles to authentic biblical community:
1. Individualism ? thinking of ourselves ahead of others
2. Isolation ? fencing ourselves in and shutting others out to maintain our privacy
3. Consumerism ? spending on ourselves to please ourselves
Authentic biblical community counters each of these obstacles with three characteristics displayed by the early church.
Let?s read about them: READ ACTS 2:41-47
Acts 2:41-47 (NIV)
41 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 the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
First church overcame these obstacles of individualism, isolation and consumerism?
TRANSITION: We see that these first Christians had a?
The very first church was an exciting, dynamic, rapidly growing community. Something special was going on. People were being irresistibly drawn to them. Their group was unique, full of life, and radiant with joy. What they had, people wanted.
This was due in part to their common purpose. They had a set of shared beliefs and values that defined who they were. Anyone who wished to be a part of their community could easily discover what it was that they held to be most important.
Acts 2:42 reveals their common purpose:
Acts 2:42 (NIV)
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Their purpose was to be disciples of Jesus. Plain and simple. They existed to follow Jesus in all aspects of their lives.
Look over at Acts 4:32:
Acts 4:32 (NIV)
32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.
They were united. United around a common set of shared beliefs and values.
Shared authority ? God?s Word ? Spiritual leaders who taught it ? Readily agreed on who was in charge
Shared beliefs ? agreed on what was true
Shared practice ? agreed on the essential activity that united them (Communion ? breaking bread)
Shared mission ? agreed on what God had called them to do ? grow in Christ and make more disciples
It was a place of unparalleled unity and harmony.
If church were like this, who wouldn?t want to be a part of it?
Things are different in a lot of churches today.
The church has become a collection of individuals. Mirroring our culture, we tend to bring our day to day individualism into the body of Christ and somehow still expect the church to function at optimum levels.
But until we change, the results won?t either.
Why? Because individualism is one of the primary obstacles to community.
Like the early Christians we need a common purpose ?
Shared authority ? We need to agree on who?s in charge ? At HPC Jesus Christ is in charge and we believe that and that he Has granted spiritual authority by His spirit through the leadership of our church found in the pastors and Board of Deacons who function as elders of our local body of believers. (1 Peter 5:1-4)
1 Peter 5:1-4 (NIV)
1 To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers–not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
But in many Canadian churches, individualism is so pervasive that many feel justified in standing apart from what the Word says or living at odds with their church leadership.
Shared beliefs ?
The Barna research group recently conducted an extensive survey in the twelve largest Christian denominations in the U.S. What they uncovered was shocking. Only 41% of all adults surveyed believed in the total accuracy of the Bible. Only 40% believed Christ was sinless. And just 27% believed Satan to be real. (Pulpit Helps, February 2002, p. 1). I really don?t things are much different here in Canada
We need shared beliefs ? in our guest packets and on our church web-site we have printed up a section that states “What We Believe”
We need a Shared practice
Here at HPC we observe the Lord?s Supper on the first Sunday of each month to model the practice of the early church.
We need a shared mission
We know that Jesus said the greatest commandments are to love God and love people. Out of this a life of devotion to Jesus begins. Our Church purpose statement is very simple:
The purpose of Hanover Pentecostal Church is to help people mature into the likeness of Jesus;
by modelling Jesus in teaching and caring, and
by providing a warm and friendly atmosphere in which to worship and operate in the gifts of the Holy Spirit
As a church we can emphasize all these things, but it still doesn?t mean each individual will be a part of community. It is an individual choice.
Yet, the mission of the church cannot be accomplished without community.
It is inevitable that differences of opinion with arise among human personalities. If handled with grace these can actually be helpful. But what is still essential is spiritual unity – commitment and love for God, his Word, his church, and those to whom he has entrusted its leadership. Without this kind of oneness, the church could not survive.
The church will not fulfill God?s purposes if it sinks to the level of simply being a group of individuals.
In your bulletins this morning there is a little “score card” for rating yourself in different areas this morning if you would like too. Rate yourself on this scale:
Highest rating would be 10
10 ? I am loyally committed to and in love with God, His Word, my church family and my church leadership
Opposite extreme would be 1:
1 ? I make no attempt to be loyally committed in these areas
Where would you rate yourself on this scale?
TRANSITION: The second thing present in the life of the very first Christian church was a:
These 3000 new Christians did not go off and live in isolation. Instead they found circles of new believers open to their involvement all around them. There was no need, and I would even say no desire among them to avoid intensely close contact with other followers of Jesus.
Listen again to Acts 2:46:
Acts 2:46 (NIV)
46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,
One thing that stands out about these early Christians is that they saw each other a lot. They crossed paths daily. They were in and out of each other?s homes. They frequently sat down to share meals with other Christians.
If church were really like this, who wouldn?t want to be a part of it?
Met in homes ?
Hebrews 10:25 says:
Hebrews 10:25 (NIV)
25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Today we might say “as most are in the habit of doing.”
Our world is marked by isolation. Canada has been described as the loneliest nation on earth. We are surrounded by people, but by and large lack many, if any meaningful relationships.
Consider the popularity of the TV shows Seinfeld and Friends.
What both shows have in common is a small group of friends who go in and out of each other?s lives and apartments more times in a half hour than most “real” people experience in a year.
Some of us look back to college as a great time in our lives. It was a time when we were in and out of each other?s dorm rooms or apartments. We crossed paths often. Then we went our various ways, pursuing careers and raising families.
As we attempt to maintain those relationships, we frustrate ourselves. All the while being surrounded by countless numbers of people in our own neighborhoods!
What we need to recapture the community of the early church is a small band of people who frequently go in and out of each other?s lives.
We regularly need to meet in little circles. That?s how the early church involved 3000 people immediately. They understood common place.
Let me challenge you with something:
As Christians, either being the body of Christ is the most important thing in the world or it?s not. Which is it?
God in His essential nature is a fellowship. We are created in His image. The Great Commission given to us by Jesus Christ commands us to incorporate more and more people into the Body of Christ through teaching, baptizing and more teaching.
Make all kinds of rationalizations for why we aren?t regularly meeting in little circles.
Time is one.
There is the tyranny of business that we so often quote to each other (and I?m guilty of this too), “I?ve been so busy” It?s important that we evaluate just why we are so busy. Are we busy amassing wealth for our earthly security, or to sustain our pleasure-orientated lifestyle? Or are we busy investing in heavenly treasure that involves community, relationships, and God?s love? So many people put on hold the oneness of the body because their priorities don?t involve the kingdom of God but the kingdom of me and mine.
We live out an isolated form of Christianized individualism that is a direct result of the fall of humanity in the Garden.
Yet as Christians, either being the body of Christ is the most important thing in the world or it?s not.
Which is it?
As Christians, either being the body of Christ is the most important thing in the world or it?s not. Which is it?
10 ? I meet with a circle of believers weekly
1 ? I only meet with other believers in a Sunday worship service
TRANSITION: The first Christians didn?t just limit their experience of community to common purpose and common place. Even with the greatest attention to those two characteristics, there was still ample room for selfishness and self-dependency. That?s why a third very important aspect of life in the first church is mentioned. They shared:
Verse 45 of Acts 2 makes it plain:
Acts 2:45 (NIV)
45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.
And chapter 4 spells it out in greater detail, beginning with the second half of verse 32:
Acts 4:32-37 (NIV)
32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. 34 There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. 36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.
This doesn?t mean they simply pooled all their resources together. It appears everyone maintained ownership of their particular possessions, but they were more than willing to share or sell what they had so those in need could be cared for.
They readily helped one another.
If church were really like this, who wouldn?t want to be a part of it?
Our world is marked by consumerism. We spend on ourselves like no other people group in the world.
A note in the Life Application Bible says?
“It is tempting ? especially if we have material wealth ? to cut ourselves off from one another, each taking care of his or her own interests, each providing for and enjoying his or her own little piece of the world. But as part of God?s spiritual family, it is our responsibility to help one another in every way possible. God?s family works best when its members work together.” (Life Application Bible note on Acts 2:44)
Randy Frazee writes:
“We do not begin to experience true community just because people give up their resources for others. But when people give up their resources because the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ has penetrated their lives, it overwhelms them with the grace of giving.” (Randy Frazee, The Connecting Church, p. 187).
The concept the early church displayed was interdependence. Interdependent people could be strong and self-sufficient because of their plentiful resources. But instead, they choose to make their resources available to others.
The average Canadian can build a life for themselves in which they don?t need anyone ? but that doesn?t mean they should. We need each other.
At level ten you could say:
10 – My possessions are available for use and being used interdependently
At the opposite end of the spectrum is level one:
1 – My possessions are mine and are being used on me and my
Add up your score
21-30 You are attempting to live out the basics of community. Keep at it!
12-20 You see the need for community, but more action will be required to enjoy its benefits
0-11 No significant attention is being given to community in your life. Without change you will become an isolated individual struggling with consumerism.
Randy Frazee has a son who was born without a left hand. One day in Sunday School the teacher was talking with the children about the church. To illustrate her point she folded her hands together and said, “Here?s the church, here?s the steeple; open the doors and see all the people.”
She asked the class to do it along with her ? obviously not thinking about his son?s inability to pull this exercise off. Then it dawned on her that the boy wouldn?t be able to join in.
Before she could do anything about it, the little boy next to his son, a friend of his from the time they were babies, reached out his left hand and said, “Let?s do it together.” The two boys proceeded to join their hands together to make the church and the steeple.
This hand exercise should never be done again by an individual because the church is not a collection of individuals, but the one body of Christ.
And when we are truly the body or the community God calls us to be ? the church becomes irresistible! Who wouldn?t want to be a part of it?