Day by Day

Acts 2:42-47   |   Sermon Resources    |   17 November 2019

 

In our passage this week Luke provides the first of several summary statements that will be found throughout the book where he shares the big picture of what was going in the church.

Pentecost was now over. The large crowd that listened to Peter’s sermon had by now dispersed. Life in Jerusalem was beginning to return to its normal routines, but for those 3000 people who had come to faith in Jesus, their lives would never be the same. They had a new identity now. A new sense of purpose. A new place to belong. Luke provides a snapshot of what that new life was like in the verses that follow. What we see is that while their lives had been changed in a big way on the day of Pentecost, there was still significant molding and shaping and transformation ahead.   Luke captures this with the phrase day by day (v.46). He shows up how God would you use the little moments of their lives as day by day they worked out this new commitment to Christ.

It’s important to see these two things go together. Early in my faith I was looking only for the big moments that would change my life forever. And while I do believe God can use big moments to radically shape us, I believe the pattern we see more often is slow steady change over time in the little moments of our lives. In fact we could argue that because the preponderance of our lives are lived out in little moments, it is in the little moments that we will experience the greatest life change.

This is what Christian author and pastor Eugene Peterson calls a “long obedience in the same direction,” which, by the way, is a phrase he borrowed from the outspoken atheist Fredrick Neitche. Here is Neitche’s orginal quote:

“The essential thing in ‘heaven and earth’ is…that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.” (Neitche, Beyond Good and Evil, 188)

 

The world has picked up on the idea of little moments in the day by day. Whether you call it a “long obedience in the same direction” or the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” the meaning is the same. Real change happens not through a quick zap in the microwave but through a long day in the crockpot.

In this passage Luke offers us an opportunity to examine the daily rhythms those first Christians had adopted. He summarizes their activity in verse 42: And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Notice that he uses the word devoted – this was not the latest quick fix but rather a new lifelong commitment. I want to explore each of these activities.

 

#1 Apostles’ Teaching

There is a section break in the ESV between verses 41 and 42 that is consistent with other translations of the Bible with each section having its own title. While these section headings are helpful to break up the text, we need to be careful here not to separate verse 41 from verse 42. Verse 41 deals with the conversion of a crowd of people (3000 souls!) – this is very exciting indeed. But the very next verse deals with their discipleship. These two items are meant to go together. We are reminded that Jesus did not say “go and make converts” but rather “go and make disciples.” It is exciting when someone responds to an altar call but what should be more exciting to us is when that convert begins to respond to the call to discipleship. This was exactly what those first Christians were doing. They had received the word and were baptized (v.41) but the real life change would be found in the working out of their new salvation in their everyday life.

In response to their new faith we see first that they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching (v.42). It is clear, then, that this was not a “once and done” thing for Peter. He and the other apostles continued to preach and to teach. We are told down in verse 46 that day by day they were attending the temple together (v.46). This was presumably the context of the apostles’ preaching ministry with the temple not only providing a large enough space to gather but also an easy opportunity for non-Christians to witness what was going on. As they spent time under the teaching of the apostles we are told awe came upon every soul as they witnessed the miraculous wonders and signs that were being done through the apostles (v.43).

It is important to note that this was a routine or a rhythm or habit or whatever you want to call it. Day by day they were hearing and being shaped by the apostles’ teaching. Day by day they were having their hearts softened. Day by day they were being built up. The modern equivalent for us today is certainly the New Testament. The New Testament perfectly preserves the apostles’ teaching for us. And we know that the apostles made full use of the Old Testament and therefore so should we. And so just like the early church we should seek to immerse ourselves in Scripture day by day. This is where life transformation will take place.

 

#2 Fellowship

Secondly, we see they devoted themselves to the fellowship (v.42). While Luke only uses this word once in Acts, it is one of those Greek words you should know. The word in Greek is koinonia which of course translates to “fellowship.” This is a word that unfortunately seems to have lost it’s meaning over time. New Testament scholar Dennis Johnson laments,

“Although fellowship is a familiar piece of Christian jargon, we should not assume that we know what Luke means by the term. As the New Testament speaks of it, fellowship is deep, virile, and costly; too often today it is cheap and superficial. The higher we value our personal privacy and freedom from commitments, the shallower our grasp of fellowship will be—reduced to moments of idle chitchat over steaming coffee before or after a worship service.” (Johnson, The Message of Acts, p.73)

Real fellowship is deep and meaningful—and yes costly. If we want to experience what the early church experienced we need to be willing to sacrifice what the early church sacrificed.

And what exactly did fellowship look like in the early church? To begin with Luke tells us they were together and had all things in common (v.44). This sounds at first like some early form of communism but notice in the next verse he says that they were selling their possessions and belongings (v.45). So they must have still retained private property since Luke says it was their possessions. We see as well that later that they were breaking bread in their homes (v.46). Consider as well that later Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) will be called not because they retained possession of their property but because they lied about it’s worth. Peter will challenge them: “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal?” (Acts 5:4, emphasis added). While this was not communism, it was radical. This is a deep, meaningful, and costly fellowship with one another.

 

 #3 Breaking of Bread

Next we see that they devoted themselves…to the breaking of bread (v.42). Some think that what is meant here is the celebration of the Lord’s Supper and others that a more general meal is in view. There is a consensus among scholars that some form of the Lord’s Supper was being celebrated in the early church and whether that is included here under the category of “breaking of bread” or under the earlier category of “fellowship,” it is reasonable to assume that they were obeying Jesus’ words to celebrate the Lord’s Supper (c.f. Luke 22:19).

Luke does not specify exactly what he meant by the breaking of bread but at the very least we can conclude that they were spending intentional time together.   Day by day they were attending temple presumably as a large group of people and then gathering in small groups where they were breaking bread in their homes (v.46). Breaking bread was a very important act of hospitality in the culture of the day. We see that it was not enough for those early Christians just to attend a church service at the temple together, they actually spent time with one another outside of the temple gatherings. This is an important “means of grace.” We are shaped not just from the sermons we listen to but by the people we spend time with.

Because they spent time with each other, they knew one another deeply. They knew when someone fell onto hard times and had a need (v.45). Their mutual love for one another led them to make big sacrifices like selling their possessions (v.45). And see what was happening as a result – they received their food with glad and generous hearts and they had favor with all the people (v.46-47).

 

 

#4 Prayer

Lastly we see that they devoted themselves to…the prayers (v.42). This is not too surprising as prayer had been established early on in their collective life together. While that smaller group of 120 believers were waiting in Jerusalem for the “promise of the Father,” what were they doing? They were praying! Prayer was not just something they did to open or close a meeting, it was a key part of who they were.

When we think about prayer, maybe we immediately think about our own private time with Jesus – and this is necessary and important. (Remember Jesus told his disciples to go into a closet and pray!) But the context of this passage would lead us to believe they were praying together. Perhaps they had dedicated prayer meetings but it seems more likely that prayer had so saturated their life together, that it was just what they did. When they sat under the apostles’ teaching, they were praying. When they were experiencing fellowship together, they were praying. When they gathered to break bread, they were praying. I believe a church that has really caught a vision for prayer, will not simply have prayer meeting once a week. It will be woven deep in the fabric of their collective identity.

Many of us – myself included – feel as if we are not very good pray-ers. So how do we learn to pray? I believe we learn to pray in the same way we learned to ride a bicycle. You didn’t learn to ride a bike by attending a seminar on the mechanics of two-wheeled motion. You learned by hopping on a bike and moving your legs. We learn to pray in the same way – by getting on our knees and just doing it. If you’ve never prayed for more than 5 minutes, don’t attempt to go away and pray for entire day. But little by little and day by day we can learn to seek the Lord in prayer.

 

#5 Witness

There is one additional commitment I believe the early church devoted themselves to and while is not explicitly spelled out in this passage, it is clear that it was a priority for them—witness. Remember Jesus had told them “You will be my witnesses.” They carried out this witness in all of their activity. For instance while they were meeting in the public space of the temple to hear the apostles’ teachings, others must have been listening as well. Neither did their radical generosity to each other go by unnoticed.   Witness was a key part of their identity.

Outsiders clearly were paying attention because we are told that the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved (v.47). This is remarkable! We long to see this continue to happen today. We are reminded that healthy things grow. And while growth is not just about the numbers, numbers are a part of it – Luke literally uses the word number here!   But see as well that these additions to the church were the work of God – it was not he apostles but the Lord who added to their number.

Discussion Questions

  1. When it comes to molding and shaping us, why are the little moments of our lives just as important as the big moments?
  2. Apostles’ Teaching: What does Luke say in the passage about the apostles’ teaching? What did it look like for these early Christians to devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching? What rhythms do you currently have in this area? What rhythms would you like to have?
  3. Fellowship: What does Luke say in the passage about fellowship? What did it look like for these early Christians to devote themselves to fellowship? What rhythms do you currently have in this area? What rhythms would you like to have?
  4. Breaking of Bread: What does Luke say in the passage about breaking of bread? What did it look like for these early Christians to devote themselves to breaking of bread? What rhythms do you currently have in this area? What rhythms would you like to have?
  5. Prayer: What does Luke say in the passage about prayer? What did it look like for these early Christians to devote themselves to fellowship? What rhythms do you currently have in this area? What rhythms would you like to have?
  6. Witness: What evidence do you see in this passage that witness or outreach was taking place? What rhythms do you currently have in this area? What rhythms would you like to have?

 

Apostles’ Teaching

__ I will make a Bible reading plan.

__ I will seek to do regular family devotions.

__ I will strive to come to church more regularly.

__ I need more time to prayerfully consider what I will do.

Fellowship

__ I will seek authentic relationships where I know others and am truly known.

__ I will look for practical ways I can sacrificially love others.

__ I need more time to prayerfully consider what I will do.

Breaking of Bread

__ I will invite one family (or person) over for dinner in the next month.

__ I will participate in a small group (Men’s, Women’s, Home Group, etc.).

__ I need more time to prayerfully consider what I will do.

Prayers

__ I will seek God out in prayer every day.

__ I will seek to pray with and for others.

__ I need more time to prayerfully consider what I will do.

Witness

__  I will pray by name for others to come to faith in Jesus.

__  I will invite someone to our Christmas Eve service.

__  I need more time to prayerfully consider what I will do.

 

 

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