What Does The Lord Expect From His Church?
Rev. Bryn MacPhail
A question that the church should regularly ask itself is the question, 'Why do we
exist?'. For what purpose does the church exist? Our particular church addresses
this question in our 'Goals' statement--a confession statement that every member
of this church should become familiar with.
A member of a church who does not understand the purposes of the church is like a
football player who goes to the line of scrimmage without knowing the play. A football
player who does not know the play will inevitably do one of two things: he will either go offside, or he will go in the wrong direction of the play. So it is in the church.
If you do not understand our Lord's purposes for the church, you will find yourself
frequently going offside; you will find yourself going in the wrong direction.
In the text before us today we see a model church
--an example for all subsequent churches. No, the early Christian church was not a perfect church
. A few chapters further on we see that this church had its share of hypocrites as
every church does. This church battled doctrinal error and human sinfulness as every
church does. Yet, in many respects, the early Christian church was a model church,
and so we look today to this model church, praying that the Lord would write His game plan
on our heart so that we would need not fear going offside or in the wrong direction.
The context of this passage is that it immediately follows Pentecost--the day when
flaming tongues "rested on (the disciples)
" and "they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as
the Spirit was giving them utterance
"(2:3, 4). This passage also follows Peter's sermon--a sermon that saw 3000 people
added(2:41) to a church of 120(1:15).
As we examine verses 42 through 47, I expect that you will see clearly that the early Christian church had 4 major characteristics
. The first thing we read about the early church is that "they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching
This tells me, first of all, that the early church was a learning church
. What is interesting and significant about the people's desire for teaching is that
it comes on the heals of the miracles of Pentecost. The people, apparently, had no
ambition to recreate Pentecost. We do not find the people saying, 'What we need to
do is experience Pentecost again. What we have to do is get together and pray, and maybe
sing, and get ourselves in the right frame of mind, so perhaps, in some spectacular
way, the Holy Spirit will come down again in little flames of fire'--you don't find
any of that here. You find, rather, the people studying the Word of God. You find that
"they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching
A church that honours God then, is a church that is devoted to studying and applying
. What must also go hand-in-hand with studying and applying Scripture is the belief
that Scripture is sufficient
. Scripture is sufficient in guiding a church to do the Lord's will.
Although evangelical Christians have been diligent defenders of the inerrancy of Scripture,
what they have not been, in recent years, is diligent defenders of the sufficiency
of Scripture. I hear many of my evangelical brothers and sisters caring about the Lord speaking to them with a special voice when all that we need is written down
in the Bible. I pick on evangelicals because I am one. Some of you may have even
heard about the fictional 'Physchiatric Hotline' at the local evangelical church.
The 'Physchiatric Hotline' begins with the following message: 'Hello, and welcome
to the Physchiatric Hotline. If you are obsessive compulsive, please press 1 repeatedly.
If you are co-dependent, please ask someone to press 2 for you. If you have multiple personalities, please press 3, 4, 5, & 6. If you suffer from paranoia, don't press
anything--we know who you are and we are tracing this call.' And finally, 'If you
are an evangelical Christian, please listen carefully and a little voice will tell
you which button to press'.
The lesson here is that we need not crave mystical experiences or special voices when
all that is needed to do God's will in this church is have a dependence on His all-sufficient
The second thing that we learn about the early Christian church is that they were
"continually devoted . . . to fellowship
"(v.42). The Greek word, translated "fellowship
", literally means "sharing
". This is to say that the early Christian church was a generous church
. Verse 44 indicates that they did many things "together
". The early Christians gathered, not simply to worship God, but to help and encourage
one another. Verses 44 and 45 say that they "had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and
were sharing with all, as anyone might have need
I don't want you to picture every Christian selling everything that they owned, because
that was not the case. Verse 46 describes another facet of their fellowship when
it says that they went "house to house
" for the purpose of "having meals together
". From this we conclude that many still had homes. The imperfect tense of verse 45
should also lead us to conclude that the selling and giving were occasional, and
in response to particular needs.
If we examine the parallel passage of 4:32 to 5:11, we see again, the voluntary nature
of this giving. The early Christian church was a generous church, not because they
were forced to give, but because they wanted to give in response to the generosity
which God had showed them.
Scripture is clear: God expects the members of His church to be generous with one
another--in particular to those in "need
"(v.45). Christian fellowship then, is not merely hanging around for coffee after
Sunday service. The Christian fellowship that God expects from us is that we, like
the early Christian church, would be a generous church.
The third thing that Luke says about the early Christian church is that they were
"continually devoted . . . to the breaking of bread and to the prayers
"(v.42). This is to say that the early Christian church was a worshipping church
. With the inclusion of the definite article "the
" we see that Luke is not referring to a regular meal here, but to "the
breaking of bread
"--that is, the Lord's Supper. By the same token, the members of the early church
were not simply committed to prayer, but to "the
"--that is, formal prayer gatherings.
If we allow Scripture, rather than culture, to shape how we worship it is difficult
not to notice our shortcomings in this area. We work hard on the sermon and on the
music, but until a few months ago, we did not hold prayer services for both churches.
And, even now, only a small percentage of our members attend those services. What about
our practice of the Lord's Supper? Was 6 times a year what Luke had in mind when
he said that the early church was "continually devoted . . . to the breaking of bread
What else do we learn about worship from the early church? We learn that their worship was both formal and informal
. Verse 46 describes how "day by day they continued to meet in the temple courts
"--not simply on the Sabbath, but everyday
Christians gathered in the temple courts
for formal worship.
Our commitment to worship will be tested this year with Christmas Eve services falling
on a Friday, Fraser's Christmas day service falling on Saturday, and with regular
Sunday services falling on Boxing day. I have already heard predictions by other
ministers, calling for thin Sunday attendance on Boxing day. This will only happen if our
church fails to match the commitment of the early Christian church to corporate worship.
Verse 46 also describes how the Christians were continually "breaking bread from house to house
"--that is, Christians were regularly worshipping informally, in each others homes.
We are getting better at this. In 2 years, we have gone from 1 to 5 small group Bible
studies. This is cause for encouragement, yet, at the same time, many of our members
are still not taking part in this aspect of informal worship.
The fourth thing that we learn about the early Christian church is that they were an evangelizing church
. The verses before you do not specifically say that the people were out sharing their
faith, but we can infer this from the final sentence of verse 47, "the Lord was adding to their number daily those who were being saved
The apostles were teachers in a society that had many teachers, but what set the apostles
apart was that "wonders and signs
" accompanied their teaching (v.44). The early church, however, was far more than
a traveling 'signs and wonders' service. The specific purpose of the signs was to
authenticate the teaching of the apostles as having come from God. It was not after
any miracle, but after Peter's sermon
, that Luke records that 3000 were added to the church(v.41).
The church's witness would have also been helped by their very apparent generosity
towards one another, and towards the needy. This, combined with their joyful commitment
to daily worship(v.46), is what likely contributed to what Luke describes as the
Christians "having favour with all the people
Teaching backed up by miracles, generosity, joyful worship, and certainly, personal
witness, contributed to the success of the early Christian church. We must not lose
site, however, of the fact that it was not the apostles, but "the Lord
" who was "adding to their number daily those who were being saved
". I encourage you to allow that text to speak for itself. The Lord builds His church not us
Should we do nothing then? Should we simply sit back and wait for God to usher people
through our doors? No! That would miss the entire point of this text. God calls us
to be a learning church
--we must be committed to the Scriptures. God calls us to be a generous church
--we must be committed to helping those in need. God calls us to be a worshipping church
--we must be committed to corporate prayer and "the breaking of bread
". God calls us to be an evangelizing church
--we must not hide our light under a basket, but we must commit ourselves to earning
the favour of the people.
This is what God expects from His church. We do not cause the church to grow--God
does. We are called to learn, to be generous, to worship, and to evangelize--the
rest is up to God.
Keep in mind, also, that the 1st century church were doing these things everyday
--not simply on the Lord's day. The result, in turn, was that the Lord "added to their number daily
Let us be encouraged to become a learning church, a generous church, a worshipping
church, and an evangelizing church. For when we do, and only when we do, can we expect
the blessing of the Lord adding to our number daily. Amen.