The Astonishing Product of Pentecost

The Astonishing Product of Pentecost

The Astonishing Product of Pentecost
Text:  Acts 2:41-47

Main Idea: The Holy Spirit gave birth to a radically new community marked by heartfelt generosity, not an informal association of religious individuals.

Sermon Outline:

I.  The Fundamental Priorities of the Early Church (Acts 2:41-43)
II. The Radical Experience of the Early Church (Acts 2:44-47)
III. Three Challenges for Our Church Today

Good morning church. Before we turn to our text today, I’d like to thank you for the opportunity that Ryan and I had to attend the Simeon Trust peaching workshop in Seattle last week. I have found this event to be so helpful to me as your pastor, in that, it is a workshop NOT a just conference. What I mean by this, is that along with the expected lectures, every person, whether that be ministry volunteers, new pastors, or old pastors are required to prepare and present a two-page worksheet to their small group on an assigned passage from that year’s particular book. After all everyone has room to grow, and even after 25-years in pastoral ministry, I am certainly no exception.

I also want to encourage some of our women to attend the Simeon Trust Workshop for Women this Fall on October 20-22. I know that this church is full of women who love God, value solid Biblical teaching, and want to be Titus 2 women. In fact, some of you have been attending studies like BSF for years but you still do not feel equipped to actually lead other women (or you kids) in a Bible study. Well, this is your opportunity to learn the fundamental process that drives every sermon or Bible study that I’ve ever led.

So, here’s my challenge, I know we do not have it set aside in our current budget, but I want to send at least 5 women from our church to Simeon Trust this fall. I know it requires work and it’s the beginning of the school year for many of you.

BUT here is my promise, I will help you prepare for the workshop AND I will do everything in my power to see that the funds are available. If we plan now, we can easily accomplish this over the months ahead. Church, this is the way— the only way that we will ever develop a long-standing women’s ministry in our church that does not rely on the latest book in the Christian bookstore OR rest on the shoulders of just one or two women.

With that said, I’d like to turn our attention to the glorious aftermath of Pentecost in Acts 2:41–47. And to be honest, even though I have read these verses countless times in my Christian life, I was captivated by what Luke does and does not say in this formative passage about the early church.

Just think about it, Luke does not tell us that tongues of fire fell on these 3,000 new believers and that they started proclaiming the glory of God in languages they had never learned. No. He simply tells us that 3,000 people believed and were baptized. And as he quickly transitions from the day of Pentecost to their new life together in these verses, what do we see? Are the apostles are forcing these new believers to do abandon their former life and join their new religious commune? No! These believers are being united by the personal and active work of the promised Holy Spirit in their life.

Acts 2:38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Don’t miss this, the Holy Spirit is the implied power behind everything that we see in our text this morning. And in this Luke wants us to see that (Main Idea) The Holy Spirit gave birth to a radically new community marked by heartfelt generosity, not an informal association of religious individuals. And he does this by not only recording the fundamental priorities of the early church (in verses 42–43) but by describing the radical experience of the early church (in verses 44–47).

The Fundamental Priorities of the Early Church (Acts 2:42–43)

Notice, the first thing that Luke wants his readers to understand about the early church is that the Holy Spirit recalibrated their personal priorities. These people did not “get saved” and go on their with their life as normal. Did they? No. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and the prayers. And by these three words, Luke wants to make it clear that these individual Christians are doing the devoting. They are adjusting their life schedule. And even more, their devotion was a persistent, ongoing activity. Which means these verses do not describe the first week or two of the early church but most likely the life of the early church up until the murder of Stephen.

And what did they devote themselves too? The apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Let’s take a few minutes to examine these priorities before we turn to their mutual experience in the following verses.

Devoted to “the Apostle’s Teaching”

You know it’s interesting that for everything that chapter two tells us about the Holy Spirit’s activity, this first priority serves to protect us from unbiblical views of the Holy Spirit’s work. What I mean by this, is that Luke does not tell us that the Holy Spirit overcame their need for and reliance upon human teachers.[1] Does he? In fact, as we read the text what do we see? Are these Christians relying on their personal impressions or revelations? No. They are sitting at the apostles’ feet, hungry to receive God’s Word, and they continued to persevere in it as days and weeks gave ways to months.

This helps us see that, at its core, Christianity is about rightfully understanding and obeying God’s revealed Word. For these early Christians, God was revealing his word through his Spirit-empowered teaching of apostles as they: (1) explained and defended the gospel with the inspired, inerrant, and authoritative Scriptures in the OT. (2) And as he gave them new revelation about his plans and purposes in Jesus Christ. And he continues to do the very same thing today through the inspired, inerrant, and authoritative teaching of the Old and New Testament that contain everything we need from the apostles.

Friends, this also helps us see that any church that depreciates, avoids, adds too, or replaces God’s Word is abandoning the most fundamental priority of the church. In fact, this is why we place so much weight on the proper interpretation and application of God’s Word in our Church and are passionate about equipping men and women to teach in our church.

Devoted to “the Fellowship”

Yet, as we turn to the second priority of the early church, it reminds us that it is impossible to sever the rightful proclamation of God’s Word from the devoted fellowship (koinōnia) of the saints in the local church. But, this very affirmation instantly presses us into the question, “What does it mean to be devoted to the fellowship?”

Well, if we look up the Greek Noun behind our English word fellowship (koinonia) in our handy dandy Greek dictionary we discover that it typically denotes to a “close association involving mutual interests and sharing.”[2] Notice, this definition implies so much more than short conversations before worship or small talk over cookies and coffee after worship. Rather, it points us to the truth that (at minimum) biblical fellowship is a devotion to an association of believers that includes both mutual interest and sharing.

But, what is this mutual interest? Is it that we are all in the same stage of life (young adults, families with kids, or retired). That we hold all the same political views? Or that we all enjoy the same kind of hobbies and activities? No. Our mutual interest is in many ways a twofold experience.

On the one hand, our mutual interest is forever anchored in and defined by our common fellowship with God the Father who planned our salvation from eternity past, God the Son who purchased our salvation, and God the Holy Spirit who forever-unites us to Christ, empowers us for service, and preserves us until the day of salvation. This is our deepest and most important bond of fellowship.

And on the other hand, this very participation in the intra-trinitarian life and fellowship and love of the Godhead is what causes us to take interest in our brothers and sisters in Christ— we start to see our fellow Christians with the same eyes and heart and affections that God sees us. And as this happens, it begins to transform our relationships with one another, in that, our relationships are no longer defined by the countless things that divide us.

1 John 5:1–2 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.

Did you catch that? What is the simple evidence that you have been born again? It’s that you love God and love those who have been born of him! In light of this, I believe we can rightly say that: biblical fellowship is, in many ways, the overflow of a believer’s joy in God that gladly and sacrificially meets the needs of their brothers and sisters in Christ. Don’t miss this, the heart of fellowship is not the desirability of the person or the depth of their need BUT our preexisting delight and joy in God himself. This is what gave birth to their unity in fellowship and their devotion to “the breaking of bread.”

Devoted to “the Breaking of Bread”

Now to be honest, there is a question as to whether “the breaking of bread” is a reference to the ordinance of the Lord’s Table or to the early church eating meals together. And while there are good arguments for both; I lean toward the latter because verse 46 seems to indicate that they are “partaking of food” —not an ordinance— “with glad and generous hearts.” But if this is the case, why bother including it at all?

Well, the key to this third priority is that it cut across the grain of First-Century culture. What I mean by this, is that people only shared meals with those of a similar social status OR their closest friends. And it is clear from the book of Acts that early church is incredibly diverse! The audience at Pentecost was from every corner of the ancient world and spoke a variety of different languages. The Hellenist widows in Acts 6 were not only on the lowest end of the socio-economic scale; they belonged to a disparaged sub-group as well.

See, the early Christians had every reason NOT to devote themselves to eating together. But, why? Well from everything we can see in the text, they loved being together despite their countless differences. And only one thing can make this happen, the active work of the Holy Spirit in their life.

Devoted to “the Prayers”

And as we turn to their final priority what do we see? We see that these gatherings were not the kind of churchy get-togethers where you can talk all night about theology and church OR your family, your problems, and your favorite sports team, but not about Jesus. Not in the least bit.

These early church members were constantly nurturing their relationship with God by turning to him in prayer, whether that be as a group or individuals. And I’m rather sure they did this because they were utterly convinced that the God who kept his promises and poured out his Spirit was fully deserving of praise AND more than willing and able to meet them in their daily needs.

But, as we turn to the following verses, Luke wants us to see what this devotion to the apostles teaching, the fellowship, meals together, and prayer looked like in everyday life and experience of the early church.

The Radical Experience of the Early Church (Acts 2:44–47)

Let me begin by highlighting the overall progression of these verses. This section begins with the church’s togetherness and sacrificial generosity in verses 44–45. It then transitions to the church members’ togetherness and experience of mutual joy in verses 46–47a. And it then concludes with an important statement about the church’s impact on the surrounding community and God’s active work through their unified witness. And this is important, because it protects us from obsessing over the first point and missing the other two.

Their Sacrificial Generosity

So, what are we supposed to make of the fact that “all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (44–45)? Well, lest we are tempted to interpret these verses in terms of modern-day religious communes or political systems like Communism, the text points us back to a far better understanding.

First, there is an underlying connection in the original Greek between “fellowship” (koinonia) in verse 42 and “in common” (koina) in verse 44, in that, they share the same root word. I want to point this out first because it helps us see that we cannot sever the church’s “fellowship” in verse 42 from them having “all things in common” in verse 44.

Second, it is important to note that having “all things in common” did not mean that someone was forcing these believers to sell their things or to liquidate their assets and deposit them in a communal account. According to verse 45 the selling and giving was not a once and for all act BUT individual responses to particular needs in the church. And given the statement in verse 46, they broke bread in their homes; it is clear that many of these Christians still had homes. Even more, if we consider the account of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5; it is clear that their sin was not greed or materialism BUT deceit. It was not that they had retained part of the proceeds of their sale, but that they had done so while pretending to give it all away (5:4).

But this leads us to the question: “If no one is forcing these believers to sell their things, why are they doing it?” Well, as we have already seen, the answer seems to be, they have new eyes and a new heart and new affections because they have been filled with the Holy Spirit. And as a result, they are reflecting the radical mercy and compassion and love that they have experienced in Christ to their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Their Mutual Joy and Public Witness

Let me stop and ask you a question. Do you find yourself relieved that I closed the door to communal living (and anything that even resembles socialism or communism)? If so, what is the source of your relief? Is it that I clarified the Biblical account OR is it that I did not threaten your stuff? I am asking this because your answer reveals a lot about your love for God.

1 John 3:16–18 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but indeed and in truth.

Notice the pattern? Christ laid down his life for us and we are supposed to lay down our lives for our brothers. But this does not mean that we are called to die for them. Rather, we are called to die to ourselves and the enslaving hold that our finances and property have over us so that we can truly love our brothers and sisters in Christ.

What does love actually look like, in the church, according the apostle John? (An apostle who was intimately involved in the Acts 2 church.) It looks like sacrificial love and generosity toward those in true need. And here is the key, this sacrificial love and generosity looks different for everyone in the church. It might look like:

  • Giving our money for gas, groceries, and rent.
  • Giving our property, furniture, lawn mower, or car.
  • Giving our time for yardwork, house cleaning, childcare, transportation, or friendship.

Friends, every single one of these expressions of love requires some form of death. But it is a death that brings life and joy and unity and love to fellow church members and the local church. I think we can rightly say that God gets the glory and we get the joy.

And what is the practical result of this joy in the local church? The local church increasingly becomes a place where we truly enjoy one another because it’s a place where love is not just spoken but felt in one-thousand different ways. In addition to this, the church increasingly becomes a counter-cultural community that is united around our commonality in Christ and committeeman to his mission NOT our personal preferences, socio-economic standing, or physical age. And when this happens, the local church will have an increasingly positive impact on its local community.

Acts 2:46–47 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Notice, the local church does not have favor with all the people in Jerusalem because they are starting significant mercy ministries and social works for the people of Jerusalem. No. Their favor with the people is a result of the radical beauty of the local church! And as their lives give undeniable credibility to the gospel they proclaim what happens? God adds to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Let’s be honest, why do countless people reject the message of the gospel? In many cases it is because the members of local church do not reflect its founder and the most fundamental aspects of his message.

So how can we apply the truths of this passage to our church today? Well, I’d like to do it by highlighting three challenges to fellowship that we are facing in our church (yes, as in OEFC) today— two general and one specific.

Three Challenges for Our Church Today

One: Consumerism

I raise this first because consumers are conditioned to do two basic things consume and critique. When you take your family to Applebee’s, you are expecting to get fed. You are not looking to become close friends with your waitress or to join the staff. But, even more, if the meal or service staff does not meet your approval you may not return for another meal.

Now, if all we are talking about is a meal, this makes sense. Yet, when you apply this mindset to the church is it utterly devastating. If you come to church for yourself, you might grow in knowledge, and you might grow in your prayer life.

But you will never know the deep abiding joy of biblical fellowship that follows sacrificial giving or having a need met in the most unexpected. You will never know how to live out the 50 “one another passages” in the NT. You will never know what it’s like to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. And this means that you will never experience the true blood-bought joys that are yours in the gospel.

Two: Intentional Isolation

When we talk about isolation in the church, we need to realize that there are usually two fundamental, but seemingly opposite, motives: self-protection and prideful individualism.

Self-Protection says, I’m not willing trust anyone. I don’t want to get hurt. I don’t want to look dumb. I don’t want to get my hopes up only to have them crushed.”

Individualism says, “Sure friends are nice, but I don’t really need anyone. I can do just fine on my own. Other people only complicate matters and get in the way.”

But what does our passage say to this kind of intentional isolation? It tells us that there is something beautiful and praiseworthy in the inevitable messiness of relationships in the local church. Don’t miss this, the early church wasn’t perfect, it had its problems. But it was the was probably the closest thing to heaven on earth since Adam’s Fall in Genesis 3.

Generational Assimilation 

Now you might be wondering what do I really mean by this? Well, let me share two very different assessments that I received in the past 12-months:

  • Pastor, I just want you to know that we decided to call Olympic our home church because it is one of the most welcoming and friendly churches that we have attended.
  • Pastor, we really love your preaching ministry and the way that Pastor Ryan leads us in worship. BUT, I have to tell you, this is one of the most unfriendly churches that we have ever attended.

So how can we reconcile these two comments? Should we try to reconcile these two comments? Well, let me give you one more piece of information. The first comment was made by a person in their 30’s and the second comment was made by a person who is over 60. In fact, I think it would be right to say that the people who seem to feel most connected at the moment are less than 60 years old and those who feel least connected are over 60.

Friends, we are not connecting well as a church. And as a result, we are not fully embracing and assimilating everyone into the life and fellowship of our church. And I hate to say it, but there are number of people in the 60+ group who have not been able to connect even though they have been actively attending for two years or more.

Please hear me, I’m not saying, “no one is connecting” OR that “our generational groups are opposed to each another;” I’m just saying we are not doing it very well at the moment. Let me highlight three issues that seem to be underneath this problem.

One, there are some historical reasons that we struggle with intergenerational connections. But we need to realize that those past issues are not our primary struggles today.

Two, our over 60 group is slowly shrinking. I know they feel it because they have told me AND many of them realize it is a natural transition in the life of a healthy church. But one of my greatest concerns is that our retirees and seniors do not seem to be connecting with all of the new retirees and seniors that God is bringing to our church. Yes, your circle of friends has become smaller and smaller, but it doesn’t need to remain that way!

Three, to be honest, I think our greatest struggle is that we are simply creatures of habit. What I mean by this is that we are not actively looking to connect with new people before or after church and connect with them outside of church. Rather in most cases, we are simply looking to connect with our friends, collect our family, and continue with our Sunday plans (which are often alone).

So as we close, I am not asking you to give away your stuff. I am asking you to give yourself and your time to your fellow church members. Starting today, go find someone new or old and just talk to them. Invite them to hang out after church or meet up during the week. Introduce new people into your preexisting friendships. And for those of you who feel like you are on the outside looking in, I pray that you would reach out and do the same.

[1] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts: The Spirit, the Church & the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 82.

[2] Walter Bauer et al., A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (University of Chicago Press, 2000), 552.