Preached by Terrell Carter on 4/7/13
WAYS YOU KNOW YOU’RE IN A BAD CHURCH
- The church bus has a gun rack.
- The church staff consists of Senior Pastor, Associate Pastor, and Bouncer.
- The Bible they use is the “Dr. Seuss Version.”
- The choir wears leather robes with chaps.
- The host of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” is in the back of the church with a camera crew.
- The pastor needs a security escort from the office to the pulpit.
- New members are required to submit their pay stubs and receipts for the last 10 years.
- You discover the church refers to the 10 commandments as the 10 suggestions.
- You have to call the Pastor “Your Supreme High Holiness”
I expect that everyone knows that these are jokes, but let me ask a somewhat serious question. Have any of you ever heard of, or been to, a church where things like this were occurring? Have you ever been to a church where the people don’t focus on God, but focus on unnecessary things? Can you think of a church that is no longer a refuge for the lost, or a hospital for the sick, or a place where the mercy and grace of God is preached?
I know of a church that, about a year ago, was involved in turmoil that divided the congregation so bad that the deacons changed the locks to the church and sued each other in the St. Louis City Court system in order to determine who had the right to run the church. They decided it would be best for them to ask the public courts to determine the biblical qualifications of the church and its potential leaders.
If you turn on almost any television station, you can watch religious programming that has some of the craziest things going on. On a daily basis, you can see programming where God is secondary and the pastor is a celebrity. You can see churches where money is what’s most important. You can see churches where members are not treated like a part of the body of Christ. Instead, they are treated as a means to an end. Churches that don’t look like, or act like, they are supposed to.
So, this morning, I would like to present a simple question for us all to consider. The question is this: What does a godly church look like? How do godly members act towards one another?
I think we can find the blueprint for what a godly church and godly people look like in the Acts passage that is printed in our bulletins. I believe that we can find a beneficial example of what a healthy functioning church looks like in Acts 2:42-47.
Allow me to give some background before we dive in to the passage. In Acts 1, we are introduced to a small body of believers. These were the 11 disciples of Jesus and their families and friends. But, eventually this group grew to around 120 people. This group had previously been mourning the loss of their spiritual leader, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus had been preaching and teaching that He was the Son of David, The Son of Man. The true Son of God. He preached that he was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and that man’s salvation and restoration before God was in His hands.
Eventually, He found Himself on the wrong side of the religious elite of Jerusalem. The religious leaders of the Jerusalem temple saw Jesus as a threat to their established authority and power. They plotted against Him and planned to have Him arrested and tried, and eventually killed. They succeeded in their plan, and eventually Christ was crucified on a cross like a common criminal.
But, after Christ’s crucifixion, something strange occurred that they had not anticipated and did not understand. After lying in the grave for three days, this same Jesus got up by the hand of God and left the tomb empty. After rising from the dead, He visited His followers, and spent time with them, proving that He was the risen Messiah as He previously taught them. All together He spent 40 days with them before ascending to heaven before their eyes and taking His rightful place at the right hand of God the Father.
Although they missed Jesus, eventually, this small group of believers would have to go on with their lives. They had to try to live their lives as normally as possible. They went back to work. They went back to providing for their families. They went back to being husbands, and mothers, and sons, and daughters. But in the midst of this return to normalcy, they continued to try to figure out what all of that they had witnessed and experienced meant for them. They prayed together. They talked to each other. They sought God’s face together.
Eventually, they began to once again participate in the cultural celebrations that were unique to their Jewish culture. This is where Acts 2 begins. They are participating in a uniquely Jewish festival called the Feast of Weeks, or the feast of Pentecost. Pentecost was a time when God’s children were to make a sacrifice, or an offering, in proportion to the size of the harvest they had taken in that year.
The primary purpose of the festival was to show gratitude to God for the blessing of that year’s harvest. To thank God for what He had given them in order to sustain them. These men and women had no idea what kind of harvest God was about to bring their way.
On the day of Pentecost, they were together and the Holy Spirit descended upon them and was manifested in a strange and powerful way. Men and women began to speak in various tongues and languages, but everyone could understand one another. And, what looked like fire hovered above their heads.
Other people, who were not a part of their group, saw what was happening and were astonished. These onlookers tried to figure out what was going on with them, but they could not figure it out. They couldn’t come up with an adequate way to describe what was happening. The only explanation they could come up with was that they were either crazy or drunk.
Eventually Peter, realizing what people were saying and thinking about them, addressed the crowd of onlookers. He told the crowd that these people were neither drunk nor crazy. What they were witnessing was a fulfillment of prophecy and a fulfillment of the preaching of Jesus of Nazareth. This was further proof that Jesus was whom he claimed to be.
Peter preached the message of salvation and redemption through Christ to the crowd. And, guess what, some of the people from the group of onlookers believed his message and were saved and joined this group of believers. And more people heard this message, and believed, and joined them. And more people heard, believed, and joined. This continued to happen until about 3,000 people believed and were added to the church in a short period of time.
Have you ever been to a church where 3,000, 300, or even 30 people joined at one time, or in a month, or in a year? It’s an event that most of us cannot fathom. We would be excited if 3 people came down the aisle at the same time. But, 3,000 people joined that local body of believers.
As much as that would be a dream for any preacher to say that during his/her leadership and preaching, 3,000 people came, in actuality, it could almost be a headache. What would you do with 3,000, 300, or 30 new members in one day, or in a month, or in a year?
Remember that just a short time before there were only 120 of them gathering together. Now, that number had grown exponentially. This was amazing. Just a short time ago, they had seen their savior crucified. The core group of disciples/followers of Christ had been in hiding, trying to avoid the same fate that Jesus had experienced at the hands of Jerusalem’s religious leaders. Now, they are fearless in their preaching and teaching and they have grown to the size of a formidable army.
As I studied this passage, I realized that something important was happening for them. And it was not just the fact that they were growing so large. It was good that they were growing, but I think the most important thing that was happening was that they were becoming a family. They were becoming the body of Christ. They were being transformed. They went from being a disjointed band of individuals who believed in Christ and were becoming a unified group committed to the cause of Christ. What do I mean by this? Acts 2:42-47 shows how this came about. Specifically, in Acts 2:42-47, we see two things happening within the early church. The two things were this; they made their focus learning about God, and being with one another.
Vs. 42 in the NRSV says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” They had two purposes that they focused on. Outside of living, making a living, taking care of their families, they determined to spend their time learning about God and spending quality time with one another.
They focused first on learning about God. They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching. They devoted themselves to understanding this man Jesus whom Peter had preached about. They endeavored to understand Jesus’ relationship to God the Father. They wanted to understand what it meant for him to be Messiah, the fulfillment of prophecy. They sought out how to learn more about God and understand what God wanted to do in the world through the man Jesus.
In addition to trying to understand the triune relationship, they also focused on learning about one another through spending time together. They spent time together breaking bread and praying. This was much more than having a once a month lunch together after church and praying over the meal. The Greek word for the phrase “the fellowship” signifies mutuality and commonality among the new believers that goes far beyond potluck dinners. It consisted of building a shared reality, a shared life, an integrated existence built upon what they anticipated the future to be like.
They spent time in each other’s homes. They spent time with each other’s children. They ingratiated themselves into each other’s lives. I imagine that they learned about each other’s concerns, desires, dreams, wishes, and fears and spent time on their knees together before God.
What were the benefits of this devotion to following the apostle’s teaching and regularly breaking bread/spending time with one another?
The first benefit was that they grew in their knowledge of God the Father, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, which led to them growing spiritually.
Their previous knowledge about God had been based on a combination of the Old Testament Law/Torah and the teachings of such leaders as the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes. One of the problems was that what God had given as 10 commandments eventually had ballooned to hundreds and hundreds of man-made prescriptions. Christ previously taught them that he came to fulfill God’s law, not expand upon it. Christ came and taught so that they would be able to properly understand, interpret, and apply God’s law in their daily lives. He was the living Word, the fulfillment of the law and prophets.
By devoting themselves to the teachings of the apostle’s, the men and women who actually sat at the feet of Christ, the same people that saw Christ perform miracles first hand, they were able to learn what they needed to know about Christ.
They began to grow as believers. I dare say that they were in the process of becoming spiritually mature. This was a part of the first benefit. As they grew in their knowledge of God, they grew in their knowledge of what God expected of them/wanted from them. From this, vs. 43 says, “And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.”
This led to the second benefit. Their growth in knowledge/wisdom led them to put their faith into action. It was not only head knowledge, but it became heart action. Vs. 44-45 in the ESV says, “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.” The Message paraphrase says it this way, “And all believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met.”
Now, that’s a mouthful. That’s also a serious level of commitment. It seems that as their knowledge of God increased, their love for each other increased. But it wasn’t just an internal love. A love in words only. It was an “I’m willing to get down and dirty” kind of love. A “what’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine” kind of love.
How many of us can say that we have experienced that kind of love from another person? How many of us can say that we have exhibited that kind of love to another person?
I want to make sure no one misunderstands these verses or me. I like the way that the ESV and the Message phrase these verses, but there may be a different way to understand these verses based on the way they are written in the original Greek. Bob Deffinbaugh, a NT scholar says this, they should be translated as “And from time to time they were selling their possessions and goods, and were parting them to all, according as from time to time any man had need.” “Thus,” Dr. Deffinbaugh says, “there was not one great sale, but an on-going process, in which needs which arose were met by the sale of some property. People retained ownership of their goods but sold goods from time to time to meet the pressing needs of others.”
The thing to be remembered in all of this is that all acts were voluntary. They did what they did in order to help others. These were acts of kindness that were spontaneous and based on a desire to address the needs of fellow believers. It seems as if the early church took great care and pride in providing for the needs of others.
So, am I saying that the only way for you or I to show love is to sell everything that we have and give the money away? No. What I am saying, and what I believe the word is teaching us, is that one of the clearest signs of spiritual maturity is a willingness to help someone in need when you are made aware of that need. To share of your resources with someone who does not have resources of their own. To be willing to give to others out of the excess that God has given to you.
Terrell, you are setting a lofty standard for people, aren’t you? Do you really think that it is realistic to expect people to have the same type of attitude that early believers had? Times were different for them than they are for us. I admit that this is a lofty goal. Many have argued that this passage is only to be seen as an idealized portrayal of early church life. Instead of seeing this as an idealized portrayal, I prefer to see it as an example of what God’s people are able to accomplish through open hearts that are sensitive to the leading and power of the Holy Spirit.
This leads a third benefit that came from them following the apostles’ teaching and spending time together. God brought others to salvation through the testimony of their actions. Vs. 46 says, “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people (having the goodwill of the people, having the approval of all the people, people in general liked what they saw). And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Matt Skinner says, “The community exists not for its own sake, but to care for its most vulnerable members and to be a means by which God extends salvation to others.”
The same people that had previously ridiculed them at the coming of the Holy Spirit because they thought they were drunk or crazy were now recognizing what God was doing in and through them. Because of their willingness to learn about God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, because of their willingness to live out their faith by loving and providing for one another, God brought more people to faith and increased the size of the church yet again. Things went from big to even bigger. And eventually, things continued to grow.
Let’s be clear. The bible doesn’t say that life was perfect for them as they grew, but it does indicate that God was faithful to them in the midst of their faithfulness to Him and one another.
So what? How relevant is this to me? To you? To us? We began with a humorous look at what a bad church looks like. Acts 2 shows us what a godly group of believers looks like.
I think the maturity level of a godly church, or believer, is evident by their willingness to commit to a lifestyle of service to God and their brothers and sisters. Faith filled living is not a part-time endeavor. It is a 24/7 lifestyle. Not simply a Sunday morning and Wednesday evening commitment. A spiritually maturing believer, or church, will commit to studying, learning, and immersion into understanding God. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t work, or spend time with your family, or have a life. What it does mean is that intentional study of God’s word should have an important place in your daily life. In the life of your family. It means that you understand and adhere to Paul’s words when he said, “study to show yourself approved unto God….”
I also believe that the maturity level of a godly church, a godly believer, is equally evident by a willingness to be formed into the body of Christ. This is not an easy process. It may require us to spend time with people who may be just as goofy and broken as we are. It may require us to be open and accepting of people who don’t necessarily fit into predetermined prescribed roles. It may call for us to help people who don’t have anything to offer in return.
Becoming a godly person or church is more than just about being in a building on a certain day of the week. Becoming a godly person or church may require participating in God’s work outside these four walls. Going to church is only part of the equation.
The other part is to go outside and make a difference within the world and our local community. A spiritually maturing believer, or church, will commit to lending a helping hand when one is needed. Not because you have to, or because someone is making you, or because God will get you if you don’t. It gets done because you willingly follow the example that Christ gave us through His love. Spontaneous, from the heart, without keeping score, and unconditional.
That’s hard to do, isn’t it? It’s not always fun. It’s sometimes frustrating. Sometimes, we long to make a difference in the world without having to interact with those who are in it. We can experience frustration in becoming the body of Christ due to the other people that are a part of that body. It’s not always a fun or easy process. But it is God’s will for us.
The church, or the person, that is growing in their relationship with God can be seen learning about God and spending quality time with the children of God.
I leave you with this question: Is that what you look like? Is that what I look like? Is that what we look like? Is that what we want to look like?
Will you pray with me?