Theme: Elements of the Early Church: Apostolic Teaching
In this week’s lessons, we see what true Christian unity looks like, and how it blesses everyone involved.
Scripture: Psalm 133:1-3
When we pass beyond the Gospels to the book of Acts, the history of the early church, we find that Jesus’ prayer, which we read in yesterday’s study, was answered in the community that formed in Jerusalem after his resurrection and ascension. It is written of that church, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).
Let’s think about that church, since it is the New Testament counterpart to the community pictured in Psalm 133. It was an inner-city church, for one thing. It was also a large church, and it had a multiple staff ministry. It needed the latter because of the 3,000 people who were added to the church at Pentecost, making the total number of believers 3,120 (the 120 of chapter 1 plus the additional 3,000). It began with the twelve apostles. But when the twelve found that there still were not quite enough people to do the work, they asked the church to elect seven deacons. However, the church grew because all the people (not just the nineteen) shared in the ministry.
A church this large had its problems, of course. All churches do. It had hypocrites. It had doctrinal errors. It had sinful human beings of all types. Yet it was a model church in many respects.
One of the most striking things about this church was its commitment to fellowship, which means unity. Fellowship has to do with holding something in common. Christian fellowship means “common participation in God,” and it is this that had drawn the early Christians together. Someone has said, “The stronger your vertical fellowship is, the stronger your horizontal fellowship will be.” That is right, and this church is a good example of it. These believers had strong relationships with God. Therefore, they also had strong relationships with one another.
Notice the elements that go together in this important description.
1. The apostles’ teaching. Real unity or community can be established only around a common set of convictions and beliefs, and what drew these believers together in their fellowship was a common devotion to the teaching of the apostles. This is the first thing Luke mentions. He stresses that in these early days, in spite of an experience as great as that of Pentecost, which might have caused them to focus on their experiences, the disciples devoted themselves first to apostolic teaching. It could have been a temptation for the early believers to look back to Pentecost and try thereafter always to focus on the past. They might have remembered the way the Holy Spirit came and how he used them to speak so that those in Jerusalem each heard them in his or her own language. They might have longed to experience something like that again. They might have been praying, “Please, Lord, do something miraculous again.” But this is not what we find. They are not reveling in their past experiences. Instead, we find them reveling in the Word of God.
I suggest that this is always the first mark of a Spirit-filled church. A Spirit-filled church always devotes itself to the apostles’ teaching. It is a learning church that grounds its experiences in Scripture and tests them by the Word of God.
Describe the early church in the context of Christian fellowship. Compare it to your own. Are there any changes you need to make?
Identify the first mark of a Spirit-filled church. What does it contribute to the church?
Key Point: The church grew because all the people (not just the nineteen apostles and deacons) shared in the ministry.
Application: What does Christian fellowship mean to you? How can you contribute to it?