There are hundreds of books written on the topic: How to Grow Your Church. When friends learned that I had become a pastor, I was inundated with suggested books which others were convinced that I had to read in order to be successful. Even though many of these books do contain good ideas, we have in the book of Acts a description of the early church and what made it successful. This seemed like a good book to read what did God have to say about the topic? As we take a look at these seven verses, we will see a pattern of the way the first church did things. Maybe we can apply some of these principles to our church today.
Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.
Peter had just preached the first sermon of the new church. Three thousand people accepted the message and gave their hearts to the Lord. It doesnt say they went through an intensive study to learn how to be saved. It doesnt say they had to learn a catechism on how to be a good Christian. It just says they gladly received the word. They believed. This is the simplicity of the Gospel.
Next, we see they were baptized, not because they needed to be baptized to be saved, but to show to everyone their new commitment to Christ. With the exception of the thief on the cross, all the disciples and all of Jesus followers were baptized. Jesus was even baptized by John the Baptist. When we give our heart to the Lord, we need to be baptized as a public testimony of our new-found life.
The last part of this verse tells us the 3000 were added to them. To whom were they added? They were added to the 120 who formed the nucleus of the early church. They didnt just get saved, and then go their own way. They joined themselves to the body of believers. Everyone who commits their life to the Lord must join themselves to a church. You cannot serve God by yourself.
Heres a list of excuses people give for missing church. Perhaps you can find your favorite one.
The Absentees Alphabet
A is for Auntie who will come to tea; B is the Bed that wont release me. C is the Car we do need fresh air; D is the Dinner just Mom can prepare. E for Extremes too high or too low; F for my Feelings when theyre right, I go. G is the Garden much nearer Gods heart; H is my Husband, who wont play his part.
I for Intruders who sit in my pew; J is for Jokes which tire me so much; L the old Language, its so out of touch; M is for Money, they always want more; N for New tunes Ive not heard before. O is for Overtime, double on Sunday; P the Preparing I must do for Monday, Q the Queer noises that come from the choir; R is the Reverence they never inspire.
S is for Sermons, as dull as can be; T for the Television we really must see. U for Unfriendly, no welcome I find. V for the Voice of that woman behind. W is the Weather, too cold or too hot. X for Excuses, Ive got such a lot. Y for the Yells from the kids left behind. Z is for Zeal, which is what I cant find!
The importance of faithfulness cannot be stressed enough. I have been involved in ministering to others for 3 decades now. The one thing I have observed above everything else is the value of faithfulness to a persons spiritual well-being. If you do not commit to be faithful to church, to prayer, and to reading the Bible as a believer, you will be struggling throughout your lifetime. I have seen people saved who were in desperate situations with seemingly insurmountable problems, but who were faithful. Somehow they found the Lords strength and were able to pull through the most trying of circumstances.
Over the years I have also seen those who drift in and out of church and waver in their commitment to the Lord. They go from one crisis to the next. Their life is filled with difficulties: marital problems, sickness, financial woes, emotional suffering. If we truly want to experience the joy of the Lord, we must learn to be faithful.
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.
This verse starts off with the words, "they continued steadfastly." This was one of the characteristics of the early church they were steadfast in the face of ridicule, persecution, torture, and death.
The Bible tells us we are to be steadfast. 1 Corinthians 15:58 says, "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord." And Galatians 5:1 tells us to stand fast, "Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage."
If we want to be victorious like the early church, we need to learn to be steadfast.
The next thing we see in this verse is that they continued in the apostles doctrine. They were willing to be taught. As Lechler comments, "The doctrine or instruction was the first instrumentality that was employed in the work of strengthening and establishing the new converts. The Christian Church is primarily a communion of faith, and hence essentially needs instruction, a knowledge of the truth, and the ministry of the word."
The apostles doctrine was the teaching from Gods word. As Paul commends the Bereans in Acts 17:11-12, "These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed...." Here we see the Bereans doing 2 things. First, they listened to the teaching of the apostles, and second, they searched the scriptures to find out if the apostles were teaching the truth.
Just listening to good teaching is not enough. We must be faithful in our study of the scriptures. We must always be judging what pastors and teachers are saying by what the Bible teaches. The only way we can learn Gods word is to be faithful in our reading and study of the Bible.
We see the early church was also steadfast in fellowship. By associating with other believers, we receive encouragement from each other. There are times we will need help and strength from others, and there will be times when we can offer comfort and support. We can share our prayer concerns with each other, and we can find help when we are troubled or confused. We can get answers to our questions, and we can use our gifts and talents to help to be a blessing to others. Faithfulness in fellowship is a cornerstone of our growth in the Lord.
Owen Glassburn wrote this poem:
The next thing we see is that they participated in the breaking of bread. Throughout scripture from the early church, we see the practice where they came together to break bread. Although this was used frequently in a social context, it seems that the early church was in the habit of celebrating communion often. What happens when we celebrate communion is that we are reminded of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us, the price he paid that we might be able to enter into communion with God the Father and God the Son. Every time we celebrate the Lords Supper, we are reminded of Gods mercy and grace toward us. We were unworthy sinners, but God loved us so much that he sent his Son to die for us.
Next we see the early church steadfast in prayer. Time spent alone with God is essential to our spiritual growth. There is power in prayer. James 5:16 tells us, "The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much." We need to pray for our own needs, and for the needs of others. By sharing our prayer needs with other believers, we are sending up to heaven a large chorus of prayer.
Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.
This verse is perhaps better rendered by The Living Bible, "A deep sense of awe was on them all, and the apostles did many miracles." Lechler explains, "A holy dread overpowered them, for they were unconsciously led to acknowledge the finger of God, and they felt his power." As a believer, we need to have a deep sense of awe toward God. An awe that reflects our gratitude for his mercy with a good dose of fear toward his judgement. A light attitude on our part toward God or his word will lead us to not take his commandments seriously enough. We need to have a holy reverence toward God.
The apostles did many miracles. Do you think God is still performing miracles? I know he is because he has performed them in my life and in the lives of my family. I think as we reverence God, we gain a sense of his majesty, and we can more easily place our trust in him. If we need a miracle of healing, of deliverance, of comfort, we can have faith that God will meet our need. Jesus promised us in Matthew 7:11, "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!" The early church was not only faithful, but they were full of faith. We need to be steadfast in believing Gods promises, and then we will see his miracles.
Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common.
The early church was united. This verse says, "all who believed were together." There was a unity in that church as no other. So much so that they had all things in common. Now I dont think we need to go back to church communes, but it would be good for the modern church to return to that early unity. Today, there is little unity. Few people feel any allegiance to any church body. Some switch churches as often as they change fashions or trade in their cars. Loyalty to one church seems like a thing of the past. The early church was together. They cared for each other and were united in purpose.
In order for a church to display unity, each person must care for the others. There is no unity when we arent united together in the bond of love. If one is hurting, we should all be hurting. When one rejoices, we should all join in the rejoicing. We need to learn to be open with each other. If we truly care about others, we will be interested in what they are going through. As we learn to share with each other, it is then that we can be a support and encouragement to them. We will not only be united in purpose but also united in love.
And sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.
There are two things that we see here in this verse. The early church was willing to give to support the ministry. We must be faithful in our giving. Our money, our talent, and our time does not belong to us. It is the Lords. We must allow him to use it for his glory.
The next thing we see is that they cared about those in need. They reached out to those who were hurting, who needed help, who were going through a difficult time. We need to minister to peoples spiritual needs, but let us never forget that sometimes they also need tangible assistance food, clothing, love.
So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart.
The early church met daily in the temple. This teaches us we must be faithful in our church attendance. There are many reasons to attend church.
First, we are commanded to do it. Hebrews 10:25 tells us, "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one anotherand all the more as you see the Day approaching." Jesus emphasized the importance of meeting together in Matthew 18:20 when he said, "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."
Second, we need teaching from someone elses viewpoint. Although we can learn a lot from Gods word from our personal study at home, it is essential that we gain the benefit of someone elses experience and spiritual understanding. If our only knowledge of the Bible comes from what we have learned on our own, we will miss some very important teachings.
Third, there is a real blessing from singing, worshipping, and praying with other believers. We may have had a very difficult week, or we may be going through some emotional or spiritual storm. But as we hear others singing and focusing in on God, we feel our own spirit joining with them, and soon our troubles fade into the background as we once again feel the love of God sweeping over us.
Fourth, by attending church we have an opportunity to minister to others: to be a friend to the hopeless, a comfort to the lonely, an encouragement to the troubled, and a blessing to the downcast.
The next thing this verse teaches us is that they were in one accord. The difference between this verse and verse 44 can be seen in the Greek. In verse 44 the indication is simply that they were all together. They were united in the same place for the same purpose. But here in verse 46 the Greek word for accord iso`moqumado.n homothumadon which indicates many coming together to form an accord. As the Online Bible gives, "The image is almost musical; a number of notes are sounded which, while different, harmonize in pitch and tone. As the instruments of a great concert under the direction of a concert master, so the Holy Spirit blends together the lives of members of the ekklesia of Christ."
The next part of this verse tells us they went from house to house. These, no doubt, were the first-ever Home Study Fellowships. We think Cell-Group Ministry is such a modern idea, but here it is mentioned 2000 years ago. Times of weekly Bible study with a group of believers can really aid in our spiritual growth. The advantage of small groups is that you have more time to relate one-on-one with each other. You can spend more time sharing prayer requests and taking each others needs before the throne of grace. You can ask questions and exchange insights. As you study together as a group, you learn from each other.
The next thing we see in this verse is that they ate their food with gladness. Now, this hardly seems like it contains some great spiritual lesson for us today. But I believe it reveals to us the attitude we need to have every time we come together as a church. We need to exhibit gladness. People will not want to come to a church where people are miserable all the time, or where they are constant complainers, or gossips, or backbiters. People want to go to a church which shows the joy of the Lord. So let us do everything in the church with gladness.
The last thing this verse tells us is that they had simplicity of heart. We need to be simple people in simplicity go to God in prayer, in simplicity believe his word, in simplicity care for each other, and in simplicity reach out to others in love.
Praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
This verse tells us they praised God. It is easy to overlook the importance of worship. Time spent worshipping together as a church or alone at home with God is time spent feeding our spirit. When we are praising God, we are not thinking of our problems. Our focus is entirely on him, and it will cause peace, joy, and comfort to minister deep in our soul.
Next, we see they had favor with the people. I think this means they treated the unbelievers around them with love and compassion. They didnt fail to preach the good news, but they did it in love. There is a danger of Christians sometimes acting with superiority toward unbelievers. If we act like we are better than others, or that we are somehow spiritually superior to others, we will not find favor with the people. Another danger is when Christians start pointing accusing fingers at people making them feel condemned and hopeless because of their sin. People need to be told that they are sinners in need of a Savior, but it needs to be said in love, not in condemnation.
Chrysostom in 400 A.D. wrote how they had favor with all the people, "They were engaging, and highly beloved. For who would not prize and admire their simplicity of character; who would not be linked to one in whom was nothing underhand?"
This verse tells us the early believers had favor with the people and the Lord added more to the church daily. I believe this means they were out telling others about Gods goodness and this message was received favorably. If we want others to be saved, we must be telling them about our Lord. We cannot be afraid or timid, but we must be willing to share our faith with others in love.
Notice that this verse said "the Lord added to the church." It was God that caused the church to grow. It will be God that will cause this church to grow. We must do our part and be willing to be obedient to what God wants us to do, but we dont need to worry about the results. God will cause his church to grow. As Lechler wrote, "The external increase of the church was one of the results of its internal growth. The more vigorous and pure our inner life gradually becomes, the more powerful and extended is the influence which it exercises on the world without. ... Still, the external growth is essentially an operation of the Lord, and an evidence, furnished by facts, of his Deity. For it is not man (who merely plants and waters), but God, who causes the growth, and gives the increase."
So what was the pattern of the early church?
As we are faithful to Him, God will add to the church and cause it to grow. May it happen, Lord; may it happen here.
This Study on Acts 2:41-47 © 1997 by David Humpal. All Rights Reserved
The Absentees Alphabet: The Pastors Manual quoted in Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations pg. 243
Lechler: Langes Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, Acts, pg. 58, Zondervan Publishing House
Glassburn: quoted in Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations pg. 242
Lechler: Langes Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, Acts, pg. 57, Zondervan Publishing House
Hebrews 10:25 from the New International Version © 1984, Zondervan Bible Publishers
Matthew 18:20 from the King James Version
Online Bible: Greek Lexicon © 1993 Woodside Bible Fellowship, electronic version
Chrysostom: The Acts of the Apostles, Homily VII, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, vol. 11, pg. 47, Hendrickson Publishers, originally published in 1889
Lechler: Langes Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, Acts, pg. 58, Zondervan Publishing House