What it means to be a church member, part three

After laying out the four main commitments believers made to the church in Acts 2:42 Luke begins to give us an idea of how those commitments played out in the everyday life of these early Christians.

First, he makes it clear, this was not just like a ritual for them.

Verse 43.

“And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.”

The word awe means fear.

But it’s a holy fear.

This I think is what motivated them to study God’s Word and to get together with other believers and to spend time in each other’s homes and to pray.

These believers were in awe of God.

As they listened to the apostle’s teach, and they saw what the apostles were doing, they recognized they were part of something much bigger than themselves.

Now, I am not going to get into it here, but I don’t think these wonders and signs are something we still experience as part of our regular life as a church. These were being done by the apostles as a way of proving to everyone they really were speaking for God. I mean, they were standing up there, saying this crucified man was the Messiah and that He had risen from the dead, and everyone was like, what, prove it, and they were like, ok, watch what God does through us. But even though, maybe at this point in the history of how God’s going about saving the world, we’re not doing the exact same miracles the apostles did, we should be praying, that God does create us in us the same kind of reverent fear, they were experiencing in the early church.

Just because we’re not seeing miracles doesn’t mean there aren’t still a million different reasons for us to be astonished everyday by the greatness of God’s.

God’s literally loaded this world with things that should amaze us, and He’s loaded His Word, with truths that should stop us in our tracks, and the reason we don’t experience the awe we should, isn’t because we are not seeing miracles, but instead because our eyes are just closed sometimes to who God is and what God is actually doing.

That’s part of what you’ve got to be praying about for us as a local church, when you become a member of the church, a good church isn’t just another organization doing this or that, and running this program or that program, you know, doing stuff, a good church is made up of people who are motivated by a deep fear of God.

 Second, these believers shared one another’s burdens.

I think we can read that the early believers were devoted to fellowship and breaking of bread and prayer and it just kind of flies past us, and we don’t catch the full weight of just how committed they were to one another, so Luke shows us.

In verse 44 through 46.

“And all who believed were together.”

That means as we’ve been saying when they became believers, they didn’t just go out and live their own lives.

They wanted to be where other Christians were.

I remember hearing a great preacher named Charles Spurgeon describing how he felt when he first became a Christian. Apparently, he wanted to join the church in the place where he lived and yet when he called upon the pastor, something kept getting in their way

He says,

“Each time there was some obstacle in the way of an interview and, as I could not see him at all, I wrote and told him that I would go down to the Church Meeting and propose myself as a member. He looked upon me as a strange character, but I meant what I said, for I felt that I could not be happy without fellowship with the people of God.”

Which is a great line, I think.

I could not be happy without fellowship with the people of God.

He goes on,

“I needed to be wherever they were and if anybody ridiculed them, I wished to be ridiculed with them. And if people had an ugly name for them, I wanted to be called by that ugly name, for I felt that unless I suffered with Christ in His humiliation, I could not expect to reign with Him in His Glory.”

Which is I am saying, how it was with these believers in the early church.

They were together, and Luke goes on in verse 44, and says,

“They had all things in common.”

Which basically means they weren’t so concerned about their stuff and their rights as they were about each other’s good.

If you turn over to chapter 4, verse 32, you see Luke explains.

“Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.”

It’s not that when they became Christians, stuff stopped belonging to them.

As you can see, Luke acknowledges that people still had things that belonged to them.

The difference was their attitude toward their possessions.

As someone has said, where the thief says, what is yours is mine, so I will take it and the selfish person says, what is mine is mine so I’ll keep it, these early believers, said what is mine is God’s, and so I’ll share it.

And they really did.

They were radically generous.

Verse 45.

“And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.”

Which of course is awesome, and it shows us just how committed to one another. Probably what had happened was that many of the people who had become Christians, were actually not from Jerusalem, they had come to Jerusalem for the Passover season, and weren’t actually planning on staying, when their lives got turned upside down, and so when they became part of the church, they were actually in some financial trouble, and the believers didn’t just look at that and say that’s too bad, their attitude towards their possessions was changed, and they wanted to share, which is how all of us, whether we have a lot or don’t, should want to live as members of the church.

Our basic attitude towards our stuff, should be, how can I use what God’s given me, for His glory and for other people’s good, especially, the other members of the church?

And I want to challenge you, because sometimes we read about stories like this, and we immediately think they apply to someone else, because maybe we don’t have much, to share with those in need, but that’s not the point, the point is not how much you have, the point is your heart, and most of us whether we are rich or poor, before we are Christians, we are going through life, trying to figure out how to take care of ourselves, and we’ll reach out and help people, only if it makes sense for us, and Luke’s showing us, in the early church, that changed when people became Christians.

In fact, one of my favorite illustrations, of the kind of sacrificial generosity you saw in the early church, comes not from the book of Acts, but over in the book of 2 Corinthians. Apparently there had been a famine in Jerusalem, and many of the believers were affected, and so Paul was trying to take up an offering in some of the churches that had a little more, and in chapter 8, he tells the Corinthians, about one church in particular, that was really poor, and yet, God had been at work in their lives, and he writes, “in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints.”

Which I am saying, is how Christians think, when we are thinking straight, we are looking for opportunities, even when we are suffering, to share and care for our brothers and sisters in Christ.

This is what membership in the early church looked like.

They were committed to God’s Word, to each other, to prayer, because they were just in awe of what God was doing through Christ, and so they devoted themselves to each other’s good, to the point where they were willing to make big sacrifices to help.

They met together regularly to worship and then they would go from there to meet once again their homes to enjoy one another and to worship some more.

I guess that’s the third description of what life was like for the early church.

Verse 46.

“And day by day, attending the temple together.”

This was obviously something unique at that stage in the church’s development, because these people had been Jews, and they were there in Jerusalem, and so the most obvious place for them all to meet, because they saw Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament, was actually the temple there in Jerusalem, which was a big enough place for them all to gather, and probably pray together, and then also hear the apostle’s teach, which they weren’t able to do for very long, as the leaders of Jerusalem kept getting more upset with what they were hearing, but I think we are seeing in the early church, just this excitement about God’s Word, about being together, and about taking the gospel out.

I think that’s probably why they wanted to meet in the temple.

It’s a place where if they got together, people would start asking questions and they wanted, desperately to serve as witnesses to what God’s accomplished through Jesus Christ.

And I think, this is all what it means to be part of the church.

We come together, to go out, and spread the gospel, wherever we can.

We just love God, and we love each other, and so we meet in large groups to worship and we look for opportunities to witness, and when, we are done doing that, we find ways to get together in smaller groups, where we can really express care and concern for one another.

As Luke says at the end of verse 46,

“…breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.”’

Which is a fourth characteristic of what it looked like to be part of the early church.

They feared God. They loved each other. They got together. And they did good.

Which is I think, what Luke’s meaning, by “had favor with all the people.”

Because, it’s a little hard to tell, but you have to ask when you read that, who had favor with whom?

The word for with could be translated with or it could be translate towards. So it could be that Luke’s saying the people of Jerusalem had a good attitude towards the church, or it could actually be, with the way this is written, that Luke’s saying, the church showed favor, or did gracious acts, towards the people of Jerusalem.

Which I think is probably what Luke intends.

We’re not just here for ourselves, as we become members of the church, we are joining together to learn from God’s Word, to worship God, to love one another, to spread the gospel, and to care for hurting people, by eagerly and zealously doing good.

That’s what we mean by church membership, and that’s even what we mean we talk about church, and it’s really important to me, that when we use these words in the church, these are the kinds of ideas that come into your mind.

Because obviously, there are hundreds, maybe thousands of places that call themselves churches, and yet there’s hardly anything about the way they are doing church, that looks like the way it was happening here in the book of Acts.

And while obviously we can blame the leaders for that, and probably should, the people who are going to those churches should take some of the blame as well. Because you don’t have a great, effective local church without believers who are committed to at least trying to devote themselves to the kinds of things Luke talks about here. And so I want to ask you, if you look at your church, are you committed to working hard at learning God’s Word, to caring for other believers, to spending time in people’s home, to prayers.

And I am just excited, because I think if we take those commitments seriously, because we take God seriously, we are going to be living our lives in a radically different way, sacrificing for one another, loving one another, and doing good to the people who live all around us, with joy, and we are going to be used by God, to make a serious impact.

The way the early church did.

The end of verse 47.

“And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

God help us not play church, but be the church, for your glory, our good, and the sake of the lost!

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