This week, we finish our study of the
second chapter of Acts, which records the outpouring of the Holy Spirit
at Pentecost. In
this week’s text, Luke describes in some detail the impact the Holy
Spirit had on the church when he came. These verses describe the church
when it is filled with the Holy Spirit--when the
Holy Spirit’s ministry is strongly manifest—when the church is strongly under the influence of the Holy Spirit. This text is very
important for churches to study because it gives us a rare, condensed treatment of the elements present within
a healthy church. Because
our truth-driven vision is to be healthy as the Bible defines healthy,
and this text lays out a summary of what a healthy church looks like, this is a very important passage for us. The Holy Spirit, who
inspired Luke, doubtless intends that individual churches use this text as a measuring rod.
Though we may not reach the spiritual
health of this church, we must continually allow these truths to expose
those areas where we are not manifesting the Holy Spirit’s influence.
It’s also important because David Wells is right when he says in his excellent
book, “God in the Wasteland,” “The
fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is that God rests too inconsequentially
church [That is—his influence is not strongly felt].
His truth is too distant, his grace is too
ordinary, his judgment is too benign, his gospel is too easy, and his Christ is too common.” It
is the Holy Spirit’s ministry to bring his truth from the
distance to confront our hearts. It is the Holy Spirit who causes us to see
grace NOT as ordinary, but when his influence is manifest in our lives, we see grace as utterly amazing. It’s the
Spirit who keeps us from seeing God’s judgment as benign and harmless by impressing upon us the
fear of a holy God. It
is the Spirit who humbles us by revealing afresh the
supernatural quality of a life controlled by the gospel and it’s the
Spirit who continuously compels us to magnify Christ, not diminish him into someone who is common. Because those things
are not happening within so much of evangelicalism and our church, that tells us that God the
Holy Spirit rests lightly on the church, exerting little of his influence. This passage helps
us to see some specific ways in which that is true by showing us what the church looks like when the Spirit’s influence
IS being experienced.
To illustrate what this means, here are some statements or attitudes that,
as we will see, were NOT present in this Acts 2 church. “You
know honey, we have small group tonight.
It’s been two weeks already?! Is
any way we can get out of it?
No, we’re bringing the salad.
Oh, good night!”
Or, “There’s just nothing for me at church
on Wednesday nights.” Or, “We
have to serve in the
Can’t they find someone else to watch those kids?” Or, “Do we
have to go to church Sunday night—the Vikings are playing?” Or,
“I don’t care if the church needs money—if we give all our money away, we
wont’ be able to afford that trip we’ve planned.” Or, “That prayer meeting went forever tonight. Let’s not go
to any more of those, alright?”
Contrast those attitudes and statements with what we read of those 3000 new
converts, “42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common.
45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings
and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had
need. 46 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.”
There’s a pretty big gulf separating the attitudes of these Spirit-filled
people and the statements I cited earlier, isn’t there? One of the
problems with many of us is that instead of comparing our attitudes, desires and actions with these
believers Luke holds up as a legitimate example for us, we tend to compare ourselves with the
people down the row from us who we judge (rightly or wrongly) to be
far less committed to the Lord and the
ministry of his church. “I’m doing better
than so and so; therefore
I am in a good place.” We
must not fall into that trap, but instead use this inspired and radical Biblical example to be the
measuring rod to reveal to us the level of the Holy Spirit’s influence
in our lives and church.
Perhaps the most important word
in this passage is the main verb in verse 42, “And
they devoted themselves…”
that word is so important is because verse 42 is a summary statement of this section.
They were devoting themselves
to four areas of ministry--the apostles’ teaching, the
fellowship, the breaking of bread and the
else Luke tells us about this church in these verses simply elaborates
on those four areas of ministry. That means that the descriptive phrase that
broadly describes everything this church did is, “they devoted themselves…”
This was a devoted church.
The word “devoted” means they
were strong on a consistent, steadfast basis. The word brings out the
tenacious character of the church.
They were not strong for a moment or for a particular worship service or
a prayer meeting or for a season—they were strongly committed to these
areas of ministry over the long haul—they
were consistently strong.
This supernatural influence of the
Spirit is steadfast—it persists, it perseveres.
This church didn’t run hot and cold.
Think about how different that is from the
negative examples I cited earlier. Oh beloved, we need for God to rest heavily on our church, not lightly! My desire for this
message is that by God’s grace, we might internalize our great need as a church for a fresh outpouring of the
Holy Spirit. That
we would by God’s grace use God’s measuring rod for us and long for a transforming work of God in our lives through
the gospel. In all they did, these
believers were strongly and persistently committed and that is owing to the
powerful influence of the Holy Spirit within the church.
As I look at this passage, the
way I get the most out of it is to use this church’s incredible balance
within their ministry as a lens through which to examine the
work and presence of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit brought such balance to this church.
In nearly all churches, there
are certain areas of ministries that seem strong while other areas of
ministry that should be equally strong are virtually non-existent.
This church is remarkable because the
Spirit kept all the ministries in balance with one another. I want to briefly
look at six areas of this balance within this church as a way for us to see the
Spirit’s influence. The
first area of balance is: This
Spirit-filled church had a strong emphasis on both apostolic teaching and the
often in churches, you see EITHER a strong emphasis on Biblical teaching and doctrine OR warm, loving fellowship. We tend to militate
toward one of two extremes on this continuum.
Often, churches that emphasize strong, Biblical teaching tend to be a bit
cold and academic—made up of people who are more interested in Bible knowledge than in loving God’s people. On the
other hand, churches that place a strong emphasis on community and interpersonal
ministry can often be great at having fun together and deeply enjoy
one another’s company--even serving one another
in love, but they often have no strong hunger for Bible teaching.
The influence of the
Spirit in this church makes no such separation.
Verse 42 says, “…they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship...”
They were strongly committed to BOTH strong apostolic teaching of the
truth of the Bible AND to a loving fellowship. I daresay the fellowship
was driven by the truth of God’s word. The apostle’s teaching would have included material that is consistent with what we read
in the New Testament.
There would have been a strong emphasis on doctrine---who is Jesus Christ
and what did he accomplish in his life, death and resurrection?
What is the gospel? What is the
role of the law?
What is the church and what is
required to be a part of the church?
What are baptism and the Lord’s
there would have also been strong ethical teaching on how the
gospel is lived out in daily life amid Jewish and pagan cultures.
They were devoted—strongly committed to the
apostles’ teaching. They
hungered for the truth—they worked at hearing it often and they worked
at understanding it and applying it to their lives.
same time, they were deeply committed to the
fellowship—the “koinonia” of believers.
We see what Luke means by this in verses 44 and 46.
“And all who believed were together and had all things in common.” These people were
strongly committed to being with one another and they
were together every day.
The notion that being with the
gathered church on a Wednesday night or being in a small group would
contribute nothing to them, or worse, would be an unwelcome burden would
have sounded profane to them.
That kind of consumer mentality is contrary to the
were in Christ together and that bond of unity in the
Spirit was precious to them. When Luke says “they
all things in common” he’s not speaking demographically, as if they
were all from the same socio-economic class or educational level or
the same cultural background.
We know from earlier in chapter two that there
were people from more than 10 distinct cultures represented in this group. There were Jews from Palestine
and there were Jews from the
nations of the Diaspora—those Jews dispersed all around the
Mediterranean whose native language was not Aramaic and who were much more Greek
in their cultural background.
So what does Luke mean when he says
they had all things in common?
What he means is this: if Jesus is absolutely everything to you and he’s
absolutely everything to someone else, then on a practical level—you have all things in common.
If God and Jesus and faith are far and away THE dominant passions of your
life and the same is true of me, then
the fact that we are in different socio-economic stratas or careers
or stages of life or ethnic backgrounds is unimportant.
The Spirit causes people to be so adamantly, passionately in love with Jesus
that people who share that love have all things in common. After Jesus, everything else in life is just details
for these Spirit-filled people.
Verse 46 unpacks this further. “And
day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes…”
These people were together every day in the
temple courts and after they prayed and worshipped and were instructed
in the temple, they went
to one another’s homes.
They couldn’t get enough of each other! They learned, prayed
and celebrated the Lord’s Supper together
if a church existed like this, we would swear it was cultish—people just shouldn’t like to be together
that much!! They
do if they share the same
passionate love for Christ who unites them at the
deepest levels of their hearts.
If Brett Favre had been a first century gladiator visiting Jerusalem,
it’s clear that this church would never have missed a chance to be with one another
just to watch him “gladiate” This
church was devoted to both teaching and fellowship.
element of balance is very similar and that is: This
Spirit-filled church was strongly supportive of both intellectual and emotional expression. Again,
only God can strike this balance because these two areas typically do
not exist together.
Often, people are divided into “learners” and “feelers.”
Those who like to learn and those who like to emote. The Spirit, when he
is actively at work in your life,causes you to love God with all your heart
and soul—the emotional component—there’s
But he also causes you to love God with all your mind—the intellectual component.
We see the intellectual component
in that this was a church committed to strong teaching—they wanted to
know the truth.
But in verse 47, we also see their
emotional passion for God. They
were “praising God and having favor with all the people.”
According to verse 46, they had
“glad hearts.” These were a
praising people—they were would have been a joy to be around. But they
were also serious student of God’s word.
area of balance is: This
Spirit-filled church served and worshipped God with both joy and reverent fear.
As we saw in our series on worship several months ago, genuine, Spirit-led
worship is marked by reverent joy. There is no separation between fearing God in reverence and rejoicing in him. He is holy and he
is good and our worship, if it is under the influence of the Spirit, will reflect an understanding of both of those
see their reverence in verse 43 where Luke writes, “And awe came upon
every soul.” The word used for “awe” is often translated “fear.” It’s
what people experience when there is a strong sense of the
presence of God in his holiness. And in this Spirit-filled church,
all the people felt this
persistently. This is the
sense of God’s weightiness that is today so lacking in the church—the
sense that God
is here and he is transcendent—he is different—he is holy.
The sense of awe was pervasive in this church.
But it wasn’t oppressive or paralyzing
because there was, as we have seen, great joy here as well. The sense of God’s
holiness did not throw a wet blanket on the joyful worship of these
saints, instead it deepened it. This was a reverent joy—there was a layering—a
spiritual depth to their emotion here. This was not a momentary chill that runs up your spine—it was a persistent sense—filling
this church. Another
area of balance within this church is: This
Spirit-filled church was both prayerful and actively, sacrificially giving.
One of the four main pillars
of ministry in this church was their prayer.
They devoted themselves to “the
prayers” according to verse 42.
This may mean prepared prayers like those found in the
Psalms—you can pray powerfully using written prayers.
But it also refers to the prayer-soaked
environment that marked the church.
We know that because prayer plays such a huge role for Luke in both his gospel
Tom Schreiner does a good job of
summarizing the prayer ministry we see in Acts.
“The apostles in particular were obligated to “devote [themselves]
to prayer and to the ministry of the
world” (Acts 6:4)…Similarly, the apostles laid their
hands on and prayed for the seven who were appointed to deal with the
problem of the Hellenistic widows [in] Acts 6:6.
The Sanhedrin threatened the
apostles for preaching Jesus as the crucified and risen Lord, and the
apostles returned from the meeting and prayed that the
Sovereign Lord…would grant them boldness to continue to proclaim the
gospel [in] Acts 4:23-32. They
prayed that God would confirm his message through signs and wonders.
That prayer is clearly portrayed as being answered in the
shaking of the building, the
filling of the Spirit, and the
bold witness to God’s word (Acts 4:31). ...Saul was praying when God instructed Ananias to go to him and to lay hands on him so
that he would receive the Spirit [in Acts 9:10-18]…Cornelius [the first
Gentile convert] was commended as a man of regular prayer…God granted Peter the
vision of animals in a sheet lowered to earth while he was praying [in] Acts 10:9.
Peter’s liberation from prison was due to the
sovereign work of God, and yet we are told that the church was praying
fervently [in] Acts 12:5, 12. The
commissioning of Barnabas and Paul for the first intentional mission
to the Gentiles occurred in a context of worship, fasting and prayer
[in] Acts 13:2-3.” There are many such
instances where prayer is crucial to the ministry of the church. This church didn’t
do anything of significance and God doesn’t appear to do much of significance apart from prayer.
A 120 of these people had prayed—before the Spirit came--for 10 days straight. This is not the kind
of church where people complained because the prayer meeting runs longer than expected.
Yet, it wasn’t as if the
church is filled with navel-gazing mystics who do nothing but sit around and enjoy their
intimate times of communion with the Father. This was not a monastic
community that isolated themselves from the
needs of the real world.
The combined their prayers with
sacrificial acts of mercy. Verse
45 says, “And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” As we said in our
study of the rich young ruler, Palestinian Jews of this time regularly
gave 20% of their income away and many more (like the
rich young ruler) gave at least an additional 10 percent—it was part of what they
owed for temple worship and gave as alms to the poor.
If you were part of a strict monastic sect within Judaism called the
Essenes, you were required to liquidate all your assets and give them
this level of sacrifice was not unheard of by these Jews.
What’s different here is that these
radical acts of sacrifice were done without external pressure.
This was not any law or rule—it was the
Spirit of God who had written the law of love on their
clear from the context that what motivated these
saints was not their desire for God to prosper them
financially—the Holy Spirit does not teach the
prosperity gospel—these people were motivated to give all their
money away—“distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.”
They weren’t generous just to be generous—as if their
money meant nothing to them.
The Spirit didn’t produce within them
an indifference to money. It
was their need-meeting love for their
brothers and sisters that the
Spirit had placed in their hearts.
Their love for Christ united them
in such a way that it was clear that meeting the needs of a brother
or sister was a vastly superior way to invest their assets than piling
treasure up on earth. The
Spirit produced a selfless desire to help those in need that is completely inconsistent with complaining because
someone else isn’t doing their fair share in the
nursery or other ministries.
This was both a praying church and a church actively, sacrificially giving
area of balance in ministry is: This
Spirit-filled church was both distinct from the
world, but also attractive to the
was distinct in all the ways we have seen.
If an unsaved investigative journalist from the
Jerusalem Herald Examiner would have lived within this community and genuinely tried to live like them,
he would have felt very frustrated very early.
This church lived so differently than the
rest of the Jews—there were
huge lines of division between this church and the world—darkness and
light—carnal and spiritual—life and death. But at the same time, we read in verse 47 that
they were “praising God and
having favor with all the people.”
The point is not that the world
loved the church at all points and many of the
Jews eventually grew to hate the church.
The point is the saints lived lives that were attractive to the outside world. There is something
very attractive about this kind of close-knit, sacrificially committed community to the
average person in the world who craves this kind of love and acceptance. A healthy church is
attractive to the world in many ways BECAUSE it is distinct.
A final area of balance in the
church is: this
Spirit-filled church was committed to both discipleship and evangelism.
This church was clearly a teaching church, but we read in verse 47, “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who
were being saved.”
That implies that these believers
were telling others about Jesus and bringing them
into the church.
There was both a desire to grow the
in discipleship AND also a burden to grow it wider
Though it is wrong for churches to separate those two areas of ministry because
they are two sides of the
same coin, many churches do that. The so called “teaching churches” are often lousy at outreach into their community. They want sound doctrine,
but their doctrine does little to increase their concern for the people around them who are dying and going to
churches with a strong emphasis on reaching the lost are often guilty
of being inch-deep in their theology.
They may good at getting lost people to respond, but they
can easily produce false converts or believers who don’t come to know Christ very well and whose doctrinal ignorance
makes them vulnerable to false teaching.
As we have spent some time examining this Spirit filled church, how are we stacking up
to this inspired measuring rod? We must remember the gospel as we think about these things.
That is—all these admirable qualities we have seen in this Spirit-filled
church are all part of our inheritance through the gospel.
If we have genuinely trusted in Christ, then all the blessings and promises
we see being fulfilled here…are ours. That means that we have every spiritual benefit these believers enjoyed in
Acts chapter two—Christ purchase for us this Spirit-filled quality of spiritual life—do
we believe that? This
is who we are in Christ! He
purchased for us by his blood a hunger for apostolic teaching and a love for the church and hearts that are willing
to surrender everything for our brothers and sisters in need.
He purchases for us a passion to be in God’s presence in corporate prayer.
are ours in Christ.
Tragically however, in many cases,
we have much more in common with the folks who whine about going to their small group or gripe at the limited class
offerings on Wednesday night, or who complain about having to repeatedly serve in a ministry, or who prefer watching
the Vikings to being with their brothers and sisters in Christ, or who have a death grip on their wallets, or who
swear off prayer meetings that feel too long to them.
That’s not the influence of the Holy Spirit—that’s not what Luke records here at the end of Acts
chapter two. How
do we change? The
New Testament does not improve upon Second Chronicles 7:14.
my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways,
then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” When we see how far we are from this example of Acts two, the first step is to admit that
there is sin. Our
problem isn’t that we are too busy—our problem is idolatry.
We have allowed the things of this world to fill the God-given hunger we
had when we first came to Christ and we have been deceived about our level of spiritual health.
We must humble ourselves before
God and pray earnestly and by God’s grace repent.
This is what we strive to do in the
monthly concerts of prayer. We
will devoting the first week of the
New Year to an emphasis on prayer as we seek after God for repentance and blessing.
But if God is moving in your heart today, humble yourself and come forward
and begin repenting. Claim
your inheritance—claim the promises of the
gospel—the hunger for God’s word, a love for God’s people, a passion
for prayer and a willingness to die to your personal possessions or agendas for the
good of others.
May God give us the grace to be
who he paid for us to be with the blood of his Son.