It was a pretty somber day. The hopes and dreams for liberation had come to an end. For three years they had witnessed His authority and they had even experienced His power. He was so influential that He was able to convince them to leave their family trades. In exchange, they could potentially be abandoned by their families, possibly imprisoned, maybe – if they were lucky – they would be martyred? They thought He was the One. They expected Him to free them from the tyranny of Rome, but He was murdered like all the rest. If it could happen to Him, it could happen to anyone. And so, as they hunkered down in a room behind locked doors, in fear for their lives, they contemplated – “What next?” Who’s going to rise to take up the cause? Well, fast forward to the book of Acts.
The Book of Acts paints a totally different picture of the apostles and early followers of Jesus than what we find in the gospels. In his book, Spirit Rising: Tapping Into the Power of the Holy Spirit, Pastor Jim Cymbala says,
The early church…was made up of simple men and women. The leaders were former fishermen and tax collectors who fled in fear when Jesus was arrested and needed them most. They weren’t courageous and faithful. In fact, they lacked faith and courage. They were the least likely to be put in charge of any Christian enterprise. Yet, after the events in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit is poured out, those same nobodies were suddenly transformed. With courage and faith, they turned their community, and eventually the world, upside down (p27).
My goal today is to help us identify 5 of the most distinctive qualities concerning the early church. As we pinpoint these 5 qualities, we will look at the impact each quality had on the early church itself as well as on bystanders. Finally, it wouldn’t be New Years without a challenge right? So, I will end our time together by issuing a challenge to this church (Britton Christian Church). So let’s begin.
5 Distinctive Qualities (Acts 2:40-47)
The first and most distinctive quality of the early church was they had a sincere heart of worship (Acts 2:46-47).
Worship says that we recognize, agree with, and place a higher value – a greater importance – on one thing as opposed to something else. Here’s my confession. My son was given some OU baby clothes, no strings attached; they were free, but I refuse to let my kids wear anything OU. I would much rather spend my hard earned money on LSU gear. Now, that should tell you something about which team I value the most. We are quicker to publicize celebrity gossip and to rave about our favorite sport stars than we are to showcase the sovereignty of our God. The sad reality of our day is that we are oftentimes more excited about what is taking place in the world than we are about what God is doing in and through His church. We hesitate to highlight the holiness of our God and that, the Apostle Paul says, is why the wrath of God is revealed from heaven… For although [the people of God] knew God, they did not [worship] him as God or give thanks to him…” (Romans 1:18-21).
Sometimes, the problem is that we are so overly concerned with not offending people that it causes us to neglect God by default. When we neglect to worship God for who He is, we are contributing to the spiritual blindness of other people. How else are they to know who God is if we (the people of God) fail to honor Him? If we are going to truly be a New Testament church, the first quality we must have is a heart of worship for our God.
The second distinctive quality of the early church was real community.
“Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common” (Acts 2:44). One of the most debilitating obstacles to community is selfishness. Soong Chan Rah, Asso. Professor of church growth and evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, writes about group-oriented cultures in his book Many Colors. He says that,
“In a group-oriented culture…the focus is on acting cooperatively with a high priority [on] friendships and relationships. The group protects and provides for me. Individuals know they are automatically included in the conversation, meals, and the other activities of the group. Possessions are used freely by all: food, tools, etc.” (p90).
This is the mindset that permeated the early church, and it was of such great importance to God that anything contrary to real community was considered a direct offense (sin) against God Himself. Remember the selfishness of Ananias and Sapphire, when they withheld part of the money from the land they sold, the question was asked, “Why have you sinned against the Holy Spirit?”
Real community usually doesn’t happen on Sunday mornings just sitting through the preaching and never getting plugged into the life of the church. Biblical community is what happens Monday – Saturday on the job, at the grocery store, in the neighborhood, in Sunday school & K-Groups. It happens when you are rubbing shoulders with the person who lends you a shoulder to lean on in tough times.
To live in authentic community is to live among people who genuinely care about you. People who will be there to support you when it suddenly seems like your life is crashing down around you. People you don’t have to cover yourself in false pretenses for.
Now here’s the thing, this type of real community is Holy Spirit – led. “Efforts to organize community artificially can only result in ugly, lifeless, caricatures. Only when we are empty and open to the Living One – to the Spirit – can [He] bring about the same life among us as [He] did among the early Christians” (Arnold, 1995).
They had a sincere heart of worship. They had real – Spirit-led – community. And the third distinctive quality of the early church was that they prioritized their spiritual growth.
“they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Listen, this wasn’t about a particular preacher, it wasn’t because all their friends were joining this Bible Study, it wasn’t even because they were guilted into to being there every time the temple doors were opened. The believers in Acts devoted themselves, and continued to devote themselves, to the apostles’ teachings because it meant something to them personally. It had transformed their lives and God was using them in the transformation of others.
We all have things that we are devoted to, some of us are devoted to our families, so we go to work every day to make sure they have the things they need and some of the things they want. Others of us are devoted to making good grades in school so we study, and limit our play time. Others still are devoted to physical health and so we watch what we eat and drink, we exercise and get adequate rest every day. And all of those things are well and good, but remember this, Job said that he “treasured the words of [the mouth of God] more than his [natural] food (Job 23:12). Peter said that we “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). Prioritize your own spiritual growth.
Number four: They were faithful stewards of their resources.
Luke tells us that these believers were selfless in ministering to one another. They sold what they owned to help the Christian community (Acts 2:45; 4:32-35). I love these verses because it paints a picture of what the Body of Christ is supposed to look like “internally”. Remember, Luke is writing about how Christians managed their resources so that they could serve other Christians. As Paul said, they considered the needs of others more important than their own (Phil. 2:3). That’s Group-oriented culture; authentic community.
Now notice, in Acts 4:33 we find these words, “And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.” In verse 32, we find that the Believers “had all things in common.” In verse 34-35, we find them selling their possessions so that everyone had what they needed. Could it be that part of this “great power” from the apostles in verse 33, came from their sacrificial lifestyle? That because they had love for one another, their discipleship and allegiance to the resurrected Lord was obvious to outsiders? It’s just a thought. Jesus said, “they will know that you are My disciples if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). The early CHristains showed their love for each other by being faithful stewards of their resources and serving the church. Now, this brings us to our fifth quality.
I’ve already touched on this, but it’s worth repeating. The fifth distinctive quality of the early church was evangelism – a heart for the lost.
Because they had a sincere heart of worship for God, because they lived in real community with each other, they prioritized their own spiritual growth, and they managed their resources to minister to Body of Christ, they were effective in reaching the lost with the Gospel. Again, after Jesus’ crucifixion, the disciples feared for their lives. But, in Acts, when their lives were in danger, they didn’t hunker down in fear this time, they prayed for boldness to speak the Word of God. God heard their prayers and matched their faith by performing miracles, signs and wonders in their midst. Luke tells us, “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:23-31).
You want to be a New Testament church? Don’t back down when the devil comes against you, instead, call upon the name of the Lord, be strong in Him and in the power of His might, and then you shall see the salvation of the Lord!
Call to Respond
Take the Challenge
If you are up for the challenge of being a church known for our worship, community, spiritual growth, stewardship, and evangelism, I want to invite you to share your life with a group of believers and let them do the same with you. At BCC, we’ve established our K-Group, small-groups ministry for this very purpose. As the Pastor over this ministry, I get to hear the impact this type of Biblical community has on many of you. Friends have lost loved ones and suffered ongoing health challenges. These same friends have been encouraged by their K-Group and God’s used the group to help carry them through a really dark time. Others are at a point where they’re really ready to seek the Lord and searching for direction and accountability. Others are in a peaceful season of life and simply enjoying the fellowship and friendships that form through K-groups. If being a part of a small group is a little intimidating to you, we’ve made it easy!
Next Sunday is our Opening Night where we will come together right here to encourage each other and worship our Savior….and eat! Then, starting on Jan. 18th, for 30 days; that’s 5 weeks, we will meet with our groups in homes and discover how to fulfill our God-given potential by living out these 5 qualities I just mentioned.
God is calling us to be actively engaged in spreading the good news about His love and mercy. He has equipped each and every one of us to be participants in building His kingdom in this community and in this world. Take the 30 Day Challenge and find out what He has equipped you to do and where you can put your gifts to use in bringing Him glory this year.
Now, here’s the harsh reality, none of what you’ve heard me say this morning is going to make one bit of sense to you if you have not placed your hope and trust in Jesus Christ for your own salvation. The word of God is spiritual and cannot be understood naturally. The 5 qualities I preached about today are kingdom qualities. If you don’t belong to Jesus, if you don’t know Him personally and you are not committed to living your life for His glory this message has no value for you my friends. But, here’s where the grace of God is applied, now is the day of salvation! Behold, the kingdom of God is before you! God brought you hear today to put an end to the losing battle you’ve been fighting trying to live life without Him. He wants you to know that you can have your sins forgiven this morning, that He’ll give you rest. If that’s you today, just pray right where you are and ask Jesus to forgive your sins. Ask Him to help you surrender your will to His. The Word of God says that those who call upon the Name of the WILL BE saved (Romans 10:13).
 Cymbala, J. (2012). Spirit Rising: Tapping Into the Power of the Holy Spirit. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
 Rah, S. C. (2010). Many Colors. Chicago: Moody Publishers.
 Arnold, E. (1995). Why We Live in Community. Farmington: The Plough Publishing House.