First Things First - Acts 2:42-47

October 25, 2021 Preacher: Jake Hooker

Scripture: Acts 2:42–47

I had a hard time determining what to preach to you all. Because there are a lot of things I want to say, but I can’t say everything and y’all wouldn’t want to hear that anyway!

So, I decided on Acts 2:42-47 because I want to encourage Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church to continue to put first things first. To continue to prioritize the right things.

Because sometimes knowing what we need to prioritize as a church can be difficult. This is every bit as true for the church as it is for you personally. Everything is competing for our attention! If someone asked you what are the top three things the church needs to prioritize, what would you say? It’s not an easy question.

And frankly, there’s always pressure on the church to continually do more. Our big buildings need to be replaced by even bigger buildings. Our sound systems need to be replaced by more sophisticated sound systems. The high resolution screens need to be replaced with even higher resolution screens.

And then what happens? We all stop and look around and wonder, what’s the end game here? What are we working toward?

If we’re not careful peripheral things can crowd out the central things. The American church can quickly become the rich man in Jesus’ parable who tore down his storehouses in order to build even bigger storehouses.

Once you get on that hamster wheel, it’s really hard to get off.

Please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying, I don’t think this is a problem for Good Shepherd. The point I’m trying to make is that we must concentrate on the things that God’s Word emphasizes. We must continue to prioritize the things that God’s Word prioritizes, put blinders on and refuse to let the things of this world crowd it out.

And that’s what I love about this passage. Luke records for us here what the early church emphasized. We see what they thought was important in this passage.

We see the early church prioritizing three things: First, the ordinary means of grace, second, generosity, and lastly, fellowship.

What’s so interesting about these things is that none of them are complicated. Because Christ is the fulfillment of the OT worship practices, the NT church’s worship practices are different. In fact, NT worship is much simpler. There’s no need for priests or animal sacrifices. In comparison to the OT the NT church worships in a very simple straightforward way.

The church must prioritize the ordinary means of grace

The first thing the early church prioritizes the ordinary means of grace. But you might be wondering, what exactly do I mean when I use the term “ordinary means of grace?” It’s always important to define terms. The Westminster Shorter catechism gives a great definition as to what the ordinary means of grace are in question number 88. It asks: “What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption?”

In other words, question 88 is asking, if Christ is in heaven, seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, how do we experience the benefits of salvation? What are the fundamental tools that God uses to save people and grow them in godliness?

The answer to question 88 is:

“The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption are, his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.”

We experience the benefits of our salvation through the Word, particularly the preaching of God’s Word, the Sacraments (which are the Lord’s Supper and baptism) and prayer. These are God’s ordained means by which people are ordinarily saved and grow in godliness.

The men who wrote the Westminster shorter catechism didn’t do so in a vacuum. Obviously, they were drawing from God’s Word.

Acts 2:42 supports shorter catechism 88.

Look at Acts 2:42 with me. Notice what Luke, the author of the book of Acts writes: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

Upon first glance you might read this and think, okay, Luke is speaking about communal, close knit family life of the early church - which wouldn’t be entirely wrong. Because he does talk about that in our passage. But what Luke has in mind here is really something more significant.

The dead giveaway is his use of the definite articles. THE apostles’ teaching, THE breaking of bread, THE fellowship and THE prayers.

You see Luke isn’t talking about an informal gathering of Christians, like a Bible Study or small group setting. He’s talking about the preaching of God’s Word, partaking in the Lord’s Supper, and the formal prayers offered in the context of corporate worship.

Interestingly, in verse 46, Luke says they were, “breaking bread in their homes...” Similar language, but notice there’s no definite article. In verse 46 it isn’t “the breaking of the bread.”

The clear implication is that the early church thought there was great value in gathering together for formal, corporate worship. Going to church was crucial for them.

I’m going to say something that is oddly controversial in our current evangelical climate: If you want to grow spiritually, if you want to see your children grow up and love God, you have to prioritize going to church.

I can’t tell y’all the number of conversations that I’ve had with folks around Florence who have told me they get more out of small group Bible studies than corporate worship. There’s nothing wrong with small group Bible studies. I think they’re great. The problem arises when you believe it has a greater spiritual impact than corporate worship.

Unfortunately, this way of thinking is very common and it kills me because people who believe this are spiritually malnourished and they don’t even know it.

It’s like believing that you can eat every meal at McDonald’s and maintain a healthy well-balanced diet. McDonald’s might fill you up, but it won’t make you healthier.

Simply put, downplaying the spiritual significance of corporate worship is unbiblical. That directly contradicts what we read here!

And think about this: The early church valued corporate worship so much that they met together and worshipped in spite of the threat of persecution. They literally risked their lives to go to church.

We have such a low view of the church and what God does in and through it, that sometimes we can’t decide if getting out of bed on Sunday morning is worth it.

The early church risked everything to meet together. We’re in Acts chapter 2, and in Acts 7, Stephen is martyred. If you think church is inconvenient now, imagine what it was like then. Notice that Luke says: He says they “devoted” themselves to it. They were committed to it.

There are so many relevant applications just from verse 42 like the insufficiency of online worship and the importance of your physical presence at church, to gathering for worship in spite of mandatory shutdowns.

Corporate worship must prioritize the ordinary means of grace because it’s through the means of grace that we hear from God. Any church that fails to preach directly from the Scriptures, rarely offers the Lord’s Supper, and spends little to no time in prayer is doing an unspeakable disservice to the body.

The ordinary means of grace are critical to your spiritual growth.

The church must prioritize generosity

And everything else that the church does is an overflow of this particular focus. If the church prioritizes the ordinary means of grace in corporate worship devoted to the one true God, then generosity and fellowship will naturally follow.

Sometimes you hear about a church that promotes their desire to focus on the poor and needy. To be fair, I think their hearts are often in the right place. What they fail to recognize is that corporate worship is the connective tissue for generosity. People that have a heart for God will naturally be generous toward others.

If a church prioritizes other things over corporate worship it begins to lose what makes it distinctly Christian.

The early church prioritized corporate worship and, as a byproduct of their shared worship and devotion to God, they had an outpouring of generosity and fellowship.

It’s critical that we get this order correct. Generosity and fellowship should be byproducts of worship.

Look at verses 43-45 with me.

“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.”

The early church sat under the teaching and preaching of the apostles whose authority was given them directly by Christ and confirmed through signs and wonders. For me, the authority that I have to preach isn’t because of any signs and wonders that I’ve performed. And it’s certainly not because of any authority that I inherently possess. I’m certainly not an apostle.

Rather, my authority to preach comes from my ability to faithfully interpret and exposite God’s Word. And the church has recognized this in me. That’s what happens when a pastor gets ordained! The church is putting their stamp of approval on their ability to teach and preach.

What we really see in verses 43-45 is that generosity is downstream from corporate worship, teaching, and preaching. They had all things in common and were selling their possessions and distributing to any in need.

Luke describes the sacrificial generosity of the early church. We call it philanthropy when wealthy people give away their money, but we don’t have a word for poor people giving away their’s.

There’s only one real explanation for the sacrificial giving of the early church: The Lord was working through the ministry of the preaching of the Word, Sacraments, and prayer! And as a result, people’s hearts were being changed by the power of the gospel and they were concerned about those who were in need. Christ was changing lives!

This is why it’s so incredibly offensive when people point to this passage as support for communism or some form of socialism. Often they’ll point out that they had everything in common and distributed to anyone in need. No one is being forced to do anything, but table that fact for a second.

It’s highly offensive to think this passage supports a political philosophy because that dismisses the work of God. The Lord worked through the ministry of the ordinary means of grace to radically change people’s hearts.

They were compelled by Christ and their love for His church to look out for one another.

It’s so much easier to let go of your possessions when you realize that God has given it to you. God has blessed you with your talents and abilities to make money and therefore, he has blessed you with what you have.

It’s so much easier to loosen your grip on things when you constantly hear how God gave us His Son, Jesus served us by offering up His own life. Through the ordinary means of grace, they were taught how God has provided for all of our needs and generously blessed us, so they took care of one another.

The church must prioritize fellowship

Ironically, you have to get to know each other in order to know the needs of individuals in the body. This passage is also often pointed to as a highlight of Christian fellowship. Again, what we see is a direct link between God’s work through the ordinary means of grace in corporate worship, and fellowship. The means of grace that we receive in corporate worship encourage fellowship.

I’ve seen social clubs emphasize and promote their tight-knit community. But what people often fail to realize is that we really can’t have community for community’s sake. You can’t have fellowship for fellowship’s sake. It’s always a forced, superficial, shallow community.

The perfect example of this is Crossfit. I think Crossfit is great. It’s a great workout. It’s fun, but one of the things that they really push is the community. There’s a sort of misery loves company aspect to Crossfit. Once you’re done complaining about how hard the workout was with everyone, you sort of run out of things to talk about.

It’s shallow. There has to be something deeper than an experience or hobby that binds a community together.

Christian fellowship finds depth in a shared worldview; in shared goals; but ultimately, in a shared hope. It's encouraging to be around other believers who share how the Lord is at work in their lives and who will encourage you in faithfulness and obedience to the Lord.

The Holy Spirit knits us together.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying there isn’t any value to having friends who aren’t Christians! I’m not saying that at all! Rather, what I am saying is that your relationship with unbelievers is just different from your relationship with believers.

Look at verse 46 and the first part of verse 47 with me:

“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.”

They were worshipping together at the temple (at this point they saw themselves as Jews who recognized Jesus as the Messiah!) and enjoyed time together over meals in each other’s homes. And they praised God for having favor with all people.

They weren’t running out as soon as the church service was over. They wanted to be together. They wanted to share meals together. They wanted to be at peace with all people. And notice that Luke says they were doing all of these things “day by day.”

The clear implication is they were spending intentional, regular time together. The fellowship that Christians share is unique because of the fellowship we have in the Spirit. The bond we have with one another is deeper than any experience. Our faith that we share binds us together.

We go to church because of what Christ has done for us! And we’re committed to the church because of what Christ has done for us! And we’re committed to each other because of what Christ has done for us!

After all, good news of Jesus Christ, his life, death, burial and resurrection isn’t something that you can dismiss or feel apathetic toward. The gospel of Jesus Christ demands a response.

The natural response to the gospel is to worship the Lord!

And God uses that! He works through the worship of believers. He uses it to draw unbelievers to himself. Look at the end of verse 47: “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

People were getting saved because the early church was so committed to their faith in Christ. It wasn’t the result of the pastor’s incredible sense of humor, an amazing band, or slick marketing. The Lord drew people to himself through a body of believers that were compelled to worship in response to the gospel.

But we don’t just give. We don’t just give our worship, give our tithes and offerings, and give ourselves away in fellowship. We receive as well.

You see, the Lord in his infinite wisdom has chosen to give us the prime rib of spiritual nourishment through the ordinary means of grace of the local church.

The Lord ministers to us through the ministry of the word, sacraments, prayer, along with the care, and fellowship with one another.

The best spiritual nourishment for your soul is right here.

It’s really simple isn’t it? It’s as basic as it gets, and yet, for some reason it’s so easy for all of us to forget. It’s easy for churches to forget isn’t it?

My prayer for Good Shepherd and the church plant in Virginia is that we would never forget this. I pray that we’d see every Sunday as an opportunity to worship and receive from the Savior of the world who took away your sins, rescued you from eternal punishment, and clothed you in his own righteousness. May we never waste another Sunday.

Let’s pray.