Sermon preached on May 9, 1999 by Laurence W. Veinott. ©Copyright 1999. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at <http://www.northnet.org/lisbonopc/>.
Many people are very interested in conspiracy theories. There are conspiracy theories about who killed President Kennedy. There are conspiracy theories about the moon landings. I've heard that there are people who believe that the manned moon landings were fake, that they never really happened. But probably the most unbelievable conspiracy theory that I've heard is that the Titanic didn't sink. Some people apparently believed that the ship that sank on April 15, 1912 was the Olympic, Titanic's sister ship. The Olympic had been involved in a very bad collision with a navy ship and the theory is that this rendered it structurally unsound. So some people believed that the shipping line that owned both ships switched name plates and actually sank the Olympic on purpose for the insurance money. Now that sounds unbelievable to me. I don't understand how anyone could believe that but one of the expeditions that went down to the Titanic's wreckage actually set aside time to investigate this. They made close up photographs of one of the propellers because they have serial numbers on them. Of course the serial numbers they saw matched those of the Titanic. The propellers proved that it really was the Titanic that sunk. The serial number on the propeller was the mark that showed that it really was the Titanic.
What are the marks of a Spirit-filled church? How can one know for sure that a church is doing things that are pleasing to the Lord? The text before us sheds light on the answer. John Stott tells us that here we have,
"a beautiful little cameo of the Spirit-filled church."
We have before us a picture of the activity and life of the Spirit-filled church. John Calvin says that Peter,
"defines four marks by which the true and genuine appearance of the church may be distinguished. Do we seek the true Church of Christ? The picture of it is here painted to the life."
The characteristics that we see here are ones that should be exhibited in all congregations of the church of Jesus Christ. Peter writes,
"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."
This morning I want to direct your attention to a few of the characteristics of a Spirit-filled church.
The first thing we see about this Spirit-filled church is that
In verse 42 we read,
"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer."
The emphasis here is on the act of teaching. As Alexander writes,
"What is here affirmed is not their adherence to a certain system of belief, but their personal attendance on the actual instructions of the twelve."
Now there was a system of belief. It's very important that we not miss that. We've looked at Peter's sermon in some detail and compared it with other sermons in the book of Acts. The subject of the preaching in Acts is Christ. Peter preached about Christ, about His life, death, resurrection and ascension. His sermon was all about Christ, His love, His works, His power, His majesty. The two references here to the breaking of bread also point to the fact that these Spirit-filled Christians were focused on Christ and His work. So their system of belief was certainly important.
But the emphasis in verse 42 is on the act of teaching, on the act of learning. These believers were anxious to be taught by the apostles.
They sat at the apostles' feet with eagerness to learn. They were anxious to grow in grace and righteousness. They were teachable. They wanted to learn more about Christ, about His work, about His will for their lives. They had a great desire to learn and to apply the teaching of the apostles to their lives.
Do we have that some attitude? I'm not sure we do. If one were to ask Christians-"What's wrong with the church today?" I'm afraid the vast majority of us would focus on other people. We'd say things like, "If only he would be a little different, things would be much better in the church. If only that group would change- all of our problems would be over. If only more people would be like me, things would be much better in the church."
But an attitude like that is misguided. More than anyone else, we as individuals need to change ourselves. We need to be responsive to the Word. We need to hear it explained, we need it to challenge us, to change us. When we read the Bible, when we hear it preached, we need to be praying,
"Lord, mold me, change me, make me more like Jesus. Help me to love others more. Conform me to the glorious image of Jesus."
We need to be discontent with our current state. We need to have the attitude of the apostle Paul in Philippians 3: 10f. He wrote,
"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me."
He said, "I press on. I have not yet been made perfect." The problem with the church today is that too few have that attitude. Most have the attitude, "I'm doing pretty good. I don't have to press on. It's others that have to get their act together."
How different it was in the early church. They came to together seeking to know more about Christ, more about His will, more about how they could better serve Him. We need to have that attitude. Come to church seeking to change, to improve, to learn more about Christ and to become more like Him. When you're confronted with the Word- change! When you're confronted with Biblical preaching- change! When you're confronted with the good examples of other Christians- change!
And this leads us to our second point.
The next thing I want you to see here is that
Verse 42 tells us that they devoted themselves to the 'fellowship'. The Greek word that is used here is one that many of you will be familiar with, koinwniva. There's a church in Potsdam that has this name. This Greek word is derived from another word meaning, 'common'. It expresses what we as Christians share in together. I like how the New English Bible translates this. It reads,
"They met constantly to hear the apostles teach, and to share the common life..."
They met to share the common life. When someone believes in Jesus they become one with other believers. This is because we become one with Christ and we share a common life in Him. In 1 Corinthians 12:27 we read,
"Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it."
One of the basic concepts in Christian fellowship is that of sharing. You are to gather together with other Christians and use your spiritual gifts to serve them. You are to share with others what God has blessed you with. This concept is such a fundamental part of the Greek word that it's sometimes translated "share". It's about ministering Christ to other Christians for their good. J.I. Packer has defined fellowship this way:
"Fellowship: the give and take of sharing the things of God, is carried on through the reality of spiritual gifts. A spiritual gift is a God-given capacity to express or minister Christ so that those to whom the service is rendered will see Christ and grow in Christ, to His glory."
True fellowship occurs when we meet to build one another up. We gather together and use our spiritual gifts for the common good. Thus the body of Christ is encouraged, built up, strengthened. We learn from one another, we benefit from one another, we see people living like Christ, reacting like Christ, loving like Christ. And as a result of all that we are strengthened, encouraged and we grow. That's what Christian fellowship is all about.
When He was here on earth physically, Christ ministered to His people. Now He is in heaven on His throne. But He still ministers to His people in various ways. One of the main ways He does it is through His Spirit in other Christians. He has given them spiritual gifts for the benefit of the body. Christians become His mouth, His hands, His feet, to fulfill His ministry to others by exercising the spiritual gifts He has given us. Christ now ministers to His people through His people. Christ ministers His grace to others through us. That's what Christian fellowship is all about.
God wants you to gather with other Christians for a very specific purpose- to strengthen them, encourage them, show them Christ like behavior, show them how they are to live.
The result of that will be oneness. This we see that the Spirit-filled Christians of the early church were one. Lenski writes,
"They were one spiritual body, inwardly one by faith in Christ, inwardly and outwardly one by confessing Christ and by adhering to the one doctrine of Christ that was taught by the apostles. And so they kept together as one body and treated each other accordingly. One faith and one teaching, and thus one body in fellowship. No parties, schisms..."
There were no divisions among them. They were one.
We see this oneness in how they took care of one another. In verses 44-45 we read,
"All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need."
These Spirit-filled Christians shared their possessions.
John Calvin writes,
"Now this is a striking example of love, and Luke records it so that we may learn to relieve the poverty of our brethren out of our abundance."
Now we must be very clear on the fact that this sharing was voluntary. We have no command from the Lord that we are not allowed to have property. Private property was not outlawed. We see this is Acts 5:4 where Peter said to Ananias regarding his field.
"Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal?"
Peter affirms the principle of ownership. We also see this even in our text. Not all of them sold their homes. Verse 46 tells us that,
"They broke bread in their homes..."
Some still had homes. Not all of them sold their homes and property. The tense of both verbs in verse 45 is in the imperfect tense, which , (Stott)
"indicates that the selling and the giving were occasional, in response to particular needs, not once and for all."
Yet, having said that, it is clear from the Scripture that we are to share with those in need.
In 1 John 3:17 we read,
"If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?"
Calvin tells us that we need to beware of two extremes. On the one hand some who are rich defraud the poor. On the other hand, others desire to outlaw private property. Both extremes are wrong. We are to have such love and care for one another that we will take care of one another.
Now I ask you- do we have the kind of fellowship and oneness that the early church had?
Is that kind of fellowship and oneness evident in the church of the late 20th century? Is it evident here in Lisbon? Do we see ourselves as one in Christ? Do we see our oneness as being so great that it outweighs all economic considerations? Do we see our oneness as being so great that it outweighs all minor doctrinal differences?
I'm very much afraid that many congregations don't have this attitude. Not long ago I heard a Christian tell of his experience in attending a certain congregation. After a long period of time he stopped attending that church. His comment was something to the effect,
"We were willing to accept them, we were willing to accept what they were like, but they were not willing to accept what we were like."
And what needs to be make clear is that he is an outstanding Christian man. But he wasn't quite like them so they wouldn't accept him. Some churches will accept you if you become exactly like them. But if you don't, they'll basically tell you,
"Go somewhere else. We're like this and we're not going to change and it's wrong for you to try to change us."
Such an attitude may be understandable if you have a religious club. But it's not acceptable in a church of Jesus Christ. If we're a church of Jesus Christ it means that that He is the Head and Ruler of the church. It means that we accept and love Christians who are a little bit different from us. It means that we embrace them with the deepest of love and affection. It means that if they ask questions we don't say, "Why did you come here in the first place, to stir up trouble?" But rather we are to very gently and carefully teach them from God's Word.
A Spirit-filled church is marked by oneness, by deep love and commitment to all the brethren. A Spirit-filled church accepts new members and does not put them below the current members, but it accepts them as equals. We are all to esteem others better than ourselves. We are to view ourselves as the servants of others.
These are the marks of a Spirit-filled church.
The third characteristic we see in our text is that
"And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."
The early church was a witnessing church. It grew daily. That's God's plan for His church.
We need to be growing. We need to have a vision to see people saved. We need to have a building plan. What are we going to do- make plans for the church not to grow? God wants His church to grow. If we are faithful to Him it will grow. If it doesn't grow- what is the cause? John Calvin writes,
"And surely the fact that the church is diminishing rather than increasing is to be ascribed to our slothfulness, or indeed our sinfulness."
We need to be evangelistically minded. John Stott writes,
"No self-centered, self-contained, church (absorbed in its own parochial affairs) can claim to be filled with the Spirit."
Christians, the fields are white for harvest. The Lord has put us here to bring in the harvest. The Spirit-filled church brings in the harvest.
In verse 42 we read that they devoted themselves to prayer. They relied upon the Lord. He was their strength and stay. After all, it was the Lord that added to the church. In verse 47 we read,
"And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."
It was the Lord that added to the church. Calvin writes,
"But although they all strove earnestly to increase the Kingdom of Christ, yet Luke claims this honor for God alone, that it was He who brought those outside into the Church. And surely this is His own special work. For ministers achieve nothing by planting and watering, unless He makes their works effectual by the power of His Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:6).
It is the Lord who gives salvation, it is He who gives the fruits of the Spirit, it is He who gives us everything good. Do you want to learn from the Bible? Keep asking the Lord to instruct you. Do you want to love other Christians as Christ loved you? Ask the Lord to give this grace to you. Do you want to bring others to Christ? Ask the Lord to bless your efforts. Without Him we can do nothing. With Him we can do all things. (Romans 11:36)
"For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen."