The accounts of the early church (particularly as recorded in the book of Acts) have a lot to teach us. While our culture and social environment may have changed since the first century, the actions of a generation who had spent time directly with Jesus (during His time on earth) exemplify His teachings beyond what is recorded in the Gospels.
Let’s take a look at a passage from Acts 2, where the actions of the early church are described, and consider what this means for us.
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Acts 2:42 NASB
Here, four regular practices were being engaged in intently (note the phrase, “continually devoting”). These are common elements of a typical worship service, but I encourage you to also engage in these four things throughout your week (if you’re not already doing so).
- Teachings of Jesus, which were shared – and written down – by those who followed Him (although the speaker and the writer weren’t always the same person). Much of the “apostles’ teaching” is recorded for us in the rest of the New Testament.
- Fellowship, which can be found whenever we spend time with other Christians (although just spending time together doesn’t always create fellowship; sometimes it takes a little work to truly develop a sense of community or family).
- Breaking of bread might refer specifically to communion (the Lord’s Supper), but I believe that this was closely linked with just regular eating together.
- Prayer is an opportunity that is always available to us – both speaking to God, and listening to Him.
Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.
Acts 2:43-45 NASB
You can research and decide on your own whether the “wonders and signs” that accompanied the apostles in the early days of the church were a special attestation by God to their message, or whether these signs continue to this day (for the same purpose). Regardless, this “sense of awe” is definitely not something that was limited to the first-century church. If you used to be overwhelmed with God’s awesomeness, but have felt that sense fade away over time, the good news is that God is still awesome, and the evidence of this is still found – in His creation, in history (“His story”, if you like little figures of speech), in the testimonies of His people, and in His actions every day.
After that part of this passage, though, things start to get a little more real. It’s one thing to engage in the activities of verse 42, and to be awestruck by God’s majesty. However, to sell what we have and to share with others; well, that starts to hit closer to home – potentially impacting things that we may hold a little closer. Before we tune out this passage and skim down to the next one, though, let’s consider a few things:
- The early church was “together”. This sure sounds like they were a community who spent time together. That doesn’t mean they lived on a commune, nor that they spent every waking moment with other Christians. However, spending time with other followers of Jesus Christ was a key part of their lifestyle. In the time we spend together, we learn about others’ needs, as well as the exciting things that God is doing in their lives. Even in our world of Venmo, Instant Messaging, and Facebook, there are certain kinds of help we still can’t provide without being in proximity to those we care about.
- If there were those in the church who were meeting needs, this implies that needs were being made known. Part of the church helping each other out is sharing our struggles with others. We may be denying someone the ability to be generous with us if we let our pride prevent us from being honest about how others could help us.
- Sometimes, sharing does not require us to sell (or give away) what we own to help others. Letting someone borrow a couple of power tools for a project (or making your lawn mower available to a neighbor who can’t afford to get his fixed) is a great way to demonstrate that you do not hold so tightly to your possessions that they can’t be used for the common good.
- Generosity may look different for each of us. Those with real estate holdings or great wealth might still literally sell off some of their belongings, and give the proceeds to others (or to a church that can help distribute them to those in need). However, those without as many material possessions can still share generously. Perhaps you are a good cook, and can provide for those who can’t easily prepare their own food. Maybe someone in the church needs help fixing a car, raking leaves, or setting up a new computer. On one recent Sunday, a lady at church – out of the blue – gave us a dishcloth that she had crocheted. This simple gift was practical, and much nicer than our old dishrags.
- Selling what you have is a real thing, and there are normal people in the modern world who actually do this. Again, not everyone is called to sell off possessions, but I can personally vouch for families that have been called to work in another country as missionaries (and no longer needed a lot of goods to support an American lifestyle). Similarly, I know someone else who felt called to become a chaplain in the armed services, and his family ended up getting rid of a lot of things that didn’t need to be moved to a new post, every few years. These examples may not represent selling possessions specifically to support others, but it shows that having less stuff is actually possible. (Just ask the vast majority of human beings in the world.)
If you talk with those who are generous, you’ll find that a life of sharing is rewarding in multiple ways. But, don’t just take their word for it – try it out for a little while, and see what happens, yourself.
Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Acts 2:46-47 NASB
So, what was the result of these behaviors? The church was united. People were happy (note, “gladness…of heart”). God was praised. Other people had a positive opinion of Christians. And, new people were rescued from their sins.
If we would like to see these outcomes, let’s consider what parts of the early church’s habits we could emulate, and see if God blesses that in the same way as He blessed the same actions many years ago.