We are living in a challenging moment in the history of our country. Provincially, we had our Premier share that in order to try and curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus, social gatherings are restricted for the next three weeks. So, how can we build healthy relationships which are critical to our spiritual, emotional and mental health in such a time as this? How can we develop a means for us to flourish as believers in times of restriction? We can certainly learn from the early church, how they went about building meaningful relationships often in times of great persecution and difficulty. People who are filled with the Holy Spirit build community.
God never designed for us to live in isolation. We have the gift of technology that can help us lessen the burden of feeling isolated. What is even more critical is how to be the church in times such as these, we need to re-examine how the church, empowered by the Spirit of God addressed the challenges they faced. God has given us everything we need to flourish even in the most challenging moments of life.
As we look at the state of the church in Canada and revisit the state of the New Testament church at her birth, we see some elements that need reinvigorating for us to influence and impact a society that has wandered away from biblical values. One of the key components to a healthy life is engaging in community with like-minded people. So how did God design the church that it can become all that she was created to be? This invigorated church cannot happen when people become independent of one another. The church is God’s idea. He is the One who promised to build His church (cf. Matthew 16:18). Therefore we can rest assured that all the things that would conspire to destroy the church will not prevail.
The most important element that will sustain us in trying times is making sure our connection to the head of the church is strong. That we are in relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is an organic, living giving relationship which ties believers together. It is supernatural in nature. If there has ever been a time that we need to be sensitive to the presence of God in our lives it is today.
In Acts 2, we see that what God had been promising his people throughout the Old Testament was now being realized. God was pouring out His Spirit on all flesh. Peter in describing what was happening on the day of Pentecost was in fulfillment of the prophet Joel.
…this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions and your old men will dream dreams.[i]
God comes and empowers His people by coming and living within each of us. It is this empowerment that will help us get through this season of restriction and difficulty. On the day of Pentecost, we are struck with the dynamic life of the church in its early fervency. Within the description of that new community of faith we see three characteristics of Spirit-filled people.
THEY WERE A GODLY CHURCH
What I mean by a godly church is that they were steadfast, dedicated, or devoted to God, which was manifested by certain aspects in their lives together. They were committed to certain practices or disciplines in their community life that enriched them. Notice what the church was devoted toward. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2:42).”
These four ingredients sustained, strengthened, and spurred them on as they walked through great challenges. So let briefly examine what were they devoted too. Or better yet, what should we be devoted too.
A. First of all, they were devoted to the apostles teaching (the word of God).
This apostolic teaching is what we know as our New Testament. These were the words of Jesus that the Holy Spirit had brought back to their remembrance.
The three thousand were then formed into a distinct community, the apostolic fellowship, constituted on the basis of the Apostolic teaching. The Apostolic teaching was authoritative because it was the teaching of the Lord communicated through the Apostles. In due course this apostolic teaching took written shape in the N.T. scriptures.[ii]
It is for this reason why the Scriptures are the foundation of our faith. They are the final authority for faith and practice for us today. We look to God’s word for direction and for the proper pattern of life. We can easily see that this congregation was looking to the Lord for wisdom and direction through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit coming from the apostles. The people gathered together to receive instruction from the apostles. If we are going to be a transformed church, a transformed person we must have a love for the Word of God. We must see God’s word as His message to us. The promises made to Joshua and later in Psalm 1 are still true today.
“Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful (Joshua 1:8).” Notice the expression here in Joshua 1:8. The reason we meditate or study God’s word is in order to be careful to do everything written in it. Pastor Kent Hughes was once introducing Richard Wurmbrand (a Christian leader tortured for his faith behind the ‘Iron Curtain’) to his congregation. Hughes then described his church ‘…as a Bible-believing church.’ He stopped me, paused, and said slowly, ‘Are you a Bible-living church?’ Good question!”[iii] When we are filled with God’s Spirit, we will have a deep desire to not only know God’s word, but also to obey it. It is out of obedience that we see the results of a transformed life emerge.
The question we need to ask ourselves is are we acting out God’s word in our lives. Does it shape our attitudes and actions, so that we are walking according to its instructions and words of encouragement to us? Is God’s message our delight and source of guidance in our lives?
Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of the mockers, but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever they do prospers.[iv]
B. They were devoted to fellowship.
The word there means partnership and a participation. We need to learn how to care for and share our lives with one another. The Bible is filled with things we admonitions on how to act toward each other. The fact that we need to be told suggests that one we may not always do it, and we need to be first of all taught it, and then reminded of these truths. Many texts in the N.T. challenge us to do things for each other. Let me remind us of some of these relational aspects toward each other. We are too ‘Restore one another in Galatians 6:1. In Galatians 6:2, we are called to bear one another’s burdens. In Ephesians 4:2 we are instructed to forbear with one another (in other words we need to show tolerance toward each other). In Ephesians 4:32 we are commanded to ‘be kind to one another.’ In that same text (Ephesians 4:32), we are told to ‘forgive one another.’ Without the gift of forgiveness it becomes impossible to sustain long term relationships. In Ephesians 5:21, we see the key to maintain a marriage relationship is through mutual submission. In Colossians 3:16, we are to admonish or challenge each other lives. It is interesting how the apostle Paul instructs in his letter to the Thessalonians that they are to ‘love each other’ (I Thessalonians 4:9). Love has a way of gluing people together. Later in that same chapter in addressing people who are grieving the loss of a loved one, they were to comfort one another.’ Later in that same letter they were also to ‘encourage one another and build each other up (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
These are just a few things we ought to do for one another. This means that each of us need to take the initiative to do these things for others. For what we sow, we reap. Are you sowing these things into other people’s lives? When or how can we do these things when social gatherings are restricted? One practical suggestion is to be a part of a care group via Zoom or live here at the church. We are still able to meet with physical distancing and wearing masks to gather together. Let me remind us that each of us comprise a part of the church body. We are all called to participate in the lives of each other.
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him, which is the head, that is, Christ.
From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.[v]
For those who don’t feel they are valuable and have nothing to contribute, you are flying in the face of what the Scriptures teach. We are part of Christ body.
C. They were devoted or faithful to the breaking of bread.
This speaks of the Lord’s table, communion. They were to continual be reminded of the great sacrificial love of God to the community of faith through Christ’ death and resurrection. This text doesn’t speak of how often, but rather it speaks of continuity and consistency in celebrating communion. Communion brings us to the heart of the Christian life and message. It brings us to the Cross. It brings us to the giving up of rights in order to serve at our expense for the sake of others. It speaks of sacrificial love. In a day where we are claiming our rights, let us be reminded that Christ gave up his which is the heart of the message of Christianity. May we embrace that cross in our own thinking and living. Listen to how the apostle Paul applies it to the Christian life. “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Galatians 6:14).”
One of my favorite hymns expressing this sentiment is by Isaac Watts, entitled: ‘When I survey the Wondrous cross.”
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My riches gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it Lord that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ, my God;
All the vain things that charm me most-
I sacrifice them to His blood..
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small:
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.[vi]
D. They were also faithful to prayer.
There was a commitment to communicating to God. You cannot read the books of Acts without seeing the centrality and importance of prayer in the life of the early church. It was while they were on their way to prayer that the great miracle of healing occurs in chapter three. After being threatened and released, Peter and John reported what had happened that the church began to pray for greater boldness and miracles to continue in order to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in their community. When the demands of ministry grew so large that the apostles could not minister to all the people they delegated ministry to others in order for them not to neglect the word of God and prayer. We could continue on through each chapter and find something about this critical union with God called prayer. What was the outcome of this godly church, devoted to prayer? “Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles (Acts 2:43).”
THEY WERE A GENEROUS CHURCH.
They were concerned about those who were struggling in their world: the least, the lost, and the forgotten. They were concerned about the poor and needy.
All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.[vii]
Here they lived in a unique blend of community. Here was a supreme example of living for the benefit of others. Here people were sharing with one another. Some might argue that this ought to be the pattern today, however the church in Jerusalem was the only biblical example of this concept. Some have argued that the reason this was true was because of the sense of impending judgment that would fall on this city. Jesus had warned of the city’s destruction in Matthew 24.
Others argue that when the church is in a transformed state, then generosity becomes a way of life, and that’s the point. One of the powerful messages about spirituality is how we treat the less fortunate. God is concerned about the poor and needy. James reminds us in his letter.
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.[viii]
Jesus, Himself challenges us about the depth of spiritual reality in our lives when he points out what God looks for in our lives in the parable of the sheep and the goats.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
Then the righteous will answer him, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?
When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?
When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?
The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.[ix]
Often we make judgments about the poor. It’s true that some are there because of sinful or foolish choices. But nowhere does the bible say that we are only to help a certain type of poor person. We are to do what we can.
That is why as a congregation we have helped with the orphans and the widows by building the orphanage in India, and supporting them monthly. That is why we have a benevolence fund and help needy people in our church and community. That is why we are receiving this special offering on world giving day and helping the poorest of the poor in India and Africa who are now in a crisis that most of us don’t understand. The greater crisis that Covid has created in our world is not how many will die from this pestilence, but how many will die from starvation.
God blesses us in order for us to be a blessing to others. When we are Spirit filled we become others focused and assist those in need.
THEY WERE A GROWING CHURCH.
Are we a growing church? Are we growing in spiritual maturity? Are we growing in reaching new people for Christ? Are people becoming believers? Are we sending people out to serve others not only in our city but throughout our world? Healthy churches grow.
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.[x]
First of all, I need to point out that only God can add to our numbers those He is saving. But as we look at this early churches’ manner of life we discover a group of people who were celebrants. It states that they were a worshiping people. There were enthusiastic about their faith. They were filled with the Spirit. There is something about enthusiasm that is contagious and attractive. You cannot have loving, caring, sharing people and not attract others. It states that they had favor with all the people. How many realize arguments don’t win people, but love is something people can’t argue with. Are you growing in your spiritual life? Are you moving beyond yourself to others?
Even though now we can’t physically break bread in our homes we can find creative means to gather via phone, and all the applications we can speak to them even seeing them on our phones, Ipads and computers. Rather than simply isolate, we need to contact each other, pray for each other, share with each other to encourage and support one another. The question is will we do it?
Even though there are restrictions, we can still maintain relationships. We can still reach out. We can pray for each other and then contact each other, even if it is through technology. What makes for a transformed church? It’s godly people who are steadfast, committed and devoted to certain disciplines in life. We must be devoted to God’s word, fellowship which is a way of being devoted to each other, to prayer, and to focus on what Christ has done for us. A transformed church is a generous church. Each of us must exhibit love, care, and then find ways to share life with each other.
The result is a growing church. You will see spiritual maturity, a contagious enthusiasm, and witness where God will bring people into the family of God. God is looking for this kind of fruit in our lives.
Douglas Coupland is the postmodern literary icon who coined the term Generation X with his novel by that name. He grew up apart from faith in God, but in one of his books he discloses a spiritual quest common to many in the secular world.
Now here is my secret. I tell it to you with an openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again, so I pray that you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem to be capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.[xi]
That is the soul of the modern, or post-modern person. There is a longing for God, but not just a God of our human imagination. That is the cry of our generation. How will we respond to it? We need to renew our commitment to be godly. How devoted are we to God, His Word, to praying with one another? Is the life of the Spirit of God within us transforming us? Are we yielding to God? Are we becoming more generous and faithful? Are we a contagious, joyous celebrant reaching out to others? What transformed the early church was the transforming power of the Holy Spirit at work in their lives. Oh! Spirit of God come anew and afresh to fill us!
[i] Acts 2:16-17, New International Version of the Bible, 2011.
[ii] F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, (William B. Eerdmans, 1975),
[iii] R. Kent Hughes, Acts: The Church Afire, Preaching the Word, (Wheaton, Il: Crossway Books, 1996), 48.
[iv] Psalms 1:1-3.
[v] Ephesians 4:15-16.
[vi] Isaac Watts (1674-1748), When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, Hymns of Glorious Praise, (Springfield, Mo: Gospel Publishing House, 1969), 88.
[vii] Acts 2:44-45.
[viii] James 1:27.
[ix] Matthew 25:35-40.
[x] Acts 2:46-47.
[xi] Douglas Coupland, Life After God (Pocket Books, 1994).