Insights from the early church that still resonate for the church today.
Happy New Year!
Can you believe it is already 2022? Many of you are like, Yes, I can. After 2021 tried to outdo the dumpster fire that was 2020, this year couldn’t come soon enough!
In fact, I’m fairly certain that the last two COVID years equate to like seven normal years or something like that.
And what I love about New Year’s, at least for me, is that it always feels hopeful. We get a fresh start. Just like God’s mercies are made new every morning (Lam 3:23), I feel like each year is a good mile marker to start something new, change something that isn’t working, or move into a better tomorrow.
One of the ways that people do this is to set New Year’s resolutions. I found a list this week of the top resolutions people make.
TOP NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS
- Exercise more
- Eat healthier
- Save more money
- Spend more time with family
- Be a better person
- Get a new job
- Quit smoking
Let’s be honest, I make resolutions almost every year, and some years I win and others I don’t. But how about you? Have you set resolutions this year?
But today, here’s what I want us to do. I want to set some resolutions as a church for 2022. As a church, what will we do in 2022? That’s the question.
In 2022, some things at my church will change. We’re getting a much-needed upgrade to our sound system and lighting, and we’re going to paint and do some remodeling at the church. So there will be some updates around here to some things that have gotten old and faded over the years. That’s exciting, but that’s not what I’m talking about.
What’s most important and fires me up is this: In 2022, we want to look back and resolve to continue to do the same things the church has been doing since Acts 2.
Our mission hasn’t changed, but the world is constantly changing. Constant pressure from the outside world and within American evangelical church culture makes it so that we have to always ensure that we are not caving to the pressure. It is way too easy for churches to begin to drift off course.
Some cosmetics, some styles and some methods of ministry can and will change over time, and that’s fine, but the foundation of the church must remain the same. God has not changed. The Bible hasn’t changed. And our mission hasn’t changed. So every year, our church needs to resolve to keep focused on the most important things.
And I believe we see a good picture of those things in Acts 2.
3 CHURCH RESOLUTIONS FROM ACTS 2
In Acts 2, we see the explosive beginning of the church. Jesus has been crucified, resurrected, seen by many, and has ascended to the right hand of God in heaven. Now 120 of his followers are in an upper room, praying and eagerly awaiting God’s marching orders on what to do next.
Then, on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came and empowered the believers in an upper room. And filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter boldly preaches the gospel to everyone who would hear, and look how the people respond.
“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’ And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’ So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about 3,000 souls.” —Acts 2:37–47
Wow. Just imagine this scene. A small band of believers filled with the Holy Spirit preaches the gospel to a crowded city, and the church had explosive growth of 3,000 people right away. Imagine the beautiful chaos of 3,000 people getting baptized in one day!
So Peter preaches the gospel, calling people to trust in Christ, repent of their sins, and be baptized, and bam, Peter is now leading the first megachurch. And in the next few verses, we see how the church operated and what made it so amazing. And this is where I want us to focus our attention today:
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” —Acts 2:42–47
This was a beautiful, golden age of the church. And this is where I want us to see three resolutions for the church in 2022. And the first is this:
1. Be Devoted To The Bible.
Notice that the first thing that the early church did was that “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (v. 42). What did the apostles teach? Well, we have that in their own words written in the Bible.
As a church, we believe strongly in the sufficiency of Scripture. It is the Word of God, and it is the final source of authority for all of our faith and practice. It doesn’t say everything about everything, but it does say everything that we need to know to follow God. There is nothing that we must do or must not do that the Bible does not speak of.
In other words, we don’t need a pile of books written by Christian authors. Those are good and helpful. I’ve read many, and even written some. But no other book is on the same level as the inspired, inerrant Word of God.
If all we had was the Bible, that would be more than enough for us. It is the book that is above all other books. And so, we must keep the Bible on its proper pedestal, front and center in our church.
Sadly, this isn’t the case in many churches. I went to a pastors conference, where, I kid you not, the lead pastor of a megachurch said, “Don’t get to the Bible until at least halfway into your sermon.” And I thought, “What? Preaching should be completely based on Scripture.”
Anything I or any other preacher says that isn’t thoroughly birthed, rooted and dripping in the words of Scripture is simply our interpretation and opinion. Take it or leave it. But when you or I read the Word, you can take that to the bank. These pages aren’t just good ideas; they’re the inspired, written word of God to us.
In his commentary on Acts 2, John Stott writes, “The Spirit of God leads the people of God to submit to the Word of God.”
That’s beautiful. The Holy Spirit fills believers, and the first thing we see them do is to proclaim the Word of God and submit to it.
May the Spirit of God lead our church as the people of God to submit to the Word of God in 2022 and every year after.
If you’ve never read it, start reading it. If you aren’t in a Bible study, get yourself in a Bible study. Everything we do in this church needs to align with what God has commanded us to do.
The Bible is the foundation and guide for all our faith. Let’s resolve to be devoted to the Word.
2. Be Devoted To Fellowship.
Much of the rest of Acts 2:42–47 is focused on Christian fellowship.
The word for “fellowship” here in the original Greek is koinonia. It means common or community, often in reference to something that is shared together. In fact, it is the same root word used later in verse 44 when it says they had all things in “common.”
The Christian life is meant to be lived in shared fellowship (koinonia) with other believers having a shared faith in our shared love for God and our shared love for one another.
The Christian life is not meant to be lived alone. Community is an essential element of the Christian life.
All the way back in the book Genesis, when God created the world, he looked at everything that he had made one thing after the next and declared that it was good. But then he looks at Adam. And for the first time, God declares, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). God created humans to be social beings. Isolation is not good for us. Whether you believe the Bible or not, a lesson we learned in 2020 and that we can all agree on is that isolation and loneliness is not good for the human psyche.
Christianity is a communal faith with communal practices. We practice corporate worship of singing together, praying together, reading Scripture together and breaking bread together. And we practice things like generosity, hospitality, forgiveness and love for one another. You can’t do any of that alone.
When you become a Christian, you are adopted into the family of God, and you become part of the body of believers. That’s why Christians got in the habit of calling one another “brother” or “sister” because we are all brothers and sisters in the family of God.
Some people argue, Yeah, but I can be a Christian and not go to church. And technically, yes, you can believe in God and not be part of a local body of believers, so you are a Christian still. But you know what you cannot do if you aren’t connected to a church? You cannot be fully obedient to God.
I get it; some of us are dealing with church hurt that we’ve suffered when we have a bad experience with sinful and broken people in the church. I’ve been there too. But God calls us to love and embrace this messy family we’re in.
How can you love God and hate his bride? If you aren’t part of a community of believers, you are an orphan.
Christianity is a communal faith with communal practices.
And if you look at the rest of chapter 2, you’ll see that this community or fellowship of believers that we call the church when they are submitting to the Word of God, results in communal worship practices of taking the Lord’s Supper together and praying with and for one another, and being generous to help one another.
At this point, people sometimes mistakenly look at the early church and ask, isn’t that Communism? And the short answer is no.
Communism forces you to participate. Nothing belongs to you. It all belongs to the government/central power. The Biblical, Christian community that we see in Acts 2 is nothing like this. It is not forced upon anyone. Those who have more than others freely and cheerfully give as the Spirit of God leads them to help others. It’s a better way. Where Communism often takes away property rights, the Acts 2 church still had individual property ownership. After all, look at verse 26. They broke bread in ”their homes,” not the church’s homes.
So this year, may we resolve as a church to practice biblical, Christian fellowship. Find a place you can plug in if you haven’t already. Join a group, take a class, or serve in a ministry. Get connected to a group of brothers and sisters in Christ to do life arm-in-arm together in wonderful Christian fellowship. If there are people in the church in need, may those of us who have more than we need be generous to those who do not have enough. And may we all continue to worship and pray together in this community.
3. Be Bold in Sharing Our Faith.
“And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Acts 2:47
The earliest Christians lived in such a way publicly that people saw the difference in their lives, and they also went to the temple courts and proclaimed the good news of Jesus. This wasn’t just an inward and personal faith. It changed everything about them, so much so that people were in awe (v. 43).
Now, notice this: Who does it say added to their numbers the people who were saved?
And who saved the people?
This should be a tremendous relief off your shoulders. You can’t save anyone. Only God saves. Your job is simply to devote yourself to loving God, loving others and being bold about it. That’s it. If you do that, you will be a light. People will see the difference in you, and you will share the good news of Christ with those around you. Evangelism isn’t a church program that you do everything once in a while; it’s a daily part of being a disciple of Jesus. We are all engaged in evangelism daily. And God is adding to our number daily those who are being saved.
Many look at Acts 2 like a golden era of the church. It’s so perfect, isn’t it? Everyone loving and sharing. But this ideal world didn’t last long. Read the next chapters of Acts. What happens next?
In Acts 3–4, Peter and John are arrested after God works through them to heal a lame beggar at the temple gate. And we see the conclusion of their trial in Acts 4:18–21:
“So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.’ And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them.”
Notice how bold they were. We must listen to God first. We cannot stop speaking of what we’ve seen or heard. This is the kind of attitude that many Christians today are lacking. We’re afraid of what people might think of us. We’re scared we might get reprimanded, unfriended, ostracized or, heaven forbid, we might offend someone with the truth of the gospel.
After their release, the apostles gather to pray. And look how they pray for boldness.
“‘And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” —Acts 4:29–31
Then, right after this, in Acts 5, Peter and the apostles are arrested again and thrown in jail. In the middle of the night, an angel of the Lord opens the prison doors and frees them. So when the guards are sent to bring the apostles to the trial, they aren’t there. And you know where they go immediately after their great prison break? Back to the temple courts to stand in public and teach the gospel (5:17–26). Nothing stops these guys from being bold.
So the guards round them up quietly, so they don’t make a scene and bring the apostles to be tried before the council. And at the end of it all, here’s what happens.
“And when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.” —Acts 5:40–42
Yet, even though the apostles are arrested and threatened, how did they respond? They rejoiced that they were worthy of suffering persecution for Christ.
We need a boldness like that of the apostles. We need to stand for our faith, no matter the cost. No matter what people think about you, will you stand for the Lord?
When was the last time you talked to someone about God? When was the last time you invited someone to church? If you can’t think of it, you probably could use some more boldness.
This needs to be a resolution for our church, to pray for boldness to share our faith no matter the cost like the apostles and the early church did.
But as I said earlier, there is a lot of pressure for our church to drift from these core elements of our faith.
THREE RESOLUTIONS FOR THE CHURCH
So here are my resolutions for the church in 2022 and beyond:
- Be devoted to the Bible.
- Be devoted to fellowship.
- Be bold in sharing our faith.
Which of these three do you need to grow in? Are you spending time in the word? Are you practicing Christian fellowship (hospitality, serving others, praying for others, worshiping together)? Are you afraid to talk to other people about your faith in God? If you aren’t a little uncomfortable in your faith, you probably aren’t bold enough.
The church’s New Year’s resolutions haven’t changed. The mission hasn’t changed. But we need to resolve to go back to the beginning, so we don’t drift off course.
This article originally appeared on ProPreacher.com and is reposted here by permission.
John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts: The Spirit, the Church & the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 82.