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Sermon 2019-06-23 Ross Woodhouse

“A Spirit-filled Church” – Acts 2:42-47

There are several people I am hoping to have a sit-down chat with when I get to glory and one of those would be Luke – the others are David and Paul. First I’d want to say thanks so much for your writing, secondly, I’d want to ask ‘what were you hoping to achieve specifically from these 6 verses in Acts 2? Were they just an historical account of what the church did? Were they intended to inspire the church for all the years of mission and ministry ahead? I’m going to take a wild guess and say the latter.

Luke is by no means conveying this is the model of a perfect church. For me, he is describing what a church looks like and how it functions, in its uncluttered state and when it is fully committed to Christ and full of the Spirit. And if we pay attention to verse 47, it is a church the Lord would want to “add to their number daily those who are being saved”.

There are all sorts of reasons aren’t there why people join churches/ become part of a church family…things that endear us to church. The popular things are music, children’s church, friendliness and the preaching. Certainly important factors.

At great risk, I want to suggest this: a church that glorifies Jesus across all it does, and is committed to biblical truth won’t necessarily make it popular or be where we hear things we want to hear but it will be a Christ-honouring Church! Seeking authenticity and keeping to biblical truth must be well above popularity. God is not going to say in the end well done, what you did was popular…rather because we were faithful to him.

The world in which we live is changing all the time, with pace and complexity. I want to urge you today that the way we live in this world is by recovering genuine biblical community.

A community that speaks and lives the truth of the gospel, has its eyes on Jesus and is full of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is stirring us…God is wanting his church to be aligned with his heart and purposes.

What does a church full of the Holy Spirit look like? 

Passage – Acts 2:42-47

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and miraculous signs done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 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, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. 

I want you to imagine attending a service, or a home group, or a missions meeting, a church prayer meeting. And imagine what any one of those might look like, if the day before in our church, 3000 people had made decisions for the Lord and were baptised, and more were being added today. The love for the Lord, the passion, the enthusiasm, the fellowship I hope we would have…suffice to say we ought to have as if this could happen!

Note v. 47 again. What the effect is of the Holy Spirit moving in the church. A church whose constant expression is love and grace toward each other and others. Not a cold church. This is a church burning hot for God[1].

A church the Lord would want to add to daily those being saved. These verses don’t just describe church on Sunday. They describe a way of life in the Holy Spirit, in its totality. A way of life that encompassed all of life for early Christians.

What was it that bonded these Christians together after Jesus left them here on earth, what inspired them to leave everything behind for his sake, and what sustained them in the face of horrible opposition and persecution? The Holy Spirit! Ps. 133 immediately comes to mind. Where and when does the Lord ‘bestow’, or command his blessing? When brothers and sisters dwell in unity, it’s like precious oil…

The work of the Holy Spirit was such that these were Christians committed to genuine community. Yes, a first-century church, but much in here that easily transfers to today. Links into the second quick thing I want to mention. Did you note these words: “they; everyone; all; their; those” …plurals! Deliberate on Luke’s part. No one standing alone. “They”, were in this together. A body working as a body, in sync, with all its parts contributing and receiving.

Yes, this was a young church, immediately post-Pentecost, but it doesn’t mean that we cannot experience this same completeness of community today. The way we see church here doesn’t need to be stuck in the pages of history. I know of no evidence in scripture to suggest this was a one-time deal, rather plenty of evidence[2] encouraging the church to Christlikeness, fullness in the Spirit.

Luke isn’t describing a perfect church, but rather a church of just normal people who are Spirit-filled, and Spirit-led committed to community as God intends. So I want to suggest our thinking shouldn’t be that church can’t or ought not or never can be like this. I believe the bible tells me otherwise!

If we are in any doubt let me ask this: is the Holy Spirit who was present and poured out at Pentecost present today? I want to bring you 4 key features from this passage, that affirm what it looks like to be a Spirit-filled Church.

  1. A Church full of the Holy Spirit is a Devoted church

The early church devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

The key word here is “devoted”. They devoted themselves, not casual, not indifferent or complacent. Devoted: meaning they persisted, they persevered constantly in four things: the apostles teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer.

  • They were devoted to teaching

How many of our churches are marked by this kind of passionate devotion to God’s word and to one another? Not just faithful attendance or spiritual routine: devotion! Jesus had instructed his disciples to teach obedience to those who had been baptised. This is disciples making disciples. The equivalent today is, Christians full of the Holy Spirit devote ourselves to learning the teaching of the word of God, and apply that teaching.

  • They were devoted to fellowship

The Greek word we’re all likely familiar with is koinonia. This means that Christians share a unique, intimate and special bond in fellowship. The word literally means a partnership. In Koinonia comes a spiritual cohesion, as in what we share in together. This was more than spiritual routine, it was passionate, relentless commitment to being together and encouraging one another.

Karyn and I talk about people who add and subtract from us. You will know people who add to you because you’re often left wanting more, you love to be in their company.

In a Spirit-filled church, there is koinonia, genuine fellowship that is Holy Spirit activated, where there is grace, giving and receiving, building one another up, praying for one another and sharing life’s difficulties.

  •   They were devoted to Breaking of Bread

There is some debate around whether “breaking of bread” in this text meant simply having a meal together or referred to the Lord’s supper. As Luke was a companion of Paul, it would have been confusing for readers if the breaking of bread did not refer to the Lord’s supper. It’s therefore likely to mean both; that the church was devoted to both sharing a meal together and to regular communion together as part of that meal. A Spirit-filled church is both hospitable and remembers what Christ has done.

  •     They were devoted to Prayer

The church was “devoted” to gathering for and worshipping in, prayer. Prayer in public and prayer in their homes, individually and corporately.

I think we can see that this church just loved each other. But they loved each other because they loved Jesus first. They loved him! Therefore, prayer wasn’t an event; it was there ongoing natural mode. So dependant and reliant, but focussed on Christ were they, prayer was their natural mode. Prayer saturated every aspect of life and work and ministry. It covered everything.

Their commitment to prayer reminds me of Blaise Pascal, Christian and philosopher from the 17th century. When he died they found sewn into his coat a note describing an encounter with God in prayer. It said: “From 10.30pm – 12.30am, FIRE. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, not of the philosophers. Certainty. Certainty. Joy and Peace”.

What was he saying? What he had always known, he now knew in his heart, and he now experienced: the power of God.[3] For the first time he encountered the fire of the Spirit and saw the greatness of God and carried that with him.

Think for a moment about we’re, “devoted” to? To a lot of things…but is our primary “devotion” to Jesus, to God’s word, to each other, like our lives depend on it…?

       2. A Church full of the Holy Spirit is a Sharing church.

They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. (v. 45)

Is there a universal principle in here we should all go and sell our property and possessions? No. Though some are called to do that.

The principle Luke refers to here resembled that of a community a few miles out of Jerusalem at the time called the Qumrans[4]. Though it was encouraged in Jerusalem at the time, the sharing of property and possessions was voluntary, so some did and others didn’t.  As we’ve seen, fellowship was a bonding of individuals in the church. Such it was that all needs were met and at times possessions were sold to meet needs. 

These first Christians experienced such security and trust in God’s promises and provision that they literally let go of all they had to help one another.  Madness to what – even then – was a materialistic world. Selfless but foolish at the same time.  Here’s Paul responding later on this same theme to the church at Corinth. “And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability” (2 Corinthians 8:1-2)

One of Luke’s great passions was to teach Christians about the use of their possessions for the needs of others and not just for their own comforts. Think of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30–37), the parable of the rich fool 12:16–21), and the story of God’s great banquet that people wouldn’t come to because they had farms and business to tend to (Luke 16:19–31).

And here in Acts Luke was giving the well-to-do Theophilus a lesson in the way Christians who stand in awe of God handle their possessions and for Christians, stressing the danger of letting our life consist in the things we possess. 

Nowhere in the scriptures are there universal prohibitions around owning property. But, the bible has plenty to say about money, wealth, generosity, sharing and how we steward what God has provided, and he’s given it all! We might feel a little defensive about such teaching. ‘Fine for them back then, different day today’.

The key learning here[5] is one of generosity in sharingthey gave to anyone who had a need. The meeting of the need is the important outcome, less so how we get there. God gifts each of us, not for self-fulfilment, but for the purposes of supplying what is lacking in someone else by meeting their needs. Grace is not to be stored but shared.

Paul’s message to Corinth goes on to say: “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have”.

More challenging, John (in 1 John 3:17) questions the love of God in us if we’re not meeting material needs. It is, therefore, the responsibility of Christ followers to address need and destitution in the community of believers.

Remember: it is a Spirit-filled church that leads to the Lord adding…

         3.  A Church full of the Holy Spirit is a Worshipping church

46 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, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people.

Several key elements of worship alluded to in this verse.  Meeting together. Meals together, that include the Lord’s supper, praising God, enjoying one-another, in the temple and in people’s homes every day! They worshipped because they loved the Lord and did so with glad and sincere hearts: why did they? God had visited with them. He was present with them. They knew it, they believed it, they were glad for it, and they responded accordingly to that!

Let me tell you these guys didn’t have Hillsong, with digital desks and data projection…they had a profound love of Jesus!

What have we become used to, reliant on and what habits have we formed, that we think we need to worship? How do we even define worship? So many times I’ve heard comments from people basing their whole experience of God in a service on how good the music was or wasn’t.

Here’s a reason why we worship with sincerity, and with gladness, with thankfulness[6]. Jesus died for us. If we need more reason than that then we need to get before God and get a fresh revelation of that truth and let it sink into our spirits. We get stuck on things, and we allow things to get stuck in us that prevent us from experiencing and worshipping God in his fullness because our focus is misguided or blurred. David said “create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit in me, grant me a willing spirit to sustain me”[7]

When our hearts are emptied of pride, selfishness, forgiveness, resentment, religious spirit and everything that is contrary to God’s law, the Holy Spirit will fill every corner of our hearts”[8]

We cannot be full of ourselves and full of the Spirit at the same time. If we are full of those things, there is no room for the Spirit of God. We must be emptied before we can be filled.[9]

You know you are Spirit-filled when you open your bible and you read “great is the Lord and most worthy of praise” (Psalm 145:3) …

When we cease to be awed by the wonder and majesty of God something else is stealing away that worship. Remember when you first loved Jesus? Get that love back again!

         4. A Holy Spirit filled Church is a Church on Mission

And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved (v. 47)

I don’t believe this was a church that was so caught up in doing church they neglected the responsibility of the GC. Why would Luke write such a statement if there were no connection between the devotion of the church and those coming to faith in Christ? I want to suggest there absolutely was.

Paul wrote “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7)

God is the builder of the church but doesn’t suggest our efforts are not required or are by any means insignificant. Note the text again: Paul planted the seed, Apollos watered it, then God took what they did and can take what we do and make it something.

We would not have been discussing being a Spirit-filled church today if there was no outreach, no outward looking. Because these are such an important work of the Spirit and as such reaching others with the good news of Jesus and being ready to disciple new believers is what a Spirit-filled church does.

The early church was a church where God moved powerfully by his Holy Spirit, a church obedient to his mission. A church that saw many come to faith, adding new believers daily because the Christians were devoted to God. This was a church where the believers were together, had everything in common, and were united to one purpose.

Why did all this seem so normal for this church? What is at the centre keeping all this going? What is this connecting, caring, contributing and commitment we read here, the effect of? The person of the Holy Spirit.

“Without the Spirit of God, we can do nothing. We are as ships without the wind, branches without sap, and like coals without fire, we are useless.”—Charles Spurgeon

When he moves – and oh how we need an outpouring of the Holy Spirit to move us forward, to free us from ourselves, to be awed by majesty almighty God – God, has and can move powerfully in this place. I believe we are to do more than be ready but anticipate his moving, welcome his moving. We need to be ready and anticipate the Lord adding to our numbers daily those who are being saved.

So how does this way of being church transplant itself into the church of today and this city in which we live? Can this community reflect what we’re studying (the Acts community?) today?

 

TAKEAWAYS

A SPIRIT-FILLED CHURCH IS

  • A Devoted Church
  • A Sharing Church
  • A Worshipping Church
  • A Mission Church

 

We’ve talked about a lot through this series, talked about pouring out, filling, baptism, what being a Spirit-filled church looks like.  There is a clear scriptural case for our need of the Holy Spirit. For all that’s been said, God the Holy Spirit wants us to live our lives in him, immersed in him, full of him and in step with him.

 

DIGGING DEEPER: Group Study Questions

  • What, if anything, restricts the sort of “devotion” this first church experienced?

 

  • Of the four areas of being a Spirit-filled church (Devotion, Sharing, Worship and Mission) which would you say is the church’s greatest challenge? Why? How is this to be addressed?

 

  • Do you struggle with the idea of koinonia (fellowship)? What steps can be put in place this week to build a unique bond with someone? Who this week can you “build up”?

 

  • Do you believe the church today can experience a similar “outpouring” and growth as in Acts? Discuss

 

  • What more do you think you still may need to learn about the person of the Holy Spirit? What are you still unsure about?

 

  • Do you “love” Jesus? What do you need to do today to begin to love him again?

 

[1] See Romans 12:1-2 A church transformed not conformed to the world.

[2] In Paul’s letters alone teaching alone

[3] Keller, Prayer, 167

[4] Acts, Stott

[5] In Acts and across the New Testament

[6] Taking our cue from this text!

[7] Psalm 51

[8] Galaxie Software. (2002). 10,000 Sermon Illustrations. Biblical Studies Press.

[9] “the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom” – 2 Corinthians 3:17