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 signs performed 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 think there are some obvious, key elements to the health of the church in Acts. They sat under the teaching of scripture; they had meals together and prayed together. They showed each other generosity in the way they shared their lives, their gifts and their wealth, and this is what drew people to the Lord and into their community.
But the key I think is beneath these things they did together: it was the understanding that the call to community is for the sake of the Lord’s mission, not their own. And they lived and loved with that intention.
It’s hard to get my head around the devotion they showed each other when we live in such an individualistic culture that suggests busy independence is the goal. We’re encouraged to own our own things, protect our own space, and be in control of how we spend our own time. But the truth is that none of these – time, possessions, or space – is our own, but the Lord’s.
It was the Acts church’s understanding of this that led to their interdependence on each other and their dependence on God. Their devotion to fellowship challenges me because individualism can, as it invades our fellowship, water it down to a couple of hours spent on a Sunday, and maybe one night in our week if we’re free. Anything more can feel time consuming, requiring too much energy or awkward vulnerability, or might seem too inconvenient. As a result, our relationships can lack depth, and we can easily lose our sense of intention and purpose in gathering well together.
Consistent in their devotion to God, the Acts church understood this, and so experienced the freedom that’s found not in individualism, but in living God’s way and not their own.
It’s tempting to brush off the challenge and assume that they somehow had it easier than we do. But you only need to read further through their journey in Acts to discover that the early church was not without their fair share of problems – from both outside and within their community. Some members were deceitful, and people were wounded by each other. Sound familiar?
What we can learn from this is that the health of their fellowship, and ours, isn’t about perfect people or relationships. Their health comes from vulnerability with and devotion to one another with the Lord. And ours can too! It’s this type of love for one another that God uses not just to encourage His believers, but as a way to reveal His love to others.
It’s not always possible or practical to physically live together, or spend all day each day together, but to be intentional in living this way is. It won’t always be about pancakes and weddings either unfortunately. When community feels too hard, inconvenient, or sacrificial, it’s in choosing to fix our eyes on Jesus together that our capacity to make His love visible grows.