They Devoted Themselves (Acts 2:42-47)
Topic: Acts Passage: Acts 2:42–2:47
They Devoted Themselves
(Partnership Month, Part 1)
September 13, 2015
I. Devoted/Dedicated/Committed (Acts 2:42-47)
As we begin this morning, let's look together at Acts 2:42-47. I want us to think about what this passage teaches us about the church. And since this passage describes the birth of the church as we know it, I think this is a wonderful place to learn more. Look with me at Acts 2, verses 42-47. This is what we read about the church on what might be called its birthday:
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.
So if you aren't familiar with this chapter, the 41 verses that preceded this passage describe the coming of the Holy Spirit on the followers of Jesus who were gathered in Jerusalem after His resurrection and return to the Father. Peter has just finished giving a clear and powerful presentation of the gospel, the Good News about Jesus, and around 3000 people have responded with faith and baptism.
Now, you may have noticed that verse 42 functions as a kind of basic summary statement, while the rest of the passage elaborates or builds on that initial statement. And if we learn anything about the early church here, we explicitly learn they were (v. 42) “devoted”; they were dedicated; they were committed, weren't they? To what were they devoted? Well, Luke, the author of Acts, tells us right there in the rest of v. 42: “they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
I see there three basic areas or categories. First of all, the church was devoted to “the apostles' teaching.” From the rest of the New Testament, I believe we could say this meant they were devoted to God's word, to right teaching or doctrine, to being taught, to growing, to maturing, and to being led by the Apostles.
Second, we read that the church was devoted to “the fellowship.” While verse 43 touches again on the Apostles, I see verses 44 and 45 connecting back to this word fellowship. And as you can see from those verses, I believe that being devoted to “the fellowship” means being devoted to community, to life together, to loving, supporting, and encouraging one another as the people of God, as the family of God.
Third, we read in v. 42 that the early church was devoted to “the breaking of bread and prayers.” While “breaking bread” might have included regular meal together, I think verses 46 and 47 paint the broader picture of a context of praise and worship.
That means “the breaking of bread” is more importantly a reference to the Lord's Table, which was celebrated as part of a larger community meal. So this area of devotion focused on things like gathering together regularly, observing the Lord's Supper, worshiping together, singing, giving thanks, prayer.
Finally I want you to notice the brackets around this passage. Notice the key word found in both verse 41 and verse 47. It's the word “added”. Transformed lives bracket the devotion of God's people as the church of Jesus.
II. What is Partnership?
Okay, so why this focus on the first days of the Church? Well, I think it's a helpful introduction to the topic of Partnership. What is “Partnership”? What we call Partnership is simply a tool we use at Way of Grace to explain, affirm, and celebrate commitment to Christ and His church.
Like the early church, we are also to be a people who devote themselves to those three areas we talked about in light of Acts 2:42. That hasn't changed. In order to understand Partnership better, let's ask three questions: 1) Is it biblical?, 2) Is it beneficial?, and 3) Is it binding?
So first of all, “Is Partnership biblical?”. Well...Yes and no. Is Partnership or a Partnership process explicitly talked about in the New Testament? The answer is no. I don't remember reading about a Partnership class at Corinth or Antioch. But if we follow that logic, it would be important to point out that child dedication, projectors, bulletins, Sunday School, website, youth groups, summer camps, Bible reading plans, Advent, and a whole host of other tools are also not mentioned in the Bible.
I think the better assessment comes from asking, “If the answer is yes and no, then how is Partnership biblical?” Partnership is biblical because commitment to the local church is biblical. It's biblical because right doctrine and accountability and interdependence and leadership are biblical. Partnership doesn't add to these things. It is simply a tool we use to explain these things, to affirm these things with you, and to celebrate them together.
Even though youth groups and Bible reading plans are not explicitly mentioned in the Bible, they, like Partnership, are worthwhile tools if they help us fulfill what the Bible does teach explicitly about God's word and fellowship.
Another question we can ask about Partnership is, “Is it beneficial?”. Well, if it truly does help us fulfill what God has called us to do, then of course it's beneficial. But I think we could also say that Partnership is beneficial like a college orientation is beneficial, or a pre-marital counseling is beneficial, or like training at a new job is beneficial.
In all of those examples, the benefit comes from the fact that the design is preparatory, planned, and preventative. Let's talk about each of those. A college orientation is beneficial because it does what it can to prepare you for life on campus, right? Pre-marital counseling is beneficial because its goal is to talk about marriage BEFORE you get married. Many jobs have a period of training before you actually start in your position.
While people can be in this church or some other church for different lengths of time before Partnership, the idea of Partnership still works best when we don't make assumptions about those involved. Whether you are a new Christian or a mature Christian, all of us benefit from talking about the foundations of commitment to the local church.
Second, Partnership is beneficial because it's planned. By that I mean Partnership is concentrated and deliberate in terms of talking about what the Bible teaches regarding commitment to the local church. In pre-marital counseling, the goal is to talk openly and honestly about all aspects of marriage, from communication and finances and sex to kids and work and roles. The same is true with a college orientation or a new job. Sure, you could talk about things as they happen to pop up here and there. But why not take time to talk about the big picture in a very intentional, focused way?
Third, part of the purpose of orientations, and training, and counseling, and yes, even Partnership is preventative. You'd be surprised how many engaged couples have not talked about things like communication styles and finances and expectations before they come to counseling. Knowing they are not on the same page before they get married is very important. In the same way, knowing campus rules about skateboarding and pets and parking can protect new students from lots of challenges during the school year.
Partnership is beneficial in the same way. It's important you know what this church believes. It's important you know our goals. It's important we agree on how to handle conflict when it comes. It's important we talk about biblical expectations for those in the church. It's important for us to take time and talk about these things and make sure we are on the same page in terms of what matters most.
Partnership may not necessarily be an informal approach, but it is designed to be informing: it's informing you about us as a church, it's informing us about you, and it's informing all of us about God's will for our life together.
The final question we might ask about Partnership is this: “Is it binding?”. Let me reassure you, becoming a Partner does not mean selling your soul to Way of Grace Church. Your commitment to Christ and His church are forever. But your commitment to this church is for as long as is possible and/or desirable and/or allowable. Some people move away, and it's not possible to remain in Partnership. Others might develop different convictions about the church and desire a change. Still others, those who fall into sin and are unresponsive to correction may not be allowed to remain as Partners.
Now all that doesn't mean we set the bar low in terms of commitment. We will always talk with and encourage and pray with and sometimes challenge those who are leaving in light of God's word, but we will never say, “You can't leave! You're a Partner at Way of Grace. You said you were committed.” Partnership is about commitment, but not about compulsion.
III. The Church, A Church, and Our Church
So what I'd like to do for the remainder of our time is to lay out more of the biblical foundations related to Partnership. To do that, I'd like to look together at three passages. Let's look first at I Timothy 3:14, 15. This is what the Apostle Paul writes...
I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that,  if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.
I think there are three key points to take from this passage:
1. The church is described here as God's HOUSEHOLD, that is, God's FAMILY! Through the gospel we are both BORN AGAIN (cf. John 3:3, I Peter 1:3) and ADOPTED (Romans 8:14, 15) into God’s FAMILY.
2. Like most families, there is a way in which family members ought to CONDUCT themselves in God’s household.
3. Living according to God’s design as God’s people is essential to the church fulfilling its role as a PROMOTER and PROTECTOR of the gospel.
Summary: If we are to shine the light of God’s love and truth to the world, every Christian must understand how God wants them to live as a part of His family, the Church.
A Key Question you should ask yourself may be: Do I understand what God expects of me as a member of His family?
Let's turn together to our second passage in this section, Ephesians 4:1-16. This is what we read there:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,  with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,  eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism,  one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.  But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift.  Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”  (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions of the earth?  He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)  And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,  to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,  until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,  so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,  from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
Again, we see at least three key points we can take from this passage:
1. Paul is calling the local church in Ephesus to spiritual UNITY in light of the spiritual REALITY of their ONENESS in the body of Christ. (4:1-5)
2. From the leadership to every other “saint”, the local church only grows “when each part is WORKING PROPERLY” (4:11, 12, 15, 16)
3. Our TRUTH-fueled, LOVE-fueled, CHURCH-fueled growth as Christians is growth into the LIKENESS of Christ. (4:13, 15)
Summary: If we are united in Jesus Christ by God’s Spirit, then we must each strive to be united in our common work of truth and love.
A Key Question we should ask ourselves in light of this might be: Am I “working properly” as a needed part of the body of Christ, the church?
Finally, our third passage in this section is Acts 11:19-30. Listen to what we read here about the church in Antioch:
Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews.  But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus.  And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.  The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.  When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose,  for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.  So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul,  and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.  Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch.  And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius).  So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea.  And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.
When I think about key points to take from this passage, I think we could say:
1. The common work of the church is not a MYSTERY. It always begins with and is anchored by “PREACHING the Lord Jesus” (11:20).
2. The gospel not only GRANTS new life in Christ, but it also GATHERS us into a new life together. This life is characterized by TEACHING that leads to growth in Christ likeness (11:26).
3. But a gospel-transformed, well-taught community can never be just INWARDLY focused. Because of grace, the church should always seek to be a blessing OUTSIDE its walls (11:27-30).
Summary: The common work we each participate in is a work defined by the essential elements we see time and time again throughout God’s word and summarized in our Four Essentials.
What Key Question might you ask in light of these things? How about this: Do I understand the work of the church and am I ready to be involved?
Speaking of our Four Essentials, I'd like to finish this morning by giving you a more complete picture of how we want our ministry at Way of Grace to be shaped by these Four Essentials. Take a look at this chart (Four Essentials Pillars Chart).
You will see at each corner of this structure there are three boxes. The top box in each of those sets should contain one of our four essential truths (One Lord, One Body, One Truth, One Mission). The middle box of each set should contain what we might call a “disciple-making priority” (Inviting, Integrating, Instructing, Involving). These priorities reflect how our Four Essentials should inform our work as a church; to help us maintain balance. Finally, the last box in each set should contain an aspect of being a disciple of Jesus (Servant, Sibling, Student, Sent One). Just as the Four Essentials should inform our work as a church, they should also inform how we understand our growth as followers of Jesus.
Now, I know I've given you a lot of information this morning. And I want to encourage you to write down your questions and/or go back and listen to this message online. But in light of these things, you may be asking, “Okay, what are you asking me to do?” Great question!
In a sense, we are asking you to say “Amen” to what you've heard. Remember our definition of Partnership?
What we call Partnership is simply a tool we use at Way of Grace to explain, affirm, and celebrate commitment to Christ and His church.
To say “Amen” is to affirm the truth of what you've heard. If you are not already a Partner at Way of Grace, we are asking you to say “Amen” by continuing forward in our Partnership process. What does that look like? Well first, it simply means coming the next two Sundays and learning more from the Sunday morning messages.
But second, it will also mean joining us right after the service on one of the next two Sundays for what we're calling our Partnership Reception. This is an opportunity to learn more and ask questions about affirming and celebrating commitment to Christ and this church family. To be clear, that reception is purely informational. And you only need to come to one of those Sundays, since they both include the same content (also a way for spouses with kids to come, or if you can't make one of those Sundays).
You do need to attend the reception if you want to move forward with Partnership. If for some reason you cannot do so, please talk to me about that.
We are so glad each of you are here at Way of Grace. Our prayer, my prayer for you is that God will help you, if you have not done so already, to affirm and celebrate with us commitment to Christ and His Church. To affirm and celebrate your part in this family.
Let's pray and ask God to do that very thing. And if we are already Partners, let's pray God would stir us up to action by way of reminder this morning.