Chapter 2 of the book of Acts begins by describing the coming of the Holy Spirit. There is a suggestion here, that the Spirit’s activity is most evident (filling the entire house) when believers gather in Jesus’ name. People from every ethnic group (every nation) “hear” the sound of the Spirit and are thus able to hear those same believers communicate the “mighty works of God”. This is truly a reversal of Babel (Gen. 10.1-11.25) when languages were confused due to man’s selfish aims. Here, the Spirit is clearly the One who brings believers together so those from every nation under heaven hear in their “native language”.
It is one thing to hear words but something entirely different to gain spiritual insight and understanding from what we hear. “What does this mean?” (v.12). God is at work. Peter, inspired by the Spirit, answers their question with a sermon that explains what God is doing “in these last days”. The “last days” refers not to the end times as we often think of them, but to the period of history that began when Jesus ascended and sat down at God’s right hand. The last days began upon Jesus’ finished work on earth. In fact, Luke tells us that Jesus is still at work through the promised Holy Spirit (see Acts 1.1). This is the good news that God’s promise has come in Jesus. Peter powerfully makes the point, that the very One they were looking for and about whom their prophets spoke, is the One that they crucified. Stabbed in the heart by the truth, those who were listening became painfully aware of what they had done. The Spirit of God convicted them deeply of their sin of rejecting Jesus, their Lord and Messiah.
The best question we can ask when we understand spiritual truth is the one they asked, “…what shall we do?” (v.37). Peter is quick to respond: “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.” Essentially, this is a call to change the way we think about our sin (repent), become obedient to Christ (be baptized), and yield ourselves to the leading of the Holy Spirit. When we embrace the gospel like this and believe it by faith, we have this promise that Jesus through the Holy Spirit is given to us and will transfer to us the very life of Christ (see Col. 3.3-5, Gal. 2.20). What follows is an explanation of what that looked like in the early church.
The best evidence of genuine repentance and true conversion is a changed life. We are unmistakably transformed by the grace and power of the gospel. Luke describes it in 7 ways or qualities exhibited by this early Christian community. There is: (1) a passionate desire for Christ and the things (cf. v.42) that promote the spiritual well-being of the community; (2) an unusual and respectful awareness of God’s power and presence, (3) an uncompromising commitment toward sharing their common life in Christ, (4) an unselfish ambition to meet one another’s practical needs, (5) a daily focus on worshipping Christ, (6) an obvious attitude of joy, thanksgiving and generosity for what God is doing, and (7) a resulting pattern of expansion and favor that impacts the non-Christian community.
If each of us were to assess how well we embrace these seven values that were so evident in the early church, how would we measure up? If we actually thought of them as vital to our spiritual interests as they did, what transformations might occur? What a tremendous impact we would have! We might note that we can begin by being “devoted” to four spiritual activities as pattern or habit. The word has the idea of being persistent in these activities (constant, dedicated, faithful). We might even say that these early believers were “addicted” to these things because it brought into a closer connection to God and to one another. Notice that each of the four have the definite article (“the”) and speak of a recognized and defining activity in the life of the church.
- Devoted to the teaching – this refers to an absolute commitment to the priority of God’s word as it is taught and preached. It included all kinds of instruction that was both doctrinal and practical.
… teaching them to observe all I have commanded you. (Jesus in Mt. 28.19-20)
“And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (1 Thess. 2.13).
- Devoted to the fellowship – this refers to an unwavering commitment to Christian community (koinonia, literally, ‘common’). In every place and occasion, whether gathered all together or from house-to-house, we are aggressively committed to the sharing of our common life together in Christ. It speaks about sharing and meeting needs, but also relationships and staying connected to one another. The Spirit’s activity is often in accord with our gathering together. Luke is unmistakably clear in this passage to the fact that the Spirit shows up when we do.
“And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Heb. 10.25).
- Devoted to the breaking of bread – this phrase is only used twice in the New Testament (here and Luke 24.35) and is a reference to table fellowship. It likely included the Lord’s Supper. There is a case to be made for the power of eating together to bring us together. Table talk helps us move beyond small talk. Something happens at the table that happens nowhere else.
“When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him” (Jesus with the 2 disciples on Emmaus Rd. Luke 24.30-31).
- Devoted to the prayers – this refers to the priority of prayer in the life of the Christian community. It was frequent, passionate, comprehensive, and impressive. As a result, God did some amazing things among them. He will in our lives too. God answers powerfully when we pray corporately. Sometimes we don’t expect our prayers to do much, but we should always pray and not give up.
“So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church … many were gathered together and were praying … And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate” (Acts 12:5, 12, 13-14).
God is at work. Will you join him?
By our being devoted to these activities as if our spiritual life depended on it – because it does – we may be assured that the Spirit of God will bring transformation and impact to both our lives and to the lives of our hearers.