For believers in the 1st century, “going to church” was an unheard of concept. Early Christians didn’t go to church, they were the church. What we see today, is far from what the church was at the start. Many “necessary” things have become part of the church, even though they are without biblical support. Some would say, “It’s just what a church has to do today.” But the problem is that in doing all these things, the basics of what the church is supposed to be have been misplaced in the process. The focus has been lost.
As the church we have a duty to God to keep our priorities where He wants them. We can’t afford to become distracted from God’s original plan. The eternal souls of people are at stake. God has made the church to be His body—which is comprised of believers in Jesus Christ—to reach the lost for His glory. Learning what the Lord intended the church to be, instead of what it has become over time, will help us better accomplish the mission He has given to each of us. May the Lord help us find out, through His Word, just what the church is supposed to be so we can keep in line with His plan.
Characteristics of the Church of Jesus Christ
Focus Passage: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” – Acts 2:42
1. Believers Make Up The Church of Jesus Christ.
The word “They” in our focus passage represents the people who believed Peter’s message in verse 41. The true church is only made up of people who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. This is much more than “joining” a local religious organization. Many churches today have members who are NOT true followers of Christ. This is a severe mistake and has caused many problems in churches. 1 Cor. 6:14-15 makes it clear that precaution must be taken to ensure the church does not become unequally yoked with those of the world. Unfortunately we can see the toll this has taken on the church today. Do we so easily forget that, “a little yeast penetrates the whole batch of dough” and “bad company corrupts good character”? – 1 Corinthians 5:6 & 15:33. We can certainly include people to see what God is doing in our lives, but only He can include them in His church.
2. Believers Are Recognized By Their Devotion.
One characteristic that is strongly emphasized in this verse is the devotion of the believers. They were “devoted” followers. A good definition for the word devoted is “persisted obstinately in.” The Apostle Paul recognized this devotion in many believers he wrote to. (See 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 for example.) True devotion to anything is hard to find today. People change jobs, spouses, churches, etc., to meet their own desires. Commitment becomes a “temporary” term. We see the meaning of the real church lost in this fickleness. Like the church in Thessalonica, may we become “a model to all the believers” so others can see what devotion to the things of God can do.
3. Believers Are Devoted To The Teaching of God’s Word.
Another characteristic of believers in Jesus Christ is their commitment to learning the Word of God. Our daily lives are to be guided by the truth that is found in the Bible. By the knowledge we discover in the Word about the Lord’s will for us, we receive “everything we need for life and godliness”- 2 Peter 1:3-4. How important that is for each of us. It is the source of our spiritual growth and we are to have a strong desire for it, just like newborn babies desire milk (1 Peter 2:2). Each one of us should make it a top priory to learn and know what the Bible teaches us, so we can correctly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). It is our responsibility to make sure the study of God’s Word is a significant part of our spiritual lives. It was true of the first believers, and should be true of us, too! Let’s be like the Berean believers, who, “examined the Scriptures every day” to learn the exciting truth about our Lord (Acts 17:11).
4. Believers Are Devoted To Fellowship and Breaking Bread Together.
Many Christians think fellowship is what we do over a potluck dinner in a fellowship hall. It has become just another activity in the church program. But the biblical meaning goes much deeper. Koinonia is the Greek word used for “fellowship” in the New Testament. It can be defined as “shared life.” True fellowship is the key that makes community and communication in the life of the Church intimate and honest. In order for that to take place, it is crucial that our fellowship is two-dimensional. We must have vertical fellowship with the Lord, and horizontal fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, all connected by the grace of the Holy Spirit (1 John 1:3; 2 Cor. 13:14). A crucial aspect of this fellowship was manifest when the early believers gathered to “break bread” together, following the Lord’s command to do so (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:23-26), in the Agape (Love) Feast. This full meal celebration was done regularly in anticipation of the Lord’s promise not to partake of it until He returns to eat it “in the kingdom of God.” This was in no way a somber religious ritual but a joyous celebration acknowledging the wondrous work of God’s saving grace by Jesus on the cross, and having the real expectation of the Lord returning to join in! We need to make every effort to gather, whenever possible, to share our lives with each other and give the Spirit of God the opportunity and freedom to teach us and deepen our relationships with the Lord and one another.
5. Believers Are Devoted to Prayer.
It’s an unfortunate reality that in the spiritual life of many believers prayer does not hold the priority it should. The countless passages about prayer in God’s Word tells us one thing for sure…it is very important! Prayer, based on the Word of God, is the tool God wants us to use to get us in line with His divine purpose and will. It’s NOT for us to get what WE want. It’s been said, “Prayer is to be our steering wheel, not our spare tire.” As we seek to fulfill the Lord’s command to, “Go, and make disciples,” prayer is the way we access God’s power and provision to accomplish that task, and thus bring glory to Him alone (John 14:13). Without it we are attempting to do His work on our own. May our devotion to prayer, individually and corporately, be as strong in our lives, as it was in the lives of the first disciples.
Spiritual Attributes of the Church of Jesus Christ
Focus Passage: “Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 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, praising God…” – Acts 2:43-47a.
It has been said, “If we do our part, God will do His.” These words couldn’t be any truer than in connection with the church of Jesus Christ. If we devote ourselves to what we’ve already learned (fulfilling our spiritual responsibilities), there will be results! Helping to recognize the resulting spiritual character, is the focus of this part of our study. We will be looking at three bi-products that come from “doing our part.” May this be an encouragement to help each of us continue in our spiritual walk for the Lord (Hebrews 10:24).
1. Believers Receive Spiritual Power.
The first by-product of the early believers fulfilling their spiritual responsibilities, was the awe-inspiring power of God. The wondrous working of the Lord was seen by all, inside and outside of the Church. This was quickly demonstrated through Peter when a crippled beggar was healed at the temple (Acts 3:1-10). We must always remember that the supernatural workings of God (“wonders and miraculous signs”) are for the purpose of directing people to our Lord and Savior, as we see in Acts 3:11-20. God is still in the business of demonstrating His awesome power today. The question is, how quick are we to proclaim His works and wonders, small as well as big, to direct people to Him? Every answer to prayer gives us the opportunity to testify to God’s miraculous power. By far the greatest way that we can witness His power, is in the supernatural transformation of a sinner into a saint, by their accepting of the Lord Jesus, through a simple presentation of the Gospel of God (Romans 1:16). Each one of us has the incredible opportunity to take part in this supernatural working of God, and HE WANTS US TO! “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” – 1 Peter 3:15
2. Believers Exhibit Sacrificial Love.
The next bi-product of believers fulfilling their spiritual responsibilities is a true expression of sacrificial love. The first believers remembered the words of Jesus who said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:35. This was not a love based on emotions. It was a love seen in their everyday actions. They had a spiritual unity and a practical oneness that met needs (as they arose) by giving sacrificially out of love. “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” – 1 John 3:16-17. And it’s obvious the close relationships in the Christian community ensured needs didn’t slip through the cracks (v. 46). This passage shows us the real ministry of the church was done everyday…by everyone…everywhere. May we not forget that God has given each of us a way to minister to others in the love of Christ. ”Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” – 1 Peter 4:10.
3. Believers Express Simple Joy.
Is it any wonder that believers who are in the word, praying, spiritually involved in other lives, united in purpose, seeing the power of God at work and expressing the love of God, are also joyful? With our attention stayed on Him, knowing He is sovereign and in control, we too can have the capacity to “Rejoice in the Lord always.” – Philippians 4:4. If we work to keep our hearts “sincere” (simple, single-minded devotion, generous, unselfish, absent of pretense) and our focus remains on exalting the Lord, His works and attributes in praise, joy will result…and that joy will be complete (John 15:5-11). The secret comes in taking the time to do it. Keep in mind that the temporary enjoyments of the world are no comparison to the joy the Lord can bring our lives (John 10:10).
Spiritual Impact of the Church of Jesus Christ
Focus Passage: “…and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” – Acts 2:47b.
The result of the first believers fulfilling their spiritual responsibilities and the resulting characteristics that developed in their lives had a tremendous impact on everyone. Even outsiders looked upon them in a favorable light. They were living examples of God’s love. People observed the conduct of these first Christians and God brought others to faith in His Son through their faithful testimony and witness to all He had done. Let us not forget that true evangelism is to flow from the life of a believer. Our living for Christ daily will give us opportunities to share how the truth of God has changed our hearts. May we be ever ready to let others know about the gift of life we have received (1 Peter 3:15) so the Lord may have the chance to add even more to His Church. As we seek to be pleasing and acceptable to God in all we do, He will use our efforts to reach the lost for Him (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). Remember, God’s purpose for us is to “GO, AND MAKE DISCIPLES”, and to Him be the glory!