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May 28, 2017 Fellowship

Please turn with me to Acts 2:41-42.

 

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

 

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. [1]

 

It had been less than 50 days since the Lord Jesus had risen from the dead and was seen by his disciples. It had been less than 10 days since the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven before their very eyes, after having appeared to them several times during the previous 40 days, teaching them and encouraging them. The Jewish feast of Pentecost was at hand and the Apostle Peter had just delivered the very first gospel sermon to a large crowd.

 

Verse 41 says that “those who received his word were baptized.” About three thousand were baptized that day. We should take note of two things. Not all received his word. Some heard and did not believe. If the apostle Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, an eyewitness to the resurrection, could not get all to believe then do not have high expectations of yourselves when you share the gospel. Not all are going to believe. We are not called to get people to believe. We are only called to tell them the good news that God has made available through the Lord Jesus. Your word, no matter how feeble, will be effective to whom the Spirit wills.

 

Secondly, see the response of those who received Peter’s word: they were baptized. This is the divine order of things. One believes and repents (vs. 38) and then one is baptized. One is not baptized as a baby and then, maybe 20 years later, believes and repents. That is backwards. More, the response that is called for is not raising your hand “with your eyes closed” (a common admonition in modern evangelism), coming forward to an altar, or saying a prayer. The apostolic directed response to the gospel is repentance and baptism.

 

[I.] In verse 42 we see the results of changed lives. Let me tell you, there are many in our day and age who say some kind of prayer and are assured by some evangelist that they are “saved” and, afterwards, they seldom read their Bibles and seldom meet with other believers. That is prima fascia evidence that their hearts were never regenerated by the Holy Spirit. It was just an empty profession.

 

In verse 42 we see the outworking of a transformed heart. As far as activity is concerned, one who becomes a true disciple of the Lord Jesus will manifest the practices we see here.

 

[A.] They will devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching. Where do we find the apostles’ teaching today? We find the apostles’ teaching today in the pages of the New Testament. One of the strongest evidences of experiencing rebirth, of “being saved” in the common vernacular, is a deep, abiding hunger for God’s word.  A person who has been born again will long for God’s word. They will be reading and studying their Bibles, especially the New Testament.

 

I recall that when I first repented of my sins and believed on the Lord. Immediately, I yearned to know what God had spoken with great eagerness. I read by Bible every day after I got done with my duties. How can someone who truly loves their Father in heaven not want to know his will? Show me someone who would rather watch TV or surf the internet than read God’s word and I will show you someone who probably has not been born again. Do not hear what I am not saying. I am not saying that you cannot watch TV or explore the internet. I am saying if that is what you are mostly doing and you seldom read God’s word then you have reason to question your own standing.

 

A person who has been touched by God’s Spirit to genuinely receive the gospel will devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching.

 

[B.] They will devote themselves to the breaking of bread. What does “breaking bread” mean? It can mean the Lord’s Table. Most evangelical churches practice taking the Lord’s Supper either weekly or monthly. Our church partakes of it on a monthly basis. The phrase “breaking of bread” also is an expression that means sharing a meal together. Which does it mean here? The Lord’s Table or sharing a meal? Do you know how we answer any question that asks, “What does this mean?” It is by looking at the context. Context is king! Context keeps us from getting weird.

 

Just a very few verses later, in verse 46, we read:

 

And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, (ESV)

 

Every day they went to the temple! Every day they broke bread in their homes. Then, the second half of the verse tells us what Luke, the author, meant when he used the term “broke bread” – “they received their food with glad and generous hearts.” It is clear that Luke is using the term “broke bread” or “breaking of bread” to refer to sharing a meal. They were generous, meaning that everyone brought food to these home meetings and they didn’t hold back.

 

This is apostolic Christianity: meeting together in our homes and sharing meals. The first Christians devoted themselves to this.

 

[C.] They devoted themselves to prayers. It is good to pray alone. It is a beautiful thing when just you and the Lord commune in prayer. You can pray anywhere and anytime and the Lord hears. Two places are especially good, though, for private prayer. Rooms that are set aside for the purpose of prayer can help us focus our thoughts. We have such a room in our church. I encourage you to use it! Another, is the wilderness – the woods. In the Bible we see many people of God going into isolated parts of nature in order to pray.

 

We ought to all be engaged in private prayer. But the context in this passage is activities of disciples together. Verse 42 is referring to corporate prayer.

 

They devoted themselves to prayers together as the people of God.

 

[D.] They devoted themselves to fellowship. This is something that deserves more attention. The words “teaching” and “prayers” are easily understood. The term “breaking of bread” does have two meanings, but both of them are easy. However, the word “fellowship” is easily misunderstood.

 

What does the word “fellowship” suggest to you? Going to a restaurant with some friends from church? Maybe going to a play with the ladies from church? How about going to Six Flags with the youth from church? Let’s get more spiritual. Going to Love Packages and working there for a whole day? (That is a blessed ministry and I think we need to get back there!) Maybe going on a Christian directed tour of the Holy Land?

 

I am probably going to burst some people’s bubble, but none of those things are fellowship. The fact that we share social activities with other Christians does not of itself imply that we are having fellowship with them. One can have fellowship at a restaurant or even at Six Flags, but just doing things together is not fellowship.

 

One of the great men of God of our era, J.I. Packer, who is not one given to hyperbole, has even said that thinking that social activities is fellowship is a “dangerous abuse” of Christian language and “makes for self-deception.”[2] Those are strong words! The reason he says this is that it fools us into thinking that that we are thriving on fellowship while all the time we are actually starving for lack of it.

 

Most translations use the word “fellowship” to translate the word in the original language and it is a perfectly good word. Nothing wrong with it, except may be a little ambiguity. If we look at some less common translations of verse 42, though, we can get a better sense of what fellowship really is.

 

The New English Bible: They met constantly to hear the apostles teach, and to share the common life, to break bread, and to pray.

 

The word usually translated “fellowship” is here translated as a four-word phrase, “share the common life.” This gets to the heart of the word. The original word (κοινωνια) literally means “the common.” Common what? One of the major themes of the NT, if not the major theme, is that the life of God is imparted to the disciple of Jesus. The New English Bible, in Packer’s view and mine, gets it exactly right when they use the phrase “share the common life.”

 

The Message: They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.

 

Again, we see “the life together.” Just any old life? No! The life of God!

 

NTE: They all gave full attention to the teaching of the apostles and to the common life, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

 

For the people of God to recover the true meaning of fellowship is a desperate need at the present time. The church gains strength through fellowship and loses strength without it. We, as individuals, gain strength through fellowship and lose strength without it.

 

Missionaries were working in China just before the communist revolution when there was freedom to evangelize but where there was still opposition to the gospel. There was one man who kept coming to the services that had been established in that area and he would listen to the sermons given in his native tongue. One day he openly confessed that he was a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and was baptized. It was the beginning of the New Year and he was supposed to perform rites of burning incense to his ancestors. He saw this as worship to his ancestors and refused to participate. The head of his clan said that he had 15 days to recant otherwise he would be beaten with a thousand stripes. When the other Christians heard about this they approached the head of the clan and said, “You do not understand the Christian faith. When someone believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, God is his father and every other believer is his brother and sister. We are one family. We cannot see our brother beaten and do nothing. If you insist on doing this we want all the members of God’s house to suffer the same fate. Beat us all.” Many dozens came forward with this proposal. The head of the clan knew there would be trouble if he beat members of other clans, so he finally sent apologies and said that he did not know how strong the bond was among the Christians and he reversed his sentence.

 

There is strength in fellowship. It is not usually as dramatic as this experience in China but the strength that is in it is just as real if not more subtle.

 

[II.] We must cultivate and practice our fellowship with God. Our fellowship is first and foremost with God Himself. Fellowship is a sharing in the life of God. This sharing is a relationship of giving and taking.

 

  • We give to God and we receive from God.
  • God gives to us and he receives from us.
  • We give to God our love, our devotion, our praise, and our obedience.
  • We receive his love, his blessing, his direction and, above all, his life which empowers us to give him love, praise, and obedience.
  • Without his life, we could do nothing!

 

We become his sons and daughters and we become his sons and daughters because he has imparted his life into us!

 

[III.] We must cultivate and practice our fellowship with one another. We talked about what fellowship is not. I also gave a general definition of what fellowship is: a sharing of the common life. But that is still somewhat vague. What is fellowship, practically speaking, as it is experienced among those who belong to Jesus?

 

As with our fellowship with God it involves giving and taking on both sides.

 

First, it is a sharing with our fellow believers the things that God has made known about himself, in hope that we may help them to know him better. And, by knowing him better, we help them to love him more and have deeper fellowship with God.

 

Our fellowship with one another is to the end that we can have deeper fellowship with God. Hear the Apostle John’s words:

 

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2             the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3             that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. [3]

 

He speaks of the “word of life.” Then, in verse 2, he says “the life” was made manifest – that means revealed – and he, with the other apostles, testify to it.  Then he says that they are proclaiming “the eternal life” which was with the Father. This life that John keeps talking about is none other than Jesus! The life is Jesus and Jesus also said that he is life!

 

This is the life that we share – Christ!

 

But, look what he writes in verse 3. He is declaring the things he is about to teach in his letter so that we too “may have fellowship” with John and the other apostles. What does he then proceed to do in the rest of his letter?

 

  • He tells us what God is like!
  • He tells us that God is light.
  • He tells us not to sin.
  • He tells us to love one another.
  • Why? Because God is love!

 

Fellowship is a sharing with our fellow believers the things that God has made known about himself, in hope that we may help them to know him better.

 

Second, horizontal fellowship is a means to find strength, refreshment, and instruction for our own soul. In fellowship one seeks to gain as well as to give. The Apostle Paul shows this in his letter to the Romans.

 

For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12             that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. [4]

 

Fellowship is a wish to help and be helped; to strengthen and be strengthened.

 

Finally, marvelous things happen when we enjoy real fellowship.

 

We are reading and discussing Pilgrim’s Progress in my Sunday School class. A great blessing! It was written by John Bunyan. Bunyan tells of his conversion and what led up to it in his autobiography.[5] One of his experiences that was used by the Lord to bring him to faith was overhearing the conversation of a group of village women enjoying sweet fellowship.

 

But upon a day, the good providence of God did cast me to Bedford, to work on my calling; and in one of the streets of that town, I came where there were three or four poor women sitting at a door in the sun, and talking about the things of God; and being now willing to hear them discourse, I drew near to hear what they said, for I was now a brisk talker also myself in the matters of religion, but now I may say, I heard, but I understood not; for they were far above, out of my reach; for their talk was about a new birth, the work of God on their hearts, also how they were convinced of their miserable state by nature; they talked how God had visited their souls with his love in the Lord Jesus, and with what words and promises they had been refreshed, comforted, and supported against the temptations of the devil. Moreover, they reasoned of the suggestions and temptations of Satan in particular; and told to each other by which they had been afflicted, and how they were borne up under his assaults. They also discoursed of their own wretchedness of heart, of their unbelief; and did contemn, slight, and abhor their own righteousness, as filthy and insufficient to do them any good. 38. And methought they spake as if joy did make them speak; they spake with such pleasantness of Scripture language, and with such appearance of grace in all they said, that they were to me, as if they had found a new world,18 as if they were people that dwelt alone, and were not to be reckoned among their neighbours (Num 23:9). 39. At this I felt my own heart began to shake, as mistrusting my condition…Thus, therefore, when I had heard and considered what they said, I left them, and went about my employment again, but their talk and discourse went with me; also my heart would tarry with them, for I was greatly affected with their words…Therefore, I should often make it my business to be going again and again into the company of these poor people, for I could not stay away…[6]

 

When there is real fellowship, those in whom the Spirit is working are drawn to the flow of life!

 

[IV. Conclusion & Application] There are marks of true faith. Some of these marks are practices. Practices like:

 

  • Regular reading and meditating upon the Scriptures, especially the New Testament.
  • Sharing meals together and taking the Lord’s Table.
  • Meeting with others for prayers.
  • And, fellowship.

 

Fellowship is a sharing of our common life, which is the life of God. We do this by sharing the things that God has made known about himself, in hope that we may help others to know him better.

 

In order to do this we must have some supply. It does not have to be much. But we need to be partaking of the apostles teaching ourselves. We need to turn off our TVs, our computers, and our phones and read the Scriptures. Then, we will be able to have fellowship!

 

There used to be a saying in the 70’s that sought to extol the virtues (not!!) of the drug culture. It was “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” The LSD-promoting and fired college professor (he didn’t show up for his classes…I wonder why?), Timothy Leary, popularized the saying, but he actually got it from someone else. “Turn on” – take psychedelic drugs. “Tune in” meant to follow your “internal perspective,” in other words, do what is right in your own eyes. “Drop out” meant to detach yourself from commitments.[7]

 

A saying for the fellowship that we need in the present era could be “Turn off, tune in, drop in.”

 

  • Turn off electronic devices.
  • Tune in to God’s word.
  • Drop in to fellowship with other disciples.

 

Start a home fellowship! Or, attend one that is already happening. We need one another. May the Lord create a hunger in us for his word and for fellowship.

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 2:41–42). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] J.I. Packer, 18 Words, Christian Focus Publications (Ross-shire, Scotland, UK; 2007), 183.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Jn 1:1–3). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ro 1:11–12). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[5] Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners

[6] Ibid, paragraphs 37-41.

[7] From his 1983 autobiography, Flashbacks, as cited in Wikipedia.