And all who believed were together….” Acts 2:44
One characteristic that marked the church in the New Testament was their “together[ness].” On the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit descended in power, they were “together in one place” (Acts 2:1). When they were praying for the Spirit to come in power in the previous chapter, they prayed “together, with the women” (Acts 1:14). When the masses came to believe the Gospel for the first time following Peter’s sermon in Acts 2, they assembled themselves in a specific way and were together “having all things in common” (Acts 2:44), “daily attending the temple courts together and breaking bread in their homes” (Acts 2:46). Even further, the church seems to place a particular emphasis on ministry "together" as we see the early church praying for a blanket of "boldness" to cover their covenant community (Acts 4:29).
We are not being generous if we say that prioritizing time together in community was easy and natural for them. Gospel-centered community, historically and now, is something that we must fight for on a daily basis. These early believers were no different from us in that they had to juggle being a faithful husband or wife while working a 40+ hour work week and, at the same time, trying to be faithful to the church. But they did it. And they did it joyfully. This doesn’t seem to be the case for us as our story and fight for community with one another is often times filled with frustration from issues such as the wife struggling to get a meal done with enough time to make it to community group, while the husband deals with leading his family and being faithful to his job . While we fight for time to give to the church, we can feel overwhelmed and as if the day is not long enough. What did the early church have that was so different from our practical experience? How were they able to thrive in community with one another?
The easy answer is grace. And we are correct in making this assessment. There is no doubt that the Spirit was moving in a way that was very particular to the time. But, on a practical level, we can look at this period of the church, in its exponential growth and gospel centered maturation, and see that there are practical steps in cultivating the fruit of community in our church today just like the early church.
First off, the early church had a holistic and majestic vision of the Gospel and its implications for life and holiness. Having the Spirit as a guide, the three-thousand believers in Acts 2 were captivated by a renewed vision of God, something that they had never experienced. Though encouraged, true, love-saturated community was not forced, but was felt on a heart level. The captivating vision of Jesus was the motivation for communal love. Their love for Jesus prioritized and created a culture of care and love for one another. This cannot be stressed enough. Jesus is our motivation and only grounds for cultivating true and authentic Gospel relationships. When we can so clearly see that there is an undeniable tie between our love for God and our love for our neighbor, then we will examine our schedule with the intentions of creating space to be with one another. Have you experienced this type of Gospel grandeur in your heart? Sacrificial love that is evident throughout the New Testament is the fruit of Gospel rootedness.
Gospel-centered community should not be a burden for the Christian. A covenant of works does that. But as we are renewed and the Gospel is effectually believed in and applied, Jesus does something among His bride that is truly supernatural and unexplainable. This is what I hope we can walk in as a community: love and grace towards one another that is truly unexplainable and countercultural. Unless we lay our burden at the feet of Jesus we will be another church that has many programs but no real power. We may manufacture something that is truly commendable, but we won’t experience the life-changing power of the Gospel in our community and families.
Secondly, the Christians in the early church understood their involvement in the local church on an organic level. They were instructed in certain practices like daily temple worship, prayer, Bible, but they were empowered by grace to live in true community on a level that the Apostles could not necessarily teach to them. When the Gospel takes hold of our hearts, our understanding of community will grow much larger than the programs that a church offers to its members. Not that regular programming such as men’s groups and bible studies are bad, but the true work of the Spirit is in the spontaneity of a Friday night dinner or a Saturday board-game night with brothers and sisters in Christ. The love of Jesus may be displayed more in attending your neighbor’s son little league game than in your prayer performance during Wednesday night group.
"When the Gospel takes hold of our hearts, our understanding of community will grow much larger than the programs that a church offers to its members."
Don’t misunderstand me when I say these things. God has clearly provided structure to the church and ways that we should function and interact with one another. But this structure is more about creating a forum for relational freedom to flourish (i.e. meals together, gathering for prayer in homes, etc.), opposed to programs being the hard outline of how members interact with one another. These organic practices work to care for the individual believer through the hands and feet of the local church. The local church has always been an agent in which Jesus remains active and alive today.
Let us pray earnestly for this type of missional and organic living to occur in our lives. Let us repent for how we have not believed and seen the new, grace-filled, covenant community that Jesus has placed us in. And, let us see our love for Christ directly reflected in our love for each other.
“Stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” -Phil. 1:27