Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
Questions for Further Thought
- How does Pastor Kenny define "the apostles' teaching" in v.42 and why is this significant?
- Why is it important to memorize Scripture?
- How do we live in such a way that personal commitment to the word shapes our corporate commitment to the word?
- How are devotion to the "word" and devotion to "prayer" related?
And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
This is the first of two weekends that begin and end our annual “Prayer Week.” I can’t help tie this Prayer Week message on the bible with the discipleship series we have been in since the beginning of November.
In the discipleship series, I have intentionally sought to orient our thinking about discipleship toward the simple fact that a Christian is a disciple of Jesus Christ. Our aim is to follow Jesus in faith, believe his teaching and live accordingly. As a result, I have intentionally downplayed the various strategies and settings discipleship takes place, and instead we have seen:
- That a disciple is person who responds in faith to Christ’s sovereign call.
- That each and every disciple of Jesus is a called to make disciples by proclamation of the word in the power of the spirit to another person(s).
- That the ‘cost’ of discipleship is not payment to Jesus, but renouncing everything as subordinate to the supreme, all-satisfying worth of Jesus Christ.
- That discipleship is impossible without the God given gift of child-like faith, to receive the love of Christ, and treasure him above all else.
- That, as a disciple of Jesus, Mary, the mother of Jesus, embodied the exemplary traits of submissiveness to and meditation on the word of God, humility, worshipping God as sovereign and good, and persevering in faith thorough the suffering that pierced her soul.
- That disciples of Jesus, as those who know the love of Christ, show the love of Christ to others. As Jesus commanded, “Love one another as I have loved you.” This is the labor of discipleship.
- That disciples are worshippers of Christ, the King who died for us in love.
- That disciples continue to need the gospel; disciples need forgiveness and grace.
Now, this first week of prayer week we focus on the Word of God. Does that relate to discipleship? Jesus said to those who believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31b). It is no surprise then to see that one of the defining commitments of the early church was abiding in the Word. Acts 2:42, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
My intention is to limit our focus to the devotion to the ‘apostles teaching’, knowing that next weekend Pastor John will be closing prayer week by preaching on prayer.
My Aim in this prayer week message is to preserve and refresh our personal and corporate devotion to the Word of God. First, we will unpack the meaning of the phrase “they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching” in the first clause of verse 42. Second, we seek to make application in our lives, personally and corporately.
The Apostles’ Teaching
Why is the focus on the “apostles’ teaching”? What is meant by the phrase ‘the apostles’ teaching’ is the doctrine of the apostles. Why this constant effort to continue in, and hold fast to the doctrine of the apostles? I’ll give you four reasons.
1. Because, God gave the Apostles the understanding of the gospel — the new Covenant— and rightly interpreted the Old Testament in light of the person and work of Jesus Christ. God revealed mystery of the gospel to them, and through them; namely, that the nations are gathered into the one people of God through the work of Christ. Paul writes,
When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. (Ephesians 3:4-6)
The apostles are given the revelation of the gospel to understand what God is doing in the work of the Messiah, gathering one people to himself. It is through this gospel that the apostles interpret the whole bible.
2. Because the ‘rock’ upon which the church is built is the, sovereignly given, apostolic confession of faith in Christ. Simon Peter replies to Jesus’ question, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:16–18)
3. Because the Apostles were commissioned by Christ himself to bear witness to the nations of the living resurrected Christ by their teaching and by the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8; cf. Acts 1:22; 2:32; 3:15; 13:31; Romans 1:5).
4. Because in this task the Apostles were not left to their own resources, but inspired them with the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised them that the Holy Spirit would remind them of Jesus teaching (John 14:26), and guide them into all truth (John 15:26-27). Peter writes “No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20–21) Accordingly, Paul in Ephesians 2:20 describes the teaching of the apostles, along with the OT prophets, as the foundation of the church (cf. Rev. 21:14). The “apostle’s teachings” thus includes the letters, the gospels and the OT as rightly interpreted in light of the NT. Both the apostles and Jesus himself show that the OT is fulfilled in Christ — our bible.
The disciples of the early church were, “devoted to the apostles teaching” (v. 42). What is the meaning of the word “devoted”? The word “devoted” is a present tense participle meaning, “to attend to constantly”, or to focus on continually or to hold fast to despite difficulty.The word is used in reference to “prayer” Romans 12:12 (and here in v. 42). If we were devoted to prayer— we would spend time praying, value praying, we would not neglect praying, pray at all times, in various ways, personally and corporately, etc.
Likewise, if we were to be devoted to the Apostle’s teachings we would:
- Constantly attend to the apostles teaching
- Focus continually on the apostles teaching
- Hold fast to the apostles teaching despite difficulty
- Continue in the apostles teaching
In one of his resolutions for his life, Jonathan Edwards, the pastor and theologian of The Great Awakening, expressed his devotion to the bible at an early age when he penned, “Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly, and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive, myself to grow in the knowledge of the same”(The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1, p. xxi.). May our lives reflect the devotion to the Bible we see in Acts 2:42 and in Edwards. That would express part of what we see in Acts 2:42. But what's missing? This devotion is more than a personal resolve. It is that, but it is more than that.
What struck me, in meditating on this verse, was that this devotion to the apostle’s teaching (and the rest) is a corporate community commitment. It is not merely an individual commitment. These are the values held in common by the community of disciples that make up the early church. Look again and note the plural. “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (v. 42) As American Christians, it is not hard for us to understand the individual aspects of Christianity. As Americans, we see everything individualistically.
- Individually, God holds us accountable for what we have done. (2 Corinthians 5:10).
- Individually Christ calls us to come and follow him in faith (John 10:3-4).
- Individually, we believe in Christ and are forgiven our sins; or do not believe and are condemned. (John 3:18).
- Individually, we live in the obedience of faith— we take up our crosses.
But what I want us to take special note of is that the thrust of verse 42 is to describe the corporate life of the early church in their discipleship community. Devotion to the apostle’s teachings (the bible, the gospel) was a shared community value in the church. Devotion to the Word does not conflict with devotion to one another. You might also note that it does not conflict with a devotion to “the fellowship”, because the early church is devoted to both. It shapes and informs the devotion to the fellowship.
The wording in our 10 Dimensions of Church Life is very good, when both personal and corporate is embraced. Here is one that relates to the word: “We value personal efforts to grow and help each other grow in biblical truth and wisdom and faith and love, which show Christ as our supreme treasure.”
Act and Pray Personally
How do we apply these truths corporately and personally? Personally, we must act. We must pick up our bible and we must pray. Pick it up in faith. It is a fight of faith. Then prayer for a thirst for the Word. There is now way you can muster up a hunger for the bible. This too is a grace from God.Ask God for a thirst for his Word: Ask God for grace to “long for the pure spiritual milk, [like newborn infants] that by it you may grow up to salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). Ask God for humility before his Word: As God for grace to “receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your soul” (James 1:21). Ask God to grow in faith, because faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ. As God to grow in grace and knowledge of him — in and through Christ. Don’t to play Bible Trivia or merely to stock up more and more information. The aim is not to stock up facts, but to know our Lord.
Act and Pray Corporately
But, our text will not let us be satisfied with merely a personal commitment to the word of God. Our text calls us to long to see more and more expressions of devotion to the Word of God in our relationships, in our community — as a shared value. Don’t be satisfied in growing in faith and knowledge of God without being concerned about others growing in faith and knowledge as well.
Given what we have seen, the challenge we need to take away is this: How do we live in such a way, that our personal commitment to the Word shapes,informs, strengthens, and supports our community commitment to the word? Or visa versa: How do we live in such a way that our community commitment to the Word of GOD shapes, informs, strengthens, and supports our personal commitment to the Word? Here is where it seems to me we have swung full circle. Early in the discipleship series we made the observation that every disciple is a disciple-maker. That each and every disciple of Jesus is a called to make disciples by proclamation of the word in the power of the spirit to another person(s).
May Bethlehem be a community of disciples, sharing a devotion to the Word of God in such a way that:
- That there is no mocking of bible reading, memorization, biblical study, etc.
- There be a mutual encouragement in it—a longing to see our church community grow—not merely in head knowledge. But grow in personal knowledge of Christ and in how to live out our faith in Christ as disciples together.
- And that practical grace for living as we bring the Word to one another. In our various contexts, may Small groups, leadership development, one on one mentoring efforts, teaching venues throughout the church may we more and more see practical evidence of our shared value of the Word of God and the gospel.
What would that look like? Acts 2. Or, Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” There should be mutual encouragement in our embracing of the apostles teaching. mutual growth, not just personal growth, and practical nitty-gritty bringing of the word to one another. We all have blind spots! God did not design Christianity to be lived in a closet, There is a place for the closet. But, you cant value the word without needing the community of faith to work that value you into your life.
As a Church, we are making some tools pray you will take hold of and God will bless as means of grace to cause us to abide individually and collectively in the WORD of God.
- There is a page on our website entitled “Bible Study Aids” In addition to other resources, you can download the One Year Bible Reading Plan From Discipleship Journal. I have been using “For the Love of God” by Don Carson.
- This Wednesday, January 5th at 6:15 at downtown campus is our all-campus “Fighter Verse Kick-Off” event. This year the Fighter Verse collection was revised and updated with some new verses. Bible Memory resources will be available.
- You should have received this Prayer Week Booklet when you came into the sanctuary. The Booklet (to be used this week January 2-9) will be spotlighting excerpts from the book “The Hidden Life of Prayer” by Scottish pastor David Martin McIntyre. If you did not, ask an usher for one on the way out. We have enough for one per household or single adult.
- In the booklet, additional prayer meetings are listed for each day this week. Along with the All Night of Prayer, beginning this Friday at 10 PM (and ending at 5 AM) at the Downtown Campus.