Acts 2: 42 – 47 The fellowship of the believers
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who 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 and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
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This is a snapshot of a brief period in the life of the early church. With the apostles leading, helped, I expect, by many other disciples from the period of Jesus’ mortal ministry, the church experienced dramatic growth.
The Holy Spirit gave the church tremendous energy and focus.
The apostles taught. They weren’t teaching abstract matters, they were teaching about their own experience of Jesus.
Those who were converted by the teaching joined a fellowship. They met frequently in the temple courts, and at meals in peoples’ homes. They shared their money and possessions. Needs were met by sacrificial giving. The apostles performed many wonders and signs; I expect most of these were healings.
And all this came about because the apostles were obedient and took God’s promises about the Holy Spirit seriously. Their obedience empowered them to do God’s will and to see the church grow exponentially.
As St Luke puts it, the early church, with its radical community life, enjoyed “the favour of all the people.” They were an exemplary community.
What a wonderful picture St Luke paints! Surely we’d all like to live like this?
One thing is certain. We would have to surrender a great deal of our autonomy. If we wish to have radical community of the sort St Luke describes, we can’t keep our own front door. Our responsibilities extend into the community.
Even after conversion, we are still sinful human beings. If we live together like the early church, we will have to deal with jealousy, unfairness, bullying, hypocrisy, greed – the whole gamut of human sin and weakness.
Would we become too familiar with the prayers of our group? Would eating together remain an occasion to be enjoyed with glad and sincere hearts?
Perhaps those who most closely approach this way of life in the 21st century are religious orders, monks and nuns. Perhaps the difficulties of communal life are why they are vowed to poverty, chastity and obedience? Perhaps that’s why they have a regimented life, with a strict hierarchy?
And yet, what are we going to have in heaven? Shared delight. Shared praise of God. The constant awareness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, shared with everybody else.
It’s going to be different from this life, that’s for sure.
Maybe communal life offers a way to prepare ourselves for heaven? Dealing with human sin can only be done by love. The effort we will have to put into achieving a community life will make us readier to experience God’s love in heaven. All the worship we give in this life will make open our hearts to praise God.
There is little doubt in my mind that the willingness to share and live life as an exemplary community was a large part of the cause of the explosive growth of the early church. Perhaps we should seek to achieve something similar?
Understanding how we are called to live is a very important part of our faith. I would be very grateful for any thoughts from readers. There is a “Comments” box at the bottom of this page. Do feel free to respond with comments and suggestions!
Thank you for the gift of your Holy Spirit. Please help us live our lives to your praise and glory in whatever way is most appropriate to us in the 21st century.
In Jesus name, Amen.