Christians in the early church are often looked at in admiration. We know they had the proximity of Jesus’ life and the apostles. There were eyewitnesses to the empty tomb, miracles performed by Jesus or the apostles and a sense of urgency to proclaim the gospel that we have seldom known. We almost read the Bible with jealousy; thinking “Why couldn’t have I lived during that time or Why can’t Christianity and my church be more like that? There’s just one problem with this understanding: it’s completely wrong. It’s unbiblical and dangerous to any development of our own faith.
The early Christian church had its share of faults and failures. They experienced similar doubts and lacked confidence at times. They may be a model for us but they are not the perfect model. Which is precisely why I am excited about starting this series of messages on “Body Life”.
Many of you have been a part of this church for a long time. There is a great history of SPBC as we look forward to celebrating our 50th anniversary together this May 2010. Yet many of us look at our history the same way we read our Bibles thinking, “Why can’t we just go back to those early days or Why can’t our church today be more like it was 50 (40, 20 or even 10) years ago? I want to suggest the same reason: it’s completely wrong, unbiblical and dangerous to the continued development of your faith. We can observe history with a bit of nostalgia but it cannot become the all-consuming focus of our future together. The reason is because like the early church, our history has a list of faults and failures. It’s a good, perhaps even great history but it was not perfect. And, one of the reasons it wasn’t perfect is because you were a part of it! Every church falls short of being the model for others because it is made up of sinful, imperfect, broken people.
I am excited about this message series because my hope and prayer is that God will show Himself and His purposes to us. I am praying that as we look at what the early Christians were devoted (Acts 2:42) to that we too can be refreshed and refocused; not for the sake of viewing historic moments with nostalgia but for the sake of launching a movement of God and that we might become history makers for his kingdom!
We have the opportunity of a lifetime. I believe this to be so personally as much as I do for us corporately. God has positioned us together in the surrounds of over 500K people in Anne Arundel county and not to mention the 3+million in Baltimore area; with approximately 30K in Severna Park. God sent Jesus to die on the cross for every single one of these people and families. And it is our opportunity and calling to communicate the gospel of Jesus in relevant ways to them.
So where do we start? Michael Green says, “[F]irst get the centre of the fire hot, and people will be warmed on its outskirts, and drawn in. If we want the gospel to spread in the community of which we are a part, we would be unwise to start with some evangelistic outreach. We would be much better employed in paying attention to the quality of our church life. That is going to be the magnet to draw others to the Jesus who has made us into his body. But if our fellowship is cold, if nobody stays behind after the services because they are, frankly, ready to get away, if the music is dominated by an ogre, if the minister is too fond of his own voice, if people are made to feel of a consumer mentality, rather than participants, if joy is frowned on, then we are unlikely to see significant growth.”
In order for our church to become a kingdom movement with history makers we need to start inward. We need to look in the mirror and have a healthy honest evaluation of our souls before God. God has a spiritual principle that if we are faithful with little we will be faithful with much (Luke 16:10). Are we (are you) the kind of church (person) that God can trust with more of his blessing? That’s a profoundly tough question that takes much time to consider and answer. Which is why we will take the next few weeks to discuss “Body Life” and each of our roles in this process. You see, “Body Life” is much more than something you attend, it’s something you are. It’s more than a place you go but it’s a passion you have as a believer in Jesus Christ.
This message begins with “Body Life Fellowship” from Acts 2:42-47. Out of this context I want to share with you 3 descriptions of Body Life Fellowship:
“devoted” = single-minded in bringing about a certain course of action
“the fellowship” has definite article implying distinctive gatherings
Body Life Fellowship is devoted to enjoying one another (2:42-44).
These early believers enjoyed being with each other. The phrase “together” in reference to the believers is repeated throughout the book of Acts. They were together after Jesus’ ascension (1:14) and at the beginning of Pentecost (2:1). They were devoted to spending time together (2:42, 44, 46) and the imperfect verb tense in this passage suggests a recurring pattern of gathering as it became a part of their lifestyle.
Modern day Christianity, especially in the West, seldom experiences this described togetherness. We are more concerned with filling our time with activity than community. In activity we can isolate ourselves and just be busy doing things. In community we must interact, face to face, with others which will require vulnerability and authenticity.
The church is being threatened with losing an entire generation (Those born after 1990) that craves community. And if the church thinks that it can just plan more activities and programs for people to come to will be the solution then they are sadly mistaken. The younger generation wants you not your programs or activities. They want someone to genuinely care about them and get involved in their lives.
Even more, church growth specialists say that a person will leave a church if they have not formed at least 7 friend connections. What does that mean for us? It means that we must become a place that values relationships over programs. We must become a place that is open to new-comers and is relentless on removing cliques.
Body Life Fellowship is devoted to providing for one another (2:45).
This leads to a second description that out of enjoyable relationships came concern for others well-being. These early believers were so committed to one another that they could not help but take care and provide for needs as they arose. The measure of their togetherness was measured in their willingness to sacrifice and be generous. Luke says, they “sold their possessions and goods, giving to anyone as he had need”. They realized that all their possessions were only on loan to them by God and were to be used for the glory of God and spread of the gospel.
When we realize the gospel is not about us doing but God giving us undeserved grace then we may begin to apply this principle as well. Another passage says it this way:
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 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? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and truth.” 1 John 3:16-18
To go a step further on this subject, Christians are called to not only provide for those who can repay but to those who may never be able to do so.
James 1:27 “Religion that God our father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
I’m thankful for Deacon’s in our church who care about families and those who need extra assistance. This is an indication of those who understand how much they have been given in the gospel and are compelled to share love with others in tangible ways.
Body Life Fellowship is devoted to trusting one another (2:46).
As these believers enjoyed their time together and took care of each other it resulted in a deep communion – trust. Luke says, “they continued to meet together in temple courts… and homes [eating] together with glad and sincere hearts”. Being together every day and in each other’s homes was an indication of respect and trust. You do not invite someone into your home if you do not trust them. Trust is a missing element in Body Life and gospel communities.
When trust is present in body life then there is value of individuals for who they are in Christ. Rather than looking at others or groups of individuals with suspicion or jealousy there can be a celebration of diversity in the way God brings His people together and shapes them to bring glory to Him.
Ex 1: If a person is a good teacher of God’s Word then I should not get jealous and try to help cultivate the use of their gifts.
Ex 2: If different generations worship differently but their hearts are sincere and wanting to honor Jesus then they should not act ugly toward each other. They should trust each other and learn to find common ground.
Ultimately, body life fellowship is not possible were it not for Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. His sacrifice has both vertical and horizontal dimensions: Fellowship with God + Fellowship with others.
Ephesians 2:18-19 “For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.”
TAKING IT HOME
- What comes to mind when you hear the words “Body Life”?
- Do you agree that most Christians look back at NT Christianity with an admiration but at the expense of today’s and the future of Christian expansion?
- Why is a healthy body life fellowship important to establish before/during evangelistic outreaches?
- God has a spiritual principle that if we are faithful with little we will be faithful with much (Luke 16:10). Are we (are you) the kind of church (person) that God can trust with more of his blessing?
- How can Christian “togetherness” foster spiritual growth?
- What are 2-3 specific ways you personally can apply 1 John 3:16-18; James 1:27? How about corporately as a church?
- What does it mean to trust someone? What are some specific ways trust can develop in body life?
- Describe the layers of “fellowship” in Ephesians 2:18-19. Memorize these verses.
 Besides, we have the same Holy Spirit they had and in addition have God’s full revelation of the Scriptures which record a history of their mistakes and errors that we can learn from. Why should we not be advancing God’s kingdom with any less urgency and vibrancy?
 Page 48 in, Thirty Years That Changed The World: The Book of Acts Today.
 (cf. 1:14; 2:1; 4:24; 5:12; 15:25)