A popular passage for Pentecostal churches in Acts 2:42-47. Many claim to build their vision for ministry from it. However, what was really going on in the cultural, historical and grammatical context? Many people love to quote it but do not understand the biblical narrative of it all.
It goes without saying that what is happening here is building on the application of repentance in Acts 2:38. Until 1551, there was no chapters and verses and as such, we often rip things out of the long and flowing text. It is important to understand the foundation of verses 42-47 is build on Acts 2:38
Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)
The people have been biblically saved and baptized. They also had received the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the biblical evidence. Without these in place, the passage would make no sense. Believers could not associate with sinners and were expected to “come out from among them.”
This is important because baptism in the first century was a sign that being of the right tribe or family line was not where loyalty was but that the person was giving Jesus their loyalty.
Fellowship involved breaking bread
…they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread… (Acts 2:42)
Fundamental to the early church was the sharing of everything that included food. While the Apostles would teach the believers in the temple meeting, much of the teaching came over meals in people’s home. When they meet in the temple, they eat. When they met in homes, they eat. When they ran into each other in the market, they eat.
In the meals, everyone had food and out of that came intimacy. People who had nothing financially were cared for and had a place at the table of the Lord. It was daily meals and there was no concern for who could afford to provide the food.
In early morning meeting, it would have included bread because in the culture, having bread for guest was expected. (Luke 11:5) Later in the day, (normally after 3PM) there would a full meal but it would start, according to Jewish culture, with bread and blessing of the drink (normally wine).
The question becomes if they understood this to be the Lord’s Supper or not. There is debate among scholars about this but it is possible they saw these community meals as carrying out communion. We do know that having meals together was common in the ministry of Jesus and whatever the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians was, it did include food.
In the culture, having a meal with others was a concrete way to establish and identify with a people of common interest. This was especially true of spiritual families and schools of religious thought.
There were many layers to these times. It was, among other things, a time for several generations to come to a place of equality. In Jewish culture, there was a caste system of sorts. However, at the table, everyone was equal.
Centrality of Prayer
And they devoted themselves to …the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs… (Acts 2:42-43)
The early church did nothing with prayer. They walked with the Holy Spirit. They prayed in the temple. They prayed in from house to house. They prayed as they did commerce. They prayed as they cleaned their houses. Some of these were fixed prayers similar to what people know as the “Apostolic prayers” today. In other cases, it was completely spontaneous.
It is reasonable to believe that they kept the times of the Jews which was nine in the morning, three in the afternoon and dusk. (See Psalms 55:17 and Daniel 6:10) They probably met together between these times to also pray with each other but it is not reasonable to think they did not still honor these times of prayer even though they were not under Jewish law spiritually.
What we do know for sure is just two chapters later, they are praying again for more boldness (Acts 4:29-31) and more miracles to confirm the gospel. They are convinced that they must pray in obedience to God and not what is asked of them by the Council. Like before, they pray, they preach with boldness and evangelism breaks out. However, it all begins with a period of intercession.
May we be a people who pray in all things like they did.
They shared all things?
…all who believed were together and had all things in common…. (Acts 2:44)
When someone has a work of deep repentance, they walk in freedom from desiring possessions. They became to care more about the presence of the Spirit than their “right” to own their materials. It was not an act of peer pressure to surrender their life savings but rather a response to the conviction of the Spirit. They offered what they had, not feel guilted into it.
The idea of total economic devotion to a religious association but beyond anything expected within the culture of first century Roman culture. Onlookers in society were likely to respect this form of radicialism more they are willing to imitate it. The is of importance here to understand that this surrender among Christians was completely voluntary.
It is important to know that there was not abolition of private property. There was time that people had need and someone would choose to sell their property to others as there was need. The key is the need. Unless there was a need present, people were not selling things to unbelievers. When it did happen, monies did not become community resources but were set aside for the poor that was in need.
Was they trying to develop a social equality? Some would suggest this but I believe this was not the case. The people with wealth still cared for those who did not have much. Status did not change but love moved then to look after those with less.
Spirit of Evangelism
…having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved… (Acts 2:46-47)
Out of the heart of compassion, intercession and sharing meals came the burden of evangelism. In continuing the pattern of Joel 2:28-32, they focused on, “it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” As the Spirit was poured out, evangelism was the natural expression.
The call to outreach was a direct confrontation to the political and religious elite of the culture. The apostolic church was a direct challenge to the aristocracy and leaders of Judaism. The message that one covenant was ending and man’s government was no long of effect to the people of the Spirit was offensive. Political and religious vision was of no value to people who have received the Holy Spirit.
The favor of the people came from a desire to break free from the grips of sin and wickedness in culture and in their personal lives. The price of being identified with the people of God’s presence was quite high but they wanted to be free from their taskmasters.
In the same way, our message to a broken world is that they can be free from political oppression and religious duty because of what Jesus Christ did for us on the Cross. Culture and religion has changed but the message of the Cross has not.
Do we want apostolic community?
When we consider what the early church understood as walking in one accord and living among the people of God, we have to ask the question if we truly want to have what they had. It was not just language to them. We love the rhetoric but they moved past that and expected it to be walked out in daily living.
The truth is there is no apostolic power without the apostolic lifestyle. How we live in our worship, not just what we sing. Are we seeking to be like the early church in our day to day operation? It is much easier said that done.
It is my prayer that I can be more apostolic in how I deal with people and walking in the fellowship of the Spirit and as an overflow, fellowship with each other.