"The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God." – Genesis 17:8
This continues a series that was started here.
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
To the Apostles’ Teaching…
It is clear from Acts 2:42-47 that the early Christians were very dedicated and devoted to several things. The first that is mentioned is termed, “the apostles’ teaching.” Now, let’s think about what exactly this means for a moment. It is believed by many scholars that the book of James was the first written document of the New Testament. In fact, it was believed to have been written around fifteen years after Christ died in the mid to late forties. So, during the time that Acts is recounting here, there is no New Testament. The Gospels have not been penned yet. Neither have any of Paul’s letters (in fact, Paul is probably beginning his persecution of Christians right about this time). The only teaching that these early Christians have is the Tanakh (Old Testament) and those things that the apostles teach. Remember, at this time, Christianity is still centralized in Jerusalem and all of the apostles are located there. So, you probably had a situation where these primitive Christians would gather together and then hear one of the apostles give an exhortation or teaching to the congregation. The apostles were not creating anything new but were simply passing on the many teachings that Jesus had given them (see Matthew 28:19-20). These apostles were sent to teach the nations everything that Jesus had commanded them. Nothing originated with them; instead, it all went back to Christ. Just as James once wrote, “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17).
Today, we still have the pleasure of receiving teaching directly from individuals who walked and talked with Jesus. We are fortunate enough to have 27 New Testament documents that attest to Christ’s place in the cosmos. You see, although we may not have the individual apostles here to pass on their teaching. We have the letters and documents that they composed. We have their thoughts. We have their suggestions and their commands. Praise God that he has preserved His teaching through the ages!
How did they devote themselves to the Apostles’ Teaching?
The early Christians were extremely dedicated to the teachings of Christ as well as those within the Old Testament. In fact, if we take a look at Acts 6, we find the early church leaders in somewhat of a predicament. The number of Hellenistic Jews had risen within the Christian ranks and a minor complaint arose. The Hellenistic Jews felt as though their widows were being left out of the distribution of food. And so, the twelve apostles got together with the other disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:2-4). These apostles saw the absolute necessity in continuing the teachings of Christ. They could have involved themselves in the feeding of these widows. They could have served the water and bread. But, they would have been neglecting the far more important Bread of Life. It is imperative that a Christian community has individuals who are devoted to the ministry of the word. No matter how much service is ongoing, if Christ and his teachings are not preached, it’s vain.
Something else that we need to understand about these Christian’s views of scripture is that they truly viewed it as sacred. Young Jewish boys were made to memorize verses, chapters and entire books of the Old Testament. It was something that was deeply ingrained within their consciousness. In fact, you can see this evident as Peter quotes Joel in his Pentecostal sermon (see Acts 2). It’s also revealed in the Gospels, when Jesus quotes numerous scripture throughout his ministry and especially during his temptation (see Luke 4). If you flip through the pages of the New Testament, you’ll find Old Testament scripture peppered throughout. These were men who not only respected the Holy Word of God; they actually used it.
Finally, I want to touch on one more aspect of the Apostles’ teaching that is seldom done today. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians, “I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read to all the holy brethren” (1 Thessalonians 5:27). In Colossians, he says “when this epistle is read among you, see that it is read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you likewise read the epistle from Laodicea” (Colossians 4:16). Do you see what these early churches did? They would simply read Paul’s letters in front of the congregation. It was a great time of hearing from God as entire epistles were read aloud among the people. Again, these people viewed scripture as something that was sacred. Something that was holy. Therefore, they treated it with the utmost respect and reverence. And they often enjoyed simply hearing the teachings of the apostles read aloud.
How do we stand up?
I’ve found several websites that claim George Barna as the most-quoted person in the Christian church today. I’m sure that they mean people other than the Bible; unfortunately, I have heard sermons where other Christians and even secular sources have been quoted and talked about more than the very Word of God. Why is this? Are Christians (and more importantly, pastors, preachers, teachers and evangelists) truly devoted to the apostles’ teaching?
For the first time, I listened to a full Joel Osteen sermon the other day. Do you know what I noticed? He quoted about five verses from the Bible. Five verses! And those five verses were completely wrestled from their context. The way he manipulated the Word of God to say what he wanted it to was sickening. Rather than looking at the Bible as a whole and allowing scripture to interpret scripture, we have a great many pastors who are simply taking a verse from here and a verse from there and then pasting them together on a topic they originally had nothing to do with. It should sicken us! But does it? Are people leaving churches where the Word of God is manhandled in droves?
Most young Christians are never taught how to interpret scripture or read the Bible so they simply neglect it. What sorrow this should cause our hearts! For the man who has not studied or read God’s Word will have a very hard time finding false beliefs and doctrines when they begin to appear. The Bible commands us to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). But, many young Christians don’t even really understand the faith.
Those who are probably most impacted by this are young people. If you take a look at Josh McDowell’s book, “Beyond Belief: To Conviction”, you’ll begin to understand that many young people have no clue what Christianity is all about. Many don’t even believe that there is absolute truth. And let’s not even get started with how easily heresy and false beliefs can come in through a seemingly ‘good’ gateway like books published by ‘Christian’ publishers. I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Just because it’s in the Christian section of Amazon.com or in a Christian Bookstore doesn’t mean it’s Christian! We, as Christians, need to be trained in the Word that we might discern truth from error. This is vitally important and the early Christian leaders knew it. That’s why they said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
What can we do?
If you’re reading this, then I hope that you’re interested in changing the way that the modern church (or at least how you, as a modern Christian) functions. The question that we need to ask ourselves is: what do we do? Well, let’s remind ourselves of the ancient Jews and the early Christians way of life. They made scripture a regular part of their everyday life. They memorized large chunks of scripture so that they would be able to access it more easily and so they could judge the things they heard according to it. The men who Paul preached to in Berea, “searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether [the] things were so.” That we would be so diligent! We need to spend time, daily, in the Word of God. Memorizing. Reading. Studying. It has to start with each individual Christian. If the leaders of the church aren’t doing these things then there is no way that the rest of the congregation will begin.
Second, preachers need to be encouraged to preach scripture. We should treat the scriptures with the same reverence and awe as the writers of the New Testament. This is one thing that we really need to work on; reverence and awe for God and His Word.
Third, how beautiful would it be if on some services, we simply read through an entire book of the Bible? Can you imagine a Sunday service filled with nothing but song, prayer and scripture? I don’t believe it’s something that should be done every day; however, to have a couple Sundays a year where we follow Paul’s suggestion to read his epistles would be awesome. I believe that by spending more time reading through scripture as a congregation; we will engender a love for the scriptures within the individuals. We will also begin to develop that much needed reverence and awe.
Over all, I believe that we need to look at our churches and ask ourselves a very simple question: Are we, as a congregation, devoted to the apostles’ teaching? Is it something that is heavily stressed within my church? And, if not, how can we change it? Above, I’ve simply listed a few suggestions that I believe will help us to become more devoted to Christ’s teaching. However, I’d love to hear more from you. If you have any ideas or you try some of the above; let me know about them in the comments. I hope that you are inspired to act.