And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their 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.
A handful of important items give shape to the commonality that was found amongst them, the first being the very nature of God himself. As the Triune God of Heaven and Earth—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—God is the personification of community. So important is relationship and community to him, it is the essence of his very eternal existence as Three in One. Genesis 1:26 amplifies this reality about God when it says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Note the “us” and “our” words that characterize God. Yet, the very next verse moves from the plural to the singular: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Note the “him” and “he” language that is employed. God is at once both community (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and one, and this truth becomes the catalyst by which those who follow God live their lives together.
A second item shaping the commonality found among believers in Christ is the teaching of the Word of God. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching,” the text says. First Timothy 4:13 is helpful here, for it lays out values regarding processing the Scriptures. There the Apostle Paul writes to his friend Timothy, “Until I come, devote yourself to the reading, to the exhortation, to the teaching.” Reading, exhortation and teaching are keys to capturing the essence of God’s Word and letting God’s truth transform lives. The early believers who gathered together understood this and embraced it, as should we today.
Being together was a highly important value for the ancient church, and it should be so today. Unity was essential, and worthy of great effort. Later in the Book of Acts, in Acts 4:32, it is said of the Christians, “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belong to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” The focus here is not some weird communism, but a kind of commonality that found the believers looking after one another intentionally and joyfully.
A fourth item shaping their commonality was The Table. They broke bread together and prayed together. We ought to expect that this is at least a reference to the Lord’s Supper, but it may well also indicate general fellowship around the blessing of food. Throughout the Scriptures important moments of fellowship often happen around food. Coming together in prayer and with grateful hearts because of God’s bounty, and specifically in remembrance of Jesus’ own Passion (thus, the Lord’s Supper), makes the church unique. It is no small wonder the ancient world referred to such gatherings of Christians as “love feasts.”
Yet another item shaping the commonality of the ancient Christians was a focus on the transcendent. “Awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done. . . .” Fearing God (awe) and the experience of powerful and wonderous things happening amongst them because of God’s presence and grace, caused the people to look beyond themselves and the world toward something (Someone) eternal. This undoubtedly inflamed their hopes, caused them to live for something bigger than themselves, and allowed them to see the world around them through eternal eyes.
Finally, another item shaping their commonality was a commitment to take care of one another. When there was need, “they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” Perhaps the key value here is intentionality. They were other-centered, and proactive in so being. Just as God the Father gave his only-begotten Son (see John 3:16) so that sinners might be declared righteous, so it is the early Christians gave their best for others. We should share such a value-system.
At Bethel Church there are a variety of ways this kind of commonality may be manifested. On a macro-level we at Bethel Church provide a significant measure of time and treasure so that people making up our church family can have lives of peace, soul-health, purpose, and joy. For instance, thousands of dollars are given and spent regularly to help those in our midst who are in need. Moreover, when we come together in our worship venues, or affinity gatherings such as Men’s Fraternity or student ministry, or when we partner together around big causes such as our spring musical or our Holy Week gatherings with our friends from Triumph Lutheran Church in Moorhead, Minnesota, we embody fellowship and commonality.
In smaller, more intimate ways, however, we also do this. Bethel Church’s Adult Bible Fellowships (think “Sunday School”) or our wide-array of general Bible studies and electives bring us together, as do things like our Global Outreach teams or Project Serve opportunities. Furthermore, there are a variety of prayer gatherings, as well as teams of people proactively giving care to members of our church family as well as those in the community.
One of the primary ways we come together is through our Growth Groups or other gathering that emulate that kind of community. For instance, our elder board is not technically a Growth Group, yet we meet once a month for an evening of fellowship, prayer and relational encouragement. The Growth Groups help make a large church like ours feel small, and provide for us all what is probably the most focused opportunity for applying the values of God’s Word together, for encouraging and caring for one another, for life-long relationships centered around the person of Christ, and for reaching meaningfully into our community and beyond with the love of Jesus. Perhaps more than most opportunities found at Bethel Church, the Growth Groups best capture the things detailed above from Acts 2.
If you are part of the Bethel family, and not already plugged into some kind of meaningful fellowship, consider a Growth Group. For more information on these or other fellowship opportunities at Bethel Church, connect with us here, tell us you would like to be in a Growth Group, and we will respond to you quickly.
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“Write This Down” is a summary of select teaching moments offered by Pastor Matthew. The preceding summary is from the message “With One Accord,” a sermon highlighting the power of Growth Groups and community at Bethel Church, presented on the weekend of September 9, 2012, at Bethel Church.