The Early Believers — 1

This week we’re looking at some post-Pentecost passages from the Book of Acts. After the birthdate of the church—that day when the Holy Spirit made our flesh the Body of Christ (Acts 2)—those early believers had to learn how to live this new life. We can learn a great deal from their experiences.

 

Monday, June 17

Read: 1 Corinthians 12:31–13:13

Consider: In the middle of Paul’s letter to a very troubled and divided church, he said, “And now I will show you the most excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31). What follows is the great, majestic and practical wisdom of 1 Corinthians 13. The “most excellent way” that Paul is pointing to is love. Not sentimental love, but agape-lay-down-your-lives-for-one-another love.

In recent years, segments of the North American church (perhaps small segments that are amplified through social media) have been hurling words like “heresy” and “heretic” at other believers. I’ve been deeply saddened to see well-meaning people become so worried about doctrinal matters that they forget to love their sisters and brothers with whom they disagree on some points of doctrine. In their zeal for truth they have neglected the greatest truth. A few years ago, I encountered some words, written several decades ago, that spoke to this problem. In reference to 1 Corinthians 13:1-2, our brother, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, said…

‘If I speak in the tongues of mortals and angels…’ This is a possibility with which we had not reckoned: that even our holiest words can become unholy, godless, common, if they do not have heart, if they do not have love…

‘And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and knowledge…’ If I knew why I must travel this path and why others must travel that path, if I could perceive even here and now the dark ways of God—would that not be blessedness?

Perception, knowledge, and truth without love are nothing. They are not truth, for truth is God, and God is love. Therefore, truth without love is a lie.”

Pray: “Lord, I submit myself to you to be taught by you. Daily, hourly—even minute by minute—teach me how to walk in ‘the most excellent way.’ Without you it is impossible. With you all things are possible.”

 

Tuesday, June 18

Read: Acts 3:1-10

Consider: What do you want? What do you need? Sometimes those are easy questions to answer. There are times when we know that we need money, or peace of mind, or healing, or a change in our circumstances. There are times when we are painfully aware of our need for wisdom and guidance.

But there are other times when what we are asking for may not be what God wants to give us. So was the case of the man that Peter and John encountered on their way to the temple for worship. The man was certain, straight-forward, when it came to his need — “he asked them for money” (3:3).

When he went to sit outside the temple gate called Beautiful, he was simply hoping to collect a small sum of money in order to feed himself. It never occurred to him (how could it?) that something much greater was coming his way. Even if he could have conceived of gaining something he never had, he would not have dared to desire it or expect it. But that is precisely what God gave him—something more. He ended his day “walking and jumping, and praising God” (3:8).

Could it be that in the days ahead God wants to do more than we imagined? Perhaps a change in our circumstances is not always the lead item on his list for us. Perhaps what he wants to do to us and in us is much more important to him.

We can only pray according to our knowledge and according to the discernment he gives us. But don’t be surprised if God surpasses your greatest expectations. Don’t be surprised if your prayers are answered in ways you never expected and in a manner that exceeds your perceptions of what you need.

Pray: Thank the Lord that he has said, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9). Thank him for his plans for you.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory…” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

 

Wednesday, June 19

Read: Acts 3:1-8

Consider: What have you got? That may be a more difficult question to answer than the one we asked yesterday. God has given us so many things—talents, abilities, passions, time, energy, creativity and a variety of resources. But so often it is easier to see what we don’t have than it is to recognize what God has given us. We think we don’t have enough time. We think we’re not smart enough or skilled enough. We think that our abilities and our resources never match our challenges.

Peter was quick to say what he did not have — “Silver or gold I do not have…” Thankfully, he didn’t stop there. He went on to say, “but what I have I give you.” And what he had was amazing. Call it power, call it faith, call it what you will. But it is obvious that Peter had the presence of the Holy Spirit in his life and in the life of the community of which he was a part. You have the same things.

I’ve never grabbed the hands of people who could not walk, pulled them to their feet and watched them dance. I’ve never displayed power that filled people with “wonder and amazement” (3:10). At least I never have on my own. But I’ve been privileged to be part of a body of believers that has been amazed at what Christ can do through us to touch hurting people. To watch God work through his people is humbling and amazing.

What have you got? A lot more than you think.

Pray: “Lord, you have made me part of the Body of Christ. As I draw closer to the body, use me—but more importantly, use us—to do all that you want to do. Thank you for all that you have given us.”

 

Thursday, June 20

Read: Acts 2:42-47

Consider: Luke ended his account of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-41) by telling us that “about three thousand were added to their number that day.” Immediately following those words is a brief description of the life those three thousand began to share—and sharing was at the center of that life.

The New Testament word is “koinonia” and a form of it is used twice in that passage.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship (koinonia), to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (2:42)

“All the believers were together and had everything in common (koina).” (2:44)

The Greek word for “fellowship” comes from a root word meaning “common.” And that is how the earliest believers chose to live. They chose to share life and have “everything in common.”

There was no time to form an organization, elect officers, create bylaws and implement a structure. There were no speeches and no one making decisions about how they should structure their lives. But organically they chose to live life together. How did that happen?

I believe it happened under the leadership and anointing of the Holy Spirit. God’s desire was that the church would be the Body of Christ. A body can only survive in interdependency. To be filled with the Holy Spirit meant that they would live their lives in concert with one another. It only made sense.

Pray: Thank the Lord for the Body of Christ. Ask him to help you, in this day of individualism, to see more clearly his desire for his body. Ask him to show you your part in making the body strong and in helping it become all that God wants it to be.

 

Friday, June 21

Read: Acts 2:42-47

Consider: Six simple verses describe what three thousand people did under the guidance of the Holy Spirit—they lived in community, they lived in fellowship and they lived a common life. And what was the result?

“The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (2:47)

It was an example, in flesh and blood, of what happens when God’s people incarnate Jesus. When we become the hands and feet of Christ, we cannot be a closed society. Rather, we open the Jesus message up to the world. They don’t just hear about Jesus. They see Jesus at work. And in seeing Jesus work through his people, they see love that transcends our differences. Those who have been shut out are invited in. Those who have been shunned are embraced. Those who feel unloved see that they have ultimate worth.

In laying down their lives for one another, those early believers truly became “witnesses” in Jerusalem (1:8). Their individual lives and their life together bore witness to the presence and love of God. Everyone was invited to the table.

Pray: “Lord, I want you to be incarnated—en-fleshed—in me. I want your Spirit to live in me, teaching me how to be part of your body. My part may seem small, but I know it is vital. Show me how to incarnate your love for this world as part of the beautiful Body of Christ. And thank you for including me in this high calling.”

 

Saturday, June 22

Read: Acts 4:32-37

Consider: In today’s reading, and in the passage that we’ve read over the past two days (Acts 2:42-47), we find some amazing descriptions of those early days in the church.

“All the believers were together and had everything in common.” (2:44)

“All the believers were one in heart and mind.” (4:32)

But perhaps what is most amazing is…

“There were no needy persons among them.” (4:34)

Most of those early believers were very poor. In turning to Christ, some had lost their source of income as employers and family members rejected them. Also, there was a large number of widows among the Jerusalem believers (6:1)—widows who had no financial resources of their own. Yet, somehow, this body of believers cared for one another to such an extent that Luke reported that all their material needs were being met. How was that possible? What sparked that level of generosity?

The secret is found in 4:32 — “No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own.” This conviction was a foundational truth that informed their lives and empowered them in the practical, day-by-day life of love. God owns all things. My house, my car, my clothes, my financial resources—even the air that I breathe—are all on loan from God. He is the owner. So, I’m tasked with the responsibility to use his resources in a manner that honors him, brings dignity to all his people, and protects his creation.

If we see this as a burden, we’re missing the point. This kind of humility and abandonment to love brings liberation beyond what most people ever imagine. Whenever I lose sight of my proper relationship to the material world, I consider Paul’s description of believers as those “having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:10).

Pray: Meditate on the idea of owning nothing but possessing everything. Then thank the Lord for all the beautiful things he has placed in your life. Ask him to guide you in honoring him with how you handle the time, the resources and the passions he has entrusted to you.