Welcome to part 4 in a series of articles on that simple, beautiful summary of the core commitments of the first century church at Jerusalem (Acts 2:42):
“They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
Here was one of the great reasons for the dynamism of that church; for its generosity, power, evangelistic success and so on. They simply focused on the main things, and indeed devoted themselves to some basic (and really quite ordinary) means of receiving God’s grace. And there is a lesson in that – especially in our ‘big event’ culture. It’s the ordinary means of grace – practiced week in and week out – that make the greatest impact in our Christian growth. And one of those ordinary means of grace is what Luke calls “fellowship” – or, as we might say it, doing life together.
Here is one of the commitments that was at the core of the Jerusalem church’s spiritual health – simply that its members did life together! And, of course, given the other commitments that we read about in Acts 2:42, I think it is to be understood that doing life together didn’t just mean sharing a meal and chewing the fat; or talking about the game or the weather. Surely the word “fellowship” implies that we do life together in the gospel; that, when Christians gather, they gather as Christians – which doesn’t mean that we don’t talk about the game, or the weather, or the grass we are trying to grow around back of our homes. Of course we talk about these things with those who are our spiritual family! But fellowship surely implies that we talk earnestly and willingly and naturally about other things, too – what God is teaching us, how we need his help, how we can pray for one another, what we got out of the sermon, and so on. And surely if Christians are gathered around the dinner tables and on the couches, doing life together … surely if this is the case, then there will also be occasions for spontaneous prayer! And certainly there will be accountability as well, and sometimes admonishment from one brother or sister to another.
Furthermore, doing life together in the gospel means offering practical help for those in need. Fellowship also means that we will be so involved in and informed about the lives of fellow church members that it will simply be reflex to weep when they weep, and rejoice when they rejoice, and grieve when they stumble – just like these things are reflex in our biological families. One phrase I have used for this, over the years, is that true Christian fellowship means that we are helpfully tangled up in one another’s lives! Tangled up – meaning that what affects you also, of necessity, affects me … because our lives are so closely interwoven. But helpfully tangled up so that our lives are interwoven in accountability, and love, and encouragement … and not in the intrusions of a busybody!
And yet, in our fear of becoming (or worse, being under the surveillance of) a busybody … we must, must, must not throw the baby out with the bathwater! We simply must be woven deeply into one another’s lives! That doesn’t mean that you will have a tightknit friendship with every person in your church's pews. That is probably not possible, even in small churches. But there ought to be a handful of people that you get to know really well over the years; and many others with whom you are regularly in contact, and in prayer; and no one, in a church of small to medium size, whom you do not eventually know by name!
This may sound like a challenge to many of us. And it is! It requires effort and hard work to truly become a church family. But it is well worth it! And it is biblical. And the church in Jerusalem considered it foundational, and normal, and joyful! “They were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:46). Let us strive to do the same!