Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Fruit of Devotion

Empty Fruit

The stoning of Stephen brought persecution. It also produced great fruit for the kingdom of God.

Much is made of Acts 2:42-47. Some teach it is the ideal church model. The apostles are teaching. People are getting saved. They are dedicating themselves to learning and growing in the faith. Christians are dedicating themselves to each other.

Great generosity is demonstrated. Meals are shared. God is praised. The church is growing.

This activity continues until Stephen's stoning. The whole church in Jerusalem (except the apostles) is scattered by persecution (Acts 8:1). We could lament the loss of this early church purity. This would be to misunderstand God's will for His people.

We see the true fruit of their devotion from Acts 2:42-47 in Acts 8:4. To stop too soon is to drain the life from these early church activities and replace them with empty shells. We don't want empty fruit. We don't want activity for the sake of activity. At least, we shouldn't.

Between Pentecost and Stephen's message only the apostles are preaching the gospel. The people are in awe of what God is doing through them. As a result, many who aim at reproducing Acts 2 often end with idolizing paid church leaders. To focus only on Acts 2 means we can be happy to let the pastor(s) preach while the rest focus on giving, eating, singing, and small group Bible study.

But the book of Acts doesn't end in Acts 2. That was the beginning. The church was never supposed to be isolated in Jerusalem. It was supposed to spread.

Before Jesus ascended to heaven He said:  "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth" (Acts 1:8 NASB). God gathered Jews from Judea and Samaria, even the remotest part of the earth, to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. This is where many of the converts in Acts 2 were from.

After they were converted they didn't go home. They stayed in Jerusalem. They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship.

The end goal of their devotion was not to stay in Jerusalem. It was to spread. God's goal was not to build a megachurch in Jerusalem. The apostles were not called to be rock star pastors. We see the apostles preaching exclusively in Acts 2-6. Stephen is the first fruits of their true focus on discipleship.

Conversion of sinners. Equipping the saints. Releasing equipped saints to go and do likewise.

The apostle Paul lists the officers given by Christ to equip the saints in Ephesians 4:11. Apostles are listed first. They are foundational. Jesus spent three years equipping and preparing His apostles (minus Paul) during His earthly ministry. The apostles spent the first part of the early church period equipping those who devoted themselves to their teaching.

When persecution came and scattered the church look at what they did: "Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word." (Acts 8:4 NASB)

The church began with the apostles preaching in Jerusalem. The first non-apostle to preach was murdered by an angry mob and received into heaven by Jesus standing from His throne. Their anger spilled over into a great persecution that scattered everyone except the apostles.

At this point we see the fruit of their devotion. They didn't give up the faith. They all went about preaching the word. Acts 8:2 tells us that they were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. We are beginning to see the fulfillment of God's plan for the church to spread. It spreads by every member being equipped and mobilized.

Concluding Observations

The early church model was successful because Acts 2:42-47 led to Acts 8:1-4. If our modern "devotion" to the body results in potlucks and home groups but not people equipped to preach the word wherever they go, then our model is not the same as Acts 2.

Devotion to apostolic teaching is designed to grow us to maturity. When we are mature we are able to proclaim Christ in whatever setting we find ourselves. Business men and women, stay-at-home moms and dads, astronauts, engineers, salespeople, janitors, cooks, students, and everyone else who claims to follow Christ should be moving toward a place of maturity. Then the word of God will be preached to the remotest parts of the earth.

Thousands of preachers were scattered into the world in Acts 8. Twelve preachers remained in Jerusalem. Is it any wonder the church spread so rapidly in the early church? Their devotion led to multitudes of mature believers being released to preach the word wherever they went.

This equipping doesn't happen overnight. It doesn't happen by accident. It happens by devotion.

Devotion from leaders to equip the saints. Devotion from the saints to be equipped by their leaders. This is what Paul wrote about in Ephesians 4:11-16. This is God's design for His church. Acts 2:42-47 was simply stage one. It was the beginning not the end.

Many people are willing to bring a dish to pass to the potluck but are not willing to devote themselves to being truly equipped. It is a deception to believe that this lesser standard was what the early church was all about.

Are you devoted?

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