Last week we noted the radical multiplication of the church from 120 to 3,120. The church multiplied 26 times. Even with twelve apostles we will see their need for more officers to be appointed. Later on we will see that they appointed seven deacons to the task of caring for the orphans and widows. That means there were 19 total officers serving 3,120 people.
The most obvious act of God is that he “added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). But the rest of the passage reveals how he did that. It was through the display of four particular commitments this new community had made. As the people of God lived out their faith before the watching world, the church grew.
Pentecost is not the birthday of the church. That traces back to Abraham, 4,000 years prior. It is however the age of the Spirit-filled church. These new believers had been initiated into the church through baptism and what followed was their active involvement in the community.
Luke details four key areas of devotion in the community life of the church: 1) The Apostles’ Teaching, 2) Fellowship, 3) The Breaking of Bread, and 4) The Prayers. They serve an apologetic function for the church displaying to those outside the community the virtue they exhibited. This is an ideal picture of the new community, and we will see these commitments in action in the examples provided in chapters 3-5.
But what is also interesting is that their devotion to these things did not eliminate confusion and conflict in those very areas. Luke provides examples of that conflict as well (Acts 5:3-4; 6:1). As we study each one of these commitments in turn, we will see that almost immediately disagreements arose. The early New Testament church does serve as a model for us, but it was far from perfect. The church had hypocritical people in attendance. There were false teachers who promoted a different gospel.
First, we will look at What the Apostles’ Teaching Is Not. Second, we’ll see What the Apostles’ Teaching Is. And third, we will note How They Were Devoted to It.
What the Apostles’ Teaching Is Not
We see the “wonders and signs” (2:43) that accompanied the apostles’ ministry, but the church did not devote themselves to these. In fact, later on in Acts we will see the consequences of elevating experience above truth. Simon the magician wanted stronger magic, so he sought the laying on of the apostles’ hands with a false motive (8:9-25). And Peter strongly rebukes him.
Even though these new converts witnessed many miracles, they didn’t minimize theology. John Stott writes, “Anti-intellectualism and the fullness of the Spirit are mutually incompatible, because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth.”1
They had recognized leaders and teachers whom they were devoted to hearing. Their love of fellowship didn’t turn all of their gatherings into discussions. Instruction was an important component of their growth. They needed to hear and know what Christ had done for them and what He demanded of them. Therefore, both doctrine and application were critical.
Derek Thomas mentions three characteristics of a revival that were present: 1) Sense of awe (2:43), 2) Addition of great numbers (2:41, 47), and 3) Conviction of sin (2:37). We might say that genuine revival is followed by genuine transformation.
Charles Finney, the most prominent figure of the Second Great Awakening realized the lack of transformation that followed his preaching. B.B. Warfield quotes Finney saying, “I was often instrumental in bringing Christians under great conviction, and into a state of temporary repentance and faith…[But] falling short of urging them up to a point, where they would become so acquainted with Christ as to abide in Him, they would of course soon relapse into their former state.”2
One of Finney’s contemporaries argued: “During ten years, hundreds, and perhaps thousands, were annually reported to be converted on all hands; but now it is admitted, that real converts are comparatively few. It is declared, even by [Finney] himself, that “the great body of them are a disgrace to religion.”3
Devotion to the apostles’ teaching doesn’t mean a devotion to a particular experience, nor is it a devotion to dramatic results! Devotion to the apostles’ teaching means they would be protective of its purity. It means they will not be devoted to the teaching of others, especially those who twist and manipulate the truth.
When opposing views are presented they won’t say, “Well, to each his own.” They won’t act like all truth is relative. They won’t assume that opposing worldview or morals should have an equal representation in their education or the education of their children. They were devoted to God’s Word, not the word of the culture.
Doctrine, philosophy, and morality are all governed by the Word of God. I’m not saying we should ignore everything else. But I am saying it should have a place that is far inferior to God’s Word. The truth that the apostles taught is worth defending. You cannot have too much truth.
So what is the apostles’ teaching?
What the Apostles’ Teaching Is
Verse 42 outlines the distinguishing marks developing in the church that made them different from the world. They were beginning to formulate statements regarding the truth in order to distinguish it from error.
We have already seen an example of the apostles’ teaching in Peter’s sermon. He emphasized the fact that Jesus came to fulfill the Old Testament promises of God, revealing himself to be both Christ and Lord (2:36). Apostolic preaching was evangelistic exposition. They called unbelievers to repent and believe, and they exhorted believers to persevere in the faith.
Beyond Peter’s sermon, we consider all of the New Testament to be the definitive and authoritative teaching of the apostles. John Stott writes, “A Spirit-filled church is a New Testament church, in the sense that it studies and submits to New Testament instruction. The Spirit of God leads the people of God to submit to the Word of God.”4 That is such an important point to grasp. The apostles’ teaching, as it was guided by the Holy Spirit, was the Word of God—which is why it was authenticated with “wonders and signs” (2:43) just like the ministry of Jesus (2:22).
But the Word of God was continually under attack from false teachers. Creedal statements clarified and summarized the whole counsel of God’s Word in ways that were helpful parameters in our study of it. You find some of these basic creeds articulated in Scripture (1 Cor. 15:3-4; 1 Tim. 2:5-6; Phil. 2:6-11; Col. 2:9-15). And the early church continued to articulate creeds such as the Apostles’ Creed. The modern church has creeds of its own. “No creed but the Bible” or “No creed but Jesus” or “Christianity is about a person not a doctrine.” These are creeds in themselves, and they are inconsistent with the Word of God itself.
The apostles’ teaching became effective through the anointing of the Holy Spirit. And even then, only God could open blinded eyes and deaf ears. Their teaching was only as impactful as God allowed it to be. They did not possess the power to convince anyone of the truth they proclaimed. They were as dependent upon the Lord as we are today. The believing community devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching because that was where they heard the Word of God.
The apostles had influence because God gave it to them. Psalm 127:1a “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” After Peter testifies to the true identity of Jesus, the Lord said “Upon this rock I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). They remained faithful to the commission Christ had given them and he was faithful to “add to their number.”
How does this work out in practice? Many of the largest churches in the US would not be described as “devoted to the apostles’ teaching.” So we cannot simply associate growth with faithfulness. Unfaithful churches often experience numerical growth and faithful churches often close. Again, we have to acknowledge how much we depend upon God for the growth. Just like we can’t manufacture true repentance, neither can we manufacture true church growth.
However, we are often guilty of seeing church growth as a negative component entirely. Anything that attracts people is viewed with automatic skepticism. We simply wish to remain in our tight-knit-holy-huddle where we can snicker and chastise and point our finger at everyone outside the group.
Just because Christ is the one who will build his church, doesn’t mean we pull up a chair and watch. He builds his church by using his church.
Now that we’ve considered what the apostles’ teaching is, let us consider…
How They Were Devoted to it?
With such an incredible experience on Pentecost, we might expect the disciples to be continually anticipating another similar experience. They might be expected to be looking back and always longing for another encounter with those phenomena. But instead we find them devoted to the study of God’s Word. Their experience with the Holy Spirit ultimately led them into a deeper appreciation for truth.
The church that is Spirit-filled will corporately and individually devote themselves to the study of God’s Word. Devoting themselves has to do with persistence and perseverance. Luke has already used this word to describe the united prayers of the disciples between Christ’s ascension and Pentecost (1:14). They were faithfully carrying out Christ’s command in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:20). The church was so devoted to the teaching of the apostles that it “filled Jerusalem” (Acts 5:28). The truth is meant to be shared!
We do not automatically mature after conversion. These new believers needed instruction. They needed teachers committed to equipping them for the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:11). Although they were no longer blind to the truth, they needed teaching to grow. They needed teachers who had been appointed to the office of apostleship.
Notice what we don’t see. We don’t see all of these converts scattering back to their normal everyday lives. We don’t see them departing Pentecost never to return to the gatherings again. When there is a genuine conversion, there is a genuine interest in greater understanding.
We don’t see them thinking, “Now that I have the Holy Spirit I can go off on my own and just take my Old Testament with me.” Had they done that they would not have grown. They not only needed the Spirit and the Word, they needed the apostles’ teaching as well.
Guy Waters writes, “As Christians read and observe the New Testament, along with the Old Testament, they too hold fast to the teaching of the apostles.”
God has given us his Word, and yet many of us can only feign interest in it. Think about that! The Sovereign Lord has spoken to us and we are so distracted we cannot give Him our attention. Being devoted to the Word of God doesn’t mean we will always desire the Word of God. Being devoted means we will read it even when we don’t really want to.
Remember the context. These Jewish believers were recently converted, baptized and received the Holy Spirit. Now they were seeing Christ in a new light and it drove their desire for more. They were not content with slogans and pep talks. Not only were they committed to hearing it, but they applied it and shared it with others.
The number of apostles eventually grew by one, but their teaching filled Jerusalem (Acts 5:28). How? At the very least, it is because the new community was bringing others with them to hear the apostles’ teaching. And, they were sharing that teaching with others.
Messages like this can be easy for people like me to support. We emphasize teaching here. It is something of a distinctive of ours. So in some ways this feels a bit like preaching to the choir. Many of you are here because you place a high value on the authority of Scripture and you have an appreciation for a particular kind of teaching.
Some would argue, our emphasis is too heavy on teaching. They would argue that knowledge puffs up, so we should focus less on teaching and more on loving others. And while I see some legitimacy to that critique, I don’t believe we need less teaching, but more. Our teaching doesn’t need to be weakened, but strengthened. We shouldn’t soften our stance for truth, but we should solidify it. As culture diminishes the value of God’s Word, we should cherish it all the more. There is no such thing as having too much truth!
What does it mean for you to be devoted to God’s Word? Does it mean you want to go to church once a week? Does it mean you will read it occasionally with your family? Does it occupy your attention regularly? Do you turn to it for answers, direction, and comfort? Do you meditate upon God’s Word because you recognize its role in your Christian maturity? Do you study it to know God better? Does it enter into your conversations? Do you hide it in your heart? When something you read causes confusion do you seek an answer? When something you read brings conviction do you seek repentance? When something you read stirs your soul to rejoice, do you glorify God?
1 Stott, Acts, 82.
2 cited in B. B. Warfield, Studies in Perfectionism, 2 vols. (New York: Oxford, 1932), 2:24
3 cited in Warfield, 2:23
4 John Stott, Acts, 82.