This summary passage is the result of Pentecost. When a sinner repents (2:38) and calls upon the name of the Lord by faith (2:21), certain characteristics begin to develop.
- They want to grow in their understanding of God’s Word (apostles’ teaching)—especially the message concerning Christ.
- They want to enjoy one another’s company and support one another by satisfying their needs.
- (today) They enjoy meals together—both in corporate and smaller gatherings.
- (next week) They devoted themselves to the prayers. And once again we will see the corporate and personal aspects.
This morning, we will see that communion with God is connected to communion with one another. There is a formal and informal breaking of bread that we want to consider.
Before we read this passage let us look to the Lord in prayer for his help in understanding it.
The Westminster Confession of Faith 26.1:
“All saints, that are united to Jesus Christ their Head, by his Spirit, and by faith, have fellowship with him in his graces, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory: and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other’s gifts and graces, and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man.”
Not only does the confession emphasize the connection between our union with Christ and our union with one another, but it also acknowledges its “public and private” aspects.
Formal and informal worship is needed for our spiritual nourishment. They met in the temple and in homes (v.46). This is what Ray is talking about in our adult Sunday School class. So it serves as a compliment to this passage.
Regarding the breaking of bread; as the Lord shows us hospitality, so we are to show hospitality to others. Even though “breaking of bread” is found in verse 42 and 46, it is not exclusively talking about the Lord’s Supper, nor is it exclusively dealing with table fellowship. There is a complimentary connection between the two: Because Christ receives us at his table, we ought to receive others at our table.
First, we will look at Breaking Bread in Corporate Worship (42). Second, we’ll consider how they were Breaking Bread in Homes (46).
Breaking Bread in Corporate Worship (v.42)
Most of the commentaries I read view this as a reference to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The article in v.42 is a difference with v.46 and suggests a particular kind of bread breaking. Just like the rest of v.42, it seems to be an element of their corporate Worship Service. It was most likely a formal aspect observed as part of a larger meal (probably the Agape Meal). Although the Lord’s Supper was distinct from the Agape Meal, they occurred together.
They habitually gather in the temple, specifically in Solomon’s Porch or Colonnade (3:11; 4:1; 5:12). You can see from the picture this was a massive place located at the east wall. It can be difficult to imagine the size of the Temple Mount if—like me—you’ve never been there. It compromised roughly 37 acres of space (150,000 m2). For reference, one acre is slightly smaller than a football field (91%, so remove the endzones). So you can imagine roughly 4 football fields wide by 9 football fields long. It’s a massive amount of space.
One more thing to note: Doesn’t “devoted” imply something about the frequency with which they participated? It appears the Lord’s Supper was something they celebrated every Sunday. In Acts 20:7 we read, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.”
The purpose of this formal celebration is manifold. I want to consider several points from this morning’s Confession of Faith (WCF 29.1). The Lord’s Supper…
- Was instituted by Jesus.
- Symbolizes Christ’s body and blood.
- Is to be observed in the church (not privately).
- Is to be perpetually observed until Christ’s return (1 Cor. 11:24-26).
- Seals the benefits of our redemption. Romans 4:11 tells us that Abraham’s circumcision was a seal of the righteousness he had by faith. Seals were confirming tokens or authenticating symbols.
- Nourishes and grows us. This isn’t “snack time” where everyone clamors to get something before it runs out. It serves to feed your soul, not your body.
- Reminds us of our covenantal obligations and duties. We express our loyalty to Christ and submission to his lordship.
- Symbolizes our communion with Christ (1 Cor. 10:16). Our experience is entirely spiritual. The physical elements of the bread and wine, remain bread and wine. Jesus’ body remains physically on the throne at the Father’s right hand. But we enjoy his real presence spiritually. And in that sense it is true communion.
- Symbolizes our communion with Christians (1 Cor. 10:17). We cannot take part in the Lord’s Supper and then only want to spend time with the world. Our loyalty to Christ should be clear (1 Cor. 10:21).
When we identify ourselves with Christ, we also identify ourselves with the body of Christ, namely his Church. This means our devotion to the apostles’ teaching, which centered on Christ, compels us to the challenging task of building relationships with other Christians.
This sermon can be summarized by reading chapters 26 and 27 of the Westminster Confession of Faith. In chapter 26, we learn something about “communion of the saints.” From the Scripture proofs we see that every part of the body of Christ must work together to effectively grow, mature, and edify the whole (Eph. 4:15-16). As we remain united, connected to the head, we all receive our needed spiritual nourishment (Col. 2:19). We should exhort one another to gather (Isa. 2:3).
Listen to Hebrews 10:24-25,
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
First of all, we see that accountability is not just the role of the pastor. We should all be in the habit of stirring one another up to love and good works. We should be following up with one another when their is an absence, not because we are stalkers, but because we are concerned about them. When anyone is neglecting to gather together for corporate worship they quickly become malnourished.
Their formal celebration of the Lord’s Supper naturally encouraged them into informal settings where they were…
Breaking Bread in Homes (v.46)
The fellowship meals they enjoyed together were the natural response to the Worship Service. Hospitality is appropriate application of worship. This phrase does not appear to have the formal significance it has in v.42 because the definite article is missing.
We don’t have too many details, but it seems likely that various families were meeting in various homes throughout the week. Whether there was some sort of schedule or rotation is not clear. The emphasis is upon the unity they enjoyed “together”.
In the Greco-Roman culture it was expected to receive what was provided. Meals were shared as a way of reconciliation. Sharing fellowship and a meal would not have been surprising. However, the extent to which their fellowship went, and the frequency with which they participated in a common meal would have certainly exceeded expectations.
In addition, generally speaking, the social classes stayed within their own segment of society. Upper classes didn’t share meals with lower classes. Even when something like this was arranged, the seating would have been organized by class. This is precisely what Jesus condemned (Luke 14:1-14).
This community shattered those cultural norms and shared their table with joy and generosity. This is the only time in the New Testament where “glad and generous” appear together. It was not drudgery to share meals together. They enjoyed it! Received with generosity. Those aren’t words you would naturally think to combine. And even those who received food were generous in return. This could be the first midweek church potluck!
Receiving and generosity are not polar opposites. There is a video I watched of a social experiment not too long ago. It begins with several different clips of a guy asking people for food. Each time he is told “no”. Then it cuts to a different guy buying a pizza and giving it to a homeless man. It returns to the first guy who walks up to the homeless man and asks him for a slice. And without any hesitation the homeless man opens the box and shares his pizza.
Now let me be brutally honest and tell you what my initial reaction to that was. I thought, “How many homeless people did it take before they found one who was generous?” Or “how much money did they offer this guy to act out a script?” I simply couldn’t believe that a person so clearly in need himself could be so generous.
But, in reading this verse, I realized that those who are the most generous are generally those who are the most aware of their own need. Why? Compassion follows understanding. When you empathize with someone you put yourself in their shoes and feel their pain. That seems to be much easier for those who have been broken by their circumstances. In this case, this new community had been broken—by their sin. Remember back in v.37, “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart,” and they cried out “What shall we do?”
We see something similar in 2 Corinthians 8:12,
“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.”
Because God is generous to us in giving us his Son, we ought to be generous to others. If, like me, you struggle with generosity, you might have a false impression of your own self-sufficiency. You might need to reconsider your own weaknesses and reflect more upon your own needs.
We might say the same about hospitality. They were daily enjoying table fellowship. But in our culture, hospitality is something we no longer have time for. Between school, homework, sports, programs, television shows we can’t miss, and time with our own family—showing hospitality to one another is increasingly rare to find.
Christianity was never intended to be lived in isolation. If you aren’t enjoying regular table fellowship I want to encourage you to begin by inviting someone to your own table. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should come from a heart that is “glad and generous”.
In saying that, I realize that many of you are excellent at showing hospitality. I love the fact that before Carrie and I have had a chance to have someone over for a meal, often they have already been invited by someone else from the church. It’s a good thing that we enjoy eating together. It is something that distinguished this community in Acts, and it should distinguish our church from the world as well. Don’t grow weary in doing good!
So they broke bread together in public and private gatherings…
“And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (v.47). In other words, the Lord sent the Spirit upon the gathering community and as they experienced the resulting maturity, the Lord grew their number.
The commitment to building relationships extends beyond the people who are already inside the church. Some scholars have suggested that the public meetings were more evangelistic and the discipleship took place in the homes. The text doesn’t suggest such a distinction, and it sounds a bit too convenient. Why couldn’t it be the reverse?
Evangelism is not a separate component, but an essential aspect of discipleship. They can—and should—take place together. The fact of the matter is that all of us need to hear the proclamation of the gospel. It is how we begin and continue in the faith. We cannot assume it or move beyond it.
I believe evangelism took place in the large public gatherings and the small house gatherings. The same is true of discipleship. When a community is united in their desire to glorify God, whenever they gather—wherever they gather, evangelism and discipleship will occur.
Everything they did kept the unbeliever and outsider in mind. If their worship was daily, so was their witness. But we also see that evangelism was linked to corporate worship. It wasn’t separate from the church, but joined with it.
Christianity Explored is the perfect opportunity for you to get involved in purposeful evangelistic relationships. I invite you to join us as we pass out flyers, take some flyers for yourself to pass out to your friends and neighbors. And be in prayer about who you will bring to this study.