Let me ask you a personal question. Do you love your family? How do you show it? Do you have an annual health checkup? You know – blood tests for your cholesterol, PSA for your prostate, blood pressure, weight, etc? When is your next one? Is it in your diary? It’s not? But you love your family right? Do you service your car regularly? Which is more important?
And assuming you do see your doctor regularly, if you were given advice on diet or exercise, are you following it? And if you were prescribed medication to lower your cholesterol, or reduce your blood pressure, are you taking them? And are you encouraging your family to have their health checked regularly as well? If you really love your partner, or your children, or your parents, I suggest it is more important to have an annual health check, than remembering their birthdays or your wedding anniversary. It shows you care more about their future than about your past. Proving you love those closest to you may mean making a phone call tomorrow morning.
Now what has this got to do with our epistle today? Acts 2:42-47 describes the marks of a healthy church. Just as our physical body is made up of many parts, so a healthy church is made up of healthy Christians. An infection or injury in one part of our body will affect the whole. 1 Corinthians 12 reminds us,
“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:26-27)
So, as we explore Acts 2:42-47 lets remember that like them, we are a church of individuals. We must each take responsibility for the health of our sisters and brothers, our church famiiy. Lets see what we can learn from these five marks of a healthy church. There are at least five marks of a healthy church. Five distinct reasons why Christians met together.
- They were a Learning Church
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42).
The two references to the apostles, in verse 42 (their teaching) and in verse 43 (their miracles), can hardly be an accident. Since the teaching of the apostles has come down to us in its definitive form in the New Testament, contemporary devotion to the apostles’ teaching will mean submission to the authority of the New Testament.
An authentic Spirit-filled church submits to New Testament instruction. The Spirit of God leads the people of God to submit to the Word of God.” This is why Timothy is instructed,
“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.” (1 Timothy 4:13).
Hearing sermons is important. Personal Bible reading and study is important. But there is no substitute for discussion and learning in a bible study group. If you are not in one, discuss with your pastor. The church grew deeper through Bible study because they were a learning church.
- They were a Caring Church
“They devoted themselves…to fellowship… All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together.” (Acts 2:42, 44-45)
So they met together to help and encourage one another – literally to give courage to one another and build one another up, especially in the face of opposition and persecution. The church grew deeper through Bible study. The church grew warmer through fellowship because they were a learning church. They were a caring church.
- They were a Worshipping Church
“They devoted themselves…to the breaking of bread and to prayer”… Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God” (Acts 2:42, 46, 47).
The definite article indicates this was a remembrance of the Last Supper and not just a meal, although they also shared meals together regularly as well. Jesus said “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24-25). Christians met together to eat in the Temple courts and in their homes.
The bread and wine signify the death of Jesus in our place, the free gift of salvation. The bread and wine also point toward the Messianic banquet we will one day, God willing, share in heaven. The church grew deeper through Bible study. The church grew warmer through fellowship. The church grew stronger through worship because they were a learning church, a caring church and a worshipping church.
- They were a Praying Church
“They devoted themselves…to prayer” (Acts 2:42). I like that word ‘devoted’. This would have been both individual prayer as well as corporate prayer. When his disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray he gave a model or pattern beginning “Our Father” (Matthew 6:9). Significantly, the word Jesus used for “Father was “Abba” meaning “Daddy”. Prayer was like a family conversation.
The church grew deeper through Bible study. The church grew warmer through fellowship. The church grew stronger through worship. The church grew more focused through prayer because they were a learning church, a caring church, a worshipping church and a praying church.
5. They were an Evangelistic Church
“… praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47)
The Holy Spirit is a missionary Spirit who created a missionary church. From these earliest believers in Jerusalem, we can learn three vital lessons about local church evangelism.
First, the Lord himself (that is, Jesus) did it: the Lord added to their number. Doubtless he did it through the preaching of the apostles, the witness of church members, the impressive love of their common life, and their example as they were praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people(47a). Yet he did it. For he is the head of the church. Only God can open blind eyes. Only God can raise the dead.
Second, what Jesus did was two things together: he added to their number … those who were being saved (the present participle sōzomenous either being timeless or emphasizing that salvation is a progressive experience culminating in final glorification). He did not add them to the church without saving them (no nominal Christians) nor did he save them without adding them to the church (no solitary Christians either). Salvation and church membership belonged together; they still do.
Third, the Lord added people daily. The verb is an imperfect (‘kept adding’), and the adverb (‘daily’) puts the matter beyond question. The early church’s evangelism was not an occasional or sporadic activity. They did not organize occasional missions (fine so long as they are only episodes in an ongoing programme). No, just as their worship was daily (46a), so was their witness. Praise and proclamation were both the natural overflow of hearts full of the Holy spirit. And as their outreach was continuous, so continuously converts were being added. The Holy Spirit is a missionary Spirit. So a Spirit-filled church will also be a missionary church.
What have we discovered? Five marks of a healthy church. The church grew deeper through Bible study. The church grew warmer through fellowship. The church grew stronger through worship. The church grew more focused through prayer. The church grew larger through evangelism. Earlier I challenged you to think about how having an annual health check shows you care about those closest to you. Can I recommend you take a spiritual health check also? Here are three questions to think about:
- How did I become a Christian?
- How am I growing as a Christian? – am I encouraged or discouraged? Do I have any worries or questions holding me back?
- What am I doing to serve the Lord in my church family and in the world?’
I suggest you meet up with your pastor or someone you respect and discuss your answers. Pray that your church, modelled on these five marks of a healthy church may indeed grow healthier and more fruitful in the year ahead.
Oh and by the way, don’t forget to make that appointment with your doctor tomorrow as well.
“Dear Lord Jesus, from your wisdom, please guide me and give me, each day, that which is best for me, for your glory, for the building of your church and the extension of your kingdom. In Jesus name. Amen.”