In Acts 2:42-27, we read about the marks of church family relationships. First, the earliest Christians were devoted to the Apostle’s teaching. This is the beauty of having the apostles’ teachings preserved in Scripture. Church family relationships are guided by the teaching of the Bible. We, too, even though we live 2000 years later, can devote ourselves to the teaching of Scripture. This is so important, because apostolic teaching points us to a relationship with Jesus. The church family is only a church family because we are in relationship, together, with Jesus, through his Spirit living in us. We learn from Scripture, then, how to live like Jesus lived, or put another way, we learn to live like Jesus would live if he were us. We learn how to have the Fruit of the Spirit flowing to one another.
Second, we read in Acts 2:42-47 that the church was devoted to the fellowship. This word “fellowship” is defined as “an association involving close mutual relations and involvement.” (Louw & Nida) A church family is devoted to being close with one another and involved in each other’s live. One way this has been described is “Doing Life Together.” (For example, read Bonhoeffer’s classic, Life Together.)
Our Faith Church logo has four squares, and the second square from left is the fellowship square. The logo tells a story of how we believe God works in his church, shaping people together to move from simply observers to active disciples who carry out his mission. We believe the biblical teaching is best summarized by four words, one for each square: Worship, Fellowship, Discipleship and Outreach. We also believe that the natural flow of this growth pattern is from Worship to Fellowship to Discipleship to Outreach.
What I mean is that most people make their first connection to a church through a worship service. More often than not, in our contemporary world, that first contact is online. Then after visiting a church online, people make the step to visiting in-person in a Sunday worship service. But is attendance at worship services the end goal that God desires for people? No. As we see in Acts 2:42-47, clearly there is an important next step, and that is becoming part of the fellowship, becoming part of the family.
Take a look at how the earliest Christians created this new family. In the previous post, we examined how they met together in small groups. But we also read that, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” They sacrificed their individualism in favor of the group. This wasn’t just a one time thing, as Acts chapter 4:32-37 describes how, sometime later (maybe a couple months or years) they were filled with the Spirit, selflessly committed to the mission of God and to each other, especially to those among their family who were in need.
What we can conclude, therefore, is that the earliest Christians came together to create a new family where one did not previously exist. It was a family rooted in sacrificial love for one another. Where did they get that idea? Who taught them to think and act so selflessly?
In John 13:34-35, we read Jesus teach the disciples, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” The mark of Jesus’ disciples is that they love one another.
Jesus didn’t just teach this, as we know; he modeled it. Jesus said just a few verses later in John 15:12-13, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” And that’s exactly what he did. He once called himself “the Good Shepherd…[who] lays his life down for his sheep.” (John 10:14-15) That’s the kind of love that Jesus taught and what he did, as we know, through his birth, life, death and resurrection.
Paul reflects on this in Philippians 2:1-11. “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!”
The essence of Christian fellowship and unity is demonstrated for us by Jesus, in his self-giving love, which Paul describes as “making himself nothing, taking the very nature of the servant.” Paul is not describing “making himself nothing” as some kind of self-loathing, self-harm, or self-hatred. Another way to translate Paul’s words here is to say that Jesus “emptied himself,” like a container of living water poured out for all who are thirsty.
Notice again how Paul describes it: Jesus “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” That is amazing. Jesus, in other words, the pre-existant person of the Trinity we typically refer to as God the Son, the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior, is equal to God. But get this: he was willing to take on a massive change. God, the pre-existant Christ, took on a body. In a few weeks we will start a new blog series studying the life of Jesus as told by his disciple, John, and John describes this well in chapter 1, “the Word became flesh.” Christ who was previously a spirit, submitted himself to the confines, the boundaries, the limitations of human flesh.
Why would he do this? Because he loves us. Jesus emptied himself, limiting himself to a body, for us. Therefore we do what Jesus did. Paul says in Philippians 2, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”
Because God taking on flesh is only the first part of the story. In the next post we continue to see how Jesus’ life and teaching are our example for how to have healthy church families.
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