Grace For The Journey
Yesterday looked into the Bible and say two traits, evangelistic effectiveness and doctrinal depth and a sense of the presence of God, that the gospel produced in the early church. In Acts 2:41-47 we began to look at five things that God desires and led the believers to implement in their on-going activities together. One crucial aspect God teaches us in this passage is that the believers who make up His church do everything based on a Scripturally-anchored gospel. We are seeing the Bible clearly teaches that, just as it was in the first century, these traits are what churches should be and do today.
The great need of our day
Is that churches return to
Being truly Gospel and Bible centered
In their worship services and ministry.
Today we will look at the other three traits that the gospel produced in the early church:
- Gospel-centered churches are characterized by fervent, faith-filled prayer(Acts 2:42)
The gospel produces a faith in the hearts of the early church that leads them to make bold requests of Jesus. You see that referred to verse 42 in Acts 2, and fleshed out later in Acts 4:24-31. They expected great things from God, and then attempted great things for God.
The early church was born from prayer. After Jesus ascended to heaven, Acts 1:14 reports that the disciples “continued with one accord in prayer and supplication.” This went on for ten days before the arrival of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. These believers prayed for 10 days, Peter preached for 10 minutes, and 3,000 people were saved. Today we’re more likely to pray for 10 minutes, preach for 10 days, and see 3 people saved.
Acts shows us a profound connection between corporate prayer and our community getting a sense of the glory of God. When we pray, our eyes are opened to the glory of God. When our eyes are opened to His glory, we will preach with boldness, passion and power (Acts 4:24-31). In Acts 7:55-56, we see Stephen lift his eyes to heaven in prayer, catch a glimpse of Jesus’ glory, and in awe begin to proclaim it to those around him. When this happens on a city-wide scale, what you get is a spiritual awakening. Tim Keller gives a glimpse of what this looks like: “In New York, in 1857, a man named Jeremiah Lanphier was hired to witness to a local neighborhood. He was frustrated by utter ineffectiveness, and so in desperation he turned to prayer. One day he invited people to pray with him – six people showed up. The following week, 20 people came. The next week, 40. Two months later, hundreds were gathering to pray. Soon the entire downtown area was filled with men and women praying. Evangelistic meetings sprang up all over the city, and in 9 months, 50,000 people came to Christ at a time when the population of NYC was 800,000. This was known as the great prayer revival of Manhattan”
I really want to see that happen in my city! It won’t come until God’s people are burdened to pray.
- Gospel-centered churches are characterized by empowered members. (Acts 8:1, 28:15)
A constant theme throughout the book of Acts is that God’s most effective vehicles are “regular” people.
Consider these facts from Acts:
- Thirty-nine of the 40 miracles in the book of Acts occur outside the walls of the “church,” in the workplace.
- The longest sermon in Acts is by Stephen, a layman. That sermon led to the most significant spiritual moment in Acts, the conversion of Saul (Paul).
- Acts 8:1 notes that when persecution rose up against the church, the church was scattered around the world preaching the gospel. But note that Luke tells you this worldwide fulfillment of Acts 1:8 did not include the Apostles.
- These anonymous Christians were so effective in preaching the gospel that when Paul showed up in Rome to preach the gospel “where Christ had never been named,” he was greeted by “the brothers” (Acts 28:15).
Early church historian Stephen Neill notes that the anonymity of the major gospel movements in the ancient world is breathtaking: “But in point of fact few, if any, of the great Churches were really founded by apostles. Nothing is more notable than the anonymity of these early missionaries… Luke does not turn aside to mention the name of a single one of those pioneers who laid the foundation. Peter and Paul may have organized the Church in Rome. They certainly did not found it…” (History of Christian Missions, 22)
This flows from the very nature of the gospel.
The gospel is not about recognizing the gifted,
But about gifting the unrecognized.
Church leaders who understand that gospel won’t try to build their church around a handful of mega-talented superstars, but rather dedicate themselves to empowering and releasing the church for ministry (Ephesians 4:11-13). They become committed to raising up other leaders.
They judge their success
Not so much by seating capacity
But sending capacity.
- Gospel-centered churches are characterized by extravagant generosity. (Acts 2:45)
The gospel is that Jesus “became poor for our sake so that through his poverty we might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). When a church gets this, they become extravagantly generous toward others.
The first Christians didn’t just give out of their excess.
They voluntarily sold their possessions
So that there were no needs among them.
Eventually this sort of gospel generosity overflowed into the streets, but it started in the church. The Bible says in Galatians 6:10, “Let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” The love that Christians show to one another is a profound statement to an unbelieving world. It is by our love for one another, Jesus said, that the world will know that we are His disciples (John 13:35; cf. 1 Peter 4:9). As Francis Schaeffer said, “the final apologetic that Jesus gives is the observable love of true Christians for true Christians.”
Evangelistic effectiveness and doctrinal depth; fervent, faith-filled prayer; a sense of the presence of God; empowered members and extravagant generosity are five things that the gospel produced in the early church. How present are they in your church? If one of these characteristics are missing, is it possible that we don’t understand the gospel as much as we claim to? These are the indelible marks of a gospel-centered church.
If these are missing from your church, the answer is not to “go and try harder.” We need to ask ourselves, “Why is the gospel I am preaching not producing these things?” and “Why are we doing other things in place of these vital life-giving truths?”
This is God’s Word For Today … This Is Grace For The Journey
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”