PENTECOST AND BEYOND
Reading: Acts 2: 1-4, 42-3
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit enabled them.
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.
What hobby, activity, person or cause invites or demands your devotion?
- And which of them receives your devotion?
As a little boy, I was devoted to train-spotting!
- As a teenager, I was devoted to following my local football team and being part of a ‘pop group’
- Schoolwork came near the bottom of the list!
Acts 2 is largely concerned with the coming of the Holy Spirit in power… Peter’s sermon and the conversion of thousands of people
But Pentecost was not an end in itself…but rather the beginning of something new that would create the New Testament Church and transform the lives of countless millions
In verse 42 of the chapter, we see that the early Christians ‘devoted’ themselves to four things:
- The Apostles’ teaching
- The fellowship of believers
- Breaking of bread
A lady I knew well died recently, aged 96. She had served continuously in the Sunday School, Christian Endeavour, youth work and young people’s camps since her early twenties! I also heard of man who was Church Secretary for over sixty years!
- Now that’s devotion!
- But devotion to what or to whom?
The devotion of which we read in Acts 2 was not merely to a list of good things to do… but to the One for whom we do them!
- It’s possible to become so immersed in our activities that we forget that we do everything “unto Him” and for His glory
I’ve certainly struggled with this issue myself!
- Our devotion must be first and foremost to the Lord of the work… and not primarily to the work of the Lord… though the work of the Lord is essential, of course, and we all have a part to play in the endeavour
AND SO TO THE FOUR DEVOTIONS…
Devotion to the Apostles’ teaching
- It’s first in the list and for a very good reason… once we stop learning, we stop growing
- Once we stop growing, we shrink!
- In the Christian life, we go forward or backwards, there’s no ‘treading water’ and standing still
How important to ‘feed’ on God’s word… not nibble or snack… but take and eat… taste and see that the Lord is good
- For example, Ezekiel was told to eat a scroll containing God’s word… Ugh!
- But when he did so, it tasted sweet
And in much the same way, we have to discipline ourselves to read the Bible… carefully, prayerfully and with high expectation
- And as we do so, we discover that the effort is worthwhile… it is sweet to our taste
- We find treasures… precious truths, as well as challenges, that we’ve never ‘seen’ before
We are encouraged to “set our minds on things above, not earthly things” (Colossians 3: 2)…
- In other words, to be steadfast in seeking the will of God, not swayed by human philosophy or clever arguments that are contrary to the word of God
- So, “do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2)
- Note that every thought, idea or decision begins in the mind, which is inclined to be sinful… so we must renew our minds so that “we have the mind of Christ” (I Corinthians 2: 16)
According to surveys, the habit of personal Bible study and waiting on God (the ‘quiet time’) is in decline, even among pastors and preachers!
- It is being replaced by listening to sermons, CDs , God TV, etc.
- A ‘second hand’ experience… filtered through other people’s experiences of God
Now these support materials and aids have an important role to play but are no substitute for ‘waiting on God’ with an open Bible and receptive heart.
Christians in some churches are accused of being anti-intellectual… of being too simplistic… of quoting Scripture out of context… of refusing to take account of scholarship…
- On the one hand, we don’t want to become obsessed with human knowledge such that we block out godly wisdom and understanding that only comes from the Holy Spirit
- On the other hand, we need to study the Scriptures closely and carefully… and be willing to adjust our thinking and beliefs on the basis of what the Bible says… and not what we think it says!
We must guard against false teaching from outside the church and heresy from within it… and build ourselves and one another up in our most holy faith… To succeed, we must devote ourselves first and foremost to the Apostles’ teaching
Devotion to the fellowship
What do you understand by the term ‘fellowship’?
- A group of people who attend the same church?
- A good feeling between you and others during formal services?
- The time following the formal service to chat with your friends?
- Your relationship with other believers regardless of their church affiliation?
- Your relationships with believers who think like you and believe precisely the same as you do?
Fellowship is a hot topic in recent years because, unlike the ‘old days’, people are frequently changing their church allegiance…
- Sometimes because of a dispute, a ‘falling out’ or an incident
- Sometimes because the ministry is unsatisfactory
- Sometimes because the ministry is too challenging!
- Sometimes because a family is the only one with children
- Sometimes due to boredom… or lack of a particular age group… or lack of potential life partners… and so forth
The Apostle Paul urges the people in Philippi to ‘make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind’
- There’s that word mind again!
And in Romans 15: 5-7
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
- Note that true fellowship requires ‘endurance’ and ‘encouragement’
- It requires ‘one mind and one voice’ to glorify God
- It requires ‘acceptance’ of one another to bring praise to God
So here we have the key features of fellowship… endurance (perseverance), encouragement, one mind, one voice and acceptance of one another.
Jesus was clear about how the world would know that we are His disciples… by our love for one another
Devotion to a fellowship (noun) might be translated ‘devotion to fellowship’ (verb)… so-called “fellowshipping”
- Not only loyalty to a specific church … but a desire to promote fellowship with all believers
- It’s an attitude of mind that we do everything possible to persevere, encourage one another, discuss and share ideas, unite in praise and worship and accept one another’s shortcomings… just as God accepts yours and mine!
Does that mean that we should never express doubts or offer our opinions for fear of creating disunity?
- On the contrary, it’s important to share our ideas but to do so sensitively and with God’s glory as our aim, not our own!
- There is no room in the church of Jesus Christ for pride, vain glorying or humiliating those who have different opinions
- As someone has said: “If we must disagree, let’s not disagree disagreeably!”
However, with the best will in the world, if it seems right to move on and find another church…
- This should only happen when we have done all we can do to ‘make things work’ in our present fellowship… or when we have been called by God to a new sphere of work
I have known people to ‘cut and run’ from a church, which is not only painful for those who remain but also dishonouring to God
- Let’s ensure that descriptions such as church-hoppers, spiritual gypsies or Consumer Christians never apply to any of us
Perhaps we can all try harder to be led by the Spirit; to bear one another’s burdens; to be transparent in our dealings with others; and thereby bring honour to the Lord
Devotion to the Breaking of Bread
Let’s remind ourselves that devotion to the breaking of bread is a shorthand way of saying:
- Devotion to the One whose body and blood are represented through the communion; that is, the Lord Jesus Christ
- And devotion to those who share in the meal
To share communion yet not be in communion with others and with the Lord makes a mockery of the celebration…it becomes non-communion
- So Paul writes to the church in Corinth that we should ‘examine ourselves’, sort out any differences with fellow believers… and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup
- Not to allow anger, resentment or indifference to spoil our ‘oneness in Christ’
- And preferably to do the sorting before the service, not during it!
We devote ourselves to the breaking of bread, not only because we are obeying Christ’s command but also because it is a focal point for our life in Him and with one another…
The Bible does not support the traditions of some denominations that ‘taking Communion’ has a mysterious, almost magical effect on our relationship with God simply by our involvement in the ceremony …
- Neither do we find any evidence that the bread and wine somehow ‘transform’ into the literal body and blood of Christ
- Receiving Communion is not principally about “me” but about acknowledging the sacrifice of Christ and about my relationship with other believers
Perhaps there’s a sense in which every occasion that we share a meal together with believers should be treated as a ‘communion’ as an indication of our wholehearted devotion to Jesus Christ and His church
Devotion to prayer
Who was it that wrote: “Satan trembles when he sees the weakest Christian on his knees!”
We are always being encouraged to pray more…
- So we say that prayer moves mountains… it moves the hand of God… seven days without prayer make one weak!
- Rather sadly, I’ve also noticed that Christian charities increasingly use the language of “please pray about…” when their motive seems to be a plea for money, a trend that must be resisted.
The Apostle Paul urges us to ‘pray continually’… that is ‘without ceasing’…
- Instead of relying on set times to meet together at ‘the prayer meeting’, we should also be ‘praying as we go’… a constant lifting of our hearts to God
- To walk and talk along life’s narrow way
- As Moses spoke with God, ‘friend to friend’
Why is the prayer meeting so badly attended?
- Because it’s often boring, predictable and rarely seems to have any short-term effects
But why is it so often boring, predictable and without immediate effect?
- Perhaps it’s because we sometimes ‘go through the motions’
- Perhaps we’ve almost stopped expecting God to work, so our prayers are ‘limp’ rather than decisive
- Perhaps we spend too much time asking for things and insufficient time in praising and thanking God
- Perhaps we are not sure how to pray, though there seems to be no end of advice!
Jude reminds his readers of the importance of praying “in the Spirit” (verse 20)
- Prayer that glorifies God… that first seeks the mind and will of God… and involves ‘waiting on God’ before praying
- Accepting the fact that our prayers are already known to Him before we ask
- Walking in step with the Spirit
- Believing that God is moving without seeing any evidence of it happening
One wonders where the great pray-ers have gone…
- David Livingstone, who died on his knees, praying
- “Praying Hyde” whose commitment to prayer led to his premature death
- CT Studd who, when the mission work was languishing, prayed: “Lord God, revive your work; even if it means Hell for me”
To name but a few.
So, DEVOTION comes in many forms… devotion to our families, our work, our neighbours, our community… All of these are good and proper and should be applauded
- But devotion to the Apostle’s teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread and to prayer are essential for the health and effectiveness of an individual and church, as we ‘seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness’
So where does your devotion lie?