“So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:41-42)
Some churches are known for their music programs, others for their children’s or youth ministries, others for some sort of “niche” that appeals to a large audience. While all such ministries can be good and helpful for both reaching your community and encouraging the church, it’s interesting to look back at what the first church devoted themselves to. In Acts 2, after Peter’s Jewish audience heard the gospel proclaimed, they responded with repentance and faith, were incorporated into the church through baptism, and they devoted themselves to a common faith and a common life.
It’s no accident that the first devotion mentioned was to the apostles’ teaching. We too should be devoted to the apostles’ teaching, but what is their teaching? In Acts 2:22-26, Peter preaches the good news concerning Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and exaltation as Lord and King. In Acts 4, Peter and John annoy the Jewish leaders because they were “teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (v.2). Then the Jewish leaders charged them not “to teach at all in the name of Jesus” (v.18). Then in Acts 5, the apostles’ teaching is referred to as “the words of life” (v.20-21). But again, the Jewish leaders “strictly charged them not to teach in this name” (v.28). Nevertheless, after they were released, Luke says of the apostles: “And every day in the temple and from house to house they did not cease teaching and preaching that Jesus is the Christ” (v.42). I trust you get the idea of what the apostles’ teaching entails.
Still, there is a little more going on in Acts 2:42 than first meets the eye. You see, faithful Jews were to be devoted to Moses’ teaching. By devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching, the early church understood that they were under a new authority—King Jesus, the new and better prophet than Moses. The apostles’ teaching is nothing other than all of Scripture, now interpreted through the lens of Jesus. This is, after all, how Jesus himself viewed all of Scripture (Luke 24:44-49). All Scripture is inspired by God and points to Jesus.
For this reason, we should want what we do together as a church to be Word-saturated (all of Scripture) and gospel-centered (interpreted through the lens of Jesus). In light of this gospel commitment, here are four areas in which we should encourage our church to be devoted to the apostles’ teaching.
If our churches are to be devoted to the apostles’ teaching, then our members need to be personally devoted to the apostles’ teaching. At the very least, we need to encourage regular Bible reading. To be sure, there is no shortage of daily Bible reading plans, and many of our folks get confused by all the offerings. Personally, I’ve found that a simple Bible reading plan is best. When it comes to personal devotions, I encourage our folks to be faithful in three ways: plan, time, and place. If you set a regular time and find a regular place for your personal devotions, it will likely develop into a fruitful practice. And if you commit to a simple, doable plan, you will more likely maintain it. Most Bible reading plans fail due to complexity and/or overzealous daily goals. It’s more important that our people be in God’s Word regularly than that they finish the Bible in a set time. And if our folks want accountability, encourage them to read the Bible with one or two or three others.
Your church may or may not have Sunday School. At High Pointe, we call it Life Classes, and we offer topic-specific classes. Still, we want to make sure we root these classes in Scripture and point our people to Christ. Imagine an entire church studying the Bible together from the youngest to oldest. They may be working through books of the Bible or addressing specific topics. Regardless, they are learning how to understand and apply God’s Word to their daily lives. When we teach all of God’s Word through the lens of Jesus, instead of telling our people what the Bible requires of them and leaving them to their own strength to figure out how to obey, we empower them to obey on the basis of what Jesus has already done for them. Through Christ, we are empowered to obey because we have new hearts and we have the Holy Spirit living in us.
Perhaps your church has small groups that meet throughout the week. These groups should also be Word-saturated and gospel-centered. Whether each group is studying something different or discussing Sunday’s sermon, they should be speaking the truth of God’s gospel Word to one another, building one another up in love (Ephesians 4:11-16). At High Pointe, we discuss Sunday’s sermon because we want the one message that every member hears on Sunday morning to reverberate throughout our church during the week. We prepare discussion questions to guide the group time. Our aim is for all our groups to speak the truth in love to one another when they meet in homes throughout the Austin metro area.
It is a great joy when God’s people gather to declare our joint allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ. Corporate worship is a weekly reminder that we are God’s people on mission. It is also a time when we are reminded of the graciousness of a God who has communicated to his people by his Word. Therefore, when we gather for corporate worship, it too is a time that is to be saturated by God’s Word now read through the lens of Jesus Christ. When we gather together, we gather to SING the gospel Word, PRAY the gospel Word, READ the gospel Word, HEAR the gospel Word preached, and even SEE the gospel Word in the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
As we seek to shepherd our churches faithfully, may we devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching, and may we encourage our churches to be devoted to the apostles’ teaching. This is the foundation of Jesus’ church (Ephesians 2:20). And there is no other foundation upon which we may build his church (1 Corinthians 3:10–17).