Acts Life Group Study 4/8 | Authentic Community*
*FYI: one of our values
Study Acts 2:42-47 42
Joy, ironically, was a sad Christian. She felt lonely in a city of millions of people. She just didn’t feel part of her church community but then she didn’t really play a part in the community, partly because she didn’t have a vision for the authentic missional community of transformed misfits a church can be. She’d grown up in an individualistic culture where everyone keeps themselves to themselves. That’s all she’d known. And so when she attended church she sat toward the back. She didn’t stay for refreshments, I mean, what would she say to people? She knew she was meant to ‘show herself friendly’ but she didn’t know how. She felt like that bit of charcoal growing ever colder having fallen out of the warm fire. She wasn’t really growing in her faith, and she knew she wasn’t using the gifts God had given her in the way He was prompting her to. She preferred to keep herself to herself, life seemed safer that way, and what’s wrong calling Premier Christian radio your church, anyhow, they seem like nice people? But deep down she knew something was missing. She’d heard it said that the church was meant to be like the community described in the book of Acts. She knew that was what she really wanted but she was afraid. And besides, just because church was like that then, that doesn’t mean church should be the same now, surely, with all our technological and scientific advancements, right?
1. How did you get on putting your faith into practice last week?
2. The word Luke uses for ‘devotion’ (verse 42) could be defined as prioritising and persisting. Devotion is prioritisation, as it involves setting aside one thing for the sake of another. Devotion is persistence, as it involves repeatedly, continually, faithfully persevering. Given that definition, which relationships or responsibilities in life call for more devotion than others?
3. A very literal translation of verse 42 would begin ‘they were continually devoting themselves’ (NASB ‘or see KJV ‘they continued steadfastly’). What challenges are there in London to this kind of ‘continual dedication’? Are there times when you feel a bit like Joy (and avoid authentic community)?
4. To answer what the Christians were devoted to, if possible, split the discussion group into four and discuss each ‘ingredient’ they were devoted to in verse 42: (a) the apostles’ teaching (b) fellowship (c) breaking of bread (d) prayers. Get each group to think through what this may have looked like and what was the result in verses 43-47. Then gather back into one group and discuss each other’s findings.
v. 43 – awe & miracles
v. 44 – unity of purpose (they ‘were together’ is more qualitative than merely being in the same location)
vv. 44-45 – radical generosity, meeting material needs v. 46 – regular worship – regular fellowship – joyful and gracious character growth in Christians (‘glad and generous hearts’)
v. 47 – praise vertically towards God – favour horizontally with people – numerical growth
5. What’s the connection between the priority in verse 42 and the results following?
Their answers might be something like: They publicly attended the temple to worship, and heard the Apostle’s preach the gospel there, and this resulted in their growth as a movement as more people heard the gospel and believed.
They opened their homes to one another, shared food and in blessing one another materially, spiritually, and relationally. This changed them and those around took notice.
Bible Study Tip: Author’s Purpose
Many times when we open our Bibles we can easily understand what the text in front of us means. “I am writing these things to you…” (1 Jn. 2:1). On its own that is as clear as can be: John is writing the contents of the letter. But understanding what a portion of Scripture means can only get us so far. If we wish to understand how to apply Scripture to our lives, however, we must also know ‘why’ the author wrote this passage. “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.” (1 John 2:1 emphasis added). John writes to help his readers, his little children, steer clear of sinning. That’s John’s purpose in writing the section following in his letter.
Beyond and behind the meaning of a text lies its purpose. Authors write in response to something and/or to produce some effect. The author’s purpose will answer some of these questions: What issue is being addressed? What situation 30 is he speaking into? Does he want his listeners to understand something, take up a new course of action, or to turn away from something sinful?
Aside from commentaries and cross-referencing, which can help reveal an author’s purpose, one of the easier ways to discern an author’s purpose in a narrative book is to note when the author breaks the flow to comment or say something directly to his readers.
The text for this study is one of five summary statements Luke gives in the early chapters in Acts (Acts 1:14; 2:42-47; 4:31-35; 5:12-16; 5:42). In each of these the narrative flow is broken and Luke makes a point to highlight, recap, or condense something important for his readers. If we pay attention to what Luke says here, we will better understand his purpose in writing. So what do you think was Luke’s purpose in writing this passage?
The purpose behind the text we’re studying is not only to describe what church life was like in Jerusalem, but to inspire readers with a model of church life towards which to hope and to strive.
6. Eckhard Schnabel, a scholar specialising in early Christian mission, writes that the summary statements in Acts are intended to express Luke’s conviction that what God did in Jerusalem he can “do again in the present reality of Luke’s readers” (p. 408, Early Christian Mission, vols 1&2). Is Luke informing his readers only or does he also hope to inspire them with a model of authentic Christian community? Why do you think that?
7. Do you tend to ‘manage your expectations’ when reading some the extraordinary things which happened in the book of Acts? If Luke was writing to inspire his readers that what happened then “can happen again in the reality of the readers” how should we regard this passage? What should our expectations be?
8. If these features of the first church aren’t mere descriptions but are a model for church life, what needs to change, for your LifeGroup? Westminster Chapel? London? Be concrete and think in terms of prioritisation and persistence. In what way(s) have you, individually and collectively, been challenged to act out your faith this week?
MISSIONARY STORIES to inspire you from our church
Over the years Potosi, Bolivia, had become known as the graveyard for missionaries. Early resistance to the gospel came from nominal Christians led in certain cases by Catholic priests, wary of a ‘sect’ preaching a different gospel from that accepted by nominally Roman Catholic Bolivians. To meet together as Bible-believing Christians meant social isolation, at least, if not ridicule and persecution as well. One present-day believer whose great Uncle was involved in the early gospel ministry had urine poured on him and had stones thrown at him as he travelled with the missionaries in order to spread the gospel to more remote rural villages. But still they bore it and persisted together in witnessing to the gospel of God’s grace, untainted by works or superstitions.
But it didn’t get any easier. In the city of Potosi nominal Catholicism and cultural hardness were compounded by economic hard times—the rough Bolivian miners having no time for an exclusive religion in a place seemingly were the rich and influential used them for their own ends and had little regard for their safety and well being. This produced anti-colonial sentiments and disenchantment with organised religion inspired a revival of folk religion— paganism, earth worship, and direct adoration of the Devil. Detached from the church, forgotten by the powerful, and now enmeshed in the occult, the spiritual state of Potosi appeared to be at its lowest point.
Today, the church in Potosi, despite decades of difficult outreach, in spite of still being surrounded by idolatry and ongoing devil worship, continues much as they did at the beginning. They persist in coming together to hear God’s word explained. They continue to witness to the culture of the gospel of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Still they meet together for fellowship and worship. Still they seek to meet the needs of those hit by economic hard times and injustices. This church is ‘continually devoting themselves’ to the things we read of in Acts 2:42. And we are privileged to support Louis and Maribel Woodley overseas missionaries serving with Latin Link to play their part in their local, authentic community in Potosi, reaching out to others with the good news of Jesus Christ.
- Pray that we personally, as a Life Group, and as a church, would be reenamoured with these vital features of authentic community.
- Pray specifically for points that the group lingers on in discussion or seem to 32 be more relevant.
- Ask God for faith to see His ability to do this, even if we’ve not seen it in our own experience. Cry out ‘Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!’
- Pray for persistent, prioritising devotion in these things.
Other things to plug and pray for:
- The It’s Not Fair Human Trafficking Play and Panel Discussion | 18 Oct, 530pm
- Alpha Course | 19 Oct – 7 Dec, 7pm
- Ravi Zacharias (rzim.org) | 15 Nov, 11am service
- Terry Virgo | 6 Dec, 11am and 530pm service
- Carol Service | 13 Dec, 530pm service
- Christmas Celebration Service (families) | 20 Dec, 11am service