A Devoted People

Third in a series: God’s Mission; God’s Method,
Delivered September 21, 2003 by Rev. John Schmidt.

Theme: In this passage in the Book of Acts, it talks about the early church being devoted to certain things. We’ll take a look at what they are.

In the series, “God’s Mission; God’s Method,” we will be looking at the Book of Acts to see God at work in the early church. The series will help us start our life together by looking afresh at what it means to be God’s people, caught up in the world-changing action of the Holy Spirit. I don’t want to “play church,” just going through the motions. I want us to be the church, the church God calls us to be. ~Rev. John Schmidt

Sermon Text:
Acts 2:42-47

It’s good to be together in worship so let’s hear now from the Word of God as we prepare our hearts. It comes from the Book of Acts, chapter 2 and we are going to begin on the 42nd verse.

Speaking of the new believers They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Devotion is a good word. When you hear the word devoted, we usually think of something good, a devoted mother. What comes to mind? You think of a mother who is willing to sacrifice for her children, who puts the needs of the children and her family ahead of her own needs. Someone who knows how to endure. Someone who knows how in love to do practical things that help her family. We think of a devoted father and we think not only of someone who is reliable and tries to provide for his family, but we also think of someone who is willing to take a day off a little early to try to make it to a soccer game or to see a ballet recital. Someone who is willing to give time on Saturdays to be a coach for a little league. Devotion is a good word. And it is not just a good word for parents. If I am sick and need a doctor, I want a devoted doctor, particularly if it is surgery, I want it to be a devoted surgeon, not somebody devoted to their boat or their investments, but someone who is devoted to their craft, someone who tries to keep up with the latest developments, who really wants to do the best possible for their patients. Devotion is a good thing.

It is good for the Body of Christ because we need to be devoted to some things as Christian people, because Christian life is not an automatic process. We need to give effort. Spiritual things are important. God is not just an add-on to life. And, since God is central and not just an add-on, then that means that there are certain responses that are appropriate from us. There are things that we should commit ourselves to, and there are things we should be devoted to. And, so in this passage in the Book of Acts, we see the early church, and it talks about them being devoted to certain things. Now, there are all kinds of activities that happen here, but we are only going to focus on a few categories that I think embrace just about everything that is happening here. They are devoted to worship. They are devoted to community. They are devoted to the apostles teaching, that is spiritual growth. They are devoted to service and they are devoted to outreach. We are going to look at each one of those real briefly this morning and then in the oncoming weeks we are going to look at each one of them separately, because these are the important foundations for a church that is going to be balanced and healthy and for a Christian life that is going to be balanced and healthy as well.

So, the first thing that it shows us here is that they were devoted to worship. It talks about them being in the temple courts. It talks about them breaking bread in their homes and praising God. It talks about a community that has gathered together around God, and in response to God, and praising God. Worship is incredibly important. Jesus was passionate about worship. Jesus said that the Father is seeking those who will worship him in spirit and in truth. And so that means that evangelism to a certain extent is seeking worshippers of God. Jesus also showed his passion for worship because one of the most impassioned moments of his ministry happens in the temple when he knocks over the tables of moneychangers, because as he said, “His Father’s house should be a house of prayer and not a den of thieves.” Jesus was passionate about worship. He knew how central worship was for human life. So, here we see the early church, and immediately they step into the pattern of worshipping in the temple, as they knew to do as Jews. And later in the life of the church, they start developing uniquely Christian styles of worship that are dependent upon the gifts of the people that are assembled and then they develop their own rituals and liturgy. Worship was central to the early church, and we as a church need to be committed. We need to be devoted to worship.

It says here too that they were devoted to community. It says, they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. The word fellowship, I use the word community, because the word fellowship is sort of a weak word. When we read the word fellowship, this tendency to think that in the temple court somewhere there were some coffee pots that were over in the corner and after you finished worshipping then everybody walked over to the coffee pots, had a cup of coffee. And if they were lucky they got a bagel too, and you spent 15 minutes, shook hands, talked about the weather, do you have electricity, you know and left. That’s not the picture here. The picture here is building. Gathering together as God’s people and building a community. It involves time. It involves commitment. It involves recognizing that we can’t do it on our own. You know this is a real hard thing for Americans to do sometimes, because we believe that God and us as a majority, so I don’t really need everybody else. And we live in this sense that if I just get things straight with God, everything is fine. That is not the picture that we have here. There is a commitment that happens among God’s people. And so, that means we know each other. We get beyond the facade and it means that to a certain extent, we are accountable to one another.

So my first circle of accountability is my wife. She knows what I struggle with and she holds me before God and prays for me, and supports me, and then also expects me to live the life that I proclaim. Then for 25 of the last 30 years, I have been a member of a small group and those small groups have known many of my struggles. And so, they support me. They pray for us as a family. We pray for them. We look into God’s Word together, and together we try to discover how to obey God more completely and so community happens. And then for me there is a third line of community. The Woody Hingle line of community. See, Woody Hingle was a student of mine when I worked with Inner Varsity Christian Fellowship. And then later Woody became a minister, and so Woody lives now in New Orleans, and so while I was living in Baton Rouge, once every two months, I would go and visit Woody, and we would have breakfast together. Now, the first 45 minutes were a lot of fun. We just talked about whatever was happening. We talked about what books we liked. But, then he would pull out the dreaded piece of paper. The accountability questions. So for the next few minutes we would ask each other questions about, are we giving the time to our families that we should? Are we spending the time with God that we said we would? How are we handling our sexuality, particularly if we are traveling? How do we handle our finances? Are we tithing? Are we giving 10% and if not, what are our financial burdens, and how can we deal with them? We would ask these sorts of embarrassing questions of one another. So, the second half of the meeting was never as much fun as the first half. I can’t tell you how many times I was getting ready to do something stupid and I would think, do I really want to tell Woody Hingle about this? So it is always good for us to have a Woody Hingle in our life. Because we need one another. Community is a basic commitment that we see in the early church and that is going to require time, and that is going to require effort, so we need to be devoted to it.

The next thing they were devoted to was the issue of spiritual growth. They were devoted to the apostle’s teaching. It would be so nice, golly, I don’t know how many Christians have prayed for this, if you would become a Christian and then automatically, day by day, you would be a better Christian. And so, tomorrow I wake up and I am better. The next day, I am even better. Thirty years of being a Christian and you simply shine with holiness, with no effort whatsoever. It doesn’t work that way. It’s a struggle. It’s a battle. There are all kinds of words used here in scripture and none of them have to do with automatic vending machines. And so, we need to submit ourselves to the Word of God. We need to grow to understand it and then we need to wrestle with our wills and to submit ourselves in our lifestyle to what the scripture says. And so, we are still submitting ourselves to the apostle’s teaching, because that is what we have here. We need to be committed to spiritual growth. We need to make time for it.

The next thing they are committed to, they were devoted to serving. They are devoted to serving. Take a look at verses 44 and 45. All the believers were together and had everything in common, selling their possessions and goods they gave to anyone as he had need. It comes up here. It comes up in chapter four. It comes up again in chapter five. It comes up again in chapter six. We can’t escape it folks, they served one another. They gave generously of their time and of their possessions to help anyone around them that was in need. This is another area of devotion for a balanced church, and for a balanced Christian life. So, you might be tempted particularly when you are a little younger to say, okay now I will focus on worship, and I will focus on learning, and then when I get a better job, I will focus on giving. And then when I retire, I will focus on giving my time. It doesn’t work that way. Part of devotion to God, part of devoting ourselves to God, is devoting ourselves to people who are in need and devoting ourselves to serving one another. I know a seminary student right now who has all the bills of seminary, has only part time jobs, and still trying to tithe from those part time jobs, because she feels that now is the time to start. We need to struggle with this issue of what it means to be a giving people and what it means to give of ourselves and what it means to give of what God entrusted to us.

Then we need to, let me just go back to this for a moment. You know, it requires no effort to use all your time and all your money on yourself. That comes naturally. If we are ever going to break that cycle, that’s when we have to exert some energy and that is where we have to be disciplined and so again, we need to focus on this as a whole church.

Then we need to focus on outreach. A central part of the life of the early church is the proclamation of Jesus Christ. That is how the church got born and again and again the apostles share this message throughout the New Testament, even to the point where their lives were in danger. They still were compelled to share this good news. People like Katie and her whole family reminds us that this responsibility is not just here, but it is to the very ends of the earth we are to go and make disciples of all nations. Jesus went out to seek, to save the lost. Jesus gave us commission that we are to do the same, to make disciples and so part of our discipline, part of our devotion, part of our commitment has to be to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to those outside. A church that has received the blessing of God, and yet has forgotten that it is supposed to be a channel of this blessing, is a church that’s forgotten something essential about why it exists. So we have to be committed to outreach. It begins in Towson, in Baltimore and it extends to the ends of the earth.

So, we see a church that focuses in on these certain things. They gather together as God’s people. They grow together. They give, they go, and all to glorify God. These are the same kind of categories that you studied this summer when you looked at the Purpose Driven Life. These are the essentials. These are the things that help us be the people that God has called us to be. So, if somebody follows you around, what would they say are your priorities? If they got a chance to look at the way that you use your time, the way you use your money, what would they say your priorities are? Now, I know that this is going to be different for a mother who has a two-year-old at home versus a retired person; naturally there will be big differences. And, when I ask that question, I am not asking how much time do you spend here at church, because some of your moments of greatest devotion to God will happen miles away from here. I am also recognizing that our families and our work deserve devotion. That is part of the life that God has given us. But, even so, it is still fair to ask, to what are you devoted? Where do you give your best time and your best energy? Because the world needs devoted people.

You know we have problems with hostility in the world outside, but that hostility that was to the gospel, isn’t because of the devoted people. When we look at people like Mother Theresa or Billy Graham, or the people who work in the inner cities trying to change things and represent the gospel there, or when we look at the people, the doctors who are willing to go Sudan to serve people there. The world doesn’t have much problem with that, because they recognize that devotion is a good thing. I think instead the problem is, the world is tired of people who proclaim a message that deserves devotion. A message that talks about a God who loves us so much that he gave his Son for us. A God who is willing to take the whole picture of our lives, and turn it over, and transform it, and draw us back to himself. To let us have the incredible experience of knowing him in this world, and have an eternity together with him, to have a message like that and to share it, and then live routine lives or lead hypocritical lives. That’s what the world is tired of. We need to be a devoted people. The world needs devoted people. And so, that’s what we want to be for ourselves individually and as a church, because devoted people can never be satisfied with their current level of devotion. A devoted mother is not going to say, “You know I am devoted enough, no more. This is the limit. Sorry kids, you’re eight, go.” Okay? A devoted surgeon isn’t going to stop growing in her skills, she is going to continue to reach, to continue to try the new equipment, going to try to stay on the cutting edge, and so a church needs to constantly be pushing forward, and taking the very next step of what it means to be devoted to God, and we need to do that in our individual lives.

So let’s not be satisfied until we are fully devoted to an incredible God who has given himself to us without reservation, fully and entirely in Jesus Christ.

Let’s pray. Heavenly father, we thank you, we thank you for the incredible privilege of receiving your blessing in Jesus Christ, and we pray now that you look into each one of our lives and help us each take an appropriate next step of devotion to you, for we ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Sermon Outline Notes:

Devote: to give over wholly or purposely; to center the attention or activities of oneself.
Devoted to Worship (Glorify God)
Devoted to Community (Gather as God’s People)
Devoted to the Apostles Teaching (Grow in Faith)
Devoted to Serving (Giving time and money)
Devoted to Outreach (Go and share the message.)
What are you devoted to?