One of the most evident differences between the modern American church and the church we see in the New Testament is the intensity of their life together. Believers in the New Testament saw themselves as a spiritual family, a people , a movement. They lived out their Christian lives in real and consistent relationship with other Christians. Even then there were people who didnt (Heb 10:25) and those who couldnt get along with others (1Co 11:18), but clearly there were a lot who did. We read about them praying together, studying Scripture together, eating meals together and ministering to one another at a level so far removed from us today its awkward to even try to relate to them. We tend to dismiss their example by assuming that such ancient people must have had a lot of free time on their hands, unlike us today. We think to ourselves such fellowship must have been nice, but its certainly logistically impossible today. So we press on trying to live out our Christian lives largely alone. We pray alone, we study the Word alone, we eat alone, we minister alone
and wonder why being a Christian seems so lonely and obedience to God seems so hard. Today as we take a fresh look at these early believers, lets investigate the possibility of finding ways to bring deeper relationships into our 21st century lives. Surely God can show us how to live life together.
Our present culture
America has always, from its earliest days, had an attitude of rugged individualism. Granted, the pilgrims and puritans lived life together, but even their community-life broke down within a couple of generations as people moved away to find land for farming. But right now in this present generation there seems to be a more severe isolating of the individual than ever before. Every area of relationship is being strained or broken: family, church, government, men/women, young/old, rich/poor (class warfare), generations (Builders, Boomers, Gen-Xers, Millennials
), children/parents, democrats/republicans, ethnicities (the melting pot is giving way to retribalization), languages. And these divisive forces are molding the attitudes of modern Christians in some ways more forcefully than does the Bible. The church is being carried along on the tides of the culture. But God is calling us to be a prophetic community, to live differently than the culture, to show the world how Jesus changes the heart, and to love those He brings to us.
The first church (Ac 2:37-47; 4:32-37)
What did the church fresh from Jesus hands look like? How did they live out their faith? Luke gives us a vivid description:
What did they do when they met? (v 42)
1) Apostles teaching (the twelve); 2) Fellowship (koinonia; Jn 12:5, 6; 2Co 8:4; 9:13; Ac 6:1; Ro 12:13); 3) Breaking of bread: eating together; 4) Prayer (regular, together)
When and where did they meet? (v 46) Day-by-day; in the Temple; from house to house
They gathered in the shaded porticoes of the Temple for preaching and miracle ministry services led by the twelve apostles, then they dispersed throughout the city into believers homes to eat and to pray together and to share testimonies. New converts were immediately drawn into these home gatherings. Remember they started with 3,000 on the first day and kept growing. Imagine how many houses that involved.
(v 47) praising God (telling a tale, a narration): giving testimonies, telling what they had seen Him do for them and others.
God added: He placed beside them the ones being saved from day to day
What do we see taking place from the first days and months of the church? We see believers obeying the new commandment. Moses commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves (Lev 19:18) and Jesus profoundly re-affirmed that command (Mt 19:19). But in His new commandment He calls us to love at an even higher level. Listen:
John 13:34, 35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this will men know you are My disciples if you have love for one another
John 17:20 He prays
for those also who believe in Me through their (the apostles) word.
that they may all be one even as You Father are in Me and I in You, that they may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.
that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me and loved them even as You have loved Me.
so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them
Jesus says its not enough to merely love others as I love myself. He calls us to love one another as He has loved us, which of course means the love that took Him to the cross. He wants us to follow His example. Hes shown us how much to love (Php 2:1-8).
In effect, Jesus is saying, Heres My plan to win the world, are you ready? Here it is: You are going to love each other (and those I bring to you) just like Ive loved you, and when unbelievers see that theyll know Im real, Im the Savior
because that kind of selfless, costly love doesnt come naturally. They need to see grace, not just hear about it. Got it? Ok, go!
Why is life together so important?
1) Evangelism: This is what heaven will be like
2) Refinement: Learning to play well with others (cooperation, patience, kindness, humility
3) Ministry: We are His body here on earth, working together collectively to express Christ.
God gives us gifts and denies us gifts so well need each other. Were not designed to work alone or aloof. What Jesus wants to do is much bigger than any one of us.
4) Authority: Together we can bring down strongholds by praying and worshipping together (mission teams, our city, personal missions (family, job).
5) Provision: Those that have help those that lack (koinonia, 2Co 8:13-15, manna).
6) Edification: There is to be a rhythm in our lives between alone and together (prayer, worship, giving, serving, eating
Bonhoeffer in Life Together:
- Let him who cannot be alone beware of community.
- Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.
What hinders us?
Past abuses leave us cynical, thinking such love is unattainable.
Fear of rejection: People wont like me when they get to know me. Indeed, some have compulsive needs for care or poor social skills, but the New Testament constantly coaches change. It refuses to let us stay that way (the Bible mentors, re-parents us).
Time demands: two jobs, long commute, single-parent, live a distance from the church, etc. (caution: wasted TV and internet hours dont count).
Fear of strangers: Who can I trust? Whats hidden in the closet?
Independence: Am I willing to submit to others (Eph 5:21). Do I avoid commitment and responsibility?
What would life together look like in 21st century America?
1) What do we have now at NWC?
Life Transformation Groups
Bible studies (mens, womens, MOPSs, etc.)
Youth and young adult services and small groups
Any time we meet regularly with other believers for fellowship, encouragement and prayer.
2) What could we do going forward? Each of us can evaluate our schedule and our own lives. Do we live our Christian life together with others? Could we take another step? Can the world see the love of Jesus at work by watching my life? My busy life may be filled with obstacles preventing this, but am I willing to be prayerfully creative and let God show me new ways to love His people like my spiritual fathers and mothers did? To do so Id have to take another look at:
My schedule: Is there some way to spend time together with other believers?
My giving: Am I sacrificially generous with the Lord and the poor? If not a full tithe, can I do something? Can I give some percentage?
My ministry: Can I help some ministry? Can I be part of a team?
My prayer: Do I pray regularly for others and with others, as well as alone? Who are my prayer partners?
Heres a personal worksheet:
I could meet ___________ times per month, year.
I could conference-call (phone, Skype
?) ___________ times per month, year
Could I meet with believers in the lunchroom at work or school, Starbucks or ?, after church, meals, camping
Could I talk on my bluetooth in the car while I commute?
Could I Facebook, Twitter or blog?
Technology is opening new avenues to fellowship with believers all over the world. Yes technology can waste our time but it can also allow busy people to get together.