Growing Smaller to Get Deeper
Last Sunday we looked at the Biblical basis of small groups – the why of small groups– today, we build on that and get to look at the “what of small groups”. We said that just as the tiny unit of the human cell gives life to the human body, so do small groups give life to the body of Christ. For the human cell to contribute to giving life to the whole body, there are some basic needs that the cell requires and that is oxygen to burn the nutrients from the food we eat so that energy is produced for the activities of the body. Without this oxygen & nutrients there is organ failure and illness in the body. Likewise, there are some basic minimums of what should be happening in a small group to give it life so that the whole body of Christ is effective. Let’s turn to Acts 2: 41 – 47 to see what are these basic minimums;
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who 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. (NIV)
The book of Acts is the record of what Jesus continued to do and teach through His people after His ascension. Prior to the portion we have just read, the apostles, who were in Jerusalem, had received the promised Holy Spirit evidenced by their speaking in other tongues or languages. Those gathered there made fun of them, stating that they had taken too much wine. It is at this juncture that one of the apostles, Peter, stood to address the crowd – pointing them to the prophecy of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and telling them about Jesus. After Peter’s address, the Bible states that the crowds “were cut to the heart” and asked, “what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). The response given is for them to repent, be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for forgiveness of their sins and they would receive the Holy Spirit. And with many other words the crowds were persuaded to save themselves from a corrupt generation. It is at this point that we come to the portion of scripture in Acts 2:41 that states, “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”
It is important we lay this foundation because salvation formed the first basis of belonging. In speaking about reconciliation through Christ, Paul says in Ephesians 2:19 – 22 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
A vertical restored relationship with God through Jesus Christ, paves the way for belonging in a horizontal relationship with fellow man. And so the basic minimums that we will now see that were observed in the gatherings of these believers at the temple courts and from house to house, were not mechanical or forced religious activities but rather an outflow of a new life in Christ Jesus. A genuine individual walk with the Lord Jesus leads to a transformation in an individual’s life – working in them fruits of the Holy Spirit – that make them more relatable and thus thrive in community living. (Note that the fruits of the Holy Spirit are traits to be exercised in relationships with others)
With this foundation of salvation, we shall now look at the outflow of the basic minimums that gave life to the groups of believers in the book of Acts – who were incidentally of such diverse nationality (Acts 2: 9-11), and it’s our prayer as a church that this will be evident in our church and small groups as we individually walk in the newness of life in Christ Jesus. In our text of Acts 2: 41 – 47, verse 42 lists four of the activities to which the church devoted itself; verses 43-47 serve to further define these four activities. We will therefore consider each of the four activities, along with Luke’s further description in verses 43-47. Verse 42 says that the believers were devoted—i.e. “steadfastly persevered”, “continued steadfastly”, “regular attendance to”, “committed themselves in”—four things: “the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
- Devotion to the apostles’ teaching
The apostles teaching is further unpacked in vs.43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. This followed the pattern of Jesus who spoke with authority. His words of teaching were emphatically underscored by the miraculous works God did through Him. As we meet corporately at ICC, we pray that God’s Word will be declared authoritatively and we will see the miraculous happen. Then as we gather in our small groups, we shall continue to think, discuss and apply God’s Word to everyday living. The apostles’ teaching to which the early believers devoted themselves to, is available to us in the New Testament. One simple practical application of this is to discuss the Sunday messages preached from this pulpit in our Connect groups (CGs) during the week. If we are honest, most of us forget what is preached as soon as we leave the service and embark on the week, thus missing out on the transformation God desires to bring in our lives through His Word. In our ladies, men’s fellowship, Youth Church & Demystify (Young Adults) we have structured our meetings such that we have a large group meetings and we allow for small group gatherings for more in-depth discussion of principles learnt in God’s Word. Last week, we had 20 couples coming together for a high tea and interacting with material that can be used in our Marriage Enrichment Groups (MEGs) to help couples navigate through the various stages of life. Find out more on these groups at the information desk and better still sign up to participate.
Our concept of fellowship is tame compared with what is meant here by Luke. The word “fellowship” (koinonia) is built on the root meaning: “common”, “having in common”, “sharing”, “joint participation”. This “fellowship” with fellow believers can happen in a number of ways. Acts 2:44-45 gives an indication of what fellowship looked like in this body of believers, emphasis was on sharing one’s material goods with others. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need(Acts 2:44-45). The emphasis on fellowship here is on how the believers met each other’s material needs. Selling all of one’s possessions is not a command to all believers for all times but it is a very practical way for us to hold all things in common, to jointly participate in meeting each other’s needs in a small group setting. It’s actually a tangible quantifiable way of measuring our spirituality – James 2: 15 – 17: If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
If not materially, there will be spiritual needs to meet in a small group. The book of Hebrews in the 10th chapter tells us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together because we stimulate one another to love and good works. It’s where we use our spiritual gifts to build each other up. It’s where we fulfill the “one-another,” commanded in the Bible – Bearing one another’s burden, loving one another, instructing one another, praying for one another, rebuking one another etc. Think of the many practical ways you can be a blessing to members of your small group and those needs which you can meet working together as small groups as you mobilize your resources. That is why part of what we desire to do here at ICC is channel our outreach opportunities to small groups. Philippians 2: 4 in the Message translation captures this well, “Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
- The breaking of bread
The words “breaking bread” were translated from a Greek phrase used to denote sharing a wonderful meal and a time of fellowship and relaxation with friends. Verse 46 supports this as it unpacks it further: “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts.”They loved to be together at meals. It seems like they were together with each other in this way almost every day. There is something intimate about sharing a meal; it’s no wonder that the Pharisees had an issue with Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors. We know this well in our African setting – there is a sense of commonality, equality and lack of social stratification when people sit to serve and eat together the same meal. It’s no wonder that when friends desire to meet we use the phrase, “let’s do tea!” We are not saying we do eight course meals in our small groups but something simple to eat and draw people together enhances the fellowship. Even in heaven our union of Christ and the Church (Rev.19:9), is described as the marriage feast of the lamb – will there be actual food? I hope you will be there to find out!
Verse 47 unpacks for us: “Praising God and having favor with all the people.” When they gathered, Luke says they focused on God—they prayed to God and praised God. When they got in touch with each other, they got in touch with God. In the intimacy of a small group setting we have the opportunity to practice James 5:16; Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. One of the highest forms of selflessness is bearing one another’s burden in prayer corporately, as a small group and when we are apart from each other. Our praise to God connects us to our heavenly father to whom we have been reconciled through His son Christ Jesus.
Our passage of scripture begins with the numbers of believers being added due to a powerful proclamation of the gospel and ends with the numbers being added due to the practice of the gospel by the community of believers. The meeting of believers in small groups from house to house is part of how they displayed love for one another and everyone knew they were the disciples of Christ – and Christ said that if He be lifted up, He will draw men to himself. Choose to belong today – first to Christ and out of the outflow of your walk with Him you will desire to do life with a small group – devoting yourself to God’s Word, fellowship, breaking of bread and to prayer – this in itself is missional living in reaching the lost for Christ.
Pastor Tony Amisi