Acts 2:42-47 (NRSV) - Life Among The Believers
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Though they may seem insignificant or innocuous at first glance, these five verses are some of the most important in the Christian Scriptures. They describe the way in which a community formed and developed a rhythm of life after Jesus ascended to Heaven. Jesus didn’t leave them a rulebook for congregational living or a handbook on church growth. Instead, he walked with them and talked with them for three years and this first community, often called the early church, developed this rhythm as a natural overflow of their life with him. By being with him, they learned ‘who’ and ‘how’ they were called to be. There are three key things that Luke (the author) describes that stick out to me.
The first is devotion. He does not say that they listened to the apostle’s teaching. He does not say that they attended fellowship gatherings. He does not say that they partook in communion or said the right prayers. He writes that they devoted themselves to each practice. The dictionary defines ‘devote’ as to 'give all or most of one’s time or resources to' something and I think it even extends beyond that. It extends to our attention, our hearts and our focus. To devote is to give one’s very self. This is their approach to learning, to gathering, to remembering and to praying. From the bottom of their hearts rather than just with their lips.
The second is commonality. Being together as a community broke down the walls that so often divide people. Their love for each other blurred the lines that creep up between us like weeds through paving stones. In this new community, there were no ‘have’s and ‘have not’s, not because God magically provided for all but because love led some to give with generosity and others to receive with grace. The focus moved away from what people ‘deserved’ towards what people ‘need’. They looked beyond society’s scorecard to see those who were struggling.
Finally, they had glad and generous hearts. For those of us who have been burned by bad religion, it’s almost impossible to imagine that such devotion and sacrifice would lead to sharing time, space and food with glad and generous hearts. Religious teaching can so often be life-draining rather than life-giving. The breaking of the bread can so often be more about tradition than transformation. Learning to give your money, time and love can feel like a burden rather than a blessing. And yet, when done well, it would appear that living this counter-cultural and counter-intuitive lifestyle can lead to a contagious joy that makes people who see it long to experience it.
The world is filled with plans, programmes and schemes for how to 'get it all’ and yet even those who succeed often speak of how it brought more emptiness than fulfilment.
Perhaps it would make sense, then, that the most fulfilling way to live seems foolish: to give the entirety of one’s self and one’s life to God and to others.
Scott Evans is the Church of Ireland chaplain to University College Dublin, producer of The Graveyard Shift Podcast and co-founder of Paradoxology, a prayer space at Ireland’s Electric Picnic music festival. He grew up in Bangladesh and his life has been a series of crazy decisions, odd adventures and bad haircuts. He is also the author of 3 books, Closer Still, Beautiful Attitudes and Failing From The Front (& Other Lessons From The Lives of Losers.) He loves Vietnamese food, coffee, writing, Aston Villa and Jesus.