Acts: lessons from the early church
What modern churches and youth groups can learn from the earliest believers.
The book of Acts is a record of the growth of the early church, started by Jesus’s disciples and then expanded by the Apostle Paul. It’s an exciting ride, from the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, to shipwrecks and imprisonments, to life changing sermons delivered by ex-fishermen.
Tucked away in Acts there is also a beautiful little passage describing the nature of the early Christian church. Acts 2:42-47 says:
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.
We can learn a lot from this early church. Here are some lessons to take away.
They were devoted to the apostles’ teaching
The early church was devoted to the apostles’ teaching. This is what we now have as the New Testament! They listened and put into practice what they learned.
Are we reading the Bible in the same way? Are we devoted to listening, learning and letting what we read and hear change our lives?
They were devoted to prayer
The early church was devoted to prayer. You see this again and again throughout Acts, as the Christians pray for the apostles, for each other and for the spread of the gospel. They pray a particularly wonderful prayer in Acts 4, asking God for boldness to spread the gospel:
“Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:
“‘Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the Lord
and against his anointed one.’
Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
Are we devoted to prayer in this same way? Do we bring all our needs, worries and joys before God? And are we praying for this boldness as we live as Christians in this world that desperately needs Jesus?
They had everything in common
Something really remarkable about the early church is how committed they were to serving and supporting one another. Acts 2:45 even says that they sold their belongings in order to care for those who didn’t have enough!
This kind of remarkable generosity should be evident in our churches. But too often we get caught up in loving the thought of having lots of money to ourselves. Could we be more generous to those around us, so no one is in need?
Every day they continued to meet together
The early church met not just on Sundays, or on Friday night, or for a mid-week Bible study. They were committed to meeting together every day, to encourage one another, learn together and worship the Lord.
This doesn’t mean we HAVE to go to church every single day. But these believers clearly placed an extremely high priority on fellowship. Do we place the same value on meeting together? Or do things like parties, sport and homework come before church, youth group and Bible study?
They praised God
The believers in the early church were so thankful for everything Jesus had done for them, that they praised God fervently. This was even despite the persecution and alienation they faced for following such a radical faith!
Often when we struggle, we are inclined to blame God. Perhaps we should be praising him more for all the good things he gives us – and for simply who he is? After all, no matter what is going on in our lives, God still created us and Jesus still died for us.
The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved
Every day, the early church grew as more people came to faith in Jesus Christ. This verse indicates that God was behind this rapid growth, but God uses people to carry out his will, and I can bet that those who observed the Christian community saw something really attractive and appealing there.
Wouldn’t you want to be a part of a community that were generous, thankful and truly committed? And wouldn’t you want to follow a Lord who encouraged this attitude in his followers?
Comparing our churches to the early church in Acts can be a helpful way to check if our priorities are right. Bible, prayer, generosity, fellowship and evangelism should characterize our Christian communities. Do they characterize your church?