A new year is a unique time to stop and assess our community — our church, our small group, our circle of friends. Have I found the believers I need to help me believe (Hebrews 3:12–13)? Am I making the most of those relationships (Hebrews 10:24)? Do unbelievers see us living together for something beyond this world (John 13:35)?
Six verses have shaped my vision for community in the local church more than most. They paint a vivid picture of what marked the very first church — what held those believers together after Jesus left them here on earth, what inspired them to leave everything behind for his sake, and what sustained them in the face of horrible opposition and persecution.
Acts 2:42–47 describes this community of faith for the sake of our Christian communities today. The passage is short enough to memorize, and yet big enough to shape years, even decades, of life in the local church, and captures for us at least four markings of true Christian community.
1. Relentless Devotion, Not Casual Indifference
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. . . . And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts. (Acts 2:42, 46)
Devoted. Perhaps it is easy for you to find churches meeting weekly or more, even within a couple miles of your home, but how many of our churches are marked by this kind of passionate devotion to God’s word and to one another? This was not just faithful attendance or reliable, spiritual routine. It was relentless joy and love — together.
What were they devoted to? To the Scriptures and to their fellowship (Acts 2:42). Not devoted like we might be devoted to a New Year’s resolution, but like we are devoted to eating food and drinking water each day. They were daily devoted to God’s word and to each other like their lives depended on it, because they did depend on it.
Is your community committed like theirs?
2. Heartfelt Affection, Not Bored Formality
What happened as they devoted themselves to the Bible and to one another? “Awe came upon every soul” (Acts 2:43). Do you think of evangelism like it’s an academic lecture or marketing pitch, trying desperately to persuade a nonbeliever to surrender and agree with us? Something different was happening in this tiny and fragile church: awe.
Awe overwhelms the mind to get to the heart. It must take the mind first. No feeling or emotion leads to real life or joy if it is not based on the truth about you and about God (Romans 10:2). Christianity, though, is not simply about getting the truth right, but about having the truth capture our hearts. If we are not fascinated with this Christ, we can hardly claim to know him.
Too many of us in too many of our churches settle for rehearsing the same truths over and over again — in singing and preaching and discussing — without expecting to be moved by God again. But awe is not only the experience of conversion, but of day-in, day-out faith in community. As we watch God move over and over — for one another and in one another — our hearts awaken in wonder again.
Is your community still moved by God?
3. Sacrificial Generosity, Not Selfish Ambition
The Christians in that first church were captured by a vibrant, dynamic, and personal vision of God, but that did not keep them from focusing on one another. They did not have to choose between being a church going hard after the God seated in heaven and a church dedicated to the needs around them here on earth. “All who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44–45).
Christianity did not isolate believers to focus exclusively on their own relationship with Jesus, but made each believer another vital vein in the body of Christ — each of them carrying what others need from God to the one in need.
God promises to meet our every need (Matthew 6:25–33), and many times (if not most often) he meets our needs through another believer. He gifts each of us, not for self-expression or self-fulfillment, but to fill what is lacking in someone else by meeting genuine needs. God has given each of us grace that was not meant to end with us, but to extend to someone else (1 Peter 4:10). But without selfless and sacrificial compassion, grace ends up in storage, not in action.
The first Christians felt so secure in God’s promises that they let go of all they had to help one another. To the watching world, it was unexplainably selfless and foolishly generous. As happened later in Macedonia, “in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity” (2 Corinthians 8:2). Joy faced with need always looks like compassion and sacrifice. In short, it looks like the cross (Hebrews 12:2; 1 John 4:9–11).
Is your community radically selfless and generous toward one another?
4. Contagious Joy, Not Secluded Cliques
When I think about my church and my small group, though, the sentence that haunts and inspires me most is the last one in this paragraph: “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). All the devotion and affection and compassion became irresistibly contagious.
We do not measure our community strictly in numbers, because only God gives the growth, not us (1 Corinthians 3:7). But we should measure ourselves in part by whether he’s giving the growth at all. If our Christian community is committed, but not compelling to anyone, we should be asking serious questions about what we’re committed to.
Every single church in the world has a mission statement direct from our Lord himself: “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19–20). God didn’t mean for some of us to make disciples and others to do other kinds of ministry. Every Christian and every Christian community is called to win the lost and build into Christian maturity. God intends to make every genuine expression of true love, joy, and worship contagious.
Is your community consistently making disciples?
As you begin another year, look for questions to uncover weaknesses or blind spots in your church or small group. Perhaps sit down and develop a vision for how you will live and serve together over the next twelve months. Open the Bible and anchor every dream and plan in actual, memorizable words from God. With his glory as our guide, and his grace as our fuel, he will lead us and add to our number.