With many other words Peter warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized and about 3000 were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer… they continued to meet together… they broke bread in their homes and ate together with sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And daily the Lord added to their numbers those who were being saved.Acts 2
Like many of us, I’ve read this particular passage from the book of Acts dozens of times. When I consider what the Lord is saying in these verses, two things pique my curiosity. First is the phrase, “they devoted themselves.” Second is the verse,“ And the Lord added daily to their number those who were being saved.” Is being devoted to teaching, fellowship, breaking bread together and prayer directly related to the Lord adding to the number of those being saved?
What does it mean to “be devoted?”
What does it mean to be devoted to the teaching of the apostles, the fellowship of the brethren, to the breaking of bread and to prayer? As it is used in this context the word “devoted” is difficult to sum up in a sentence or two. To devote, by definition, means to set apart, to forfeit, sacrifice or surrender your own interests or to deny yourself and your own pursuits so that you might dedicate yourself to some purpose, activity, or person. For those of us in the Sword of the Spirit, that person and purpose is the Lord Jesus Christ and the call to build Christian covenant communities and to be a bulwark that defends people in a time of spiritual warfare.
In this word ‘devote’ there is a hint or a shadow of the meaning we see in the Old Testament book of Leviticus. There we read that devoting something to the Lord meant that it was irrevocably given over to Him for whatever his purposes might be. It was far more than a simple one-time dedication.
When we read the word ‘devote’ in this text from Acts 2 it is easy to understand it as a kind of warm affection for some admirable concepts about having a good relationship with God and good relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ. In reality its meaning is closer to the total giving over of oneself, one’s desires, ambitions, plans and pursuits to follow a holy way of life and a blueprint for building Christian community – as the Apostle Peter says ‘in the midst of a corrupt generation. It is the very essence of the meaning of discipleship. Each of these four elements from Acts 2 has its expression in covenant community.
Devotion and Growth
It seems that there is an obvious link between our faithfulness and devotion to the things God has called us to and the growth that we see in our communities. Granted, the church at the time of Acts was in its infancy and they were the recipients of an extraordinary grace for rapid and explosive growth. Through the Charismatic Renewal we have seen the same pattern in the movement of the Holy Spirit in our day: explosive growth followed by the formation of covenant communities. God is about renewing a very old work by doing a new thing among us!
Many of us have been building Christian community for a good number of years. My own community, the People of God in Pittsburgh, is celebrating its fiftieth year! That’s a long time to be building! Certainly, there are many factors that influence the growth of our communities: our efforts to evangelize, the demographics of each community, and individuals’ receptivity to the Gospel, to name a few.
But as we consider our long history of building, the potential exists for the passage of time, the daily routine and pressures of life, disappointments with unmet expectations, setbacks of various kinds, fatigue, stretched resources, and relational struggles to wear us down. Slip into the mix the isolation and relational distance created by the worldwide pandemic and we have a perfect recipe for apathy. All of this can challenge our enthusiasm to maintain the rhythm of our shared life in community without falling into an auto-pilot mentality.
If we’re not vigilant, lethargy, passivity and a kind of disinterestedness can begin to set in. We may find ourselves wrestling with the requirements of our commitments and even with the call itself. At some point, it might be necessary to revisit, reteach, recover, and reinvest in some of these elements of our way of life. At no time in our history have we ever heard the Lord say to us, “This community building effort is going slower than I thought. Perhaps I will come up with a plan B.” In fact, the Lord’s word to us over these many years has been very consistent: “Build, not just for yourselves but for future generations as well. Do not grow weary but be faithful to the call I have given you. Build to last.” Our call to build has not changed. Our hands should be put to the plow resisting the temptation to look back (Luke 9:62).
Some Questions to Consider
Perhaps it would be a good exercise if we as individuals were to examine ourselves and ask the following questions:
- Am I devoted to Christian teaching? This would include our formation in Christian living programs, faithful attendance at community gatherings, the study of God’s word, having a teachable spirit, and simply having a desire to pursue God, to know Him and His ways.
- Do I desire fellowship with my brothers and sisters in Christ? Do I linger over the relationships I have with them or am I quick to rush out and on to the next thing I want to do? Am I faithful to meeting regularly with my small group? Have I considered living in closer proximity to other brothers and sisters in my community so I can maintain more regular contact? Do I seek to engage with other community members I might not know as well, valuing them as I would my own close family members? Do I value the shared life we have together in community? Am I willing to forgive and ask forgiveness, especially for any long-standing hurts that separate and divide and impact my desire to maintain being united together? Am I upholding my commitment to our community covenant?
- Am I faithful to membership in my local church? Do I celebrate the Lord’s Day with my family and other Christians, holding it up as sacred, setting it aside to honor the Lord as we are commanded in the Scriptures?
- And finally, and perhaps most importantly, am I devoted to seeking the Lord in prayer: individual, corporate, and family prayer times. And do I regular read and study Scripture? Do I seek to pass on my faith and teach my children (and grandchildren) to pray and grow in a personal relationship with God? Do I make the daily effort and habit to find personal time and space to unplug from the noise and distractions of the world in order to draw near to God and be still in his presence?
These are many of the elements of the way of life we have freely committed to embrace in Christian covenant community. Scripture reminds us that God’s ways and his commands are not burdensome. They are life and blessing for all who choose to love and obey God. They are His gifts to us.
Devoted for the Duration
If the bulwark, which we believe the Lord has been directing us to build, is to be a place of security and safety for our families and others whom the Lord wants to send to us, we may need to shore up the walls, fill in the holes and gaps, reengage the mission to build and tend more zealously to the work the Lord has given us. If we remain faithful to the Lord’s call, not only will we be a ‘light’ for others that attract them to the Lord, but we will also be better able to withstand the ‘storms and times of testing’ that are already upon us. And perhaps the Lord, in his gracious mercy, will continue add to our numbers those who are being ‘saved’ and ‘called’ to life together in community. This is a ‘spiritual house’ which the Lord is building (“Unless the Lord build the house …” Psalm 127). It is made up of people. The stronger the people are being built up in faith, hope, and love, the stronger the bulwark will fuifill the purpose and plan God intends for it.
Let’s continue to be renewed in our “zeal for the way of life He has given us,” devoted to teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread together and to prayer. Let’s renew our fervor for the things of God, with a holy desire for His pleasure and his honor. Let’s seek him for the grace to live a renewed commitment and obedience to what we already know – and to what has already been revealed, that we may respond wholeheartedly to the Lord as we should, and devote ourselves unreservedly to all He has called us to be and live as faithful servants and stewards of this supernatural work of grace.
I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house (bulwark) who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When the flood came, the torrent struck that house (bulwark) but could not shake it, because it was well built…Luke 6: 47-48
From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.Luke 12: 48b
Top image of a Christian community praising the Lord together, from Bigstock.com, © by Mike Kiev, stock photo ID: 13856114
Joanie Nath and her husband Bill have been married for 46 years – and counting. They live in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania, USA and are members of the People of God, a member covenant Christian community in the Sword of the Spirit. Joanie has served for a number of years in the past as a senior women leader in the People of God.