Fully Devoted – A Power that can’t be Stopped

It’s a lot of fun to be around people who are filled with enthusiasm, especially when they are excited about the same things you are. I always feel a great energizing in my soul when I am with others who are likeminded and full of fervor about something. There is often a lot of hype surrounding the launching of a new product, business, or even a personal venture. As much fun as it is to be involved with those types of fresh adventures, being involved in a new move of ministry can be absolutely exhilarating. Times like this not only create deep bonds between people, it can also feel as if there is a common energy flowing, somewhat like a static electrical charge, the kind that makes you tingle all over and causes your hair to stand on end. Two thousand years ago a small band of faithful followers of Christ experienced a hair-raising event just like that.

The day the promise came
The day began like most others, with people going about their usual activities in Jerusalem. Jesus’ Apostles and disciples, a close-knit band of true believers, were being obedient to his instructions to stay in town until they received power from him.[1] They had been waiting with great expectation when it happened. It began with the sound of a powerful wind overhead, followed by what seemed like fire from heaven, and then the gift of holy spirit settled upon them. The outpouring of this divine gift of grace was like a spiritual earthquake, and its effects are still being registered on the Devil’s Richter scale even to this present day.

The twelve Apostles were a true band of brothers. They had forged incredible bonds as they watched and imitated Christ. They had not only experienced the thrill of seeing the sick healed and demons cast out of people, they had even done it themselves. Their time together had thrust them into the furnace of ministry, and one of the results was they had forged a bond between them that rivaled anything they had ever known before. And now they were yoked together by a spiritual cord that could not be broken.

What do we do now?
As the news of what had happened spread from the Temple area to the rest of Jerusalem, people came and pressed in on them to see and hear for themselves. Everyone wondered what these things meant. Why were these men speaking in foreign languages? Some speculated that they were drunk, and others mocked, but there were some who genuinely wanted to know what all of this was about as they heard the men speak of the magnificent works of God. It must have been electrifying for them.

Many who heard Peter’s speech about Jesus being the Christ were pricked in their hearts, and thousands accepted his message (Acts 2:41). Although the text does not specifically say so, it seems logical that many of those who believed Peter’s words spoke in tongues just as the Apostles had done. We say that because Peter quoted Joel about the holy spirit coming with power and everyone, even the servants, having the power to manifest the gift of holy spirit. (Acts 2:18). The question many must have asked is, “What do we do now?”

Fully Devoted
Jesus’ followers had learned well at the feet of their master. He had left them a clear message about what it meant to be his disciples. The instruction was to love just like Jesus had loved.

John 13:34
“A new commandI give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Jesus’ twelve Apostles, and many of his other followers, had been with him in the crucible of ministry. They knew what it meant to minister to the needs of people despite their own weariness, hunger and discomfort. They had seen what it meant to serve and not be served. And they had seen Christ die, so his words instructing them to “love as I have loved you” rang loudly in their ears. This type of love was not something they would confuse with sentimentality or emotional feelings. No, this love went well beyond that. It was a love the flowed from a sense of deep and profound devotion and manifested itself as obedience, duty and honor. Jesus’ followers knew they were to love one another, and it would be evidenced by their devotion to each other.

Acting with one heart and mind
The devotion the followers of Christ had for each other was supposed to run deeper than what they even felt for their parents, siblings, or other family members (Matt. 10:37; Luke 14:26). This devotion was demonstrated by their obedience to Christ’s instructions and their care for one another. It is why they were “joined together constantly” as they waited for the gift of holy spirit.

Acts 1:14
They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

The English phrase translated as “all joined together constantly” is the Greek word, “homothumadon.” This word carries a much richer meaning than what comes through in the English translation. Although the word is derived from two root words that mean to have “one passion,” it can be best understood with a musical metaphor. It is as if  “a number of musical notes are sounded, which while different, harmonize in pitch and tone. As a variety of musical instruments under the direction of a concertmaster…”[2] Like the wide variety of musical instruments in an orchestra, Christ’s followers, each separate and distinctly different, all acted in harmony with one another. They were all unified because they were all in tune with a common note, that note being Christ. And when all of them were in tune with him, it meant that they would all be in tune with each other. They were one in heart and mind.

Acts 4:32
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.

The outpouring of holy spirit on the Day of Pentecost set in motion a spiritual movement that rolled forward like a tidal wave, a divine tsunami that would eventually sweep around the world, even reaching forward into future generations.

Help! What do we do with these new converts?
“Yikes, what do we do now?” I can’t imagine Peter and the others not having that question rumble through their heads as they looked at the faces of three thousand new converts. I know how it is in our home fellowship when we learn that a few new people are coming. Lori and I usually scramble about making sure things are in order. “Kids’ toys picked up—check; coats and jackets hung up—check; music picked out—check; food and snacks—check; teaching and sharing—uh oh…”

The crowd’s response to Peter’s message was an evangelist’s dream, but it was quickly followed by an administrator’s nightmare as they would have thought, “How are we going to take care of all these people?” Although they may have been momentarily perplexed, God had the answer. The Lord had already laid the groundwork when he told them to “love one another.” And their love would be known by what they devoted themselves to.

Devoted to the Apostles’ teachings, Fellowship, Breaking Bread, and Prayer
It is no accident that the Word of God tells us that these new saints were devoted to four key things: the Apostles’ teachings, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer.

Acts 2:42
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Recent sociological Christian research is confirming that there is a very clear and definable path to spiritual maturity.[3] Recently released survey results gathered from over 1,200 churches, representing more than 280,000 individual Christians, have identified four stages of spiritual growth and the key practices involved. Although spiritual growth is an individualized process that happens at a different pace for each person, there is a general pattern that has emerged and common practices that are required. I am absolutely amazed that 2,000 years ago these new converts devoted themselves to doing the exact things that we now know lead to spiritual growth.

Devoted to the Apostles’ Teachings
The first thing that the Bible tells us they were “devoted to” was the Apostles’ teachings. Research clearly indicates that the first and most impacting practice for spiritual growth is becoming grounded in the Scriptures. This goes beyond merely knowing doctrines. God’s Word, His ways and His thoughts must become a foundation in the lives of those who wish to grow with God. It begins with instruction but eventually transcends into how they think and thus, how they live.

For many years when I read that the people were “devoted to the Apostles’ teachings” (King James version—“Apostles’ doctrine”), I thought this referred to the doctrine of the church we know from the Church Epistles.[4] And even if it didn’t,, I thought it certainly would have been the “Seven Ones of Ephesians.”[5] But this could not be what the Apostles taught because many of these truth were not known, much less understood, until years and in some cases decades later.

What were the teachings that these saints would have devoted themselves to? Many of them had not had the benefit of sitting at Christ’s feet as he taught, so they did not really know him or his message intimately. They looked to the Apostles to open their eyes to the passages of Scripture that revealed the Messiah. They would have known the Torah, Psalms, Proverbs, and the writings of the Prophets, so the Apostles would have shown them how Jesus was the subject, and how he had fulfilled many of these passages. Like the two on the road to Emmaus, the peoples’ hearts would have burned as they had the eyes of their understanding opened (Luke 24:32).

The Apostles would have taught the new converts that God was their Father and that He loved them, and would have instructed them on how to live  a life of love toward God and their neighbors. They also would have reminded the people that God desired mercy, not sacrifice (Matt. 9:13; 12:7), and to beware of the leaven (teachings) of the Pharisees (Matt. 16:6, 11, 12). The Apostles knew that correct practice requires correct teaching, and Jesus had made it very clear that the common teaching of the rabbis was full of error (Matt. 22:29).  The people were devoted to these teachings about Christ and they wanted to learn everything they could. Being embedded in the Scriptures is common to every stage of spiritual growth, and these new converts were becoming that way by virtue of their being devoted to the Apostles’ teachings.

Devoted to Fellowship
The result of the people being devoted to the Apostles’ teachings was that they began to live a life of love for one another. They began to devote themselves to each other by being together. They would have shared stories of personal spiritual victory, listened to inspirational readings, asked questions, and shared meals (breaking of bread).

Being devoted to fellowship does not mean they were dedicated to “meetings.” Unfortunately, in many Christian circles the word “fellowship” has become synonymous with a structured church gathering. “Fellowship” is the English translation of the Greek word koinonia, which means to “share fully.” However, a more complete explanation of the essence of this word is that fellowship is supposed to be a time of intimate joint participation[6]. This is a time when spiritual relationships are forged, where encouragement, care and discipleship happen. These new converts were excited about the Gospel and they wanted to be together, sharing that joy and enthusiasm.

The book of Hebrews reminds us that we should “not give up meeting together.” The warning is not to have “meetings,” but to make sure we stay connected by getting together (Heb. 10:25). It is not coincidental that the recent studies also indicate that another essential requirement for spiritual growth is to have close personal spiritual friendships. It is through spiritual relationships that we are often mentored and helped through the various challenges of life. When we share our lives with others, we learn that we are not alone in our personal struggles with sin. We are also helped by seeing what it means to forgive, love, challenge, and confront in a godly way. By being together we are also able to develop our personal ministries, or personal ways of serving.

Devoted to Breaking Bread
Breaking of bread is an Eastern idiom that means they shared meals together. I have been participating in home churches now for over four decades, and I have seen that one of the most bonding times has been when we share a meal. It is an intimate time when we can talk about life in general, and share concerns and new insights as conversation flows.  Another aspect of the early Christians being devoted to the breaking of bread is the inference that they shared a time of communion. This would have been when they reminded one another of Christ, his broken body and shed blood, and the Great Exchange that it represents. The essence of the Exchanged Life is summed up this way: his life for mine, now my life for his. As they embraced the wonderful reality of the Great Exchange, they began to live life in a way that had real spiritual power.

Fully Devoted to Prayer
The fourth thing that God says the early Christians were devoted to is prayer. We know from the book of Acts and the Epistles that prayer was an integral part of their lives. Their prayers included praise and worship to God, which even began on the first day of the birth of the Church on Pentecost (Acts 2:11). Prayer also included intercession for others and for their own personal needs (1 Tim. 2:1). Their devotion to one another was clearly evidenced by their prayer lives.

And once again what they were doing is exactly what research confirms is necessary for spiritual growth. In addition to being embedded in the Scriptures and developing personal spiritual relationships, people must develop personal spiritual practices. It makes sense that one of the most fundamental of the various practices of discipleship would be prayer, and specifically prayer that involved the praise and worship of God. We know that people were also telling others of their faith because the Word of God says that people were being added to the church daily (Acts 2:47). Prayer is a serious spiritual weapon and these saints were devoted to wielding it.

A power that can’t be stopped
One powerful lesson that can be learned from the devotion of the believers is that people who are unified by a common cause and are willing to dedicate all they have to that vision are a force that is hard to stop. History is full of examples showing that people who are connected by a common purpose can be a very powerful force. The successful separation of the American colonists from the King of England in the Revolutionary War is a classic example. At that time England was the most powerful country in the world, and yet a relatively small band of patriots, ill equipped and short on means, not only challenged the King but also stood their ground against him and won.

The Old Testament gives us records like Nehemiah, one man who inspired the remnant of the Jews with a vision of rebuilding the walls and gates of Jerusalem against great opposition. Moses confronted one of the most powerful rulers of his world when he approached Pharaoh and demanded the release of his people. Even the record of Christ can be seen as a single man from a relatively unimportant village who turned the world upside down by a message of truth, hope, and spiritual restoration. A big part of the key to their success was that they were of one heart and mind. They had a common passion and conviction to carry out their vision. They were Fully Devoted!

Christ charged his followers to “go make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). The world is full of distractions, temptations, and all sorts of things that seek our devotion. The saints of the first-century faced obstacles and tremendous opposition too. What caused them to be successful was that they were fully devoted to the Apostles’ teachings (the truth about who Christ was and who they were in him); to the breaking of bread and to fellowship (the cultivating of strong spiritual relationships); and to prayer (personal spiritual practices). The key to our success lies in us as Christians doing the same. The lost people of the world will never be reached for the cause of Christ by half- baked and lukewarm attempts on our part. If we are ever to grow into full spiritual maturity and help others to do the same, then we too must be Fully Devoted!

Endnotes

[1] Luke 24:49 “I am going to send you what my Father has promised;but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
[2] See Bibleworks 8, “one accord” (KJV),  GK. “homothumadon
[3] For further information on this topic see the REVEAL Survey results conducted by the Willow Creek Association, Barrington, IL.
[4] At Spirit & Truth Fellowship International we consider the Church Epistles to be the books of Romans through 2 Thessalonians.
[5] It is the position of Spirit & Truth Fellowship that the non-negotiable doctrines of our times are the seven ones listed in Ephesians 4:4; One God, One Lord, One Faith, One Hope, One Baptism, One Body, and One Spirit
[6] Fellowship, Gk. koinonia, was never intended to refer to a “meeting” as some commonly do today. It is more properly understood as “intimate joint participation.” Consider 1 Cor. 1:9. “God has called you into fellowship (“intimate joint participation”) with his son Jesus Christ our Lord…” (See also 1 Cor. 5:2; 2 Cor. 6:14; 2 Cor. 13:14; Phil. 2:1; 3:10; 1 John 1:3; 6 and 7).

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