“They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).
The perseverance of the saints is a core doctrine of grace. Jesus said, “You will be hated by all because of My name, but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved” (Mk. 13:13). James wrote, “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (Jas. 1:12). Both verses translate the same Greek word that conveys the idea of “abiding under pressure.” It deals with our response to external negatives, such as temptation, opposition, or persecution. Christians are to expect hostility from those who hate Christ. Not that we go shopping for it, but it shouldn’t surprise us when it comes. We’re to stand firm against Satan’s assault.
Luke used a different word that means “to give oneself to something.” It refers to a positive energy toward something. The nascent church in Jerusalem persisted in giving themselves to the apostles’ teaching, that is to the gospel of grace. The gospel doesn’t end when someone confesses faith in Christ. Making disciples involves “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you,” said Jesus (Mt. 28:20). So, they abided and grew in all that Christ had taught them from the beginning.
Integral to the apostles’ teaching is the idea that what they taught was consistent with all the revealed Word of God. Paul described the church as being “built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone” (Eph. 2:20). It would be a mistake to devote ourselves to teaching that was contrary to God’s revealed Word. In fact, it would lead to grievous error. Rather, we do devote ourselves to a pastor’s teaching insofar as he consistently imparts God’s Word without error.
Beyond the apostles’ teaching; the early church devoted themselves to the fellowship. “Koinonia” is more than a warm, fuzzy feeling; it’s a shared partnership. The church ministered to one another in real, tangible ways. We learn later that many sold properties and brought the proceeds to the apostles to distribute among the needy. The idea of distribution – that is, giving – is part of fellowship. The consumer mentality that many churches cultivate today steals the joy of Christian fellowship. People who go to church to get something miss out on the real blessing of genuine fellowship, which is giving ourselves to one another in Christ.
Those early believers also devoted themselves to “the breaking of bread.” Some argue that breaking bread was a reference to the Lord’s Supper, while others maintain that they simply shared meals together. Either view has merit contextually, and argument could be made for both, although Luke seems more likely to have had the ordinance of the Supper in view. He described what the believers did as a church, not simply individuals. The Lord’s Supper memorializes the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It hearkens back to the Passover of the Exodus and shows God’s grace to save sinners. The bread and wine remind us of the tremendous price that Jesus paid to ransom us from God’s just wrath.
Finally, the Christians in Jerusalem devoted themselves to prayer. I often wonder what those early prayer meetings looked like. Did one or two people stand to recite memorized lines or did they go around telling all their ailments. God does care when we hurt, but prayer is much more about the glory of God than our comforts. Surely, we’re to pray for each other’s needs, but our main objective ought to be to praise God.
In sum, the early church was distinct in their profound worship. They didn’t treat worship as one item down a long list of things to do. It was the main event. May God restore to His church in our generation a deep and abiding hunger for the Word and worship of God.