And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship,
to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard this passage taught as the model for Church ministry – and rightfully so. This example of the early Church’s daily practice of life together reveals the essential marks of the Christ’s body. What is the Church if it is not centered around the teaching of the Word of God, with genuine fellowship among believers who care for and build up one another, the regular and proper administration of the Sacraments, and faithful, passionate, and Spirit-filled prayer? Countless books and conferences have given attention to this passage, seeking to keep the Church grounded in those “means of grace” through which God has long-blessed His people.
Yet something struck me as a I re-read the passage today: As often as I’ve heard this passage extolled to the leaders of the church, highlighting these essential four marks, how often have we stopped to consider what is being said about the members of the congregations? We rightly focus on the fact that the leaders of the Church (teaching and ruling elders) need to keep us grounded on these four marks, but do we give enough attention to the role of those who are being led?
Consider what Acts 2:42 says, “they devoted themselves…” The people of the church, not just the leaders, gave themselves to these practices, devoted themselves to these means. This word, “devotion”, deserves some consideration.
In it’s simplest form, “devotion” means diligence, commitment to, or endurance. It suggests an intent to follow through on a decision, I have devoted myself to this task… So, in one sense, devotion is a labor, a work, that we must be dedicated to perform.
Now, before the “works-righteousness” alarms start going off, please understand that I don’t mean that we must do this in order to merit salvation. Scripture clearly teaches that we are “saved by grace through faith… it is the gift of God” (Eph 2:8-9). That being said, God’s free gift of salvation in Jesus Christ does not exempt us from doing good works, it actually enables us to those works (Eph 2:10). When I say that we must commit ourselves to the work of studying the apostles teaching, to fellowship, to partake in the sacraments rightly, and to prayer, I am talking about the discipline and duty of the Christian in ongoing growth and life in the Spirit.
Another aspect of this word “devotion,” however, is that of the heart. Devotion doesn’t just suggest commitment and dedication, but also love and adoration. Devotion implies a heartfelt passion. Devotion cannot be a plodding through the God-given means of grace of study, fellowship, sacrament, and prayer as though these were burdens to be carried out. Devotion is a joy-filled, Christ-centered love for God and for the blessings known in sweet communion with Him. It is a commitment to the Lord because of a delight in the Lord. It is a labor, yes. But it is a labor of love!
For the church to thrive, she must practice these marks, these are god’s gracious means give for our growth. As leaders we must never abandoned the principles of Acts 2:42. But this passage is meant to go beyond a Church ministry model. It speaks to the heart of every believer. We must, each of us, be devoted, to seek out the Lord and delight in His presence.
May you know and grow in the joy and delight in devotion to the Lord!