Churches can easily become consumed with numbers. We track the number of people who attend our weekly services. We track the amount of money placed in the collection plate. We track the number of individuals who are converted as a result of our evangelistic efforts. Numbers matter to us because they provide a simple way to measure growth. But are numbers the best way to measure growth?
Based on the numbers the first century church were experts in church growth. On its very first day, the church witnessed the conversion of three thousand people (Acts 2:41) and within their first year of existence they ballooned in excess of five thousand men, not counting women and children (Acts 4:4). In fact, their growth was so rapid that Luke said, “the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). This was a church that experienced phenomenal growth and did so in an age when there were no church growth experts to tell them what they should do to grow, nor church growth seminars to educate them on the modern techniques of evangelism, nor church growth books that provided them with a proper philosophy towards growth, nor sister congregations to be utilized as a blueprint of growth. They had no resources; they were it. Yet no church has ever experienced the kind of growth that the infant church in Jerusalem did, and maybe it’s because they measured growth differently.
In Acts 2:42-47 we are given a glimpse into the life of the first century church, and this section begins with the simple phrase “they devoted themselves to.” In the following verses we discover devotion to God’s Word, fellowship, the Lord’s Supper, and prayer, as well as an emphasis on giving, involvement, worship, and evangelism. And as the church’s story unfolds throughout the book of Acts it becomes apparent that their measurement of growth was not based on numbers but on one’s level of devotion to God.
Devotion matters. That to which you are devoted consumes your attention, your energy, your time, and even your finances. When you are devoted to something you give yourself entirely to it so that it becomes your master. God expects His people to be so devoted to Him that He is their Master. That is why the Greatest Command is that we love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30). That is why discipleship requires the denial of self (Luke 9:23). That is why Jesus indicated that God must be prioritized over one’s family (Luke 14:26). Devotion matters.
For the first century church numbers did not matter nearly as much as devotion because devotion measured what was most important in their life. In the next few articles we are going to examine what the first century church devoted itself to so that we can determine whether or not we are devoting ourselves to the same things.
The first detail we discover about the first century church is that “they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching” (Acts 2:42 ESV). This means that they were devoted to learning God’s Word. Remember, the infant church did not possess the Bible as we know it. They had access to the Old Testament but relied upon the Apostle’s teachings to supplement their scriptures with information pertaining to the new covenant. Thus, they were devoted to God’s Word, which was given to them orally by the Apostles.
But why should Christians be devoted to the Word? Consider Paul’s statement in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. He writes, “ All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Paul indicated that we should be devoted to the Word because of who authored it (i.e. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God”). God is the authority on life since He created it; therefore, His authorship alone is reason to be devoted to the Word. Additionally, Paul indicated that we should be devoted to the Word because of what it promises to accomplish (i.e. “the man of God may be complete”). Since He is the authority on life, God decided to provide us with instructions on how to live it according to His standards. The fact that the Word is our instruction manual, self-help guide, and road map is another reason we should be devoted to it.
But the real question is whether or not you truly are devoted to the Word. In fact, you may not even know what that looks like. Devotion to the Word means that you engrain it into your mind. The Israelites were instructed to “lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul” (Deuteronomy 11:18). That same text goes on to instruct them to “bind them as a sign on your hand,” to fix them “as frontlets between your eyes,” and to “write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 11:18-21). Binding God’s Word to your hand signifies that it controls your actions. Affixing God’s Word between your eyes signifies that it guides your life. Writing God’s Word on the entrance of your house signifies that it governs your home. These instructions were taken literally by Jews for millennium but they were intended to symbolize what it means to engrain the Word.
Devotion to the Word also means that you consistently engage it. The Jews in Berea demonstrated this expectation. After hearing Paul teach, Luke tells us that “they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). There are two important observations to be made from this text. First, these Jews did not accept what they heard at face value but spent time consulting God’s Word to find confirmation. They understood that a mortal could be wrong but the Words of the Immortal would always be correct. Second, they engaged in this exercise daily. They studied God’s Word not just on the day they gathered in the synagogue but every day of the week. The Berean Jews show us that devotion to the Word means that one is in the Word.
Are you devoted to God’s Word? Is it engrained in your life and are you engaging it daily? If not then can you truly claim to be devoted to God?