And They Devoted Themselves
This passage paints a beautiful picture of the New Testament Church: “And they devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” So we see here that the first concern was the teaching that the Apostles’ laid down, which they received from Christ or from revelation of the Holy Spirit. What they taught was no man’s philosophy, nor politics, nor were they the “people’s apostles.” What they gave was the word of God as the Spirit gave them ability, not something utterly new but a Christ-centered understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures emphasizing fulfillment and the need for faith and repentance. And the people conformed their lives accordingly as awe came over them as the Spirit confirmed the Apostles’ words with signs and wonders. It was obedience to this word that gave them the sweet fellowship they experienced, both in their mutual relations and in worship. The “breaking of bread and the prayers” may be formal or informal; formal in the context of worship as that was experienced in the Lord’s Supper and prayers probably from temple worship but filled with new meaning given their fulfillment in Christ, informal in personal fellowship and devotion.
The loving fellowship they experienced expressed itself in holding “all things in common.” This communal style of living was not compelled as Peter makes clear later in his condemnation of Ananias and Sapphira (5:4), but voluntary. However, it does seem from this text and from 4:32-27 that the believers in the early church in Jerusalem did practice this kind of sharing, what the New Testament calls, koinonia. And if I may be so bold, their fellowship puts ours to shame. We call “fellowship” a time when the church gathers together for a meal in the fellowship hall. That’s fine and well, but that’s still a far cry from what we see here. Our culture teaches us that we have earned what we have and therefore have a right to enjoy it. We also fear that if we give to someone in need we may be enabling them to continue therein. And there is some truth to this as we read in many places in Proverbs. Still, in their great love for one another, the Spirit compelled them to share far beyond the point many of us are comfortable with: selling lands and houses so that no one would have any need; and here we sit worried about having enough for retirement! But because of this fellowship, now understood as generosity, they had glad hearts and were ready to give even more. And it was this generosity and joy amongst themselves that gave them favor among the people, for people generally respond favorably to such generous and joyful believers.