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Devoted to Apostolic Teaching

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching… (Acts 2:41-42)
We have seen so far that a community based on the gospel will have certain characteristic devotions, or practices, that flow naturally from the gospel itself. As I survey Acts 2:42-47, I see at least seven such practices. And while there is little evidence that they are placed in any intentional order, I cannot ignore which one comes first.

Devoted to the Word

This community, centered on repentance and faith, is first and foremost devoted to, or committed to, “the apostles’ teaching” (2:42). In other words, a person’s conversion to Jesus is more of a starter’s pistol than a finish line. Now that the Spirit has brought repentance, the work of living according to that repentance begins with teaching. And the local church devoted itself not to any old teaching, but specifically to that of the apostles.

What made the apostles’ teaching unique was its authority. They were eyewitness to the life, teaching, miracles, death, and resurrection of Jesus. They received His Spirit in the upper room. They were chosen by Jesus to bear the initial weight of carrying on the good news that the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

In the generations that followed, the teaching of the apostles was collected into what we call the New Testament. But it’s important to know that this teaching was seen as God-inspired and authoritative well before the church finished the project of determining which texts would be included in the Bible.

In other words, the church didn’t make the writings of the New Testament authoritative, nor did they selectively deny the authority of other worthy texts. Rather, the church recognized those texts which already carried apostolic authority and labeled them as such.

For instance, Peter recognizes Paul’s writing on the same level as the Old Testament (2 Pet. 3:15-16), and Paul regards Luke’s gospel as equal to the Torah (1 Tim. 5:17-18)! Since the very beginning, church leaders regarded the teaching of the apostles as Scripture, which means we can restate the first devotion of the local church this way: …”and they devoted themselves to teaching Scripture.”

The Cornerstone of the Local Church

Paul counseled his young protegé Timothy to preach the Word as the cornerstone of his pastoral ministry (2 Tim. 4:1-5). Why? The preceding sentence tells us: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable…” (3:16). God tells us that His Word will satisfy us the way no earthly meal can (Isa. 55:2). This is so because all Scripture points to Christ (Luke 24:27), and Christ is the bread of life that will never leave us hungry (John 6:25).

And so the first devotion of the local church is to Scripture. One of the defining characteristics of our community ought to be an obvious regard for and submission to God’s Word. The more a newcomer comes to belong in our community, the more clear this should become to them: not just that we hold up God’s Word as true - which we do, without apology! - but that we savor it as good and cherish it as beautiful.

Listen to some of the words found in Psalm 119, in which David extols the beauty of God’s law:
24 Your testimonies are my delight.  
47 I find my delight in your commandments, which I love.
92 If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.
97 Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.
127 Therefore I love your commandments above gold, above fine gold.
159 Consider how I love your precepts!  Give me life according to your steadfast love.
174 I long for your salvation, O LORD, and your law is my delight.
God’s Word is our delight because His Word leads us to Christ and Christ is our salvation. This is the first devotion that characterizes a community gathered around repentance and faith.

First, Not Only

But it is not the only devotion, and this point is important. There are those who believe the only devotion needed is to God’s Word, and all else will follow. In these places, much truth is said about God’s Word, and yet the community does not feel like the gospel. There is no warmth or welcome to the newcomer. There is not joyful sacrifice to bear one another’s burdens or open their homes. Such a disconnect is fatal to the witness of that church, however true their words may be.

Consider with me the confusion when a preacher correctly proclaims the compassion of Jesus and yet the church is as cold and unfeeling as any other group. Consider a truthful message of adoption proclaimed in a community walled off to outsiders. Consider a right exposition of forgiveness and grace lifted up among those who gossip, slander, and hold grudges.

Does such a community reinforce or negate the good news? This is the danger to which we leave ourselves vulnerable if God’s Word is our only commitment. That is, if our only concern is saying right things about God from His Word, never bringing it to bear on our community, with what joy should we expect the gospel to be received?

A devotion to God’s Word must go beyond a collection of right statements about it. A devotion to God’s Word should determine the type of community someone experiences when they visit a local church.

That’s that story of this first church described in Acts 2. Yes, their first characteristic was a devotion to God’s Word. However, six more devotions follow. And it is to the next, a devotion to fellowship, that we turn next time.
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