“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts 2:42
I have often thought that the word “devotion” is a word that described some behavior or habit that was constantly charged with passion or emotional desire, but it is plain to see that all habits, no matter how joyful we first find them, can easily become a chore. The amateur violinist or pianist may first become enthralled with learning to play, but soon will tire of the practice, practice, practice that it takes to be a concert violinist or a concert pianist. Devotion is the constant diligence one puts forth towards something they believe is worthy of their lives. This, my friend, was the early church in the book of Acts. They had “devoted” themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.
I’ve been reading Francis Chan’s book, “Letters to the Church”, and in it he writes:
“In our impatient culture, we want to experience biblical awe without biblical devotion. At the core of our dysfunction is not necessarily style or structure, but lack of devotion. So much of the discussion today revolves around how to make the most of our Sunday morning services. If people are willing to sacrifice 90 minutes a week, should we spend that time singing, preaching, or praying? Should we meet in a large group or a small one? These are all the wrong questions. We should be asking: why Christians are only willing to give 90 minutes a week (if that) to the only thing that really matters in their lives…”(pg. 56).
What kind of Christianity are we calling people to that requires little or no devotion? Wednesday night I was listening to a couple of church members discuss whether or not a person “had” to go to church regularly to be considered a Christian. And while I don’t believe attending a church can save me, I still wonder why we are asking such questions for it reveals a real lack of love and devotion to Christianity in general. The devotion of the early church braved Roman coliseums filled with gladiators and wild animals. It persevered through tortures and crucifixions. The church of the book of Acts were devoted to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer through famine, nakedness, and sword, and we are asking people for 90 minutes. It doesn’t seem like the same kind of Christianity or the same kind of church.
Being devoted to the apostles’ teaching is still possible today because their teachings make up the whole of the New Testament. Those disciples who were all martyred for their devotion to Jesus Christ left us the greatest and most inspired words that the Holy Spirit has ever breathed. I love both the Old Testament and the New Testament of the book we call the Bible, and would never try to say one is better than the other for God uses both to equip and build his church, but how can he, if his people aren’t devoted to reading, studying, and applying it to their lives? We must be devoted and constantly diligent to putting the Bible before us each day. God’s word changes us. I always tell my people that because we live in an age where people are wanting to water down God’s word, or use modern culture to interpret it, that the most important question we can ask ourselves before reading God’s word is: “Have I come to change this book, or am I willing for this book to change me?” Devotion to the holy scriptures means we allow them to change us, and we do not try to change it.
When the early church devoted themselves to fellowship what was meant by that? Did it mean that they shared a “fellowship meal” together in their “fellowship hall”? I doubt it. Even though they broke bread together from house to house, the meal was less about food, and more about a mutual and active participation in worship, prayer, Christian community, discipleship, evangelism, and sharing their lives with each other. They cared for one another, and even sold their own property and distributed their resources to those in their church that had real needs. Their devotion was to Christ, most assuredly, who else can change one’s heart so that he shares so much with others?
The church of the book of Acts devoted themselves to prayer. Miracles and wonders were quite common because they were a people who truly believed in prayer. The least attended service in any church is the “prayer meeting” in our modern age. I once was a member in a church with almost 650 people in attendance. On Saturday evenings the church had a regularly scheduled prayer meeting where all the members only did one thing when they arrived: they prayed. I decided to check it out, and when I showed up there was about seven of us total. Devotion to prayer does not describe today’s church culture. I believe if the church desires to return to its “glory days” we must first be willing to “devoted” to the things the early church was devoted to. Devotion is much more than 90 minutes on a Sunday morning. We all can agree on that.
Brian Taylor is the full-time pastor at Forest Avenue Baptist Church. He began his ministry in the foreign mission field of Togo, West Africa, serving with the International Mission Board of the SBC. He spent almost a decade serving as a music and youth minister in the panhandle of Texas.