Inward Church

The focus of the early church was on caring for each other. And I believe that same focus should be for us as well.

MaryAnne Dahmen

6/10/20244 min read

Love scrabble tiles on book page
Love scrabble tiles on book page

A decade ago or maybe it was two decades now, there was a push in churches to be more outwardly focused. And yes of course we should always be aware of our culture and be appealing to those who don’t know Christ as their savior. But is the music, the lighting and sometimes even the Starbucks in the lobby what draws people in?

Recently as I was prepping for the Monday Night Group Study of the book of Acts I became very aware of what the first church in Jerusalem was offering and why it was growing so fast.

In chapters 2 and 4 we learn the church was being formed by the Holy Spirit and people were saying ‘how they cared for each other.’ Those two ideas have stayed with me for over a month now. And I think this is their secret to success. Let’s break them down. What does it mean they were being formed by the Holy Spirit? Well we see in Acts 2:37 that those who heard the teaching of Peter of how Jesus had fulfilled the words of the prophets’ and “they were pricked to the heart,” this means they were disturbed, distraught, or you might even say convicted. But let’s look at their reaction, they say “what shall we do.” These people were convicted that the road they had been traveling on, the direction they had been going, the religion they had been following was not going to lead them to an eternal life as they had thought it would. But I love their response. Just as a child who is genuinely seeking information, they say if this wasn’t it, where do we go to find the truth? The conviction of our heart is one of the works of the Holy Spirit. Oh so gently but without wavering we know in our spirit that something we thought to be true, isn’t true at all. For those hearing these words this meant that everything that had formed them as an individuals and as a culture was now not working. Peter tells them, “repent”. One definition I found said repent meant to turn from sin, idolatry and creaturely rebellion, and turn to God in faith. Don’t you love that phrase “creaturely rebellion"? (I can definitely identify with that.) But now what, well Peter gives them the action. He is telling them/us ‘stop what you are doing, turn around and do something differently.’ For these early believers it was baptism, but for us who have been baptized, it may mean ‘change!’ Peter finishes this sentence by promising them and you will receive the Holy Spirit.

The work of the Holy Spirit is still the same for us today. We are convicted that there is more to this eternal life we have been given, we respond with the words, ‘what do we do now’ and we listen to the response of the Holy Spirit and we do something. But what do we do, what’s our action? Nothing new here. The focus of the early church was on caring for each other. And I believe that same focus should be for us as well.

John 13:34 “A new command I give you; Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

And in John 17:20-23 Jesus himself prays for us, “My prayer is not for them alone (the disciples,) but I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one- I in them and you in me- so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."

We see here in Jesus' own words that His desire for us is that we live as one, just as He and the Father are one. The direction we are to head toward is living in unity.

So what would it look like for us if we were a church, repenting, and following the leading of the Holy Spirit. Well let’s look at what it meant to the early church in Jerusalem. What did they do?

  1. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. In other words they listened to preaching. They didn’t have the benefit of the written New Testament, but they made themselves available to the teaching they had.

  2. They put value in spending time together and caring for one another.

What would that look like for us? First of all we would realize we were all equal. No one is greater or lesser than anyone else. Equal means equal. The value of a person is not their capabilities or their bank account. The cross has leveled the field. And more than that, “failure is the price of admission.” I don’t start showing up once I look okay. I show up and let others around me help me up. But in order to do this we must be willing to be vulnerable. If the early church was meeting each others needs this meant they knew each other's needs, which meant they shared their needs, which meant they spoke their needs to one another. Ouch!! But if we truly believe we have received the grace of God’s forgiveness. We are free to extend that grace to each other without any expectation of what we get back in return. We are committed to one another, we are all in. When we receive grace from one another we become free to extend grace to one another.

And finally they were generous. Not only with their money, but with maybe for us a more precious resource, our time. Acts 2:44-47 And all who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people (those outside the church). And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

People were seeing how different these Jews were from those around them, their intention was different, the way they cared for one another was different, and the result was certainly different, and as a result, the church grew.