Read the description of the early church in Acts 2:42-47. This is a famous passage about early Christian community.
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
Wouldn’t you like to be a part of a church like that? Vibrant community, vital teaching. Miracles, awe, and wonder. Giving to the poor, gladness, and generosity. Thousands being saved each day. Does your church look like that? Does ANY church in North America look like that?
As a pastor, I’ve agonized over verses 42-47 over the years. I’ve made grocery-type lists of activities that my ministry should be doing: devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching; have fellowship; eat; pray; do signs and wonders; be together; have all things in common; sell our possessions and give to the poor; go to church together; eat some more; reach out to the lost.
Then I use lists like this in order to evaluate ministry. How am I doing? Are we doing all the right things? Does our church look like this? If our church doesn’t look like this, then we’ll turn verses 42-47 into some kind of a program. A checklist. We’ll make sure we’re doing everything the early church was doing. That’s where we’ll start.
And that’s the fundamental flaw.
Here’s what I’ve learned: you cannot start with the description of the early church in verses 42-47. In fact, not even the early church started with the description of the early church in 42-47! They started all the way back in verse 1 (of Acts chapter 2).
“They were all together in one place” waiting on the Holy Spirit. They were waiting, praying, and listening to Peter preach. That’s where they started.
J. I. Packer shows us what happens when God revives his people. After considering spiritual renewal in the Bible and throughout church history, he gives these four “steps.” First, God comes down. Second, God’s Word comes home. Third, God’s purity comes through. And fourth, God’s people come alive.
As you read Acts chapter 2—starting with verse 1—this is exactly the pattern you find. God comes down in verses 1-13. He rushes down in the Person of the Holy Spirit. God’s Word comes home in verses 14-37a. Peter preaches Joel 2, Psalm 16, and Psalm 110 to the people and his sermon cuts them to the heart. God’s purity comes through in verses 37b to 41. They realize how holy God is and how sinful they are, especially for crucifying God’s Son. Finally, God’s people come alive in verses 42-47.
Did you catch that? God’s people come alive in verses 42-47. In other words, what we’re witnessing in verses 42-47 is a church that has come alive! That’s why they look like they do. Verses 42-47 are what an alive church looks like! Dead churches don’t do any of the activities mentioned in verses 42-47; you have to come alive first.
If you want to become a 42-47 church, then God has to come down (1-13), God’s word has to come home (14-37a), and God’s purity has to come through (37b-41). Only then can God’s people come alive as they do in verses 42-47.
Here’s the bottom line: Acts 2:42-47 is not the means to making your church come alive, but the result of having come alive. They are the evidences of life; they are not the life itself, nor are they the means to life. God is the life.
That’s why we pray along with Isaiah, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down!” (64:1).
Nobody had to tell the church to do all the stuff in verses 42-47, it was just the natural reaction of a church that had come to life. So if you’re starting there, you’re starting in the wrong place. Too many people today grumble and complain, saying things like, “The fellowship is lousy in this church! Why can’t people open up more? Why can’t we take care of each other better? Why can’t we be more like the early church?”
But can’t you see? You can’t start there. You can’t force these sorts of things to happen.
But here’s where we can start. We can start in verse 1. “They were all together in one place.” You have to be a verse 1 church before you’ll ever become a verses 42-47 church.
Come together as one and wait on the Holy Spirit. Study the Bible and pray. This is the only way for renewal to happen—the only way for the church to come alive, who looks like verses 42-47.
Preaching, praying, and the power of the Holy Spirit are vital to the life of the church and the good of the entire world. Church, don’t neglect these three in order to chase after the ideal in 42-47.
 Keep in Step with the Spirit, pages 244-245.