Sabbath School Lesson for October 27-November 2, 2018
We were able to get a sense of what the early church was like by looking at these factors this week:
- how they prepared for unity in the upper room during the Pentecost experience
- how the Holy Spirit intervened with a miracle that was not only supernatural, but totally practical for their needs at the time
- how fellowship played a significant part in creating and maintaining a spirit of unity
- how their physical needs were met, by the generosity of those who had the means to help
- how providing for God’s followers was important for the ministry, no matter what distance there might be between them
It’s naturally assumed that the early church that existed right after Christ’s earthly ministry was a unified movement. As a matter of fact, some of that unity seemed to be a requirement for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the first place, and a cause for its continued momentum and rapid growth in the beginning.
Their supernatural experience of speaking in other languages seemed to indicate that some amount of unity must have already been attained during Pentecost. And it just grew from there, until Christianity spread heavily to the Gentile world.
How long they were able to keep this unity alive would be determined on how close they remained to God and to their brothers and sisters in Christ. We are amazed at their generosity toward each other, and long for the same feelings of compassion and benevolence that marked those early years.
What did their fellowship look like back then? How did unity replace their previous jealousies and rivalries? What can God’s church in this day and age do to encourage Christian fellowship and unity, using it to further spread the gospel to a dying world?
Memory Text: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” Acts 2:42 NKJV
Fellowship with spiritual roots is always the best kind when looking for ways to achieve unity in God’s church. Every social activity engaged in should have a spiritual foundation and application. We are naturally drawn together when we are focusing on Christ. This is the most appropriate reason for brothers and sisters in Christ to associate with each other.
Even when an evening of fun and laughter is enjoyed by a Christian gathering, there can be a prayer for God’s presence. Jesus endorsed having fun. His first miracle occurred at a wedding. And, just look at the diversity He built into the natural world. He meant for life to be enjoyed. He longs to make us happy, not just individually, but as a well-defined group.
The positive bonds of love and belonging we create, in a variety of ways, will enable us to work together in our mission of serving the world. Serving and associating with each other just gives us practice in serving our neighbors and bringing them into the fold of God’s love.
Sunday: Days of Preparation
The days prior to the outpouring of God’s Spirit were not wasted by Jesus’ disciples. Just as you would expect from a mourning family after a well-loved relative has passed away, God’s family found solace in each other’s company. Their sharing of memories and stories about Jesus enabled them to grow in both understanding and appreciation of their Master and Friend.
This close bonding of the disciples in the upper room brought about new awareness of the totality of Christ’s message and freshly humbled their hearts in repentance. For once, their differences were ignored and they discovered what true Christian fellowship was meant to provide. Regrets over past mistakes were quickly replaced with a new determination to represent Christ to the world in a manner He would approve.
God’s church today would benefit greatly from working and associating more closely with each other. There is a recent push to meet and visit in homes and small groups. Large church settings are a great venue for worship, but when it comes to community involvement and spreading the gospel, more success seems to be happening for small Christian groups, where close fellowship and tighter bonds are likely to be developed.
Read John 14:26 and 16:13. What was beneficial about remembering all that Jesus had taught them, and what was the Holy Spirit’s role in making this happen?
Read Acts 1:5, 8, and Luke 24:47-49. Why was Jerusalem the chosen place for the disciples to “tarry” after Christ returned to heaven? What would be the result of following Jesus’ directions in this?
Read Acts 1:14. How diversified was the group that waited in the upper room, and how important was that diversity? What is it about prayer that unites us?
Monday: From Babel to Pentecost
Three events actually are worthy of our attention this week, at these locations:
- Babel–where languages were confused and people were divided, as pride had caused the people to build a tower that would save them from another flood (representing the fallen state of mankind)
- Mt. Sinai–where God gave His Ten Commandment law to Moses (representing God’s desire that we become like Him by keeping the law, a reflection of His character)
- Jerusalem–where during Pentecost, the disciples experienced having a reversal of the language confusion that Babel introduced (representing the renewal and transformation humanity can enjoy with God)
All three of these events were accompanied by supernatural, physical phenomena, alerting us to the influence God has in the universe.
Pentecost was celebrated fifty days after the Passover. It was a time to rejoice and give thanks for the firstfruits of the summer harvest.
Of course, we all await the final harvest at the end of the world. God’s church in the last days, although described as a sleepy, Laodicean church, will include His remnant who “keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Revelation 14:12).
The same unity that the early church enjoyed, right after Pentecost, will be available for God’s final church family. We, too, will be empowered from on High to finish the harvest that was started by Jesus’ followers almost two thousand years ago.
Read Genesis 11:4, 8, 9 and Acts 2:2-4. Why did God separate the people at Babel? What made it possible for God to finally restore some of that unity at Pentecost, and for what purpose? Why wasn’t it fully restored at that time so we could all speak one language again?
Read Exodus 24:17, 18. What other Bible examples are there concerning God and fire? Why is this fire destructive for some people, but others (like Moses, and Daniel’s friends in the fiery furnace) are able to escape it?
Read Revelation 14:12, 13:10, and 12:17. Why are patience and faith both necessary for God’s last-day saints?
Tuesday: Unity of Fellowship
At the end of chapter two in the book of Acts we find a vivid description of God’s early church. It appears to have these characteristics, providing us with some insight into the reasons for their initial success:
- doctrine, or the teaching of Scripture, was valued as a way to know more about God and His plan of salvation
- social fellowship was encouraged as a means of spiritually bonding with each other
- “breaking of bread” (whether eating regular meals together, or sharing the Lord’s Communion Supper) indicated shared activities, quite possibly in a home or small group setting
- prayers, a way to express their care and concern over the trials they may have endured, drawing them into closer harmony with the brethren and enabling them to persevere over their enemies
- sacrificial giving to show love in a tangible way to those struggling physically to survive
- praising God, thanking Him for His bountiful mercy
The chapter closes by letting us know that there were people who thought positively about the church. Its good reputation caused many to be added to the cause of Christianity.
Read Acts 2:42, 43, and 22. What kind of miracles were done by Christ and His apostles? Why is physical healing so important to God? Why did the miracles come after the prayer and Bible study, and why is that important?
Read Acts 2:44, 45 and 4:32-34. What enabled this level of giving, and why was it particularly needed by God’s church at this time?
Read Acts 2:46, 47. What part does thankfulness have in our Christian witness? How does it point people to God, and why is it important for us to give Him the glory?
Wednesday: Generosity and Greed
We are told of two examples of givers in the book of Acts…
- “And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the the apostles’ feet.” Acts 4:36, 37 NKJV
- “But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” Acts5:1, 2 NKJV
Think of it–Barnabas, a Levite from Cyprus, later joined forces with Paul, the great missionary to the Gentiles, and did great things for God, in addition to the initial giving of his property and possessions.
And Ananias and Sapphira became the couple who stood for greed and deception, definitely negative role models for the church, when they withheld monies and failed to keep their promise to the church and to God. Their quick demise was necessary for the church not to be poisoned by their tainted example.
Read Acts 5:3-5, 10, 11, and 12-16. How would you characterize the fear that came upon those who heard about this event? What other miracles were used to give the church a good reputation?
Read Exodus 20:17. Consider the difference in the tenth commandment (about covetousness) from all the others: it is the only one that does not describe an action, but something hidden in the heart. Why then is the tenth commandment important, perhaps as important as the first commandment?
Read Acts 4:36, 37, 9:27, and 13:2-4. How did God later use Barnabas? In what ways might his generosity have led to his further witnessing opportunities?
Thursday: Remember the Poor
Often we focus our giving on helping those closest to us–either our family, local community, or home church. The scope of giving demonstrated by the early church was much wider, however, especially considering the difficulties of travel and communication in the first century.
When it came to helping each other, the early church was vigilant about helping their brothers and sisters, no matter who they were or where they lived. The church in Jerusalem first gave to help those who suffered in Gentile countries. But later those same Gentile believers were generous in giving to the persecuted believers, suffering famine back in Jerusalem. Those who had need, got help. No questions asked. Distance didn’t matter.
As we look at all the factors that fostered unity in the early church, whether it be Bible study, prayer, fellowship, praising God/worship, or even having a common mission, one other item must be added to the list. Generosity is often overlooked as a means of achieving unity. But giving and receiving, contribute to our sense of brotherhood and belonging, and must not be neglected.
Read Acts 11:27-30 and Galatians 2:10. What were some possible reasons that Paul was eager to help those in Jerusalem?
Read 2 Corinthians 9:10-13. Where do we get the means to share with others? Why then is giving with a thankful heart necessary to receiving a blessing?
Read Acts 11:29 and 1 Corinthians 16:2. Who determines “according to his ability” and “as he may prosper”? Why must our giving be a voluntary activity? Is returning tithe voluntary also? How then do gifts of tithe and offering differ?
Many elements are seen in the early church that point to the reason for its unity. There were activities such as Bible study, prayer, worship, and even socializing together that aided this spirit of close unity, but we must not forget the role of the Holy Spirit.
It was only by the miracles of healing and spiritual gifts, such as speaking in other languages, that they were able to do the work assigned to them by their Lord. The Holy Spirit, working on the hearts of people, was also responsible for the generous giving that led to the physical survival of many of God’s persecuted and suffering ones.
The growth of the early church was only attainable through the work of the Holy Spirit and the willingness of its members to be used by God for that purpose.
Church growth must account for more than numbers of believers though. Spiritual growth must happen first in our hearts. As with the apostolic church, we will see our numbers swell when we become more fully unified with each other and with God.
Next Week’s Lesson: Images of Unity
To read the Sabbath School Lesson Quarterly or see more resources for its study, go to https://www.absg.adventist.org/
All Outlook blogposts by Teresa Thompson, are at http://outlookmag.org/author/teresathompson/