If I could give you the #1 key to success in everything, would you take it? If I could provide you with the one principle that will help you excel in every aspect of your life, would you want it? I have discovered the one piece of advice that if it is the foundation of everything you do, it will guarantee the success of every aspect of your life. Would you like to hear it?
(If you landed on this post without seeing the others in this series, let me explain what is going on here. Thursdays is my day to talk about God’s way for our congregations. Right now I’m in the middle of a series on the Jerusalem church and it’s success. This is the twelfth post in the series. I encourage you to check out the introduction to this series to know more about what is going on and to find an index of the posts in this series as they are put up. Enjoy.)
The Jerusalem Church was Devoted to God
The first great key of Jerusalem’s success was why they were even gathering together as a church to begin with. They were gathering because they were devoted to God. What they did was about God, not about themselves.
They didn’t gather for entertainment. They didn’t gather for social recreation. They didn’t become a part of the church for social status. If they did, they wouldn’t last long. Pretty quickly, the church was going to lose its social standing. Persecution would begin and being a Christian would no longer be popular or cause increased favor with the people. These Christians didn’t stay with the church because of its felt-needs based ministries. They didn’t stick around because of what it provided for their kids. These folks were part of this church because they were devoted to God.
On the day of Pentecost, they had been convicted that they crucified the Messiah. In that moment, they were left hopeless, helpless, and despairing. They cried out, “Brothers, what shall we do?” That wasn’t simply a logical question asking, “What must I do to be saved?” That was a despairing cry. “What on earth can we do? We’re doomed.” But surprisingly, Peter had an answer. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Can you imagine the shock among the Jews who understood what Peter meant. They could actually receive the gifts promised by the Holy Spirit through their father Abraham. They hadn’t destroyed their hope of salvation through the Messiah after all. Perhaps they had misunderstood what the Messiah intended to bring. Perhaps they had misunderstood what the Messiah really was. But they hadn’t lost all hope. God had provided a way.
No doubt, their devotion to God was born in the midst of this realization. If God had done this for them, despite their having nailed God’s Messiah to a cross and asked for his blood to be on their heads, to whom else would they want to offer loyalty and devotion?
Their Devotion Demonstrated
The devotion of these Jerusalem Christians was demonstrated in four ways.
#1 The Jerusalem Christians were devoted to the doctrine of God; they were devoted to the apostle’s teaching.
It may be hard for us to imagine. Over the past 50 years, since the advent of television, we have become so entertainment oriented and emotionally driven. These Christians did not gather around the apostles because of their wonderful speaking style. They didn’t congregate to hear the apostles because of their comedic timing or their oratorical presence. They gathered to hear the doctrine the apostles would teach. They gathered to hear what God wanted them to do as expressed by the mouthpieces of Jesus Christ.
As the apostles once told Jesus, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Luke 6:68), these disciples knew the apostles were speaking words of life on the Lord’s authority. Where else would they go?
No doubt there is a place for entertainment. Even Jesus used entertainment as an illustration (Luke 7:32). But if we really want to have the success of the Jerusalem church, we have to be devoted to God’s will and God’s word. We need to devote ourselves to hearing it. We need to devote ourselves to accomplishing it. Why? Because God’s way works.
We need to be a thinking, reasoning people, who consider the teaching of the Lord. We need to be people who weigh the words of those who would speak on God’s behalf. We must not follow the path of our culture becoming mere passive receptacles of other men’s ideas that have been foisted upon us with emotionalism and oratorical skill.
Granted, in our entertainment based society, we may be able to produce churches with 10,000 members through our ability to entertain them. However, if we want to create disciples devoted to God, we have to focus them on the apostle’s doctrine. Otherwise, the church may look like Jerusalem on the roll book, but the members won’t look like Jerusalem Christians in their hearts.
#2 The Jerusalem Christians were devoted to God’s people; they were devoted to fellowship.
The Jerusalem Christians came from their own backgrounds. This was spiritually the opposite of the Tower of Babel. In that day, a people with a common goal were divided because of varying languages. On Pentecost, people divided by their languages were brought together by a common goal. This means the individuals had their own lives, their own livelihoods, their own plans and purposes. However, on Pentecost all of that was superseded by their desire to have forgiveness in Christ. Suddenly that meant a change in their community.
Now, instead of being Parthian Jews, Median Jews, Elamite Jews, Mespotamian Jews, and so on, they were disciples of Jesus Christ. They had a new community. They had a new sense of belonging. They got their identity from a new group. This was going to engender new traditions, new ways of thinking, new values, and especially new friends (or perhaps I should say new family).
Please do not be misled by the modern idea of fellowship. When we hear fellowship we immediately jump to potluck suppers and pick-up games of basketball. The Jerusalem church didn’t build a hall for recreation and call it fellowship. No, we see their fellowship in Acts 2:44-45. They were one now and they cared for each other as one. They were a community and they had all things in common. Some Christians even went so far as to sell their own land to care for Christians in need. Why not? They were family. Though, no doubt these sellers were local and the needy were likely from faraway lands, separated from their livelihood, they saw each other as “one of us.”
Further, we some sense of fellowship accomplished together as a congregation. They met in the temple daily with one another, praising God. That is, they jointly participated as a congregation in the work and worship of the Lord. But we also see some sense of fellowship that was not accomplished together as a congregation but pursued outside the congregational setting because they were members of the same community. They met in each other’s homes, eating together and continuing their praise of God together.
If we want to have the Jerusalem success, we have to learn this devotion to God’s people.
#3 The Jerusalem Christians were devoted to God’s mercy; they were devoted to the breaking of bread.
This is not saying the Jerusalem Christians were devoted to eating. This is not reference to what was going from house to house, taking their meals. No, this was the first reference to “the bread that we break” (I Corinthians 10:16). This refers to the Lord’s Supper. The Jerusalem Christians were devoted to this memorial.
Of course they would be. What better object of devotion than the greatest reminder of God’s love and mercy. These folks had become disciples, but they hadn’t become perfect. They were growing, but they still made mistakes and sinned. They needed a continual reminder of God’s mercy and love for them. They found that in the breaking of bread, the communion.
Each week (yes, I do believe they practiced this weekly), the Christians were reminded of their Savior. What special significance must this memorial have had for these Jewish disciples who had cried out, “His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:25). They had meant one thing, but their request was being fulfilled in a completely different sense. They had meant it in violence and reproach, but for these, God was fulfilling it in reconciliation and glory. What special significance must this memorial have had for those few who had actually witnessed the sacrifice. They had seen the body given for them, the blood of the new covenant shed for their forgiveness.
When they partook they remembered what brought them together. It was not their ancestry. It was not their works. It was not their nationality. It was their Savior. They were sinners who needed God’s mercy, so they gathered together devoted to the God who offered it to them.
The Lord’s Supper must never simply be an “act of worship” to check off the list. It is not a sporadic celebration on annual “holy days.” It is a continual memorial. We must be devoted to it. If we let that memorial slip into the background of what we do as a church, we will lose sight of the very thing that makes us a church. We will lose sight of the very reason we are gathered together. We will lose sight of the very need that keeps us turning to Christ. If we will have the success of the Jerusalem church we must be devoted to God’s mercy, we must be devoted to the breaking of bread.
#4 The Jerusalem Christians were devoted to God’s power; they were devoted to prayer.
The Jerusalem Christians understood where real strength was. They understood where the power of forgiveness and victory resided. It resided in God. They were devoted to having God work in them and through them. Therefore, they were devoted to prayer.
Let me ask you, when you hear “devoted to prayer,” does that sound like they got together and did several different things but they always had an opening and a closing prayer? No doubt prayer was a center piece of all that they did. The 120, who had been waiting on the coming of the Holy Spirit, had laid the ground work for this. According to Acts 1:14, they were devoting themselves to prayer with one accord. What does that sound like to you? Does it sound like minutes in prayer or hours? Does it sound like prayer was something they did on occasion in their meetings or does it sound like they had entire meetings just for it.
Sadly, few churches today either understand or truly believe in the power of God and the importance of prayer. Most churches spend more time making announcements than they do praying together. But not Jerusalem. They were devoted to prayer. Their leaders were devoted to prayer. In Acts 6, the apostles refused to take charge of the widow’s care because it would hinder their praying. Wow! How would that go over today?
According to Ephesians 3:20-21, God will do far more abundantly than all we ask or think by His power working in us. But do we realize what that means? It means we need to ask and think big. Prayer must be one of our main devotions if we wish to have the success of the Jerusalem church. Through it we understand that our success is not dependent upon us but upon the strength of God.
The Jerusalem church was strong and successful. But that isn’t indicated by their numbers or their programs. That was indicated by their devotion. They were no whitewashed tombs. They were devoted to God, devoted to His will, His people, His mercy, and His power. If we will have their success we must learn to mirror their devotion.
I can’t help but be in awe of the Jerusalem church. They started on the day of Pentecost with nearly 3000 members (Acts 2:41). Then they just kept growing from there. According to Acts 4:4, the number of men came to be about 5000. That means they could have more than 10,000 members by the time you count wives, unmarried women, widows, and children. In Acts 5:14-16, we learn that multitudes of men and women continued to be added to the church and they were influencing folks from the surrounding towns. In Acts 6:7, we see that even some of the priests (who were often Sadducees) were becoming Christians. What tremendous growth they had.
Of course, we know about the persecution that took place in Acts 8:4 scattering everyone except the apostles. However, by the time Paul visited Jerusalem in Acts 21:20, the church was in the thousands again.
The church was so strong that they were able to send brethren to help out in other congregations even after the persecution started. In Acts 8:14, Peter and John were sent to help the Christians in Samaria. In Acts 11:22, they sent Barnabas to help strengthen the fledgling church in Antioch.
In Acts 4, we see them face down the beginnings of persecution. In Acts 6 we see them over come potential division. In Acts 15, we see them lead the way to unity between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians.
Jerusalem is definitely a model for us. But what did they actually do? Is there anything we can actually emulate? Can we be what they were? I think we can. We simply need to examine their work on a very practical level. Sadly, few churches today ever become what Jerusalem was because few of us do what they did. Sure, we teach what they taught. But sometimes we avoid the very practical way in which they conducted their work and so we limit the growth and success we can have.
Over the next several Thursdays (I haven’t figured out how many yet), I’d like to examine the Jerusalem church and see what made it successful and what didn’t. I hope this can spark some great discussion for us as we strive to be what God wants us to be as individual Christians and as congregations.
Remember, God’s way works.
Index of Posts
Have you ever read the first ten chapters of I Chronicles? Talk about chloroform in action. I generally just scan through them and try to get done with them as quickly as I can. However, stuck smack in the middle of this droning roll call of humanity stands I Chronicles 4:9-10.
“Now Jabez was more honorable than his brothers and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, ‘Because I bore him in pain.’ And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, ‘Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil that I may not cause pain!’ So God granted him what he requested” (NKJV).
Apparently, when God got to Jabez’s name, He wanted to call attention to it. It is as if when God was going through this roll call and He got to Jabez, He stopped and said, “Whoa! Wait a minute. You need to know about this guy.” But what was it that made him so special? Why did he stand out in the crowd? As I consider these two verses, I notice five keys in Jabez that will help us also stand out in the crowd.
1. If you want to stand out in the crowd, don’t let the crowd determine where you will stand.
Can you imagine being named “Jabez”? That sounds bad enough for us today just because it is so archaic. But when you recognize that it meant “Causes pain,” you suddenly realize how bad it really is. Every day of his life, just by hearing his name, Jabez was called “causes pain.” Can you imagine hearing day in and day out that you are nothing but a pain to those around you? After a while, you might begin to believe it. Jabez’s mother prophesied his life for him. She told him over and over again that he would be nothing more than a pain. But Jabez refused to listen. He prayed to God that he would not cause pain.
These kinds of prophecies go on all the time. Every day parents, professors and peers prophesy our lives. Some times it is positive. Some times it is negative. Each day some children are told they will be doctors, lawyers and even presidents. Others are told they will be hoodlums, thieves and crooks. Some are called the class star, some the class clown. Some are Daddy’s girls, while others are Momma’s boys. When we hear these message over and over again, we begin to believe them.
You do not have to be limited by the prophecies of your parents, professors and peers. You, like Jabez, can stand out in the crowd if you will simply throw yourself on God’s mercy and let him help you be all He has planned for you. Don’t let the crowd determine where you will stand.
2. If you want to stand out in the crowd, stop standing still and start going somewhere.
Jabez had goals. He wanted an enlarged territory. Within the context of his mother’s prophecies for him, this is impressive. It demonstrates a great mindset. He wasn’t trapped within his circumstances. He would step out of those and pray that God give him a blessing to help him with his plans.
What plans do you have? While we are not of this world, we are in this world. God has not demanded that we hole up in monasteries and have no involvement or plans within this world. We are allowed to have goals. We are allowed to have plans. Yes, we must keep them within the confines of God’s will understanding that we will be judged. However, if we just stand still, we will never stand out. No, don’t get bogged down in worries about the future. But look ahead. Plan ahead and ask God’s blessing on your future as well as your present.
3. If you want to stand out in the crowd, stop standing and start kneeling.
Sadly, so many have focused on what Jabez prayed, even turning it into a mantra of sorts to be repeated as if the words themselves are magical that they have missed the real point. We must not so focus on what Jabez prayed that we miss the important point is that Jabez prayed. Jabez was not more honorable because of what he prayed. He was more honorable because he prayed. He was more honorable because the fact that he prayed represented that he relied on God.
When God wanted us to know about Jabez, he didn’t tell us a out his property, his prowess, his predecessors. He told us about his prayer. If God were going to point us out to the world, would He have anything to say about our prayer life? The fact is, we can only stand out if we rely on God.
I think that is why these two verses are even here. In the books of Chronicles, God is going to tell all kinds of stories about all kinds of people. In reality, they are all judged based on how they measure up to Jabez. Do they rely on God or on idols? Do they pray to God or to false gods? That will be the dividing line between those God blesses and God condemns.
If you want to stand out in the crowd, you can’t do it alone. God has to be on your side. So, stop standing and start kneeling.
4. If you want to stand out in the crowd, recognize you aren’t standing on your own two legs but on legs God has given you.
Jabez recognized that he could not enlarge his own borders. From the beginning of God’s dealings with the Israelites, He pointed out that He would be the one to enlarge borders. Jabez grasped that and instead of relying merely on his own strength, he relied on God’s strength.
Too often today, we have a “pull myself up by the bootstraps” mentality that says we don’t need help. We have this idea that we can do things all on our own and only need God for really big things. That just isn’t true.
You realize, of course, that the only reason you are breathing today is because God is letting you, right? You realize, of course, that the only reason you are moving today is because God is letting you, right? You realize, of course, that the only reason you are walking today is because of the legs God has given you, right?
The fact is, apart from God we can do nothing. Therefore, if we want to stand out in the crowd, we must start recognizing any real strength comes from God and not from us. We can’t do this on our own. We have to rely on God.
5. If you want to stand out in the crowd, don’t let Satan cut off your legs.
Jabez understood that committing evil would be contradictory to what he was asking of God. He did not expect, as too many do today, to live however he wanted and still receive God’s blessing. However, he also knew evil was too powerful for him. Therefore, he asked God to keep him from evil so that he would not be a pain to others.
We need to recognize this. We may have all kinds of plans. We may even say we are relying on God and offering all kinds of prayers. However, if we are going from our prayers to simply walk in sin, Satan will cut our legs out from under us and we will not stand out in the crowd. Sin is diametrically opposed to what God wants for us. If we want to stand out in the crowd, we need to turn from our sins.
Keep in mind the last two points, however. We will not overcome sin on our own or by our own power. We will only be able to do that by relying on God. This is not about proving to God how great we are. This is about recognizing how weak we are and just surrendering to Him to help us overcome.
What a great example Jabez is. He stood out in a crowd and we can too. But we have to follow these same five steps.
If you would like to read more about this or hear a sermon I have presented on these very same points. Feel free to check out the presentation made to the Franklin Church of Christ at the link below.
I can imagine it now. The apostles can sense the crowds are getting restless. They are hungry and have nothing to eat. It seems only one little boy gave any thought to preparation. He had five loaves and two fish, but there were 5000 men, not counting many of their wives and children. When Jesus told them, “You feed the crowds,” they were stunned. John 5:9 contains the important question:
“There is a boy her who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?”
Have you ever looked at the overwhelming crowds: maybe you are looking at people you need to help, maybe you are looking at temptations you need to overcome, maybe you are looking at goals you need to accomplish. Whatever you are looking at, you feel paralyzed. You see all this work but feel like the one talent man. Perhaps not even one talent, maybe you feel like only half of a talent. You wonder, “What is my talent for so many?”
Notice what Jesus did in John 5. He sat the people down. Blessed the meager meal and then passed it out. When the meal was done, the apostles gathered in 12 baskets of scraps and leftovers. They had more leftovers than they had original meal.
Let’s face it, if the only people present that day were the crowds, the boy and the apostles, folks would have gone hungry. That little meal couldn’t feed many, probably just the boy. But Jesus was present. When Jesus is present, He can make the littlest go a long way.
Let’s face it, if the only people present in your life are the crowds, your family and you, folks are going to be in trouble. You can’t possibly have enough talents to do much good. But if Jesus is present, He can take even your smallest gift and use it in extraordinary ways.
This is the heart of Ephesians 3:20. “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us…” If we try to go it alone, we will accomplish nothing…nothing of real value anyway. With Jesus running the helm, He can use our meager talents to accomplish more than we could ask or think.
So, step out with your five loaves and two fish and get to work.