Pastor Chris Tweitmann
We come to end of this sermon series looking at what it means for us to be the Body of Christ in the world today – as pictured through a quick snapshot of the early Church right after its birth on the day of Pentecost.
On that day, a faithful group of 120 who had followed Jesus during His earthly ministry swelled to just over 3,000 believers thanks to the Holy Spirit and the first recorded sermon proclaiming the Gospel.
What did it practically look for all these people from different nationalities, backgrounds and languages to come together into a single, unified community of faith?
We are given a brief but insightful snapshot of what it looked like in Acts, chapter 2:42-47. It’s been our focal image through this whole series. We’ve been looking at it together for weeks now. Is it fully imprinted yet in our mind’s eye? Can we see it without hearing read aloud? Just in case, this indelible picture hasn’t quite sunk in yet for us. Here it is one more time.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
Through the leading of the Holy Spirit, the apostles directed the church to focus on four things, four essential, foundational practices. (1) the apostles’ teaching – being in the Word, (2) fellowship – being in community together, (3) in the breaking of bread – coming to the table set by Jesus and in response opening the tables of their lives, in their homes, as an offering of gracious hospitality to others, (4) and prayer (regular, ongoing conversation with the Lord through the Spirit – individually and communally.
We looked at each one of these practices in detail. We’ve also considered the Spirit-driven postures of both living justly and living generously that naturally emerged out of these shared practices. Today, we end this series by considering the verb that stands out in this description of the early Church – in expressing how they engaged their life together in Christ. That verb found in verse 42 is DEVOTED.
On our conversations, the word DEVOTED pops up a lot.
We admire someone who is devoted to their family, to their children, to their spouse.
We respect the person who is devoted to their craft, their art, their work.
We encourage others to be devoted to their health or their studies.
We marvel at those who are so devoted to an author, a musician/band or even a sports team.
But what does it mean to be devoted?
More specifically, what does it look like to be devoted to being the Body of Christ?
To answer these questions and others that might follow, let’s listen to a passage from the Gospel of Luke where Jesus Himself doesn’t necessarily use the word “devotion” but in what He does say, tells us everything we need to know. Here is Luke, chapter 19.
The Greek word used to describe this picture of the life of the early Church, which translates into English word, “devoted” means “to be steadfastly attentive, to give relentless care to something.”
Being devoted is to fully embrace, to be completely immersed, in such a way that one is singularly focused and committed.
The picture then we are given here in Acts of the early Church is not just a group of believers who occasionally – once a week or once a day – were in God’s word, in community together, sharing hospitality with others, or praying together.
No, the first followers of Jesus were steadfastly attentive, fully immersed, singularly focused, totally committed to these four practices of being in the Word, engaging in koinonia or fellowship together, coming to the table set by Jesus and in response opening the tables of their lives, in their homes, as an offering of gracious hospitality to others, (4) and prayer (regular, ongoing conversation with the Lord through the Spirit – individually and communally.
These are the habits they regularly gave their time, attention, and energy towards developing. These are the postures of living they said “Yes” to by purposefully saying “No” to other pursuits and other diversions. But let’s be clear, these four practices, were the means and not the ends of the early Church’s devotion.
These four pillars were tools the early Church were devoted to exercising as a means of expressing and expanding their love, loyalty, and obedience to Christ. In other words, the object of their devotion was not these practices, but rather their relationship with Jesus.
Are we, like them, devoted to Christ?
Does the picture of our lives – the expression of our devotion to Jesus match the one we see in Acts?
Perhaps we are thinking, Are you kidding me, Pastor Chris?
What we see here is way too extreme. It’s too radical. It’s obsessive even.
Dare we say it, it’s fanatical.
We can’t just be devoted to being in the Word, being in community, offering hospitality to others, and praying all the time. Our lives are full of other things we need to do – earning a living, securing our basic needs, taking care of our loved ones, enjoying the fruits of our labor.
It’s interesting and perhaps telling, isn’t it? Our list of all the other things we have to do before engaging in our relationship with Jesus is all the stuff that our God promises to provide for us. But let’s be clear, devotion to God in Christ doesn’t mean not engaging in these other necessary tasks. Devotion to God in Christ means putting God first before whatever we do. Putting God first in Christ is looking and trusting for the Lord’s guidance and provision in and through all those other tasks of earning a living, taking care of our loved ones, and yes, even enjoying the fruits of our labor.
Still, we might wonder why God asks for such singular devotion above all else.
Is our Creator needy for attention? Insecure in His identity?
It may seem selfish for God to expect such devotion from His people, but it really isn’t.
Our devotion to God is not for God’s benefit and blessing, it is for ours.
If God is the source of our life, of all love and goodness in this life, then being fully devoted to God is how we can actually experience life as it was meant to be lived – a life marked by unconditional love and filled with all that is good.
On our own, apart from Him, the Lord knows, the Lord warns us repeatedly through the scriptures, we will end up putting our faith and hope in objects, pursuits, even people, who cannot deliver the provision and security that we need.
And when we put our ultimate devotion in anything or anyone other than God, we end up in bondage rather in blessing. We become enslaved to that object of our devotion.
God wants our singular devotion – our loyalty and obedience – because it is only through intimacy and communion with Him through Jesus Christ that we can find freedom – the freedom to be restored back to the life we were created to have.
Make no mistake. The question of our devotion – choosing whom this day we will serve – is not an issue of personal preference; it is a matter of life and death.
This leads us to our passage for today from Luke, chapter 9.
Jesus, while in a private place, asks his disciples if they know who he really is,
not just who the crowds think he is, but who they think he is.
Who do they believe they are following?
Peter replies he believes that Jesus is the Messiah.
This is a familiar passage to many of us. Elsewhere, in other gospel accounts, Peter’s correct response amounts to a whole lot more that happens here. Peter, as was his custom, goes from taking two steps forward with Jesus to ending up three steps back.
But Luke offers none of this to us. Instead, knowing who Jesus is leads to a declaration about what it means to follow Him. Jesus lays it out plainly, “…If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
What does it mean to be devoted to God in Christ?
It is far more than reading our Bibles, getting together for worship, celebrating Communion, or even praying together. Again, these are the means not the ends of our devotion. No, to be devoted to Jesus is to die to oneself – to lose our life for Christ.
This sounds harsh and rather terrifying – IF we don’t listen carefully to what Jesus tells us here. In losing our life, we actually save our life. How does this make any sense?
Because what we are losing – letting go of – dying to – is our devotion to our self.
Being devoted to God in Christ means no longer choosing the life we want to live – life on our terms, life being whatever WE make of it. Being devoted to God in Christ means we are embracing the life God always intended for us, the life God seeks to give us thanks to Jesus.
And this isn’t so much a loss as it is a gain, an exchange, because we are receiving the perfect, abundant, and everlasting life of Jesus – a life we can only have with and in Christ.
Jesus frames it this way, “What is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits his soul?” True and full living – the most daring and exciting, the most challenging and rewarding life, only happens when we willfully die to ourselves, as we put an end to all devotions before Christ.
We might wonder, is it wrong then for me to be devoted to be family or to doing well at school or at work?
Let us listen carefully. There is nothing wrong with being devoted to something else provided that our first devotion is to God. It’s about priorities. It’s about foundations. It’s about from what or from whom everything else in our life flows.
When we look at our own heart, when we search our own mind,
what is most important to us? To what or to whom are we the most devoted?
To answer this question, let’s go back to the practices we see the early Church in engaging in out of their devotion to Christ.
What are we most devoted to reading and studying? Is it the word of God?
Who are we most devoted to spending time and keeping company with?
Who are we breaking and sharing our bread, our resources with?
Who or what are we praying for? Is it a one-sided conversation, a grocery list of what we want or are you listening and receiving what God wants us to pray for?
We need to regularly step back, reassess what is most important to us because it is very easy to get out of sync in following Jesus. It is easy, very easy, to become devoted to something so much that it infringes on one’s relationship with Christ.
We can be devoted to other things, other people but we can’t be more devoted to anyone or anything more than we are to Christ. Jesus must always be our first love.
For it is out of our devotion to our relationship with God in Christ that everything else falls into place in a manner that is healthy and life-giving. We can only truly serve others without condition or expectation, without need for reciprocity or validation, when our devotion to them is borne out of our love and devotion to Christ. When we reverse this order, problems inevitably arise.
For whatever preoccupies our attention and energy more than following Christ is inevitably going to distract us from and inevitably blind us to Jesus’ presence, His voice, His example, His direction, His power in our life. And thus, we will look to whatever or whoever we are devoted to before Christ to validate our identity, to give us purpose, to ensure our security and well-being. And this never bears out – because there is only one Messiah. No one else, nothing else can save us – except Jesus alone.
So, if you find yourself more and more rather than less and less
restless, dissatisfied, and unfulfilled,
If you are the same person that you’ve always been and not much has changed about you in all these years believing in Jesus,
If you complain that your relationship with Jesus is stale and stagnant,
If you reflect and find your lack of love for other people has increased, that your bitterness, your condemnation, your attacking of others far outpaces your empathy and compassion for others,
If you’ve answered “Yes,” to any or all of the above, then you need to face the facts – you are devoted to something or someone more than you are to Jesus.
It might be your job. It could be your politics.
It may be your need to feel needed by your family.
Devotion can be something that we quite easily put in a box. Interestingly, we equated devotion to being a little reading that we do either first thing in the morning or at the end of the night. But true devotion to Christ goes so much deeper than this.
Beloved, there is a difference between being devoted to Jesus and dabbling in Christianity. Devotion isn’t dabbling.
Devoted is the opposite of dabbling.
Dabbling is occasional, infrequent
– when the mood strikes us, when we make time for it.
But Jesus isn’t interesting in dabbling in our lives.
Jesus wants to be with us every moment of every day.
Being devoted to Jesus is giving ourselves to Christ moment by moment, with each breath we take and with every decision we make.
Being devoted to Jesus is letting our thoughts, our words, and ultimately our actions be shaped by His example and direction.
Being devoted to Christ is not merely adherence to a belief about Jesus; it is an act rooted in and that emerges out of our love for Jesus.
If we’re still struggling with our devotion to the Lord, let us be encouraged in remembering, in realizing God’s persistent and relentless devotion to us.
The Gospel that holds us together is the revelation of a God who, no matter how unfaithful we are how, never ever is unfaithful to us. No matter how much we lack in our devotion, our God is wholly devoted to His children, holding nothing back.
Not love. Not forgiveness. Not mercy. Not provision, protection or His presence.
Not even His Son.
The story of the Bible is the story of the God who is so fully devoted to working for the redemption of humanity that sovereignly orchestrates our salvation even within the fractured, tragic, and even devastating moments of history to provide restoration for His people, and redemption for all creation. Such devotion culminates in full display through the willingness of our Creator to come down not only to be with us but to give His life for us – to lead us beyond our sin and beyond death into new, everlasting possibilities.
Notice, Jesus, in his words here in Luke, chapter 9, doesn’t just tell us to be devoted to God.
Jesus calls us to follow Him in His devotion to God.
In Christ, we witness what perfect human devotion to God looks like.
When Jesus shows up among us, Jesus tells us, “I have come down from heaven, not to do My Own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” In everything Jesus says and does while on this earth, Jesus willingly and deliberately submits to the life of His Father, who Jesus professes lives within him.
Jesus, in calling us to follow Him, is inviting to live the life He lived in His Father.
This is what Jesus prays for us.
But Jesus does more than pray this for us. He answers this prayer for us as well.
Jesus, through His devotion to us, makes possible our devotion to Him. Huh?
Jesus gives us His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, in order to bring us into the life He lived in His Father. Hear this – because this is key.
There is only one person ever lived the Christian life; it is Jesus.
Following Jesus is not trying to copy or imitate how Jesus lived.
Being devoted to God isn’t seeking to love the Lord
or to love others out of our own passion and will power.
We can’t do anything in our own strength. But the Lord’s grace is sufficient for us – in all things – including our devotion to Him.
The same grace that saves us is the same grace we appropriate in being devoted to following Jesus.
Being devoted to God is living the life we have received from Jesus, through the Cross and the Resurrection – Christ in us – through the giving of the Holy Spirit.
Ours is a dependent faith. Our devotional is reciprocal.
Grace that God gives to us is more than the grace of divine approval – a righteousness that is not our own. The Lord gives us grace not just to be forgiven but grace also to follow – to follow Christ into Kingdom service – both the grace to grow into who we are meant to become in Christ and the grace to share Jesus with others.
As we, like the apostle Paul once wrote, recognize that we “have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me,” as we live in absolute awareness of our complete dependence on Jesus, we can be, we will be devoted to Christ.
Where are you today?
Are you worrying? Are you wandering?
Are you just erupting like a volcano – spewing your frustrations and fears all over social media – giving an earful to anyone who’ll listen?
Are you indifferent? Hardened?
Everyone is devoted to something or someone.
What are you most devoted to these days?
Is the object of your supreme devotion the God who is so relentlessly devoted to you?
What might it look like for you to stop living the way around else is and to start living the life that God has for you – the life He has given you in Jesus?
What would change about how we are reacting, how we are responding, how we treating each other in the midst of all this going on around us if we devoted ourselves to living out of the life of Christ that God had delightedly imparted within us through His Spirit?
Beloved, it is in our recognition of God’s love and devotion for us that stirs our hearts toward love and devotion for Him. It is our growing awareness of God’s deep concern and promise to act in the midst of all we are going through – not is some passive, I-wish-I-could-do-something way, but in an I’ve-got-you sort of way that that quiets our deepest fears and silences our guilt-riddled consciences, that impresses upon us our inestimable worth even as it spurs us to look beyond ourselves to care and serve others.
Like the early Church, may we remain hopefully devoted to Christ, this Jesus whom we claim to serve, the only One who can truly change our lives, reconcile all things, and restore this world for the better. Amen.