Hugh Otter B. Fruitful

(Read Acts 2:42-47.)

        A woman in Alabama was to bake a cake for her Baptist Church ladies’ bake sale, but entirely forgot about it until she awoke on the morning of the sale.  Rifling through her cupboards, she found an old angel food cake mix and threw it together.  While it baked, she dressed for work.

        When she took the cake from the oven, the center had dropped flat and the cake was horribly disfigured.  There was no time nor resource to bake another.  Not wanting to lose face among the church ladies, she hurriedly looked around for something she could use to build up the center of the cake.

        She settled on a roll of toilet paper which she put in the droopy center of the cake and then covered the whole thing over with icing.  Standing back to admire her handiwork, she pronounced it “Beautiful!”

        Before leaving the house to drop the cake off at the church on the way to work, she woke her teenage daughter and told her to be at the bake sale precisely when it opened at 9 am, buy t cake & bring it home.

        You may be surprised to find that the drowsy daughter didn’t make it to the church exactly at 9 am.  When she did arrive, she found that her mother’s cake had already been sold!  She called her mother to deliver the horrifying news.  The woman spent the entire day and a sleepless night worrying about who had purchased the faux cake.

        The next day an elegant bridal shower was being held at the home of a fellow church member.  While she wasn’t particularly friendly toward the hostess – she considered her a snob – the woman felt obligated to go.

        She was horrified when her cake was presented as dessert!

        She was about to take the hostess aside and confess when one of the other guest exclaimed, “What a beautiful cake!”

        The snobbish hostess grinned with pride and said, “Thank you, I baked it myself!”

        The woman thought to herself, “God is good.”  She sat back and watched as her hostess grabbed the cake knife…

        We naturally think god is good when the other person gets their “just desserts,” but are less likely to think that way when it’s us.  Getting what we deserve is what Jesus called the “fruit” of our character.  Decisions made repeatedly become character and the outcome of all that reveals the character within each of us.

        What’s true on an individual level is also true on a church level.  What we look like on the outside does not determine what fruits we bear, it’s what really exists under the icing. We must choose Christ to bear Christian fruit.

(George Goldtrap, as quoted in The Joyful Noiseletter, Vol. 27, No. 4, July-August 2012.)

THESIS = The First Church enjoyed fruitful ministry because they were faithful followers.

Vs. 46-47 (NIV) = 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.

WHERE they met reveals a lot about the First Church.

        They met publicly in the TEMPLE.  Because the temple courtyards provided a large open space where their mega-church could gather.  The courtyards were accessible to Gentiles and frequented by Jews.

        Originally they saw themselves as practicing the Jewish faith completed by Jesus.  Therefore the temple was still God’s house; it was still sacred in their lives, their faith and practice.  They shared the pride godly Jews felt about the Temple and all it represented.

        It was a familiar place and a physical focus of their faith. When in Jerusalem, a godly Jew went to the Temple three times a day to pray.  Living elsewhere, a godly Jew faced the direction of the Temple to pray.

        The courtyards of the Temple were the customary place to meet for teaching.  Later, as the Church was dispersed from Jerusalem, they took this practice with them and met in the local synagogues.

        They also met privately in their HOMES.  They held services in courtyards  of private homes (see Philemon 2; Colossians 4:15; 1 Corinthians 16:19).  This was a practical solution and good stewardship.  Buildings require resources.  the practice kept the local churches smaller & more personal, like our “cell groups” today.  It was customary for Jewish feasts (i.e., the Passover) to be observed in homes.

        This “multi-site plan” is a comprehensive approach to ministry we can find useful and worth copying.  The temple gatherings were primarily evangelistic in nature, but also met worship and service goals.  The “living room” gatherings in private homes had a primary purpose of discipleship, but also met worship and fellowship goals.  Of course, the extraordinary stewardship exhibited in the First Church empowered both.

WHAT they did AS they met reveals more.

        The text informs us they BROKE BREAD and ATE TOGETHER.  BROKE BREAD refers to both a meal and the Lord’s Supper: the eucharisto.  This Love Feast was THE means of worship and service, & feeding the underclass.

        They were PRAISING GOD daily.  Every activity of the church should be a service of worship, celebrating God before all people.  If not for God we wouldn’t be here!

        They enjoyed THE FAVOR OF ALL PEOPLE.  I wonder what that feels like.  It might mean that people know where we’re located, at least!  This was a church full of joy: because they spread it about, they enjoyed wide favor.

HOW they did it sets an example for us to follow.

        They met EVERY DAY.  Any mention I make of daily worship falls on blank stares and deaf ears.  “Not realistic,” people inform me gravely.  Both clergy and lay people alike think the notion of daily worship is as quaint as togas.

        Let me provoke your thinking on this subject with two questions.  Is it possible that we are over-invested in our personal, private lives?  If we restore balance by investing more in God will it result in a better blessing?  If the answer to either of those questions is “Yes,” we’ve got to re-prioritize.

        They had GLAD and SINCERE HEARTS.  Every Christian ought to have a GLAD heart.  When done right, the Christian faith is fun.  Joy is an inevitable result of true discipleship.  If church is boring, uneventful, or unfulfilling, the fault is not with God.  In the original language, the word  SINCERE means “without stones to trip on.”  With nothing false in their character, they gave no excuse to trip others up.

WHY did God do this?  Simple: to build His Church.

        The phrase THE LORD ADDED TO THEIR NUMBER is a needed reminder that it is God who saves.  Our part is to create a space where God is made known.  If we are faithful, God will make us fruitful.

        This is also a way God shows His approval of a church.  If a church is worthy of His trust, He will place new believers in their care.

        It also reinforces the necessity of true faith being the qualification for membership. This phrase summarizes New Testament teaching that makes a distinction between those who are converts in appearance only & those who are a new creation.  Human eyes can’t always telling the difference, but God knows.

        I hope I’ve clearly placed an emphasis on the sovereignty of God.  That doctrine is no excuse of inactivity or even passivity, however.  God calls us to be more than consumers.  We are to be producers as well.  One part of discipleship is producing fruit.  The outcomes of a faithful life are two-fold:

  • See Matthew 28:19, where Jesus identifies disciple-making as our mission. That includes producing new converts and maturing existing ones.
  • See John 15, where Jesus teaches that LOVE is both a means and an end to discipleship. Real disciples love more often and more deeply. 

        OK, I admit to being guilty of making this word my soap box.  Don’t miss the word DAILY in the text. Does anyone really think it is a coincidence that they met daily and the Lord added to their number daily?  I’d suggest we are seeing a spiritual principle at work: “Whatever you sow, you shall reap.  If you sow sparingly, you shall reap sparingly.”  The greater sacrifice opens the door to greater blessing.  That’s biblical.

        Who was the Lord adding to the First Church?  THOSE WHO WERE BEING SAVED.  “Being saved” is a curious phrase.  What’s that imply?  A Greek word for “church” means “the called-out ones.”  Who is doing the calling?  God.  We don’t  call ourselves.  So again we are reminded that salvation is 99.9% an act of God.  It is not by any work that we are saved, but only by a faithful acceptance of the work of God.

        I believe that phrase is also meant to throw us back upon our dependence on the Holy Spirit.  It is God’s Spirit who empowers everything we do that is godly.  For a wonderful and unique description of this, see Judges 6:34, where it is written, THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD CLOTHED HIMSELF WITH GIDEON.  The Bible also says that the Spirit is within us, but I prefer this reading because it places the emphasis squarely on the Holy Spirit.

        While we may be assuming too much from a single portion of a sentence, I believe this oddly passive-voiced verb without a clear temporal reference is also meant to remind us that salvation is a life-long process.  BEING SAVED is like saying, “Under Construction.”  Kind of like the streets and highways of our land during the summer months…

        “A wealthy lawyer walked along a crowded sidewalk in London when he felt a hand slip into his pocket.  He whirled around and seized the thief by the wrist.  ‘Why did you try to rob me?’ James Henderson demanded sternly.

        “‘Because, sir,’ the would-be pickpocket said, ‘I am out of work and hungry.’

        “‘Come along with me,’ Henderson said.  He took the penniless man to a restaurant and ordered two meals.

        “When they had finished eating, the man told how he had been in prison and found it difficult to obtain a job because of his bad name.  ‘I have no name,’ he said.  There is nothing left to return but to return to the old life of crime.  What can a man do without a name?’

        “The man’s story and question greatly impressed the lawyer.  After some thought, he said, ‘For forty years I have borne the name of James Henderson unsullied.  You say you have no name?  I’ll give you my name.  Take your new name out into the world and keep it clean and honorable.’

        “‘Do you really mean it?’ cried the thief brokenly.

        “‘Of course I mean it,’ said the lawyer.  ‘And to prove it, I’ll recommend you, in the name of James Henderson, to a manufacturing firm with whom I have some influence.’

        “The lawyer found a job for the former thief and kept in touch with him for many months.  However, through travel and a change of residence, he lost contact with his namesake.

        “Fifteen years later he was told a visitor awaited him in the reception room of his office.  He was startled to read the name ‘James Henderson’ on the man’s business card.  Entering the reception room, he met a tall, strikingly handsome man dressed like a gentleman. 

        “As they shook hands, the visitor said, ‘Sir, I have called to tell you today I have been made partner in the firm to which you recommended me fifteen years ago.  All that you see me to be, I owe to your noble generosity; and above all, to the gift of your name.  The name of James Henderson is still unsullied.  God bless you, sir, and reward you!’

        “The thief was offered a new name and made a new start in life.  We, too, have been offered a new name – Christian.  And it is the plan of the One who has given us this new name that we make a new start in life.”

(Desmond Hills, Signs of the Times, June, 2004.)

The “Otter” Series – Part Two

Please read Acts 2:42-47.

Thesis: We ought to be devoted to one another.

They were devoted to The Fellowship.

        Notice the use of the article; “THE fellowship.”  This denotes a distinctive group. As in our own time, there were a variety of religions and sects in the first century. However, the following distinctives set the First Church apart from its context.

o       The Church was created by God to be His people; His representatives to the world.

o       The Church was created with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.

o       Jesus said that the chief quality by which His followers would be recognized was their love for each other: “ALL MEN WILL KNOW YOU ARE MY DISCIPLES IF YOU LOVE ONE ANOTHER.” (John 13:35)

o       They were GLAD & SINCERE (v. 26); those things aren’t often found together.

o       They’d earned the good will – the FAVOR – OF ALL THE PEOPLE (v. 47).  Perfectly positive renown is often impossible.

        Having good fellowship is not an end in itself; the First Church used it to accomplish a lot.

        They accomplished material unity.

        They pooled their possessions – they HAD EVERYTHING IN COMMON (v. 44). V. 45 tells us why: they would liquidate these commonly-held POSSESSIONS AND GOODS, giving to all who were in need. This is not an endorsement for communal living.  It’s not a statement about the morality of private ownership of property.  It simply notes the way the First Church responded to t needy in their context.   Their use of material resources was an aspect of The Fellowship that proved their devotion to one another and to the community.

        They accomplished spiritual unity by daily actions.

        They worshiped daily. They worshipped publicly in the temple, observing t daily prayers done by faithful Jews, adding their witness as Christians. They also worshipped privately in their homes –worshipping in a distinctively Christian way.  Public worship is good for outreach; private worship is good for building unity.  Both must focus on God’s glory.  Worship is the heart of church life; primary means of disciple-making.

        They ate together daily; they shared a common meal as a practical and emotional means of loving one another.  This “love feast” (eukaristo).  The Love Feast was their primary means of  serving the needy daily. The best witness combines words and deeds.

        WONDERS & MIRACULOUS SIGNS were done by the Apostles.  These served two purposes.  One, to get the attention of the unchurched.  Two, to authenticate the message; to show that the Apostles were speaking for God.  Historically, the miraculous gifts are for church “frontiers;” they validate and help establish the Gospel in new fields.  (When the First Church was born, the entire world was a “new field.”)

        What this saying means I don’t know, but it’s true enough in this case: “The proof is in the pudding;” they bore “fruit” that showed God’s favor.  They grew.  Spiritual growth produces joy, and joy is a Fruit of the Spirit.  The numerical growth of the First Church is clear when the text says; THE LORD ADDED TO THEIR NUMBER DAILY THOSE WHO WERE BEING SAVED.

        Growth (even numerical growth) can be a sign of God’s favor.

However, it may just be a sign of slick marketing and/or favorable context.

        How do we know the difference?  By the kind of disciples produced.  Worldly growth produces superficial followers, people who are consumers, not committed. Godly growth produces maturing disciples, people who show the Holy Spirit in word and deed.


Two Greek words that define fellowship.


        This term was used by Greek philosophers for the highest standard of human relationships.  Here are all the ways this one word can be translated: Association, fellowship, close relationship, brotherhood, intercourse, intimacy, common bond, society.

        Biblically, it is used to describe our relationships with each other, the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ, our shared standing in the Gospel and the faith, and for our membership in the Church.  It is the unity of all believers in mission, spirit, and character.  Koinonia is possible only by the Holy Spirit.  It is a gift of God, interrupted by sin.


        In secular usage, this word referred to the mustering of an army; “draft” or “reville.” It literally means “the called-out ones.”  It was used to refer to an assembly or meeting of citizens for political purposes.

        Biblically, it speaks to the nature of the Church, as those persons whom God has called out of the world to be His people.

The emphasis is on the One who does the calling and how His people are to achieve His purpose in the world.  It refers to both the local congregation (small “c”) and to the world-wide congregation (capital “C”).

        All of this leaves us with two important questions.

        One – can we be that kind of church?

        Let’s be careful not to confuse the methods and the results.  The Bible mentions their methods of shared property and daily meetings without telling us to do likewise.  It simply states what they did and the results they got.  What counts is the mention of the things to which they were DEVOTED (v. 42) – that’s why we’re taking time to look at these individually.

        What’s most important is what is mentioned earlier in the chapter – they were gathered around Jesus Christ and were empowered by the Holy Spirit.  With those two caveats, we still need to ask, what methods can we use in our context?  To the degree that we are in Christ and are empowered by the Spirit, then our sincere efforts will be blessed by the same results.  More than prescribing a method, Luke recorded an occasion when the focus of the Church was so singularly on Jesus Christ that God blessed them in extraordinary ways.

        Two – how badly do we want to share their results?  One point God is making in the whole book of Acts is that some kind of sacrifice is involved in becoming that kind of fellowship; the sacrifice of self.  A self-centered person will never be a contributor to the unity of the group; the two motives are obviously at odds with one another.