Acts 2:42 – Practicing the Kingdom of God

They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship,

to the breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2:42, NASV)

Borrowing from Brother Lawrence, I have been using the language of “practicing the kingdom of God” in recent years. I don’t mean that as an alternative to or a substitute for Brother Lawrence’s “practicing the presence of God,” but as a specific way of talking about a communal discipleship which is a mode of living in the world for the sake of the world. I might even think of it as a subcategory of practicing the presence of God or as an expansion of the idea itself. I am open to thinking about it either way or both, or perhaps another relation. Whatever….

Acts 2:42, I believe, is one way of describing what it means to practice the kingdom of God as a community. Indeed, the story of the church in Acts describes how the disciples, at least in part, practiced the kingdom of God. Acts 2:42 is a summary which contains elements which are a consistent part of the story throughout Luke’s narrative. The disciples were constantly devoted to their practice–communal habits which embodied the kingdom of God in the world.

Kingdom language is present throughout Acts–from beginning (Acts 1:3) to end (Acts 28:31). Philip preached the good news of the kingdom (Acts 8:12) and Paul continually proclaimed the kingdom of God (Acts 20:25) in his ministry. Just as Jesus in Luke (4:41-43), so the church in Acts, they proclaimed the good news of the kingdom in word (teaching, prayer, praise, etc.) and deed(table, ministry, miracle, etc.).

Actually, each element in Acts 2:42 reaches back into the Gospel of Luke and projects foward into the rest of Acts.  Acts 2:42 becomes a practical “hinge” between Luke’s two narratives. Just as the church continued to teach and do what Jesus did concerning the kingdom of God (Acts 1:1), each of the particulars in Acts 2:42 were part of his ministry–teaching, community (fellowship), breaking bread and prayer. The church continues what Jesus began.

Luke’s summary assumes that readers have a way of identifying the meaning of the particulars–they are known not only by the rest of Acts, but also through the previous narrative in Luke as well as the present experience of the community to which he is writing.  What the apostles taught is found both in the teaching of Jesus himself and in the preaching of the apostles in Acts. The nature of the “fellowship”  in this context is shared resources (property, money and food), and this continues throughout the rest of the narrative as well as in the minstry of Jesus.  “Breaking bread” occurs three other times in Acts (2:46; 20:7,11; and 27:35) and always involves a meal (“food”)–indeed, every occurence of “breaking bread” in Luke also involved a meal (9:13; 22:19; 24:30). Breaking bread is a meal (perhaps more on that in another post or two). The prayers were a common feature of Jesus’ ministry as well as the Lukan church in Acts.

Theologically, James A. Harding called these practices  ”means of grace.” I think there is merit in that description which reminds us that to practice the kingdom of God is to open our lives to the inbreaking of God’s kingdom as he acts through appointed means. God comes through the teaching of his church; he comes through the fellowship of his people; he comes through the breaking of bread; and he comes through the prayers.  Consequently, these are not merely obedient acts on the part of God’s people as it they are simple prescriptions (laws) in the kingdom of God, but they are modes of divine action. They are the means through which God comes to his people in order to transform and by which his kingdom breaks into the world.

Exegetically, I would suggest that (1) teaching and (2) fellowship are broad categories.  Fellowship, then, is illustrated or partly itemized by (a) breaking bread and (b) prayer. Technically, note that there is no “and” (kai) between “fellowship” and “breaking bread” in the text. The absence of the conjunction probably indicates that breaking bread and prayer are subcategories of “fellowship.” Otherwise we would have a successive “(1) and (2) and (3) and (4)” rather than the “(1) and (2), (a) and (b).” 

If this is the case, then fellowship–as a broad idea–includes not only eating together at meals and prayers, but also sharing material resources with each other.  Fellowship broadly conceived–meals, prayers, sharing resources–is teased out in 2:43-47.  There are both lexical and thematic connections between Acts 2:42 and Acts 2:43-47. Their koinonia (fellowship) is experienced through having everything in koina (common), by breaking bread in their homes, and by praising God at both temple and home.

Luke’s description in Acts 2:42 is not primarily about assembly (though it applies to it), but about a discipled lifestyle. It is a communal way of living in the world by which God himself is present and dynamically transforming his people into the fullness of his kingdom. The people of God learn of him and live in community with each other which includes sharing their resources with the poor, sharing their food together and praying together.

Understood in this way, Acts 2:42 is a summary of communal spiritual formation, a mode of communal sanctification. These are the communal habits by which the people of God are formed and shaped into the image of Jesus–to be like the Jesus who ministered in the Gospel of Luke, that is, to be the body of Christ in the world. Through these communal habits they embody the life, ministry and mission of Jesus as Luke pictured him in his Gospel.



16 Responses to “Acts 2:42 – Practicing the Kingdom of God”

  1.   Terrell Lee Says:

    “Practicing the kingdom of God.” I like that. Really fits with Luke’s portrayal of the church as the continuation of Jesus’ ministry. Thanks.

  2.   Greg McKinzie Says:

    This is a helpful reminder of the core elements that have shaped our mission team’s strategy. It is a weighty thing to decide what will inform new Christian communities’ life in Christ, but I have been convinced (not least by your teaching) that these are the kinds of fundamentals that can be rightly contextualized into cross-cultural church life. (Does that make me a fundamentalist?)

    On a slightly different note, I find your (and, by implication, my) approach to this text to be a health but thoroughly Restorationist one. It’s, to borrow from another spiritual classic, The Imitation of the Apostles (forgive me Thomas A’Kempis). A different kind of patternism, right?

  3.   kamelharjoe Says:

    good stuff! thanks! i will re-borrow your loan-phrase as well, I think.

  4. Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    Greg, I will accept the “The Imitation of the Apostles” as long as it is linked to Christ as the root hermeneutic and image as per Paul’s “imitate me as I imitate Christ.” :-) That is why, following Luke as I understand him, I seek to ground the practice of the church in the ministry of Jesus. Yes, these are the kinds of fundamentals that I believe are intended for communal sanctification and spiritual formation. Blessings upon your work in Peru, my brother. See Greg’s new website at Neo-Restorationism under my links for “Stone Campbell References and Dialogue.”

  5.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    In the sermon of Acts 2, Peter’s challenge is for his fellow Jews to accept Jesus as Lord and Messiah. Those who accepted this challenge did so by repenting and being baptized. This (v. 42) and what follows is the product of what happens when people accept Jesus as Lord and Messiah. (to do a little shamless promotion, I wrote a little piece about this on my blog a couple of weeks ago. See http://kingdomseeking.wordpress.com/2009/02/14/imagining-christian-community/).

    This makes me wonder how a movement that has nearly made Acts 2 as its de facto creed practice so much ant-fellowship.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  6.   randall Says:

    Thanks for the post – so much many good thoughts to consider and act upon. 20th and 21st American culture is so different that first century culture in Israel that it is a challenge to apply these principles to our everyday lives. So many of us drive across town once or twice per week and meet together for an hour and don’t even see each other the rest of the week. Having lunch together after church and an occasional meal together in our homes is often as close as we come to sharing our property, money and food. (I really miss the monthly “fellowship dinner” on the grounds that I remember from the 50s and 60s.) I can’t help but think Christians were much more involved with each other in rural and small town societies.

  7. Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    I recommend looking at Rex’s post; it is quite helpful.

    Acts 2 is, to some degree, a rather opportunistic situation. I think the “daily” character of the community was conditioned by the festive nature of the circumstance (Pentecost). It was pilgims did during a festival–they shared, ate together, and praised God together. The intensity of Pentecost is different from the habits of “normal” life in Israel. I think it is probably true of the church there as well. At some point, apparently, the church moved from “daily” breaking of bread in Jeruslaem during the festival to “first day of the week” celebration in Acts 20:7. More on this in posts to come. :-)

  8.   Brian Says:

    So, JMH, what you are saying in your most recent comment is that Pentecost was like church camp? ;)

  9.   Jim Martin Says:

    John Mark,
    I like this language: “Practicing the Kingdom.” I like it theologically but I also like it in terms of clearly making the connection between Luke and Acts. Very helpful.

  10. Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    Brian, Yes, but better…they drank wine at Pentecost. :-)

  11. Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    I, too, like how it links Luke and Acts–the kingdom of God was the message of Jesus and the apostles. And resurrected Jesus reigns through his kingdom according to the message of Acts.

  12.   rich constant Says:

    john mark
    save yourselves from WHAT… :-)
    acts
    2.40
    i wonder…. what peter talked about to them
    (those JEWS),i would think, for such a long time.
    acts 2.42-46
    not too much is said about the NECESSASSARY INFERANCE :-)BEING THE ACTIONS of
    the “TRUE BELIEVERS” written about by luke, SAVING THEMSELVES THROUGH THE “ETHIC OF CHRIST”.
    TO GOD’S ENTENDED GLORY …BY DOING GOD’S GOOD.
    OOPS.
    by the way i have been reading a gathered people

    i have been trying to engraft the context of
    page 10-11…into myself for three weeks now reading that every morning it’s hard for me…
    OLD DOG LEARNING A NEW TRICK…
    ALTHOUGH I CONSIDER MYSELF A “DERTERMINED OLD DOG” :-)

    BLESSINGS JOHN MARK
    RICH

  13.   rich constant Says:

    P.S.
    ALTHOUGH
    john mark
    if i thought about what i just posted to much,
    i would have to up my medication.
    i would be so very depressed.
    boy oh boy
    i don’t like thinking about how much Grace i
    any way i will leave it up to my lord to look at my intent…of this life
    i gotta stop to much intraspection is not good,
    at certian times.
    blessings

  14.   Mitch Mitchell Says:

    Great stuff! I believe this “communal way of living” is the way we, as ministers help our brothers and sisters on the journey of transformation. If I may quote Eugene Peterson in “The Contemplative Pastor,” p. 115:
    “Pastors especially, since we are frequently involved with large truths
    and are stewards of great mysteries, need to cultivate conversational
    humility. Humility means staying close to the ground (humus), to
    everyday life, to what is happening with all its down-to-earthness.”
    Cups-of-coffee, meals, conversations within a safe environment lead to great friendships and great ministry. Let us “come down from the altar” and “meet at the table” in community with God and each other. . .

  15.   Jim Wilson Says:

    Thank you for your aticles and engaging us in thought and conersation.

    I truly enjoy your posts.

    Rev. J

  16.   Nyakundi samwel Says:

    Good sermon

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