Acts 2: 37-42
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’
Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptised, 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. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.’
With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ Those who accepted his message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
When a baby is born everyone talks about how beautiful it is. It’s very rare that you see an ugly baby, and even if it isn't the most aesthetically pleasing, no one is going to say it out loud! It’s as the years go by and they grow up that they’re may be not so cute anymore.
At the end of Acts 2 we get a picture of what the church looked like just after its birth. And this baby Christian church was really beautiful, it was about as perfect as a church can be - at least for a little while anyway until it got older and started to get a little bit uglier.
Let's look at the first few words of verse 42:
"They devoted themselves...."
I have spent a lot of time in ministry trying to get people devoted. I’ve preached about commitment and being a disciple, I’ve prayed for people to grow in faith, I’ve visited people who haven’t been to church for a while to try and encourage them to come back, I’ve followed up new Christians and try to make sure they do the things that will help them grow.
All of that is good. But the reality that I have come to realise is this:
I CAN’T DEVOTE ANYONE EXCEPT ME - YOU HAVE TO DEVOTE YOURSELF.
I can’t force or cajole or manipulate anyone into being more devoted to Christ, to serving Him and sharing Him with others – it’s got to come from inside each individual.
Every person is responsible for their own walk with God. It’s very easy to blame other people or to blame the church for why we aren’t living as the Christians we know we should be. To make the responsibility someone else’s instead of my own.
But the simple reality is this – we are as committed to Christ as we choose to be. I am as devoted as I choose to be and you are as devoted as you have chosen to be.
Pastor Paul Scanlon tells a story about a defining moment in his own ministry when he met an ex-Baptist pastor who after 20 years in ministry had resigned and now owned a pub. Paul asked him what had happened, why he had left the ministry to open a bar.
The pub landlord replied that he had spent 20 years in soul destroying ministry that had left both him and his wife on prescription medication. He described how for 20 years he tried to persuade people to get involved, but they refused. He became worn out from the huge effort required to convince, persuade, remind and sometimes beg people to do the things which needed to be done in the church.
Paul asked him what he enjoyed about being a pub owner, and this was his reply: “I love this job because my drinkers are devoted all by themselves.”
He explained how he never had to call his absent drinkers to come back. He never had to call his customers to assure them they were missed, nor did he have to inspire them to part with their money. Finally he said this: “My drinkers come early and stay late, but in 20 years of ministry, the church did neither.”
It’s got to come from within. We need to devote ourselves.
When I read the Bible I don’t see Jesus chasing after anyone, people chased after him. I don’t see Jesus and the disciples making a list of those who used to follow him but haven’t been around for a while.
In fact, at times Jesus seemed to make it really difficult to follow him. The bar was high, it demanded total commitment and radical self-sacrifice to be a follower of Jesus. There was no such thing as casual commitment – it was all or nothing. If people walked away from Jesus, he just shrugged and kept moving on.
The only people the church are meant to go out and pursue are the lost, unbelievers, not-yet Christians. The church can waste so much time chasing lazy, uncommitted, undevoted Christians that it neglects what is most central to God's heart.
I want to ask you: Who or what are you most devoted to today? We’re all devoted to someone or something, in fact most of us are devoted to many things. How many of those things are God things. How many are Kingdom things? Have you 'devoted yourself' fully to Jesus?