When I was younger I remember my dad using what is now a pretty common phrase. Any time I would complain about some task he would give me or have a soured look on my face because of too much home work he would ask me a simple question.
“How do you eat an elephant?” I’m sure many of you could finish this phrase. “One bite at a time.”
This common illustration is used to help us feel like our big goals or problems in life can be taken on simply but breaking them down into smaller digestible pieces. It’s a great way for us to reach a larger goal by building confidence in completing smaller ones.
Everyone has dreams or personal goals. So, I think a majority of us can relate to this idea. Your dream might be to own your business, or have a great retirement. Maybe your goal is something much more serious like learning to walk again after a terrible accident or growing your hair back after cancer treatments.
The idea of making our dream attainable is an attractive thought. Because deep down we all have a dream and we all want to achieve it.
We Still Need Devotion to the End Goal
But you see the idea of eating an elephant, even though it is the perfect way to describe completing something big, has one flaw. You see even if you were to break and elephant down into hundreds of small pieces it is still going to take a very long time to digest the entire animal.
Some of you are thinking, “Challenge accepted.” But, you see, this is not a Disney movie. We are not living in some Hollywood fantasy. Most dreams are not realized in an hour and half. In order to take on a goal the size of an elephant there is one major element you have to learn. Devotion.
There has to be a devoted decision that you are going to see it through. Devotion is what is going to get you from the first bite to the last and devotion is what the early church had. They had devotion to the teachings of the apostles and God’s Word.
This devotion led to an explosion of the early church. It is no secret; it is historical fact that the early church in Jerusalem saw tremendous growth. After Peter’s sermon in Act 2:41 it says 3,000 souls were saved.
I grew up Pentecostal so I pretty much spent my childhood under a revival tent. Even in their best efforts we maybe saw 100 people in attendance.
In Acts 2:42 we read the aftermath of that giant movement of the Holy Spirit.
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe[a] came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
There Was Something Different About Christianity
There was something inherently different about the early church. They had to be. There had to be something fundamentally attractive about the early church in order to bring in such a diverse people. Read back a couple verses and see who Peter is talking to in his sermon.
- People of Asia
It was a large diverse crowd that gathered to hear Peter’s sermon. I don’t think we are meant to believe the only souls saved that day were Jews. No, there was something in the early church that attracted different cultures and people. The message of the Gospel was something they really never heard before.
Roman and Greek gods ruled by power and this is how a majority of them would have viewed divinity. Powerful gods that were powerful and demanded worship through fear.
Jesus was powerful because he showed weakness. Jesus was enthroned after his death not by causing death. The message was different and upside down from what they were use to. This was new and unique to Christianity. This was different enough that people listened.
Devotion Doesn’t Mean as Much
As we see from this group of scripture it started with devotion. Devotion is a word that might not hold the same meaning as it use to. As humans, if we were to be honest, we should always follow the word devotion with the words “for now.” I realize this might be harsh but we have diluted this word. We use the word devotion in wedding vows and Valentine’s Day cards but then after 3-4 years we separate and divorce. We come to the alter and soak it with tears saying things like, “never again” and “I’m so sorry,” but by the time we reach the door our devotion has already begun to fade and sometimes within the week we are back at the same sin, hanging out with same people and going to the same places.
I’m not really trying to make us feel bad or useless but I am trying to bring to light our own depravity because there is something in this phrase I want us to grab a hold of. I want to make sure we realize something very important.
When we read that they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching I want us to understand this fully.
All They Had
At this point we don’t have The Book of James telling us What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Yet, we still see these new disciples selling their belongings and giving the proceeds to those in need.
They didn’t have 1 Corinthians 1 telling them to agree and be in the same mind but yet we see all were together and had everything in common.
This is before 1 Peter 3:15 when we are told to have a defense for the hope that is in us but yet we see the numbers added to daily.
You see at this point they only had three things: The Law, The Spirit and The Gospel.
We Have to stand on the Power of the Gospel
We may find it difficult to devote ourselves to things and events. Unless we take the power of the Gospel and allow it to take root in our souls the rest of this is all in vain. The Gospel is the reason why we see the beginning of the church here is Acts 2 explode into the church we see today. That is why it has outlived every other earthly kingdom on this earth. It is the Gospel that was so attractive and so distinctive to Christianity.
It is why long after the Roman Empire, arguably the great empire in history, has become nothing but ruble a Christian like myself can pay $20 to walk into the Coliseum where hundreds of years ago we were killed for sport. It is why you are able to read this today. A small movement that started in the middle of the desert in the middle east has grown to the point that now it is found over most of the planet. This is the distinctive and powerful message of the Gospel.
It is only through the Gospel and trusting in what Christ has done for us and through the spirit that we find the devotion needed to grow His church.
You are never going to be good enough or strong enough to grow His church, apart from trusting in him and His Spirit.
If there is one lie I want to touch on that we tell ourselves involving this verse is that devotion to the gospel means a perfect Christian. Devotion to the Gospel is a growing Christian.
We think that God is waiting to move until everyone has John chapter 4 memorized and can recite it forward, backwards. Not bashing scripture memorization which is a great discipline. I’m saying is these early Christians didn’t have Ephesians 4 to memorize but yet by the power of the Spirit dwelling within them they still devoted themselves to one another living as one body. Ephesians 4
The power is in the Spirit and the Gospel first!
Everything starts with it, grows from it, and trusts in it.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
We need to grab ahold of the power of the truth of the gospel. Stop letting the enemy convince us that we are not good enough. He is not waiting for the perfect Christian. Church are built on growing Christians that trust in him.
1 Thessalonians 4:1-4
Finally, then, brothers,[a] we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification:[b] that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body[c] in holiness and honor,
Devoted… Not Perfect
Don’t believe the lie that you have to be cleaned up to be devoted. Understand this, sanctification is a life long process. Literally if you are trying to be good enough for God you are going to die trying. But instead if we devote ourselves to the truth of the Gospel:
- Christ died as a sacrifice for our sins.
- He bore the punishment intended for us.
- He rose again showing that God’s wrath has been exhausted. The debt paid.
- And now through Christ if we trust in him for our forgiveness and repent from our sin. We are born into a new life that is eternal with God.
We understand that God is not looking for a spick and span Christian that is a walking memory verse but yet we see a God that wants to meet you where you are and see you grow in light of the Gospel and the saving grace that only he can offer.