They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.Acts 2:42-47
Remember Luke’s sentence tells us what they were devoted to.
They were continually devoting themselves
- to the apostles’ teaching
- to fellowship
- to the breaking of bread
- to prayer.
Now we turn to the matter of what “devoting themselves to the breaking of the bread” means. There is difficulty with this concept of “the breaking of the bread”. It is not like Luke wrote “breaking of bread” or “breaking bread”. But he included the definite article – “the” seems to make it a formal ritual matter. However the statement in Greek can refer to what we know as Communion or it can refer to a simple ordinary meal. The term includes both of these concepts. So what is being meant here? The action takes place both in the temple and in private homes, from house to house. You can’t escape the fact that if it were something that was formalised, it was still taking place in the homes of people and the participants were moving from house to house. The Greek verb [klao] is used both in the context of the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:19) and in the context of an ordinary meal (Luke 24:30). Notice too that this practice is widespread and frequent. It fits in with the Lord’s comment, “As often as you do it remember Me.” Well this is often, that’s for sure.
There are numbers of opinions about this practice. Simply said, the early Christians appear to have attached much more significance to breaking bread together at ordinary meals, more than the importance we give to “saying grace”. It appears that it had a highly spiritual significance for them. There was a term in popular Greek usage at this time called [agapai] or “love feasts” which was a combination of eating an ordinary meal and then following it with the Lord’s Supper or Communion. Therefore, we are in danger of dividing the concept here between 1) The Lord’s Supper and 2) an ordinary meal. To assign the meaning “the Lord’s Supper or Communion” to the term “the breaking of bread” is to miss the combination of these two concepts. They appear to have come together for shared communal meals at the same time they highlight the Lord’s Supper in the way Jesus had reminded them to do.
Then he took a loaf of bread, gave thanks, broke it in pieces, and handed it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Keep on doing this in memory of me.”Luke 22:19
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you-how the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took a loaf of bread,1 Corinthians 11:23
He gave thanks for it, and broke it in pieces, saying, “This is my body that is for you. Keep doing this in memory of me. He did the same with the cup after the supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. As often as you drink from it, keep doing this in memory of me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink from this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. [ISV]1 Corinthians 11:24-26
It is clear from the above verses from both Jesus and Paul that the intention here is to partake of communion often. Not just once a month in the context of the temple or church. But OFTEN in order to remember Him. Oh, not just to cast your mind back to Jesus, but to focus deeply on what He did and why He did it. When you do this it places His First Coming in juxtaposition with His Second Coming. It reminds you graphically of the fact we are living between the TWO COMINGS. Remember too our discussion during the Gems of Luke 22 related to how many cups there were at the normal meal. See Bible Gem 1195 – The Passover meal – a whole lot of drinking going on (Luke 22:14-23). It appears therefore that the early church took seriously the Lord’s statement or injunction to do this often. It was not a command but it was more than a suggestion. Hence, we see the early church blending together the ordinary meal and the Communion.
Consequently “the breaking of bread” can be viewed as The Lord’s Supper after an ordinary meal or it can be considered a communal meal with deep religious significance. But whatever way we look at it, it lifts the concept out of the ordinary and gives it a deep spiritual importance. It is not just a quick “Giving Thanks” before the meal. The act of “the breaking of bread” took on a significance during which the practitioners believed they were closely united with the Master. How far we have come down from that level of significance.
While we can say each time they met, the simple meal was transformed into something of spiritual significance, I don’t know that it was the case in the following verses:
After he said this, he took some bread, thanked God in front of everyone, broke it, and began to eat. All of them were encouraged and had something to eat.Acts 27:35-36
It is not like we have to make every eating experience, a shared meal and a deep and meaningful spiritual focus after the meal. When we do that we lose the significance of it. Somehow these early Christians were able to capture the significance and turn it into something with an on-going and enduring quality. Now that is hard to do. Most often as the saying goes: familiarity breeds contempt. We have to be able to practice something on a daily basis and yet preserve its significance, not allow it to become mundane. I love the statement at the end of the Old Testament in Zechariah: “In that day there will be inscribed on the bells of the horses, “HOLY TO THE LORD.” And the cooking pots in the LORD’S house will be like the bowls before the altar. (Zech 14:20). The ability to hold something dear when you practice it often is a gift from the Lord. Ask Him for that ability. Don’t allow familiarity to keep you from the deep significance of this act of remembering Jesus as often as you do it.
We will continue with this thought in the next Gems as we ponder the questions:
- What was it these early cell group / church people were feeling?
- How many of them were there? (There is a difference between a cell of 12 and a gathering of 120)
- Is this prescriptive of a church or a cell group? What is the difference?
- Is there a difference between “being together” and “having fellowship”?
- What is the meaning of “had all things in common” / began selling their possessions / sharing with anyone in need?
- Is this like Communism?
- What is the difference between “property” and “possessions”? (Are you seriously suggesting I should sell my house and give the money to the church?)
- Is the secret to seeing this kind of thing happen these days, being in church everyday?
- Should we have communal meals every day?
- Should we have communion more than once a month? Like every day?
I won’t necessarily answer all those questions in one Gem but we will extend the breadth of understanding of what was going on in this early embryo church. I trust it can help us to understand what we ought to be seeking in this day and age.
There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine is drunk.M Fisher
Ministry is the least important thing. You cannot not minister if you are in communion with God and live in community.Henry Nouwen
There is a healthful hardiness about real dignity that never dreads contact and communion with others however humble.Anon
Communion is not just a nice ritual. It is the remembrance of the body and blood of Jesus Christ and the sign of our willingness to be incorporated into His body, the church.Anon
Don’t allow familiarity to keep you from the deep significance of this act of remembering Jesus as often as you do it.Ian Vail