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Church Membership

Jim Thompson - 6/4/2023


Passage: Acts 2:42-47

Our lives are filled with a longing to belong. It is one of the most basic human desires. This is true at every stage and season of life. John Tolkien (author of The Lord of the Rings) once wrote, “We all long for Eden, and we are constantly glimpsing it. Our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most humane, is still soaked with the sense of exile.” And we feel this deeply. “We all long for Eden, but we’re all stained with exile.” And whether it’s a yearning to be God’s people in God’s place (Eden) or whether it’s sensing the brokenness of our world, our community, or our own efforts (exile), all of these things can be filed under the core human desire – to belong. And recognition of this desire is loaded with questions.

In my own story, how do I cultivate belonging? Is there a way to experience a fixed state of belonging? Is there any way that these desires can be moored to an anchor and not subject to a breeze? And what does God think about all this? And further, how does this have anything to do with “church matters”? There are other questions, but if we boil them all down, it might sound something like this:

What should it look like to belong to God by belonging to one another?

There is so much packed into this question, but it gives succinct language to what we truly want. It addresses the real wants that are underneath the surface wants and gets close to the default setting God created us with. And to answer this question, Acts 2:42-47 will serve us well.


These verses in Acts are the first description of what ongoing church life was like in the early years of following Jesus. They give us an up-close picture of how the earliest Christians lived in proximity to one another. And to answer our question, we’re going to consider four truths that the early church would have confessed about themselves. These four realities will help us understand what it should look like to belong to God by belonging to one another.

1. We belong in covenant, and that means that we’re bound to one another. 

Obviously, the word “covenant” isn’t used in our passage, but it’s one of the most important words in the whole Bible. And throughout Scripture, the word covenant is all about promise and relationship. In Jesus, God has begun the final fulfillment of all his promises for his people. And in response to God’s faithfulness in Jesus, God’s people are meant to be in covenant with one another as part of their covenant relationship to God. They didn’t selfishly use each other whenever it was most beneficial. They “devoted themselves” (2:42). This is a covenantal and promissory posture of commitment. Yes, they devoted themselves to covenant teaching and covenant eating and covenant praying (2:42). But they did all these things because they were committed to each other as a dominant way to express their commitment to God. Verse 44 says they had all things in common. Verse 45 says they were always looking out for one another. Verse 46 says they filled each other’s homes and hearts. They all knew that they were bound together as they were bound to Jesus. 

This snapshot is an invitation for us to be unswervingly devoted to one another as part of our devotion to God. And one of the most direct ways to respond to this invitation is by stepping into church membership. If you’re a follower of Jesus, and you’re dodging responsibility in a local church; if you rarely show up and stay disconnected because it’s too messy; if you’re not willing to give away your time and your energy and your heart to others who are trying to follow Jesus… If you’re doing all that, you will only be feeding the ache in your soul that longs to belong. And this is why church membership is a gift. We’re asking you to be devoted like those in Acts 2. This is why we have community groups and bible studies and equipping classes and mission opportunities because we want Acts 2 to be descriptive of us and how we relate to each other as we relate to God. And this might seem far-fetched, but what if that root human desire in you to belong? What if God’s practical response to that is something so seemingly surface-level as church membership? He’s already sent Jesus; Jesus is the fixed and eternal fulfillment of belonging. But what about the functional and experiential fulfillment of it? What if that includes church membership? Again, we belong in covenant, and that means that we’re bound to one another. 

2. We belong as a family, and that means that we sacrifice for one another.

Not only is the breaking of bread in 2:42 and 2:46 likely intended to be a faint echo of Jesus’ broken body sacrificed for us, but think realistically behind 2:42. They’re meeting at someone’s home, and that person has to get ready. They have to move stuff around in their house, they have to clean the dishes. Somebody has to make and bake the bread that we’re all breaking together. And it might sound trite, but these are all little sacrifices. And the reason we’re using the language of family here is because a healthy family sacrifices for its own members, especially in 2:45: “And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.”

And maybe you read that verse and rush to justify your earthly possessions. Are there really dozens of good reasons why you should keep all the shoes in your closet, or the unused kayaks in your garage, or the gadgets collecting dust under your bed that you swear you’ll get to one day? And it’s not that these things are evil, but there are also people in your church family that are in need, and we should ask, “Are my kayaks worth more than their struggle?” And beyond this, as American Christians, money and possessions are enormous idols that can hold us back and weigh us down from faithfully following Jesus. We often crave security and safety and comfort and assurance, and we really believe that having stuff will give us what Jesus has already promised to give us through his Holy Spirit and through his family, the church.

3. We belong as a body, and that means that we need one another.

Here, we should recall Paul’s doctrine of “the body of Christ” from 1 Corinthians 12 and elsewhere. He talks about how there are different members of the body, like the hands that serve, the ears that listen, the feet that go, the eyes that see, etc. But Paul is also quick to say it’s all just one body. And his point is that we need each other’s differences, particularly each other’s spiritual gifts. But here in Acts 2, we should notice the word “need” at the end of 2:45. We can read this verse and think about what we should sacrifice so that others can be provided for and have their needs met, but we should also read it from the perspective of those who were actually in need.

Maybe your need is a financial or physical struggle. Perhaps you need emotional healing and intimacy because of what your father did, or peace as you’re confused and grieving, or interpersonal grace and kindness when you’re in conflict. Maybe your need is deliverance from an ongoing pattern of sin in your life, and you need the perspective of someone who isn’t you who will lovingly tell you that. And no matter what your need, God wants to meet it by someone sacrificing their time and energy to walk with you and pray for you. We were not created to be independent and self-sufficient, and we should confess our need and our lack. Simply put, we are meant to experience our need for God by experiencing our need for others. Yet another reminder that we are intended to belong to God by belonging to one another.

4. We belong as a team, and that means that we’re on mission with one another.

A team is more than the sum of its parts. It can accomplish more together than it can with its members acting individually. Even the “signs and wonders” of 2:43, they are the Holy Spirit acting in and through the church’s togetherness and shared life to do things beyond what they could manufacture on our own. And 2:47 drives this home: “They were praising God and having favor with all the people, and the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Meaning, our unity and oneness and honesty and shalom and need and confession of sin and open homes and open hearts and belonging to one another – it all launches us into mission.

When it says, “they found favor with all the people,” that’s talking about people who didn’t know and belong to Jesus. That’s about people close to you but far from God. And what these people witnessed is part of how God drew them in, “and the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Isn’t this such a glorious evangelistic strategy ever, to just belong to each other? This is why Jesus said, “The world will know that you’re my disciples by your love for one another.” We are called to something bigger than ourselves, to hold the door wide open for others to belong. 

Finally, if we’re called to join God’s mission of bringing his healing, saving love to the world around us, and the climactic way that God has brought his love to bear is in the gospel of Jesus, then we, too, must continually refix our eyes on Jesus. When Jesus went to the cross to take our sin into himself, to die the death that belonged to us, he cried out from the Psalms, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He was being forsaken so that we could be forgiven. He was being forsaken so that we could be included. He was being forsaken so that we could belong. On the cross, Jesus gruesomely experienced the curse of exile so that we could graciously be given the blessing of Eden – real and eternal life with him and his people, what we were always made for. 

And because Jesus is the climactic way that God is bringing his healing, rescuing love to the world, that means that covenant is nothing without Jesus as Lord; family is nothing without Jesus as our big brother; “life as his body” is nothing without Jesus as our head; and “belonging as a team” is nothing without Jesus as our captain. Trusting and swearing allegiance to the crucified and risen Jesus is the root way that God wants to fulfill our root desire. And now, by grace through faith, we can belong without fear and without shame. And here, we must never forget: Jesus giving his life away for us not only gives us new and eternal life, but his life-giving love is now the pattern for how we’re to live our eternal life in relationship to one another. It should be the shape of our devotion to each other as a covenant family.

*We are a church located in Greenville, South Carolina. Our vision is to see God transform us into a community of grace passionately pursuing life and mission with Jesus.