The first church ever, came into being with a great beginning and a growing heart. In the second chapter of Acts Luke described this great beginning as 3,000 people heard the message Peter preached and were cut to the heart by what he said. They readily turned from their sins to the Lord and were baptized for the forgiveness of their sins and were blessed by God with the gift of the Holy Spirit. But their growth was just beginning. The Lord was adding to their number every day as they were praising God and having favor with all the people. The event was powerful and I suspect the people there on that Pentecost after Jesus died on the cross, likely never stopped talking about what they saw and heard on that day. But the event was only part of the story. It was what continued after that day that led to the massive growth of the church.
Those 3,000 people who were baptized devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, to fellowship, to breaking of bread and to prayers. That devotion and dedication to living for God was behind the growth that just kept developing with every chapter in the Book of Acts. We’ve looked at the devotion to the apostles teaching and to fellowship.. Now let’s focus on being devoted to the breaking of bread.
This phrase is used in two different ways both in this context and in the remainder of the Book of Acts. Sometimes it is used to refer to the taking of the Lord’s Supper as the Christians gathered to commune together in remembrance of what Jesus did for them on the cross. Jesus had instituted this communion on the last supper before his crucifixion with his disciples. He told them to take the bread in remembrance of his broken body on the cross and to take the cup which is the New Testament in my blood, in remembrance of the blood that he shed for the forgiveness of sins. The fact Luke said the church in Troas came together on the first day of the week to break bread (Acts 20:7) indicates it was so important in the life of the early church that they saw the communion as the primary purpose of their gathering. But this phrase is also used to refer to the gathering of people to share a meal together. Later in Acts 2:46 it says, “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” Even in the Acts 20 story of the church at Troas gathering to break bread, it goes on to tell of them breaking bread the next morning before Paul left them to go on to Jerusalem. So, when the phrase, “breaking bread” is used in the New Testament you have an immediate decision to make. Is it talking about breaking bread in the sense of taking the Lord’s Supper or Communion or is it simply talking about Christians getting together to share a meal, likely in someone’s home.
While different writers have seen it in very different ways, some thinking that every time it is referring to the Lord’s Supper and others that every time it is talking about sharing a meal together, it seems more likely to me that in both these context he uses the same phrase in two different ways. The first use is with regard to the Lord’s Supper and the second use in both text, it seems to me, refers to the sharing of a meal together. If that is true, and I believe it is, then what they were devoted to wasn’t just people getting together to share a meal, but the church gathering to take of the Lord’s Supper as a part of their worship to God.
During the first century it became common for churches as they gathered, primarily in homes, to have a common meal they called a love feasts during which they would also take of the Lord’s Supper together. So, it was certainly easy in that time for there to be confusion on the whole matter. As time went by the common meal became more and more corrupted to the degree that it was dropped as part of the early church’s gathering time. In I Corinthians 11:17ff Paul described how the meal had been corrupted with some eating too much and others drinking too much. Efforts were being made to exclude those who were poor from their meal. The whole concept of fellowship and communion was being lost, so he had to remind them of the purpose and goal of worship was built on love, sharing and focusing on Jesus and his death for us on the cross.
But, why is it important to be devoted to breaking the bread and sharing the cup of communion as a church? One of the primary purposes is to keep the focus of our gathering as Christians on Jesus and the price He paid for our redemption and forgiveness. In I Corinthians 11 Paul described the four directions of communion every time we participate in it. It has to do with a look backward to see the price Jesus paid on the cross so we can be forgiven by the Lord. It also involves a look upward to Jesus in that we are communing with Him and with each other as we worship him. We are there to glorify His name and to build each other up. Paul said we were to take of this communion until the Lord comes again. So, we are also looking up to him for his return in glory one of these days. Third we are to look inward. Paul said for us to examine ourselves and then eat of the bread to make certain we aren’t eating in an unworthy manner bringing on us condemnation. Finally we are to look outward at the body of Christ we are a part of. We need to see His body on the cross, but discerning the Lord’s body more likely refers to the spiritual body or the church and that we are to consider each other and the unity of the body as we commune with Jesus.
In our time there have been several mistaken ideas about the communion that was never in the thinking of the early church. Some have tried to make aspects of the communion just for some exclusive group such as the clergy, but it was for the whole body of believers as they took of it and remembered Jesus love for them. Some have argued that when we take of the bread and cup they literally become the body and blood of Jesus. But the very use of the phrase “breaking of bread” denies that idea. It is bread when we break it and when we take of it. It symbolizes the broken body of Jesus but doesn’t become it. Likewise the cup is still the fruit of the vine when we drink of it. The fact Paul accused the people of Corinth of drinking so much that some of them became drunk demonstrates that it was wine and was fermented at the time. It is done in remembrance of his death for us, not that we are literally eating the flesh and blood of Jesus.
Others have made the mistake of thinking that Paul’s admonition for us to examine ourselves so that we won’t eat or drink in an unworthy manner means that we must somehow be worthy to take of the communion. The result is that hardly anyone ever feels qualified to commune. It wasn’t the idea of our being worthy, but of us taking in a worthy manner, so we were thinking about other people instead of just ourselves. The very word communion, which comes from the same word as “fellowship” demands it be something that people share in doing. It is done in the gathering of the church to share in the meal and the memory of our Savior and Lord and the price he paid for our redemption in Christ. While communion was a part of the gathering of Christians, it was not the only reason for their gathering. Notice even in our text it is tied to the apostles teaching, fellowship and prayers.
Jesus chose two simple elements that would be available for all people to be able to commune with him. He used the word “bread” to describe the one part of the communion. We tend to use unleavened bread because that would have been what he used since the Lord’s Supper was instituted by Jesus on Passover. But he didn’t use a word that demanded any particular kind of bread to be used. Also, the word he used for the fruit of the vine didn’t demand either fermented or unfermented drink, it simply demands that it be the fruit of the vine. I don’t doubt that Jesus used grape juice that may well have been fermented to some degree. Obviously what was being used in Corinth was fermented since some were leaving drunk. But the word used by Jesus just demands the use of fruit of the vine.
It isn’t the elements or the timing that is so significant, but the purpose that we remember what Jesus did for us to be saved, that we think about each other and that we focus on our own way of participating and that we remember Jesus is coming again. It is vital that we be devoted to the communion with Jesus and with other followers of Jesus.