This sermon is part of the sermon series "Church As It Was Meant to Be". See series.
For the last few weeks, we've been turning to the Book of Acts, the place where we hear about the stories of the early church, to learn something about who we are. The first week we talked about the value of discipleship and how the church has always been and continues to be a life-changing community. The second week we talked about outreach, how the church is a mission-driven community. Last week it was worship. We discovered that the church is a Spirit-filled community. This week we want to make our way to another brief vignette that we find in Acts 4:
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possession was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them, for from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
What we find in this passage is that the church is called to be a life-sharing community. I know a couple who, when they were just newlyweds, felt a strong conviction about having a shared vision. So they bought a large Victorian house in Massachusetts and committed to sharing their life together for kingdom ministry. They opened their home regularly to students and others who would want to join them for Bible study. Their house often became a landing place for young people who were going through transitions, often young people who had just come to Christ and were learning what it meant to live in the way of Jesus.
I asked this couple about their experience: "Was that hard, or was it good?" I could imagine all the thorny issues that would arise in a shared living situation like that. The wife said, "You know, I look back on those days as both hard and good. They were difficult because we would have to have house meetings together that involved some tough conversations about responsibilities. Sometimes the people living with us were unemployed so we had to figure out how they would contribute to the needs of the group. But it was also good. Those days were formative for everyone living in that house. It grounded all of us in living and pursuing the way of Jesus and loving the body of Christ." Many of the people who passed through that home eventually served in Christian ministry in a variety of places around the country.
We aren't all called to pool our money and move in together. But this picture of the early church should still move us to be a certain kind of people. These verses in Acts 4 should challenge us to carefully consider what it does mean for us to be a community that shares life together.
Embracing a common purpose
So what does it mean for us to be a life-sharing community? First of all, it means that we embrace a common purpose. Verse 32 gets right at this: "All the believers were one in heart and mind." There was a prevailing sense of unity of purpose among those who comprised the early church; they had a common purpose.
Parents know that one way to help their kids get along is to give them a common goal. When it snowed a couple of weeks ago, our two kids went out to play in the snow. After a little while, we started hearing some shouting, and it got louder and more desperate. I looked out and they were tumbling around in the snow, throwing snow back and forth at each other's red faces. I decided I would bundle up and go out to try and turn the boat around. I shouted, "Hey, guys, let's make a snowman!" Immediately, all attention dropped from the conflict and focused on the shared project. They and we had become one in heart and mind.
This happened with the early church as well. What was the early church's mission or goal? Verse 33 says: "With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus." Their mission was to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. They were to proclaim it, and they were to demonstrate the life and sacrifice and resurrection power of Christ in how they lived. Their lives were knit together with a sense of common purpose, and because of that they saw each other as partners in a great work, not just as people in a group.
Here in our church we gather to play many different roles. We have students and doctors; we have craftsmen; we have builders and contractors; we have stay-at-home moms and dads; we've got engineers and grandparents. But whatever our personal agendas and ambitions are, they're eclipsed by our shared aspiration to live and proclaim Jesus all the days of our lives.
Each of us carries out this common mission through a variety of ways, according to our particular gifts. Some of you meet at your workplace. I talked to a woman who has a Bible study during her break time, and anybody at work who wants to come is welcome to share and open God's Word. Others minister in your neighborhoods. Some of you serve on teams around here at Grace Chapel, leading a small group or getting involved in the student ministry. Many of you are families who have a primary ministry among your kids as they're growing. We all do it in a variety of different ways, but what we're about is the same thing: living out and proclaiming the message of Jesus.
But it doesn't stop there, because when a life-sharing community embraces a common purpose, suddenly the community also begins to engender a spirit of generosity. Verse 32: "All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. There were no needy persons among them, for from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as they had need."
Stories like this run as a common thread throughout the accounts of the early church. When they saw the need of a brother or sister, the natural response was to determine what they might do to help and to make a move to that end. It was giving that wasn't compulsive but voluntary, and it happened often.
Where does giving like that start? Where does it come from? Verse 32 strikes right at the core. Real, open-handed generosity flows from the firm conviction that the things that we own—our money, our home, our computers, our cars—all of these things really aren't ours after all. Generosity comes when we recognize that all that we have is God's and that we hold them in this life in trust. What we do with our resources during this time will demonstrate more profoundly than anything else whether we believe that our lives are God's or ours. And we have the opportunity to demonstrate that truth day in and day out.
This generosity requires that we listen to the people around us and ask the question, What does it sound like they need? This can be done on an individual level, as I mentioned before, as well as a corporate level. For example, as a church we always have a food bank available. We often have families in our church community who are going through seasons of financial challenge. We want to make that bank available and stock it as full as we can, those of us who have the means, so that those who are experiencing lean times might be supported by the body of Christ. This is a New Testament kind of experience.
But it's not only our stuff or our money or our food that we can be generous with. There's another way we can share in this community together: by sharing our homes. I believe that possibly one of the greatest ministry opportunities many of us have is the opportunity to open our homes and be hospitable and welcoming in a variety of ways.
Growing up I lived in a house that my dad built. He started building it when I was six months old, and he finished when I was forty. And my father always emphasized, "This isn't our house. This is God's house, and if he wants to use it for his purposes, we'll look for ways to do that." In this house we had youth group meetings, held Bible studies, and even provided a place to eat or stay for those who were in a particularly difficult place of need. Our home could be a touch point of stability in the midst of hard times.
Enjoying the goodness of God
A life-sharing community embraces a common purpose. It engenders generosity. And thirdly, a life-sharing community enjoys the goodness of God. There's this curious little phrase stuck right in the middle of this passage that says this: "And much grace was upon them all." Much grace was upon them all.
I wonder if you've ever experienced this descending grace. We tasted this grace in our small group recently. A woman in the group, Andrea, had been commenting for months that she had a landmark birthday approaching. When she began to say that it was "coming up," my wife decided to plan a little surprise party for her. At the end of one of our small group meetings, the lights began to dim, and my wife came out with a birthday cake and some cards she'd passed around to get signed. We all sang "Happy Birthday," including Andrea. Andrea appeared surprised as my wife approached her with the cake; she herself had been wondering whom the celebration was for. When the song ended, and the cake was in front Andrea, she said, "Thank you so much." When we started to cut into the cake, someone asked, "So what day is your birthday, Andrea?" She answered, "August 28th." It was the middle of May. My wife was embarrassed and said, "You've been talking about it so much, I assumed it was in just a few days from now!"
Everyone enjoyed the party, though it was three months early, and towards the end of the night, someone casually inquired, "So, Dave, when's your birthday?" Dave, another member of our group, replied, "Tuesday." So we grabbed a candle, stuck it in his piece of cake, and just began laughing until there were tears in our eyes. As we laughed and celebrated the moment, we realized that we were unguardedly, wholeheartedly enjoying each other in this lovely way. We were experiencing the grace of God—the undeserved, unearned goodness of a God who looks for opportunities to lavish it upon his people. We were great recipients of that wonderful gift. A life-sharing community enjoys the goodness of God.
For Your Reflection
How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________
What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________
Exegesis and exposition:
Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart?
How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________
What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it? ____________________________________________________
Tom VanAntwerp serves as Pastor of Community Life at Grace Chapel in Lexington, Massachusetts.