Summary: This sermon describes the unity believers had in the early church of hearts and minds.
Calgary has a new piece of public art. It used to be in Vancouver, where it was temporarily on display, and now it has moved to Calgary for the next little while. It is officially part of the Glenbow museum, on display in a park close to the Saddledome. The piece is entitled, “Device to Root Out Evil”, by a sculptor named Dennis Oppenheim, and it looks like this:
Apparently, in Vancouver it got quite a reaction. Some felt it was offensive towards Christianity, others saw more positive messages. What do you think?
A Biblical Picture of a Church: Acts 4:32-37
Let’s read the scriptures for another picture of a church: Acts 4:32-37 (NLT):
32 All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. 33 The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. 34 There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them 35 and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need.
36 For instance, there was Joseph, the one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (which means “Son of Encouragement”). He was from the tribe of Levi and came from the island of Cyprus. 37 He sold a field he owned and brought the money to the apostles.
This fall we’ve been studying the book of Acts, beginning with Jesus raising up into heaven in chapter 1, the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in chapter 2, and the last few weeks hearing the story of Peter and John healing a man who had been lame from birth, causing a ruckus in the Jerusalem temple, getting in trouble with the authorities and being threatened, and then their response and prayer. Newly “induced” pastor Garret led us through the middle of chapter 4 last Sunday, where we saw how in the face of intimidation, threat, a night in jail, and impending persecution during which they no doubt expected to receive crucifixion like Jesus had, they prayed a remarkable prayer: it wasn’t, “Dear Lord, protect us!”; it wasn’t, “Dear Lord, save us!”; it wasn’t, “Dear Lord, change those bad guys’ minds so we will stay safe!”; it wasn’t even, “OK Lord, we’ll follow but please protect our families and loved ones”. Their prayer – again, in the face of intimidation of the highest order, and a future they reasonably expected meant their own death – their prayer was not for safety, but for boldness. Yes, boldness. They prayed that in the face of this intimidation and threat, they would not back down, cower, hide, be subtle, hint, gently influence – they prayed. “now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word.” (vs. 29).
The Way The Prayer Is Answered:
Today’s passage, vss. 32-37, shows us how God answered their prayer for boldness. The result of this refusal to hide, this refusal to never again preach in the name of Jesus as the Sanhedrin had commanded, was the continued maturity of the early church. There is a growth in commitment and loyalty and care to one another, a report of “testifying powerfully”, and an example of sacrificial giving. This example of sacrificial giving is contrasted with an example in the next chapter of giving which was accompanied by deceit, so next week we’ll contrast Barnabus with Ananias and Sapphira, and this week we’ll concentrate on this brief general description of the early church.
We read a similar passage in Acts 2, if you recall. It was Luke’s first “summary statement” of life in the early church, this is the second and it is similar although there are a few indications that the fellowship is growing, being a little more organized, and continuing in obedience to Jesus’ great command to “love God and love others”. It is actually happening, and it is transformational.
At the heart, it really is simple obedience. The people we read about here are just simply doing what Jesus had commanded – what Jesus still commands. They were united, in answer to Jesus’ prayer in John 17 that His disciples would be “one”; they are sharing materially so that there is no need among them, in obedience to Jesus’ teaching that we must love our neighbour as ourselves; and they are presenting the new Kingdom of God in word and in deed, in response to Jesus’ command to “go into all the world”. And it is working. Let’s consider each of those.
United: vs. 32a
The first part of the passage says, “All the believers were united in heart and mind.”. Interesting to me that Luke includes both the heart, understood as the place of life and emotion and will, and the mind. All the believers were united in both of those – they had shared the same experience, of incredible forgiveness and acceptance and love of the God of the Universe; and they were committed to the same thing – the Kingdom of God Jesus had brought, the alleviation of poverty and suffering, the bold proclamation of Jesus, and their minds and hearts were fully engaged. They were on the same page.