This morning, we’re continuing our message series as we continue through the book of Acts. Our goal is to learn from the methods, successes, and even failures of the early church. After all, this first group of disciples were the first ones to determine what it meant to be the church and had no resource outside of the Holy Spirit’s direction as their guide.
So far, we learned about the baptism of the Holy Spirit and what a day in the early church looked like. We last left off when Peter and John had been imprisoned and threatened all for showing kindness by healing a lame man. We found that they were common, ordinary people like you and I who had simply been with Jesus. We were encouraged to take the stress and excuses off of ourselves as ministry is all about Jesus. It’s by Jesus, for Jesus, and we’re simply His willing vessels whom He chooses to use.
With this new threat against the church to stop teaching in the name of Jesus, however, how would the church respond? Well, we continue to find out:
23 On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. 25 You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:
“‘Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
26 The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the Lord
and against his anointed one.’
27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. 29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
The early church didn’t quietly retreat into privately living out their faith in devotion to Jesus. The church didn’t rise up in rebellion against the chief priests and elders. The church didn’t stir up people against the leadership of those who opposed them. The church cried out together in prayer.
The church didn’t pray that the threats would cease or that God would snuff them out, in fact, they quoted His word prophesying that the leaders would become enraged and plot against the Lord and His body. The church prayed that Jesus would enable them to do what they were called to do regardless of the consequences. They prayed not only to be enabled to speak His word, but to do so with great boldness. They prayed that He would heal and perform signs and wonders in Jesus name.
Though the threats were real, though it may cost these common people their very lives, they weren’t about to be quiet and private about Jesus, their savior! They were ALL on a mission to tell the entire world about Jesus, to be His witnesses. No matter the cost, they dedicated their lives above all else to leading people to Jesus. They were committed to evangelize the lost, to worship God, to disciple believers, and to show compassion.
We’ve seen a day in the life of the early church, now we take a look at the culture of the early church. This culture was created by the Holy Spirit and is still intended to be the culture of local church bodies today who are lead by the Spirit. This was Jesus’ prayer found in John chapter 17 and clearly His will and desire for us today!
32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.
What brings relationships together in perfect unity and harmony? When they all are striving toward the same goal! This is true in families, marriages, churches, workplaces, friendships, any relationship at all. When our goal is to attain the full measure of Jesus Christ, we are naturally brought together in unity.
When an orchestra is tuning, does the oboe play a C, then the trumpets tune to the oboe, then the violins tune to the trumpets, then the clarinets tune to the violins, then the trombones tune to the clarinets, then the saxophones tune to the trombones, then the flutes tune to the saxophones and so on? No, of course not! It would sound like a beginner band when they began to play.
By that method, if the last instrument was tuned and then compared to that initial oboe, it would be way off! That method would be similar to the telephone game when you whisper a phrase into your neighbors ear and they pass it on to the next and so on. By the time that the phrase passes back to the first person, it is usually nothing like the initial message! By the way, that’s why gossip is so poisonous and lethal!
Instead, all of the instruments tune themselves to the same, singular instrument. That’s a similar picture to how it ought to be in the church, the body of Christ. Although we are all so unique and different from one another, when we are all striving toward Christ, we blend together in perfect harmony with one another. If we strive to be more like those around us, or even less like those around us, we quickly become out of tune and throw off the whole rest of the body. The sound is intended to be that of a great orchestra and not that of a beginner band. Although we are unique and sound quite different from all of the other parts, when we play together, it is an amazing and majestic work!
What binds together the body of Christ in the perfect unity of the Spirit is selflessness. When everyone is more concerned for the other members than they are for themselves, there simply is never any need among any of us. When we are one in heart and mind, God’s grace can flow fully and freely among us as God desires. It’s more than just a common goal, it is perfect unity and harmony. The words used here in Acts 4 in the Greek were kardia and psyche literally meaning the central part of who we are including all aspects of our physical and spiritual life; the body, mind, will, and soul.
Obviously, the opponent and enemy to such unity is selfishness. Of course, there is not and there never has been a perfect church. That church won’t exist until these fleshy bodies are resurrected into our new, glorified ones. We now read on to find that the culture of the early church did have some flaws as well.
1 Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2 With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.
3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”
5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6 Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”
“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”
9 Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”
10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.
Now it’s important to take note here of the sin that consumed Ananias and Sapphira. It wasn’t that they had donated only some of what they had earned. A gift to the church of any amount from the sale of this property would have been welcomed and blessed. The sin that was so severely punished in this case was none other than that of selfishness.
Many other members of the church such as Barnabas sold their property and gave it all to the church. They were doing as God was leading them to do. Instead of running their own race that God had called them to, Ananias and Sapphira were looking at other members like Barnabas and wanted to be like them. They wanted to be honored and recognized for such a sacrifice as well.
Their motives in this act were self-seeking. The symptom of this selfishness was clearly revealed by their choice to hold back some of the money for themselves, but to still tell the church that they were giving their all. Of course, their lie was clearly known and revealed by the Holy Spirit. They were not just lying to the apostles, they were lying to God, Himself. In their selfishness, they instantly paid the ultimate price of their lives.
Isn’t that just like all of us, though? Our sinful nature tempts us to claim that we’re giving our all to Jesus and yet we always are selfishly holding back that one thing for ourselves. Money is nothing to God in and of itself. He owns everything as far as our eyes can see and beyond that, He needs not a penny from us. However, money is the clearest and easiest litmus test to reveal the condition of our hearts within us. We like to excuse it away, but the Spirit of Truth knows better.
Take the tithe for example. These Spirit-filled believers realized the eternal life that they had just been freely given and it was a joy for them to sell their extra property and give it fully so that none would be in need. They didn’t give a tenth, they gave it all! We have a hard time giving even a tenth to the Lord. We say things like, “That was an Old Testament requirement, part of the law that was fulfilled by Jesus.” How does God word it?
6 “I the Lord do not change. (yup, old and new covenants inclusive always and forever) So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. 7 Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.
“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’
8 “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.
“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’
“In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. 11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. 12 “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.
Tests work both ways. Tests can be passed and tests can be failed. We can test God’s generosity and choose a rich and abundant blessing. We can also test God’s generosity like Ananias and Sapphira and choose death. Sure, we may not drop dead instantly, but that death is slow, painful, and just as real. Thankfully, in our cases, we have continuous opportunities to take and pass that same test!
We can choose selflessness and watch the limitless grace of God move among us. This choice is about far more than our finances, but our account registers sure are a quick and easy way to put our kardias and psyches, our hearts and souls, to the test.
This morning, God’s desire isn’t to lay on a thick helping of condemnation. No, that’s what our enemy wants to do. God’s desire is to call us up higher and into greater things. His call is one where our eyes are taken off of everything and everyone around us as He tunes the centrality of who we are with Him. He is calling us to become one in heart and mind until together, we attain the fullness of Jesus Christ.
He is calling us to become healthy people who, together, comprise a healthy church. A healthy church selflessly represents who Jesus truly is here on the earth. A healthy church grows physically and spiritually as Jesus prospers our body even as our soul prospers. A healthy church has no need because all of its members are looking out for the good of the others.
In a healthy church, selfish and deadly mindsets can’t stand because in a healthy church, God’s work of salvation and His character are so greatly magnified. In His Presence, we realize that even if we were to give everything at our disposal, it truly doesn’t even begin to thank and honor Jesus for what He has done for us. As we become a healthier church, people will want to become healthy themselves and will call on the name of Jesus to save them. A healthy church is unstoppable!
However, a healthy church begins with a healthy me. This morning, let’s magnify and glorify Jesus, remembering what He has freely given to us. Let us choose no longer to be consumed by our own lives, but to be intentional about being involved in lifting up and encouraging those around us. Let us put on our work boots and get busy in God’s Kingdom! Let’s build something greater than any of us could ever achieve on our own! Let’s see this community transformed one thought at a time by the Word of Life spoken with our mouths and displayed through our lives! Together, let’s strive to attain the whole measure of the fullness of Christ!
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.