Care Sacrificially - Part 2
If you have a Bible, and I hope you do, please open with me to Acts 2. This whole idea of “Different to make a difference—what does it really mean to be different like the early church?” This text is going to stretch and it’s going to challenge us, and it’s going to ask us: do you really want to be different like this? It’s going to show us a pretty steep price, and at the same time, it’s going to show us that it’s worth it to be this kind of church.
So what we’re going to do, is we’re going to see some characteristics in the early church that made that community different and we’re going to see some questions that we need to ask ourselves at the Church of Brook Hills based on this picture.
Acts 2:42, this is a passage that many of you have been memorizing, you could quote it with me. It says—this whole picture of the New Testament church—“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles” (Acts 2:42-43). Verse 44 many of you have been memorizing this week, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 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, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:44-47).
Now I want you to flip over two chapters to Acts 4. I want you to see another summation that Luke gives us of the early church, and it kind of mirrors what we just read. Look at Acts 4:32,
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. 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.
Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet (Acts 4:32-37).
Now we’ve looked at how they devoted themselves to the Apostle’s teaching, to the Word. We spent three weeks looking at that. And then last week, we began to think about the community of faith, this next element—they devoted themselves to the Apostles teaching and to the fellowship.
Now we’re going to do a little Greek education this morning, and you’re going to learn some Greek. Think about this, “they devoted themselves to the fellowship.” The Greek word that’s used there, we’re going to write down the Greek word is “koinonia” koinonia. You’ve got it written up here on the screen. Can we say that together? 1, 2, 3: Koinonia. See don’t you feel smart this morning? We’re learning Greek together. This word, the first time we see it used in the New Testament, but it’s used over and over and over again to refer to fellowship.
Now what does that mean? It’s a word we sometimes throw around in church, but what does it really mean to have fellowship? Basically it means they devoted themselves to the things that held them in common. The root idea here is commonness or commonalities. And it’s used many different times in the New Testament to describe the way the church related to each other.
What did the early church have in common?
An uncommon foundation.
So what I want us to do is I want us to ask the question, what did the early church have in common? Let’s look at three things that were uncommon. It’s kind of a play on words here, because we got to realize what united the early church together was what set them apart from everything else around them. What united them, what they had in common was actually uncommon in their culture.
Kind of like, for example, Georgia fans in Alabama. They are united; they have in common that which is uncommon, from everybody else, in their devotion to Georgia football. Or maybe in a more serious way, Christians in underground house churches. They united together in secret what they had in common is what could cause them death or imprisonment because it’s so uncommon. That’s the picture here. What united them together, what they had in common was very uncommon in their culture.
Three characteristics: number one, they had an uncommon foundation. Acts 2:44, “All the believers were together and had everything in common.” In Chapter 4:32, “All the believers were one in heart and mind” (Acts 4:32). Same phrase used there to refer to all the believers. And from the very beginning we’re getting a picture of the foundation that united them together. They had all believed on Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. In Acts 2:38-41 what follows after that, it was their faith in Christ that united them together.
Now when we see they had everything in common, we immediately start to think in the physical realm, in the possessions, and that’s exactly what this passage goes on to talk about. But what we’ve got to realize is these guys had a lot more in common than just sharing their possessions.
Two truths from the early church …
I want you to see two truths here: number one, I want you to see that they belonged to each other in Christ. These early believers believed they belonged to each other in Christ, and it’s evidenced by the way we see this word fellowship “koinonia” come up over and over again in the New Testament.
Let me take you on a little tour. Turn to the right, and I want you to go to 1 Corinthians 10. Go to 1 Corinthians 10, you’ll go to Romans, and then come to I Corinthians, I want you to look at 1 Corinthians 10. And I’m going to show you some different places where we see this New Testament word “koinonia”. Sometimes it’s translated “fellowship”, other times it’s translated different things. And so I want you to maybe even just circle it in your Bible and put a line out to the side that says “koinonia” this is what they had in common. Look at 1 Corinthians 10:16, Paul’s talking about the Lord’s Supper, he says, “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ” (1 Cor. 10:16)? You can circle the word “participation” there. That’s koinonia. Same thing in the next question, “Is it not the bread that we break? Is that a participation in the body of Christ?” Koinonia it’s what they had in common.
So we’re seeing first of all, they were sharing in the body of Christ. First Corinthians 10:16. The body and the blood of Christ, it’s what the Lord’s Supper is about, which we’re going to dive into more in depth next week. But we shared together as believers in the body of Christ. So that’s one picture of koinonia.
Go to the right a little further and you come to 2 Corinthians. Look at 2 Corinthians 8, 2 Corinthians 8 is talking about a very poor church, churches in Macedonia that had gotten together a fund to send to a struggling church in Jerusalem. Listen to what he says, and we’ll start in verse 3 just to get the picture. It says, “For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own,” here’s verse 4, “they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing” that’s the word koinonia, “sharing in this service to the saints” (2 Cor. 8:3-4). So we share in the body of Christ and then we share in the service of Christ, the way we serve each other, it’s something we share together, it’s a commonality that we have in the service of the saints in the service of Christ.
One more instance in II Corinthians, look at the very last verse, II Corinthians 13, look at verse 14. These aren’t all the instances of koinonia, there’s tons of them in the New Testament after Acts 2. But these are some of them that give us a picture. Look at 2 Corinthians 13:14, Paul is closing things out, it says, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship” there it is, you can circle it, that’s koinonia, “fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” So we share in the body of Christ the service of Christ and the Spirit of Christ. All of us who have placed our faith in Christ, all of us who are believers share in the Holy Spirit, we share in the Spirit of Christ.
A few more, turn to the right, go past Galatians and Ephesians, and you’ll come to Philippians 1. Philippians 1, Paul is introducing this letter to these believers in Philippians. Look at what he says in Philippians 1:4. He says, “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy” (Phil. 1:4). Now here’s verse 5, “because of your partnership” (Phil. 1:5). There it is, koinonia, you can circle it, that “partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil 1:5). And so we share in the gospel of Christ. We have a partnership; we’re united together in the gospel of Christ.
All these different things that we have in common. One more instance in Philippians, look over in chapter 3, look at verse 10. Philippians 3:10, Paul says, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship” there it is again, you can circle it, that’s koinonia, “fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 3:10-11). So there’s a fellowship, a sharing in the sufferings of Christ. The Christ, because of His sufferings that are being played out in our lives, we share together in those.
One more instance, 1 John. You past a bunch of books, Hebrews, and James, and 1 and 2 Peter, come to 1 John 1. In these verses we’re about to read, four times John uses the word koinonia. Look at 1 John 1:3, he’s talking about Jesus here and he says, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship” there it is, koinonia, “fellowship with us. And our fellowship” our koinonia, there’s the second time, “is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete” (1 John 1:3-4). Come down to verse 6, “If we claim to have fellowship,” there it is again, third time, “with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship” there it is, fourth time, koinonia—“with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:6-7). So we share in the body of Christ, the service of Christ, the spirit of Christ, the gospel of Christ, the sufferings of Christ, and finally, I John is telling us we share in the life of Christ.
All of these things that we have in common, to give us a picture of a people who belong to each other in Christ. Don’t miss this. These believers, it could say that they had everything in common because their foundation was united together in Christ and there was a bond between them. Just like there’s a bond between us in this room who have placed our faith in Christ. Think about this, this is an amazing thought, that between you and me there is a bond that is Christ. And its eternal bond and we share in all that Christ is together. As a result we belong to each other in Christ. We’re tight, you and me. We have this bond between us that nothing can break because Christ is eternal.
Last week was a difficult week for some members of our faith family, and Sunday morning we talked about cancer and that struggle and many people have family members who have passed away as a result of cancer. Isn’t it good to know that there is a bond between us and our brothers and sisters that supersedes cancer and it supersedes death, it’s eternal. That’s good news. That there’s a bond between us that is Christ.
We belong to each other in Christ and second truth that we’re learning from the New Testament church is that we relate to each other through Christ. They related to each other through Christ. Now I want you to see how this plays out. Because Christ was at the center of their relationships with each other, He was the foundation there, and this set them apart. Don’t forget, contemporary Judaism, all the Jewish rules and practices that they had followed all their life, now they left those and their united in this foundation in Christ. And it would affect the way they related to each other. And they’re not just united with this bond, it affects the way they talk with each other, interact with each other, share with each other.
Look in 2 Corinthians 1. Let me show you one other instance of koinonia that illustrates this. Look at 2 Corinthians 1. I want you to look with me at verse 3-7. I want you to picture Paul talking to these believers and talking about what Christ does in him is for their sake and how Christ affects they relate to each other. Listen to verse 3,
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you (2 Cor. 1:3-7).
Now here it is, koinonia, “share in our sufferings.” That word, koinonia, “we share in our sufferings, so also you share” there’s the word again, koinonia, “in our comfort” (2 Cor. 1:7).
Don’t miss the picture here, what Paul is saying is, when Christ comforts me in my suffering, He doesn’t just do that for my sake, He does it for your sake, so that His comfort overflows through me to you. This goes directly in the face of American individualism. Even Christian individualism, that says, “Whatever Christ does in my life, He does for me.” Everything Christ does in each of our lives is not just for your sake but for my sake, it’s for the sake of this whole body.
Whenever Christ is teaching you, it’s not intended to stop with you, it’s intended to overflow Paul says, to be shared with each other. So we relate to each other through Christ. And belong to each other, relate to each other. I want you to think about how this plays out.
Picture the New Testament church, Acts 2:38-41 says, “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins.” All these believers united together in the fact they had been forgiven of their sins; that united them, that was their foundation. In Christ, they shared in His forgiveness. How would that affect the way they would relate to each other? How does that affect the way we relate to each other today? Think about it.
If we have been forgiven of our sins and that unites us together, then doesn’t that radically change the way we relate to each other? Maybe when our brother sins against us or sister sins against you? How do we normally respond in the church when somebody sins against us? We often isolate that person, treat that person differently, maybe we forgive them when we’ve been wronged in the church, maybe we forgive them but in the back of our mind we think, “I’ve got a long memory.”
Ladies and gentlemen, be thankful, be extremely thankful that on the day when we stand before Jesus in heaven to give an account for our lives, He will not look at us and say “I have a long memory.” Be glad that God does not treat us the way we treat others when they sin against us. His forgiveness transforms the way we relate to each other. When we are wronged, even when the hurt is deep in the church, what happens when instead of being a point of division, that actually by the grace of Christ becomes a point of unity because you realize that neither you nor that person can ever live up to your own words and deeds. The only way you can both live is by the forgiveness of sins that comes only through Christ and His foundation draws you closer to His heart. And actually when we go through those difficult times with brothers and sisters, we end up being able to come out saying we’re one in heart and mind, even through the struggle because Christ shows Himself through us in the way we interact with each other.
How many of us have ever been hurt in the church, and you don’t have to raise your hand, just a rhetorical question, even at the church of Brook Hills that happens sometimes. And some of us have been there but don’t miss it. We relate to each other through Christ the way we respond to that hurt reveals more about the character of Christ in us then it does about the community itself and the people who have wronged us. Let me rephrase that, the way we respond to wrongs in the church reveals more about ourselves then it does about the church, because that’s when we really reveal the character of Christ in us. And that’s how it affects the way we relate to each other.
One question for The Church at Brook Hills …
So the question I want us to ask this morning, in light of Acts 4:32, the question I want us to ask of the Church of Brook Hills is are we one in heart and mind? Can we say that? And some people think automatically, “Well yeah. I mean look, we’re packed out, we’re growing, adding a third service next week, things are going well!” Don’t miss it. That’s not what unites us; our circumstances don’t unite us, if our circumstances unite us, then when those circumstances go awry as they sometimes do in the church, then unity falls apart. But it’s Christ who unites us, not our circumstances. And when Christ unites us, and He is the bond between us, then nothing can tear that apart. That’s how you come to the point where you’re one in heart and mind. That’s not always easy but it’s worth it to experience that kind of community even through struggles.
And we’ve got to guard that. We’ve got to guard this foundation. The adversary creeps into the church. We begin to gossip about each other, and we begin to pit ourselves against each other, it happens. We begin to even bait one person against another person. We begin to go around and say well, “did you hear what the pastor did? Did you hear what that lay pastor said? Can you believe their doing this? What do you think about this? Well I think the same thing. Do you hear what their doing in the youth ministry, the children’s ministry? Maybe the most popular, “I don’t want to gossip, but I heard…”
Ladies and gentlemen, we belong to each other in Christ and we relate to each other through Christ. That leaves no room for malicious talk, bitterness or gossip in the community of faith. And God helps us when that starts to arise, instead of sitting back even silently to rise up and to defend each other, if we don’t get each others backs, who will? We’re on the front line in a battle to lead souls in this place and all nations for the glory of Christ and it’s not easy to do that, we’ve got to watch each other’s backs instead of the opposite.
One in heart and mind. That’s different, that’s different, don’t miss it because Christ is between us, our egos fall to the ground, and make the way to true intimacy. That goes against everything in world relationships that says we live for our own advancement and ourselves in the church because we relate to each other through Christ, we live to see others succeed in the church, not just ourselves. That’s a great picture of our foundation in Christ.
An uncommon social concern.
Second—an uncommon foundation, and an uncommon social concern. Now here’s where we get into some of the practical, physical representation of that foundation—because this is natural, when you’re united with Christ, you begin to care for the people of Christ. Look in Acts 2:44, “All the believers were together and had everything in common.” We already started thinking about that, but listen to verse 45, it begins to explain how that looks, “Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need” (Acts 2:45). Stated selling things. Acts 4 gives us an even clearer picture: verse 32 says, “No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had” (Acts 4:32). Listen to verse 34, “There were no needy persons among them” (Acts 4:34). The language of the New Testament literally says, “Not even one” needy person among them. That “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” (Acts 4:34-35). Even Barnabus, as well as many others, takes his retirement home and says I’m going to sell it so I can give to people’s needs. I’m going to sell the land, the property that I own.
Now some people have said this is Christian communism at work here. And I want to show you it’s not Christian communism. This is not a requirement, people were coerced at one point, you’ve got to surrender all your possessions. This was not motivated by coercion, it was motivated by love. And it wasn’t a one time thing and it lasted forever, it was continually as needs arose, the Church rose up to meet those needs. It was motivated by love, obedience to God, it was a picture of a community of faith that knew social concern and social justice was extremely important for the heart of God.
Two truths from the early church …
Two truths. Number one, the early Church valued people over possessions. They valued people over possessions. Here they are selling things, sharing things, so that it can be said no one was in need. Why were they so motivated to do that? I want you to turn back to the left, come back with me to Deuteronomy 15, way back in the Old Testament, fifth book in the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, come to Deuteronomy 15.
These guys, most of these Christians, at this point Jewish Christians having the law, having the Old Testament background, look at Deuteronomy 15, look at verse 1, something they were commanded to do every seven years if there were people who owed them money, listen to what verse 1 says,
“At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel the loan he has made to his fellow Israelite. He shall not require payment from his fellow Israelite or brother, because the Lord’s time for canceling debts has been proclaimed. You may require payment from a foreigner, but you must cancel any debt your brother owes you. However, there should” now listen to this, “there should be no poor among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today” (Deut. 15:1-5).
No poor among you, God says.
Look down in verse 10. This whole canceling debts thing it says
“Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land” (Deut. 15:10-11).
It was extremely important to God that the poor be taken care of by the people of God.
Now this continues throughout the Old Testament. I can show you numerous passages; I want to highlight just one more though. Turn to the right and come to the book of Amos. You may have to do a little searching to find Amos, it’s a small book found in there: Daniel, Hosea, the Joel, and then you come to Amos, I want you to go to Amos 5. Feel free to use your table of contents, no pride in here, it’s okay. Go to Amos 5.
Just to set up the context of what we’re about to read, God is now speaking to His people in Amos and just to let you know, these people were masters of worship. They knew how to do the worship thing. They didn’t have a praise band in that day, but if they did, it would have been rocking. They were good at worship; they knew how to do worship. I want you to hear what God says to these guys who had mastered worship.
Amos 5:11, look at what it says,
“You trample on the poor and force him to give you grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine. For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts. Therefore the prudent man keeps quiet in such times, for the times are evil” (Amos 5:11-13).
Look over in verse 21, God really gets clear.
“I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” (Amos 5:21-24).
You see the importance of social justice to God? Him telling His people, “You can sing all you want, but if you’re not concerned about the poor, away with the noise of your songs. I hate your feasts, I want nothing to do with them if you give me your outward worship but there’s no concern among you for the poor.”
As a result we come to the New Testament picture of the Church and we don’t see an emphasis on their worship practices, we see an emphasis on their care for the needs around them. It was an uncommon social concern, they valued people over possessions, they wanted there to be no poverty among them.
Not only did they value people over possession though, but they gave their resources without thought of any return. This is something that was hugely different in the Greco Roman world it was common for people to share things with similar socio economic class and status, share something with me I share something with you, it’s just kind of a give and take relationship. Well what we’re seeing here is people who are selling what they’ve got, sharing what they’ve got and asking for nothing in return from those who are poor. It’s not just giving their resources, don’t miss it, it’s a surrender of their rights. I’m not going to get anything back from this. Valuing people over possessions and sharing resources without any thought of return.
One question for The Church at Brook Hills …
Now that picture is pretty clear. And this is the part of the text that I have wrestled with so much over the last two weeks. What are the implications of this text for a materialistic American church? What does uncommon social concern look like? In our lives, individually and our life as a church. And here’s the question I want us to ask: Is our conservative devotion to the Word leading to a liberal concern for the needs of the world?
A few weeks ago, kind of the start of the series I mentioned what would happen if we were a church that was theologically conservative but culturally liberal. That’s what I mean by that. If we are a church that is known for strong, biblical teaching and great worship, but we are not known as a church for giving extravagantly to the needs of the world. Then our faith is hollow and our fellowship is hollow.
“What good is it, my brothers,” James says, “if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is”—what? It’s dead. “Someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do” (Jas. 2:14-18).
Liberal concern for the needs of the world.
I’ve got an article that I came across recently from the Washington Post. The headline is “Brad Pitt forcing us to volunteer.” The writer starts off says,
Brad Pitt! What does he want from us? Save Africa? Save New Orleans, save the planet. But we’re not like you Brad, not as able. We need you to show us. Soon he and Angelina Jolie won’t even live on earth, they’ll just dangle above it. He’ll go listing acutely and compassionately for trouble down here and when he hears it, zoom down he’ll come. We were always told that’s what citizens of the future do, they don’t have a fixed address, they go where needed, constantly and selflessly. It was supposed to be orphans and Darfur, and genocide wasn’t it? Or adoption and finding meaning in fatherhood, that was the focus, right? Really no, it’s the world. Look at the whole world. Jet around the world and look at it for yourself, that’s what Brad is saying to us and that’s what Brad is doing.
It continues on, “Brad wants more from us and for us. It turns out the future does lie in a constant up scaling of the volunteer hearts. Complete attention to wherever he points, that’s what Brad wants from us, followed by our boundless humanitarian heartfeltness.” An article by an editor of the Washington Post talking about how Hollywood star is propelling us to look at the whole world and the need through there.
Same thing that was expressed recently in singer/songwriter Sarah McLaughlin’s video, World on Fire. She did a music video on this song that’s been shown on Oprah and other places, drawing our attention to the humanitarian needs of the world.
So you have singer/song writer highlighting the needs of the world, Hollywood actor, highlighting the needs of the world. What convicted me most was the last couple of sentences in this editorial on Brad Pitt. The writer says, “Soon Brad or Angie will begin showing up and just laying on hands. He’ll spit in the dirt and make clay and rub it on the eyes of the blind. People will clamor just to touch the frayed hem of his cargo pants, as if they already don’t.”
Why is the world looking to Hollywood and the music industry to see the character of Jesus? Because Hollywood is more concerned about the needs of the world than the churches. You say, “What do you mean?”
This last week, 50,000 people died of AIDS. 100,000 children died of starvation and hunger related diseases. Hundreds of thousands of others this last week were trafficked around the world for sexual exploitation. This last week there was a military coup in Thailand. This last week there was people killed in an assignation attempt on the President of Somalia, hostages taken in Asik, Indonesia by militant Muslims. Ten thousand people who died in Western Darfur, Sudan. All of those countries, all of those regions, places that are less than 1% Christian, all of this happened in the last week and our biggest concern was how our football team played.
Wake up, American church and pastor. Our dogs and our cats are eating better than our brothers and sisters in Sudan. And if we want to have true biblical fellowship, that will involve extravagant sacrifices and sharing of our possessions and our resources, and our lives. “David, are you losing it?”
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life (Matt. 25:31-46).
We will be held accountable for the way we spend our resources. And for the wealth that has been entrusted to us and please don’t think, “Well I hope this or that person with money is listening this morning.” We are all filthy rich compared to the rest of the world, every single one of us in this room. How can we be a community if uncommon social concern.
An uncommon mission.
One last characteristic that they had in common: uncommon foundation, uncommon social concern, and an uncommon mission. We see that the Lord was adding to their number daily those who were being saved in chapter 4, we see that they were proclaiming the gospel with great power, with great grace. We’re going to fly through this.
Two truths from the early church …
Two truths from the early church: they unified through their worship. Did you hear that description in Acts 2? “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people” (Acts 2:46-47). It was a continuous action for them. Now we see them in the temple, we’re going to look at that in just a second; I don’t think the temple was the primary place of worship for the early church. Jesus changed everything. They worshiped primarily in their homes from house to house, breaking bread, praising God, and enjoying the favor of all the people.
They unified in their worship, and then they multiplied through their witness. And that’s where the temple comes in, I think it’s very interesting, when you look at what happens in the temple in Act 3, 4, 5. What’s happening is the temple is not just worship, it’s a witness. They didn’t need to go to the temple to worship, they went to the temple cause that’s where all the other Jewish folks were that needed to hear the gospel, and so they’d go there and share the gospel, chapter 3:11 & 12. Chapter 5 the whole picture, they’re in the temple and they’re getting arrested and they stop them and then somehow one night they just magically get out and the next day they appear in the temple preaching again and all the authorities are mad because every time they get to the temple, they start preaching in the name of Christ, and people are getting saved and the Lord is adding to their number daily, unified in their witness.
That changes the tone of the church when a church is focused on leading people to Christ. It changes our conversations when that is the driving thing that unifies us. And we're beginning to multiply in that way.
One question for The Church at Brook Hills …
The question for The Church at Brook Hills based on that then: is our community a once a week routine or a day-to-day reality? Don’t miss the tone, the portrait that we’re getting here in the early church. “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). They were meeting in their homes daily. Acts 6:1, they were caring for each other’s needs daily. You continue to go on, in Acts 16 and 17; you see they were studying the Word of God together daily. They were growing in numbers daily. All these things happening on a continual basis, don’t miss it. They had not limited church to a couple of hours on Sunday morning.
Don’t we want more in church than a couple of hours on Sunday morning? I mean this is fun and I hope it’s helpful. But we’re a community of faith. Not in a southern culture Bible belt where we do this routine week by week. Our community is intended to be a day to day reality with each other, walking with each other, deridingly each other, showing each other how to follow Christ, pouring our lives into each other. And what happens when you do that? “By this will all men know that you’re my disciplines, when you love one another, when you sacrifice for another,” and that’s a reality in the community of faith, then the world sits up and says there’s something different there. The world doesn’t sit up and see something different when they see us gathering together on Sunday mornings.
What a surprise in Birmingham, for believers to gather together on Sunday morning. But it is a surprise to see them continually worshiping, and continually witnessing the glory of Christ and sacrificing themselves to give to each other and to give to needs in Birmingham, and scatter to the nations to give to needs there, that speaks volumes. To a world that is desperately in need of a picture of Christ in the church.
The foundations fell apart, it changed the way they interacted with each other, their concern changed the way they interacted with the needs and the poor, and their mission, changed the way they interacted with the world outside them. I want to put three challenges to you this morning based on this text. Three challenges that I’ve been wrestling with in my own life: they devoted themselves to the fellowship, what happens when we devote ourselves to koinonia, to the fellowship?
Three Challenges …
Renew the foundation in at least one relationship.
Three challenges. Number one, I want to challenge you this week to renew the foundation in at least one relationship. Here’s what I mean by that. We talked about hurt and being wronged, or doing something in somebody else, where we have wronged some one else, and it’s easy for the foundation to being to weaken in our relationships with each other. And I just want to give you a challenge, if there is anybody or any people in this church or even outside of this church that there is bitterness and hurt there, there’s a renewed foundation that’s needed. I want to challenge you to take a step this week to renew that foundation in Christ. And to come back to that belonging to each other, and relating to each other through Christ.
Identify one way you can express deeper social concern.
Second challenge: Identify one way you can express deeper social concern in your life and in your family. In the coming months, before the end of the year, you’re going to being to see a picture of how that looks in the Church as a whole. I want to challenge you to now being thinking about how this looks in your individual life, in your family, how can you express deeper social concern? And to identify one way you can do that.
Strive to lead one person to Christ before the end of the year.
Third challenge: Based on this picture of unifying through worship and multiplying through witness, my challenge for you is the same challenge the staff has taken up corporately, but to strive to lead one person to Christ before the end of the year. To pray, God I want to lead someone to Christ, use me to lead someone to faith in Christ. Because I know we all want to be a part of a community of faith, where the Lord is adding to our number daily those who are being saved. So let’s rise up and have that at the center of our hearts and pray toward that end.
I want you to take some time with these three things. I want to invite you into a time of prayer and response, and obedience to the Word. And you’ve got space there where you can write out what the Lord is calling you to do. You can spend this time just in prayer sitting where you are and just spend some time, just between you and the Lord, thinking through and praying through these things.
What ways are we going to put our faith into action as a result of this community of faith that we see in Acts 2? How are we going to care sacrificially like they did? And then after we have responded to the Word, then we’ll finish our time together. But let’s respond in continued worship.
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