42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 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, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.Acts 2:42-47
An Inconvenient Truth
There is a story of a man who had not gone to church for several years but suddenly stopped gathering. He fell out of community. His pastor dropped by one evening unannounced. The man answered the door and invited him in. Of course, he knew why his pastor was there. They went and sat in two chairs in front of a roaring fire. Neither man said anything. After a few minutes, the pastor picked up the fire tongs, took one of the logs out of the fire, and laid it on the hearth. The flames died down and flickered a few times before going out. They watched in silence as the log started to grow cold. After a while, the pastor once again picked up the fire tongs and put the smoldering log back with the other burning logs. It immediately burst back into flame. The pastor got up and said, “Well, I need to go now. But I’ve enjoyed our visit.” The man rose too and said, “I appreciate your message, pastor. I will be in church on Sunday.”
Whether you want to believe it or not; there is a truth that none of us can escape as Jesus followers: We are better together than we are apart. A log burns best with others; not alone and away from the flames. We are created in Christ to not only tolerate one another but to thrive. And so, we form this thing right here: what Jesus calls in Matthew 16, his “Church.”
Many of us are not entirely sure why the church or being in community is so important. Some have denigrated the need for it all together. We have produced a me-centered faith that would make community with other believers as an afterthought. I wish I could say it was the world doing this but its happening in the Church. Many leaders and authors have adapted the Gospel message to a wayward, “community disliking” culture and have placed self at the center. This results in churches who have truncated the Gospel message; wringing out any semblance of community and the need to do life with others like it was an oversaturated wash rag. What has taken place in consumer culture Christianity the West is immersed in is the opposite of what Jesus desires. And its true, don’t get me wrong, our faith does involve an emphasis on our personal relationship with God. But there’s more. It’s God calling, forming, saving, and redeeming a corporate people to live and exist… in community.
This then makes the church not as an optional part in the plan of God reaching the lost, but an essential part. Christ did not send his Holy Spirit only to individuals. Jesus always had community in mind.
But let’s be real, there are times when the wounds the church gives are even more profound and complex than wounds suffered in the world. We can be injured by an abuse of power or a hypocritical action by a “brother or sister.” Any of us who have hung around the church long enough have a few scars to show.
A Welcome Tension
And yet, here we are. We are the people Jesus has called out, anointed with His Holy Spirit, and desires to go into all the earth. And you may look around at your own church and think, “This is plan A?” Yes. And the reason it is such an amazing plan from God is that He will get all the glory through anything us misfits accomplish because it is only by God’s Grace that anything good can flow from us individually and as a church. This is all by design.
So, we have some tension here we must acknowledge. On the one hand we have the truth that God has called a people to be set apart and display his power to an unbelieving world. On the other hand, we are all fallible and broken individuals coming to seek to grow in holiness and righteousness before God—prone to flesh. So, what do we do?
We know we need one another. But it’s hard sometimes. And when in community, we are meant to be real, vulnerable, and able to be worthy of trust so we can walk with and lift each other. Right? The temptation by many is, “Well, I don’t know these people I have been burned, so I am going to just smile, pretend, and get my Jesus fix and I’m out!”
But what if I were to tell you that embracing this present tension and reality of “Jesus calls imperfect people to carry out His perfect will—together”—is actually the very church Jesus is looking for! The Church of Jesus Christ at large is a home not only for the morally upright but for the moral failures. For those who for a variety of reasons have not been able to “measure up.” As Brennan Manning once said, “The Church is a healing community proclaiming the Father’s indiscriminate love and unconditional grace, offering pardon, reconciliation and salvation to the down-trodden and leaving the judgment to God.” Does this mean we do not pursue holiness and sanctification? Of course not. But the Church that ignores the reality of the human experience and struggle with the flesh, will not fully understand the journey of helping one another towards wholeness. Infact, an expectation that we will not come into conflict at times or even dislike one another is lunacy.
But going a step further, a Church that will not accept the fact that it consists of sinful people learning holiness and exists for sinful people to be made whole in Jesus, becomes hard-hearted, self-righteous, and inhuman. As Hans Küng writes, “It deserves neither God’s mercy nor men’s trust.”
While this may not help the tension, it does show us how we are to embrace our humanity as a testimony to the world around us. That even though we are who we are, there is still something intangible about us, within us, and around us that is salt and light; inviting and convicting; inspiring and life changing. And what is that “something”? It’s what we see in Acts 2. It’s what the Apostle Paul wrote about in Romans 5:5-8. Pay close attention to the plural pronouns and how within us the Spirit of Love has been poured out!
5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. 6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
How did the Early Church do this so well? What are we missing that they experienced, that could ease this tension and transform our church and community experiences?
Community Formed by the Holy Spirit
The Acts 2 Scriptures above ought to cause two things to rise up within us. They ought to confirm the areas where we are in step and ought to convict us in the areas where we aren’t. Anytime we open up to learn about the first church we will usually get hit by the amazing beauty of their inclusiveness. The power of their boldness. The joy of their togetherness. The inspiration of the preference for one another. All of these—in many regards—are things we do not readily embrace in our own culture which makes it that much harder to see some of these traits in the church. So, what happens is, we think what we just read is impossible! We think, they were so perfect! We are so far from that! Not necessarily.
I’ll never forget when I first became a Christian, I was so passionate about my faith and holiness and really pursuing Jesus. I was, and am, so black and white at times and was adamant that the book of Acts had it right and we just had to get back to the “Early Church.” It was a mentor though who sat me down and walked me through all the issues Paul is addressing in the NT. Incest, people getting drunk on communion wine, infighting, members suing one another, and more. These people were a mess! But God used the early Church, so much! The power of the early church was not in their money, privilege, or societal influence. The power of this “New Thing” God was doing in the land was found in what we already read from Paul: The Spirit and Love. But lets go deeper… Look at 1 Corinthians 12:13
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
When Paul says this, he is not giving some vague cliché like we are all part of the same team. No. He is going much deeper than that. In referencing the gifts of the Spirit that are in operation among those baptized in the Spirit he explains basically that these are taking place because all of us have drank from the same Holy Spirit. We are all connected in this way.
The Holy Spirit of God is the life of the church. He is the fire, motivator, and glue that keeps community together as well as moving forward in the purposes of Jesus. Think about it for a moment: We see here in Acts 2:42-48 a group of people like the Jews have never seen! They are selling their goods; they are giving to any who had need. Insane!
None of this is obligatory. The Essenes (a religious group during the days of Jesus) were similar, but they had to sell their possessions and hold nothing as their own. They freely chose and volunteered to live this way and to love one another to this degree. That’s the Spirit of God! Because they all sought the same Spirit, they were all transformed by the same Spirit. When the Holy Spirit moves in your life as you yield to Him—transformation comes. I have seen it and experienced it time and time again.
This past week I was walking the trails at Quail Hollow, a park near where I live. I was in the woods from about 9-4:30 for a day of prayer. The Spirit showed me something powerful. There is a little river I usually sit by. But right now, there is no water. And so, all the stones are sitting there. I heard the Spirit say, “Remember in the Spring season when the water flows?” I then remembered how I was amazed how the water would rush through and move the rocks in piles together and saturate everything. The Lord helped me see this as a picture of what the Church is supposed to be vs. what it often is for us. We are dry, separated, and situated in one place. But the Spirit is that river which saturates, moves, and brings together the church just as the water does those rocks.
When you begin to seek the Spirit of God like we have been discussing and are filled and baptized in Him, you begin to see things through the lens of what Jesus desires. And 10 times out of 10 that lens will involve “others.” Doing life together, befriending others, sharing the Gospel with others, learning from others, sharing with others, serving others, loving others—others! But the Church cannot succeed in this as well as us individually unless we are being moved by the Holy Spirit of God in prayer, Word, and community.
If you are still with me, there’s a chance you may be giving some pushback mentally. Don’t worry, I get it and have lived in that place. I would think and say things like, “I don’t need church. I can worship anywhere. I don’t need others. They annoy me, hurt me, and break my trust.” Been there. I have felt those same things.
In fact, there’s a great story of a man who didn’t want to go to church at all on a certain Sunday morning. He said to his wife, “I have three great reasons why I shouldn’t have to be at Church and in community this morning. 1) they don’t like me, 2) It isn’t fun, and 3) I got hurt there. The wife looked at him, said, “Hunny, I’ll give you three reasons why you need to go to church this morning. 1) You are loved, 2) There are amazing people there, and 3) You are the pastor sweetie, so you have to go this morning.” This may or may not have been me at one time or another as a pastor.
But I have grown over the years and have learned deeply, that we need each other. The will of Jesus is that His Church be in community, tightly knit, lifting the burdens of one another.
The Spirit of God healed and empowered them to do amazing things-together.
They proclaimed the Gospel together.
They were discipled together in the Apostles doctrine.
They had fellowship together.
They were prayed and filled with the Spirit together.
They had meals together.
Do you see how important community is in the plan of God for your own health and growth?
The early church was known for being together. But it wasn’t just because the Spirit was poured out. It was, going back to what Paul said, what the Spirit of God poured into their hearts and minds: TRANSFORMING LOVE.
A Community Known for its Love
Jesus talks about this kind of transforming love in John 15:9-12. He says,
9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
The desire of Jesus for His Spirit-filled church was not that they would be known for their power, mystical experiences, amazing prophecy, miracles, or anything else. He desired that His church and his disciples would be known for one thing above all else: Love. Following this Spirit-Filled love is everything else. As Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 13:1 and everyone one of us hears at weddings,
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
The early church understood this. The Spirit of Love, being poured out in their hearts as Paul said above, motivated them to want to be together, help one another, and serve those who needed help. It propelled them to share the message to people who were lost and dying. Love compelled them. This is the highest form of joy we can give the Father is by loving one another. Jesus said it! When you love your brother or sister or even a stranger, you are directly pouring love out to Jesus Christ. It’s crazy when you realize how important loving one another in community really is. In His simple command to love one another Jesus had implicitly given us everything for which the human mind searches and the human heart longs for. He taught in John 14:21-23 that he would be intimately present and within those who obey his commandments… which are centered around loving one another. This doesn’t happen on islands. It happens with action.
In fact, did you know that in the entire 28 chapters of the book of Acts the word “love” is not found. Not once. Instead, we see Luke giving us story after story, action after action, of the love of the Spirit compelling simple and redeemed people to do extraordinary things.
This is what you are created for. Don’t hold this love of Jesus to yourself. Give it to another. Write a letter to someone who you have hurt. Seek to forgive an offender. Invite someone into your home. This deep love of Jesus was meant to be given, not stored. Husbands the greatest place you can worship Jesus is in your home loving and cherishing and nourishing your wife. Oh, how I wish I could say I was perfect at this. The same goes for wives. Mothers and fathers—love and nurture Christ in your children. Your mission field is right there. Jesus loves you for you so you will love others too.
Can you imagine trying to scoop up water shooting out of a fire hose and try to put it back in the hose and get it to travel back to where it came from? We do this with God! He is an eternal fire hose of indiscriminate and unfair love and grace that pours out upon his beloved people—us. And we, like fools, think the purpose is for us to love him back only! No! We are meant to take that love that is coming out and share it in community. This is what forms a movement of the Gospel reaching others.
An Invitation to Community
And so, we have an invitation from the Holy Spirit To enter into community. To be real, vulnerable, and honest. It’s risky; but it’s what Jesus desires. If we will allow the Holy Spirit to put us back into the fire—maybe just maybe, we may realize that all along, the reason we did not feel Gods peace, Gods power, or anything making sense was not because God was distant… but we were.
I encourage you to get into community. Not just going to church. I mean being the church with other people. Sharing with, trusting, befriending others because the love of Jesus within you compels you. Where there are wounds from others—give them to the Lord for healing. Seek wisdom and counsel. Above all, do not walk away from community. For when that happens, whatever fire may be in you will surely die out like a log taken from the fire; flickering away into a cold and hardened existence. That isn’t what God has for you.
Others need who you are. You have so much to give.
You need who others are. They have so much to give.
What if I get hurt? Don’t worry. You will be. Community with others was never about convenience. It was always about transformation. Period.
This is how Jesus modeled it then and desires it for your life today.