What does it take to make something or someone“exceptional”?
It has to stand out, right? To be better than other things in that category, to be better made or to work better or they have to be able to perform at a higher level than others.
As we saw in two weeks ago, the early church was certainly exceptional.
In Luke’s first summary of church life, we saw that they were marked by an attitude of devotion to God’s Word and to fellowship, which is partnering with other believers.
We were also introduced to the idea that the church members would sell their possessions to help those in the church who had need.
The summary we look at this morning dives deep into that reality and will challenge us to reflect that same mindset.
One of the hallmarks of the early church was their incredible, sacrificial care for each other.
You could even say that part of what made them exceptional was what they had in common.
In fact, that’s what Luke points to here in Acts 4:32...
We’re going to unpack this concept this morning: Common concern leads to common sacrifice, which is based on common teaching and results in common grace
With that in mind, let’s start at the beginning.
The first note we make this morning is:
Look again at the first part of verse 32…
They were of one heart and mind.
That does not mean that they always agreed on everything. Instead, this indicates that they were united in the core realities of who they are—they had been transformed by Christ and were seeking to honor him.
They were living out what Paul would later challenge the church at Philippi to do:
make my joy complete by thinking the same way, having the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.
Did you notice the combination? There is a strong connection between having the same purpose and having the same concern, especially when that same purpose is centered around Christ.
What is that purpose, by the way? The purpose is what we have already seen the church doing in Acts: exalting Jesus and honoring him as Lord over everything.
We will disagree at times about how best to do that, but we need to strive to keep the purpose of honoring Christ at the core of who we are and what we do.
As we do, God gives us a great concern for those who are serving Christ alongside us.
I cannot stress this truth enough.
If we are going to see God work in ways that only he can, we must be willing to care about each other.
As we have been more isolated from each other over the last year, it has been easy to withdraw and not notice what is going on with others.
We need to fight to maintain that concern no matter what is going on.
This isn’t a side issue that we can just dismiss.
If you think it is, I would encourage you to read through John 13-17.
We recently finished studying through this passage on Wednesday nights in prayer meeting, but these chapters contain some of the things Jesus told his disciples in his last message to them before the crucifixion.
Let’s look at a few of the highlights of what he said:
“I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Jesus taught us that the defining characteristic that would set us apart as his followers was our love for one another.
The early church was exceptional at this! They were known for how they cared for each other.
Jesus even included this unity in his prayer at the end of his conversation with the disciples that night:
I have given them the glory you have given me, so that they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me, so that they may be made completely one, that the world may know you have sent me and have loved them as you have loved me.
Don’t miss this passage.
He is calling us to reflect the same unity with each other that he shows with the Father!
The unity of the church was of such great concern to Jesus that it was one of the last things he prayed with them about before he was crucified.
This is not a secondary issue that we can neglect, gloss, or push to the side.
He has given us a taste of his glory so that we could be unified.
Because it is through the unity that we display that the world knows that the Father sent Jesus to show his love to his enemies!
Think about it: We talk a lot about the way we witness to the world. One of the primary ways we are to share the gospel is by having a concern for each other that people outside the church don’t understand.
Does this mean that you will be best friends with every person in your church family? Not necessarily.
However, you should have the same heart and mind, or purpose, as the others in this place.
Even if you have nothing else in common with the people you sit next to in this building, your heart should resonate with theirs when you start talking about who God is and what he has done in your life.
You should be genuinely concerned when life is tough for another family in church, and you should genuinely rejoice when things are going well!
Why? Because that’s what Jesus prayed we would display!
The concern we have for each other demonstrates to the world around us that God loves them unconditionally and died for them!
Okay, so you get it…you are supposed to be united around the same purpose of exalting Christ, which leads you to care about the other people in this church family.
You might sit there and say, “Sure, I care.” Let me ask you this question: How can someone tell that you care?
You can’t talk about the concern without the next aspect of what we see in this passage. Genuine, common concern…
…Leads to Common Sacrifice…
…Leads to Common Sacrifice…
This brings us back to the topic we brought up the other week when we looked at the church.
They were not concerned with the American dream of bigger, better, and more.
That isn’t just an American thing, though—people have always struggled with materialism, with making the pursuit of more into an idol.
When you come to Christ, and you are genuinely concerned for others, you must allow God to change the way you think about everything you have.
Settle this truth in your heart right now: Everything you have, everything you possess, ultimately is a gift from God and belongs to God.
This is true of more than money and the things we have, but it definitely includes those as well.
I like to put it into three categories you have heard before.
When we think about what we possess, we have time, we have talents/abilities, and we have treasures.
None of those ultimately belong to us, however. They are gifts from God and belong to God.
That is why in church, we talk about the idea of stewardship. A steward is someone who takes care of something on someone else’s behalf.
When we live with that understanding, we are willing to give whenever and whatever God prompts because we know it isn’t ours to begin with!
That’s what we see at play here in Acts 4. They cared enough about each other and recognized that they were just stewarding God’s resources, so they were willing to make tremendous sacrifices to give.
The gifts they gave hurt! Look at verse 34…
They were sacrificing in big ways to meet big needs!
This is an example of the principle Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 8:
It is not that there should be relief for others and hardship for you, but it is a question of equality. At the present time your surplus is available for their need, so that their abundance may in turn meet your need, in order that there may be equality. As it is written: The person who had much did not have too much, and the person who had little did not have too little.
One ministry I know applies that passage this way:
“I give today out of my abundance or supply to meet the needs of others, believing that tomorrow, if I have a need, God will use the abundance of others to meet my need.”
(Life Action Revival Ministries, “Living/Giving Principles”)
The early church lived with that understanding.
What an incredible testimony!
It’s not that we are giving so we will be noticed and patted on the back—we will look at that next week—but that as God meets needs through us, it will draw attention that we need to point to him!
How does that work?
Well, for the person receiving the gift, the conversation might go like this:
“So I didn’t think your insurance was going to cover that procedure.”
“It isn’t, but the coolest thing happened…Some of the people at church found out that I needed the money for it, so they got together and raised the money for it. I heard one guy even sold his boat so I could have the money.”
“Wow! That’s crazy. Is he a good friend of yours?”
“We’re not super close, but see, we have this understanding at church. God gave us his Son on the cross, so we are willing to show that same kind of love to each other. It’s pretty awesome.”
On the flip side, the conversation could go like this:
“So when are we going back out to the lake?”
“Actually, I don’t have my boat anymore.”
“Really? Maintenance costs get too high?”
“No, actually. There was a guy at church who needed some money for a medical procedure, so I felt like God was calling me to give up the boat so he could have that procedure.”
“Wow…Is he a good friend?”
“Well, not really. God gave us his Son on the cross, so we are willing to show that same kind of love to each other. I know that if the shoe had been on the other foot, he’d have gladly done it for me. It’s pretty awesome.”
Again, this is an issue of giving God glory, not taking the credit for yourself.
When it comes to giving, I know what Jesus admonished us:
But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
However, there are times when it does come out or there is no way to avoid people finding out.
In those instances, the sacrifices God calls us to make can bring him great glory.
Now, we have already hinted at this reality, but what is it that causes us to act this way?
As a method actor might say, “What’s my motivation?”
Well, moving through the passage, we see that common concern leads to common sacrifice…
…Which Is Based on Common Teaching…
…Which Is Based on Common Teaching…
The apostles continued on in the same spirit as they ended with last week.
We didn’t look at it in depth last week, but look at what happened when the church was done praying—look at verse 31.
The underlying message behind everything that was going on was the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Why is that so important?
Well, let’s think about it for a minute: If you continually go back to the incredibly great lengths that God went through to save you, then you will be motivated to go to any length to help someone else become who God has created them to be.
That’s what God reminds us of in 1 John:
Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another.
All of the emphasis for why we love sacrificially is because of that common teaching: That God loved us sacrificially first!
We cannot get away from this incredible truth and it must permeate every aspect of our life and church.
So when we have a common concern that leads to a common sacrifice, which is based on a common teaching, where do we end up?
As we see in the end of verse 33, common concern leads to common sacrifice, which is based on a common teaching…
…And Results in Common Grace.
…And Results in Common Grace.
Luke tells us that the early church all experienced abundant grace because of their sacrificial love for each other.
By the way, I’m not using “common grace” here as a technical term. Theologians often refer to “common grace” as the grace that God gives to both those who are saved and those who are not—life, breath, rain, health, food, coffee, etc.
Here, I am referring to common grace in the sense that God gave the same abundant grace to all the church, so they shared a common experience with extraordinary grace.
What does it mean to be filled with grace?
This is the same word that was translated “favor” in Acts 2:47, and it may carry some of that same sense here.
Although the rulers were upset, the people were coming in droves to Christ, showing that God was giving the church grace through their love for him.
This isn’t limited to just the favor of those outside the church, though.
It may be best to think of it in terms of the idea of “grace” or “favor” like Luke described in Jesus in his gospel:
And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and with people.
In a similar way, the early church displayed the grace of God through tough sacrifices on behalf of others.
God manifested his grace to them as he continued to teach them about himself and show himself strong on their behalf.
He gave them the ability to trust him to provide as they received the blessing of giving as well as received the blessings of receiving a generous gift to meet their need.
They enjoyed the favor of God as he worked in their midst to save people and encourage people and expand his kingdom through them.
They enjoyed God’s grace as he enabled them to put their own preferences and ideas aside and focus on being united in one heart and one mind, intent on one purpose, and that purpose being exalting Christ.
So where does that leave us this morning?
Well, it leaves me personally with a desire to be exceptionally common.
I want my own personal life to demonstrate a genuine, sacrificial concern for the others around me. I never want to lose sight of the message of Jesus, and I want to experience God’s grace as he uses me to meet the needs of others.
There are many in this church who already understand this and are willing to give sacrificially.
I would challenge you this morning, though, to ask God to help you to live out this reality this week.
Would you spend the invitation time again transferring ownership of your time, your talents, and your treasures back to the one who really does own it all?
Would you pray today, “God, how do you want me to give back what you have entrusted to my care?”
Perhaps you need to back up a step this morning, though, and start at the beginning. Why not ask God for a greater understanding of his love for you so you can have a deeper love for your church family?
Whatever your response, please obey what he is calling you to do.