It’s really interesting to see what can bring people together. For example:
Two men can be polar opposites, but they will sit side-by-side & high-five each other through a football game.
Total strangers start talking to each other when a cancelled flight leaves them stranded together at an airport gate.
During a national tragedy or natural disaster, people come together in extraordinary ways. (Seen again in Hurricane Florence & Indonesian tsunami)
The church, however, takes unity to an entirely different level. The church is diverse – white collar & blue collar, Republican & Democrat, & every ethnic group under the sun – yet we come together because of our shared faith in Jesus Christ. At least, we are supposed to come together. Sometimes our differences still get in the way. Today is World Communion Sunday, a day we remember that the Church of Jesus Christ reaches all around the world. So it seems especially appropriate to think about unity today.
In the Book of Acts, Luke tells of a very young church that did more than talk about unity in Christ. They lived it.
< Acts 4:31 >
We are picking up the story in the Scripture at the end of the story, so allow me to give some background & set the scene. There is a lot that leads up to Acts 4:31. For starters, the religious authorities had arrested the disciples Peter & John for preaching about Jesus’ resurrection. When the 2 apostles were brought before the rulers, they gave a bold declaration of their faith in Christ. They boldly spoke of Jesus as the only way to see salvation. The authorities charged them not to speak about Jesus anymore, but the apostles said: We can’t stop speaking about what we have seen & heard.
After Peter & John were released, they went straight to the other believers & told them all that had happened. The believers responded with an amazing prayer: Now, Lord, take note of their threats & enable your servants to speak your word with complete confidence. Notice: they did not ask God to deliver them from the hands of those who could harm them. They didn’t even pray for protection. Their only prayer was that God would help them be bold in the face of persecution.
These early believers were facing the pressure of persecution, but they did not run. Instead, they came together. So what united them? It was their faith in Christ & their desire to spread the good news of the gospel to all who needed to hear it.
As the believers expressed this unity in their prayer, 3 amazing things happened:
The place where they were meeting was shaken.
They were all filled with the Holy Spirit.
They began to speak God’s message with confidence.
< Acts 4:32-33 >
When individual believers are filled with God’s Holy Spirit, they cannot help uniting with one another. The Holy Spirit makes all the difference. When the Holy Spirit gets involved with individuals, a church, a community, or a nation, he will produce change - & it will be change that lasts.
The early believers were deeply impacted by what the Holy Spirit had done & was doing in their lives. Throughout the remaining verses of Acts 4, we can see how the Spirit’s unifying presence manifested itself among those believers. Specifically, they were one in heart & mind. These 2 factors were foundational elements of their early ministry:
First, they were one in heart with mutual generosity. The early believers shared their possessions. It is rare to see this kind of radical generosity today. We may contribute to a fund, but what these believers did is comparable to discovering a fellow believer who needs transportation & giving him your car! One person’s needs became everyone’s needs. That is some serious unity!
Second, they were one in mind & purpose. They prayed for boldness to proclaim the message of Jesus, & God answered their prayer. The apostles continued to preach boldly & with power about the gospel. This was their one mission. We can do a lot of ‘good things,’ but we must have unity on the ‘best thing’ – sharing the good news with every man, woman, boy, & girl around the world.
A time is coming when people from every nation, tribe, & language will gather around the throne of God & give him praise & glory. God is at work around the world bringing these people to Himself. Our mission is to join God in that task.
< Acts 4:34-37 >
The Holy Spirit leads us to surrender, which is why the believers in the early church willingly gave up their possessions for one another. They joyfully let go of everything else so they could fully embrace Christ & focus completely on him & his gospel.
Surrender is often hard, but it shouldn’t be. When we surrender to the Holy Spirit, we gain far more than we give up. When we surrender to the Lord, we surrender in victory, not defeat! Consider:
Every time he convicts us of sin, it is time to surrender that sin to God & experience his forgiveness, freedom, & grace.
Every time he calls us to respond generously to a need, we can joyfully surrender what we know was never ‘ours’ in the first place.
Every time he speaks to us about the direction & purpose of our lives, we can surrender & join him in the great adventure of his mission.
Verses 36-37 give us a specific example of one believer’s generosity. Barnabas sold a field & brought the proceeds to the apostles for distribution. We will look more closely at Barnabas’ mission & work next week. For now, let’s note how Barnabas surrendered his life, exemplifying the mindset noted earlier in verses 32-33:
We know Barnabas was of one heart with his fellow Christians because of his generosity.
We know Barnabas was of one mind with his fellow Christians because of his encouragement & his laser-like focus on the church’s mission.
Barnabas surrendered himself to the Lord. His devotion to Christ was apparent because of his devotion to & unity with other believers. I encourage you to be a Barnabas in our church.
There is incredible power when God unites his people. How will you strive for unity of heart & mind within our church community? I’m making 3 asks:
Yield. Surrender yourself each morning to the lordship of Christ & let him fill you daily with his Holy Spirit.
Pray. Pray daily for unity in our church & among the Christians in the Reeds community. We have some big challenges coming in our denomination soon. Ask God to remove all barriers to unity & make this church family one in heart & mind.
Share. Take a bold step to demonstrate that you’ve surrendered everything to Christ. When you see someone with a need this week, do whatever you can to take care of it. Or make an UMCOR contribution for the folk down east.
God uses our unity in him to bring revival to our lives & churches - & that leads to spiritual awakening in our nation. May God, through his Holy Spirit, impact you in such a way that unity abounds in your family, our church, & this community.
But again, you have a decision to make. You can brush off this message & tell God to just keep his Spirit to himself – you’re doing just fine, thank you. OR you can join me in this prayer as we prepare to join with Christians all around the world in sharing a meal at Christ’s table.
Let us pray. God, like a good shepherd searching for a lost lamb, like a woman looking for a lost coin, like a father redeeming his son, your love is rich beyond our deserving. You never forsake us, no matter how far we move from you. We thank you for all you have done for us. Strengthen us by the Holy Spirit, that we may grow in faith & increase in love for you. May our service & witness bring you honor & glory; in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.