The Gospel Community – Acts 2:42–47; 4:32–5:5; 6:1–7 – Elder Chris
The gospel invites you home. It's good news that brings you into the fold, to whole person relationships with God and brothers and sisters. Central idea: Jesus' Gospel creates the most generous, safe, nurturing community in the world.
Acts shows us that God's good news is embodied in both a person and a people. In the gospel, He doesn't merely call you to a confession, but a community. We're not talking an obligatory membership, but good news that means membership. Community is part of the gift.
Luke presents in Acts a picture of what gospel community looks like, where it's heading. It is an invitation to hear good news about what kind of family God is building, protecting, and extending. A call to come and receive, enter and be embraced.
We're going to look at three little vignettes of life in that early church, and rather than analyze and pick apart each passage at a detailed level, we're going to step back and see from a bird's eye view this beautiful thing God has made and is making with us. Let me encourage you to hear each of these personally - directed at you, an appeal, an invitation for you - to come into the same gospel community that began in Acts.
1) Come! This community shares in Good News (Acts 2:42–47). This first picture of God's new creation family has this thread running through it all: in the church, God has gathered a people who share all things in common, because through Christ, what they have in common is a share in all things.
Paul says it this way later in 1 Cor. 3:21–23: "So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s."
The community of Christ is devoted "to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers." They’re doing all these things – not as individual checklist items toward being a good community, but as the natural heartbeat of a people whose rallying cry is good news that’s happened to them.
Thousands came in after Peter preached that Jesus is Messiah. And that simple but profoundly good announcement - that God has shared His very Son with us, shared eternal life, shared fellowship and restoration with Him – that announcement founded, set the baseline, for community. So, like second nature, they begin to share in all things. Their stuff, their food, their time, their very selves. They shared in good news.
What a breath of fresh air in this suffocating world. I don't know about you, but I'm tired of living off of news that makes me feel more closed off, protective, vulnerable and fearful. News that makes community even harder and fragile than ever.
It's a frustrating and lonely world to live in, when it feels like at every turn, we find another burden to carry, solve, deliver a judgment on, be and do right…when at every turn we're expected to shape our identity around what we stand for, what we are doing and accomplishing in this world, how we're making a difference. Community formed around that is so dependent on being right, doing right, that it will rise or fall on our sweat and goodness or lack thereof.
So, let me instead call you to the oasis in the desert that is Christ's church. Where generosity and intimate fellowship reign not because the people are good, but because we share good news - that in Christ, we have it all because He's done it all. We can give all because He supplies all. Come to a community where the center of its solar system is generous news! Come to a community that shares good news.
2) Come! This community is marked by transparency (Acts 4:32–5:5). Here we come back to the gospel community and once again find them sharing in good news just like chapter 2. But then we have this somewhat troubling business with Ananias (and Sapphira). Maybe even confusing, frightening business. This is not about handing the death sentence to anyone who tells a lie or isn't prepared to sell all they have, what is happening is God is setting up His gospel community to be one protected by the gift of transparency.
Remember, we’re watching this new gospel community that, in the sharing of good news, has it all and is freed to give it all. And it’s playing out in dramatic ways. But there's a wrinkle in that apparent transformation. Lest we think everyone in the community has become perfect saints, or are true believers, we're introduced to two contrasting parties: Barnabas, and Ananias and Sapphira. One is a Levite who has sold his one means of income outside of temple work and brought it to the church, and the other has done similarly…but wasn't so ready to give it all.
Seems straightforward, right? But listen carefully to Peter's words to Ananias (5:3–4): “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.”
Ananias (and his wife) lied to Peter and the community. While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? The issue wasn't as much about how generous or not generous Ananias and Sapphira were. Peter basically says, "It was up to you! You didn't have to do anything!" The real issue was their honesty, or rather, their genuineness. They represented themselves as bought in, as just like these others, when they weren't. Faithful. Committed. Holy, you might even say.
At this crucial beginning of God's church, He won't allow that kind of sickness to be planted in the community: that opaqueness, that hiding we humans do to show up better than we really are. That seeks acceptance based on keeping up appearances, that's content to be included because of what we seem to be rather than what we really are.
Jesus' gospel community doesn't work that way. It doesn't seek to cultivate people who put up fronts when underneath we're struggling. It doesn't encourage the appearance of faith or growth or love or generosity. It's better than that. It's built on the perfect weakness of saints who everyday need a savior. A broken and hungry people who need mending and need to be fed. It isn't the club of the righteous.
And isn't that a breath of fresh air too? The pressure today to be right, to never make a slip up or bad take that could come back to haunt you…to put your best foot forward, your best face, all the time…it's an overwhelming burden. It feels impossible, unsafe, risky to be transparent. It's a fragile fellowship when acceptance by those around us seems to depend on always doing and saying the right things.
The gospel community instead says, "Come! You who are weak and sinful. You who are foolish and selfish. You have hated others and hated yourself. You who are eminently needy." Remember, this is the gospel community who’s maybe best-known leader (Paul) was a blasphemer and murderer. 1 Corinthians 15:9–10: For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
Come to the gospel community where transparency is welcomed. Where you are invited to be the saved work-in-progress that you are, not the finished product you will be. Don't be discouraged. Don't feel compelled to appear fully formed. The gospel invites us to come as we are, as it won't ever leave us as we are. The gospel community is the one place where not only is transparency welcomed, it is core to its existence. That's why God protected it so fervently in the early church.
I love how Rosaria Butterfield describes the invitation of the church: “This is the best way that I know of to evangelize your LGBTQ neighbors—and everyone else. To live communally as Bible-believing Christians who care for each other in body and soul. To live openly, such that you know each other well enough to know each other’s sin patterns and temptations. To be a community where everyone is repenting of something all the time. To be a community where Christ could come, eat, wash His feet, and lay down His head. To be a community where hard conversations are had over warm soup and fresh bread.”
So come, you who are ready to give all and you who are just not there yet. Both will be loved and transformed by Jesus' good news. This community is marked by transparency.
3) Come! This community embodies care (Acts 6:1–7). When faced with a problem of physical need, physical care, Jesus' gospel community showed it knew how to excel in both gospel proclamation and gospel performance. It embodied care, word and deed.
The church had been sent out by Jesus to make disciples of all nations - to proclaim and baptize and raise up followers of Jesus. But vulnerable members of their community weren't receiving the day-to-day care they needed. This wasn't a situation that could stand in the gospel community of generosity.
So, when the apostles were given an opportunity to respond to this, they took a route that refused to see the problem as an either/or issue. Church, either keep preaching the gospel or serve tables. Either be faithful proclaimers or be compassionate providers. No, the gospel community adapted and grew to treat it as the both/and situation it really was. Neither could be neglected. Both needed faithful, committed resources. So, they made sure the need was filled. The gospel community knew how to embody care - to preach good news and to act it out in living good news.
I love when I see this community do the same, through Foster the City, or VBS, or Harvest Festival…good news and good care go forward as two sides of the same coin. Now, maybe that's not the church you grew up knowing. Maybe that's not even the church you experienced last week. If that's you, I am sincerely sorry. And heartbroken. I know we sometimes fail at this. Profoundly.
Acts demonstrates that care for one another in the gospel community is not optional. Sharing God's word and sharing daily bread are intertwined. It's baked into our identity. It’s a place to receive a good word and a good meal. An exhortation and an embrace.
Come. In the gospel community, the needy are seen and known and provided for. Because that's exactly what happens in the good news story - God who is full came down to fill those who were empty. God who is rich, stepped down to provide for we who were poor. We share good news that in Christ, we have it all because He's done it all. We can give all - we do give all - because He supplies all.
Acts shows us that God's good news is embodied in both a person and a people. In the gospel, He doesn't merely call you to a confession, but a community. The gospel invites you home. It's good news that brings you into whole person relationship with God and His family. Jesus' Gospel creates the most generous, safe, nurturing community in the world.
Battle Belongs, 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord), Who Are Thirsty, Build My Life, Doxology