This morning’s reading from the book of Acts described a very simple, and yet Oh so difficult, aspect of early Christian life that we’ve lost:
All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. (Acts 4:32)
This morning’s Psalm is equally clear:
“How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” (Psalm 133)
We are a community rooted in relationship. One big happy family, right?
“To dwell above with saints we love, oh that will be glory!
To dwell below with saints we know…well… that’s a different story.”
Jesus modelled community with His disciples: they lived out their faith in connection with one another. They shared a common purpose, united around their Teacher. The disciples didn’t always get along. There was some bickering and competitiveness. Jesus had to remind them that they were brothers, not rivals. Together they transformed the world. If it is not visible that we care about one another, it is doubtful whether we love one another.
The earliest Christians had a major challenge, to break down the barriers between Jews and Gentiles, and to welcome men and women alike. Paul describes this obstacle as a wall that needs to come down. To do so meant stepping out of one’s comfort zone. When we become members of God’s family, we tend to look for a church filled with people like us.
The Protestant Reformation emphasized the priesthood of all believers. Pastors provide spiritual leadership, but we are all priests, with access to God, called to ministry, and set apart for service. What the church offers is unique—the unity of the Spirit.
“The church is not an organization but an organism; it’s … a body, not a business.” (James Montgomery Boice)
How easy is it really to live in unity? How many of you here have brothers or sisters or both? Did loving your brothers & sisters mean that you always lived in unity and harmony? Did you have the rule that I can hit my brother/sister, but no one from the outside can? Or how many of you are married? Do you ever disagree as a couple?
So, if you can’t do it with one other person or a small group of family members, how are we supposed to do this as a growing church body?
While we trust Christ to give us strength to live spirit-filled lives, this doesn’t stop us from being human. Our personalities do not change. If we were quiet, analytical, unemotional before becoming a Christian, we’re not going to suddenly become touchy-feely extroverts. We are who we are. Our Creator God made each and every one of us, and God appreciates the diversity within His family. We may not think alike, but we should work together. We need to unconditionally accept one another and treat each other with dignity and respect. The fact that we are all unique is an advantage.
For many of us, we are waiting for the Spirit to fill us with that love that we are supposed to have for others… how long are we supposed to wait? and what are we supposed to do until it arrives?
How are you supposed to love your neighbour when they are SO difficult? What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit of God and have Jesus’ love flow through us?
How many of you can relate with the following description of the Christian life?
- Do you think we act as though God only works today in the ways we personally have experienced God in our past and therefore we limit what God wants to do through us right now?
- Well, yes, we believe in our heads that God does wonderful things because we’ve read it in the Bible, or we’ve heard of His Spirit working in other people’s lives and places around the world, but … if you haven’t experienced it, can you believe in your heart that it will happen here at our church or with us?
- If we haven’t experienced a miraculous healing, we don’t expect much of God now even though we pray for it.
- If we haven’t seen God change or transform people in a long time, we just assume people will continue to trickle in to the church if at all and maybe find faith.
- If our experience of church in the past is not even close to the love and fellowship the first Christians experienced, we think all churches are this way.
Or perhaps we don’t want it to be that way because we are afraid it might require us to change our ways or priorities.
No where in the Bible will you find “love your neighbour, if they deserve it”, or “pray for those who persecute you, so that they all shrivel up and die”. I can remember a time when I used to pray “give them 10 times whatever they give me”… unfortunately, that prayer wasn’t Biblical. We are told in the Bible, simply, to love others. Irrespective of what they have said, what they have done, whether or not they deserve it!
God says to love your enemies and do good to them that hurt you and pray for those people that spitefully use you. We ought to love everybody- whether they are in God’s family or not. It doesn’t matter where they’re from, where they’ve been or what they’ve done in the past or what color they are.
It seems like it’s the nature of human beings to be self-centered. We like to have things our way, and when they don’t go our way we get upset. We like to have our opinion and share it, and when people disagree with us we like to argue.
Imagine getting all the Christians of Panama City (or just the Balboa, Albrook & Clayton area) together for worship, eating together, day after day after day. Sounds great doesn’t it, well maybe for about the first day or two, until people start complaining; why do all the Catholics want to keep sitting, standing, and kneeling all the time? Could someone tone the Pentecostals down? they’re so excited they’ve been singing for the last hour straight, and that babble of them speaking in tongues is just too much! Would the Baptists PLEASE quit talking about getting everyone saved? and then there are others complaining about the members of Balboa Union Church because they suggested setting up a committee to look into the complaints and report back in a month…
Being of one heart and mind is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit unites us, and draws us closer together. The Spirit is not divided. He leads us in the same direction. When people are filled with God’s Spirit, God does a work in our heart where our self-centeredness and pride is replaced with love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Our focus is shifted away from ourselves, and onto God and what his Spirit is leading us to do.
Recently I missed giving Sunday school because I was spending the weekend as staff at a coaching seminar. I’ve done this seminar before, and it blew my mind in the way it challenged me to view all of my relationships and reactions. It called into question how I viewed love and relationships.
Don’t get me wrong – I did this coaching a year ago, and I still struggle every single day to apply what I learned in the “real world” of relationships… but it changed my view of each relationship I have… whether marriage, parent, child, friend, co-worker or any other.
How many of you think that marriage is 50/50? What if I told you that the secret to a happy marriage is 100/0? 100% on your part, and expecting absolutely nothing in return? I’ll be honest with you – I’m having a REALLY hard time getting my head around this one?
What do you mean I can’t expect ANYTHING in return from my husband? It doesn’t matter how he acts… it doesn’t matter what he says… it doesn’t matter if he gets upset… But if I fail to communicate, if I fail to listen, if I fail to be affectionate, if I fail to show him love… it’s 100% on me.
This is Christian love – and that’s why it’s so hard! It’s about giving 100% without expecting anything in return… Irrespective of how you feel… Irrespective of what your day in the office was like… irrespective of that car that cut you off… irrespective of the business deal that didn’t work out the way you wanted it…
Unity in the Church is about each and every one of us putting aside our egos, our ideas, our self-centeredness, our need to feel praised and valued, our need to hear what a great job I’m doing, our need to receive the praise and recognition… and work together in harmony & unity.
Unity is about stop waiting to “feel” the love and choose to “BE” the love you are expecting to see in the Church! When we decide to make it happen, then it will happen!