By Randy Harmon
Pastor, Rock Springs Baptist Church, Greenbrier
Focal Passage: Acts 4:31-37
I have often heard people associated with churches make statements like, “We need to get back to the church of Acts.”
That is an interesting concept, but it is chronologically impossible. We cannot travel backward in time. I do understand what is meant by this statement and appreciate the intent behind it. Though we cannot go back there, our churches may experience the same spirit and unity of purpose that made that first church so effective for the kingdom of God. There are several principles mentioned in this Scripture that can help lead us to (or back to) that same unity.
First, they prayed together (v. 31) Much of what we do by way of prayer is not really praying together. We pray in the same physical space, share burdens and needs with other believers and church members, we write names on a piece of paper, but we do not always pray in one accord. Praying together involves a unity of spirit and purpose by which we seek God’s will together and then respond in obedience as He leads His church.
There is an element of close physical proximity involved in the praying of the church in Acts. They were gathered together in one place. Jesus said in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
The writer of Hebrews exhorts believers in Hebrews 10:24-26, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” There is great value in being gathered together as the church. It is part of God’s plan for His people to be gathered together for seasons of worship.
As they prayed together, God’s presence was made known. God’s presence was physically (externally) present as exemplified by the “shaking” of the place. They literally felt the power of God. God’s presence was spiritually (internally) made known by their being filled with the Holy Spirit.
The result of the presence of God and the filling of the Holy Spirit in those believers led to oneness (v. 32). They were of one heart. They were compassionate about the same things. They were of one soul. They were convicted about the same things and motivated toward the same things. They also shared their possessions. Some interpret this as a sort of communal lifestyle. It may have been that style of living, but I think the most important element of their “common possessions” is the love and care expressed by this idea. The love of the early church is proclaimed and recorded as one of its distinctive qualities. Here that love seems to be portrayed by meeting the needs of others (vv. 34-35).
In addition to the love and care in that setting, the apostles shared a powerful testimony (v. 33). They had been eyewitnesses to Christ’s resurrection which was at the heart of the power and truth of the gospel. That testimony led to changed lives and hearts. Believers came to experience abundant and eternal life. One such example of a changed life is the tangible encouragement of the community of faith by Joseph (Barnabas) in verses 36-37. Among this early congregation, there was a sense of sharing burdens, being accountable to each other and holding each other accountable.
As Galatians 6:1-6 teaches, they were bearing one another’s burdens while at the same time bearing their own load. These are practical principles for unity in the body of Christ: praying together, maintaining a sense of oneness, powerfully sharing the gospel, encouragement, and shared accountability.
— Harmon is pastor of Rock Springs Baptist Church, Greenbrier.