One Thing That Won’t Change: Loving One AnotherAdrian Holloway on October 12, 2008 with 0 Comments
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Acts 2:41-47 – Preaching from ChristChurch London’s Sunday Service
Since I last preached, Julia and I have announced the happy news that we’re expecting our 4th baby.
Operation Holloway is now complete.
There is a huge boys secondary school near where we live. And it’s not unusual for 100 boys to get on the bus at the same time. And what’s fascinating is that they’ve all customized the official school uniform in exactly the same way. Every single one of them is technically wearing the school tie, but they’ve all tied it incredibly short, with an absolutely massive knot.
And when they get on the bus, they all talk with American accents, as if they’re gangster rappers. And sometimes I want to go up to them and say: “Look, who are you trying to kid? You’re not from America. You’ve never lived in America. You live in Barnes, and your name is Alastair. You’re not a gangster. Your parents are accountants.”
But why do they all dress the same and talk the same? Answer: they want to be accepted.
In the same vein, I listened to about 10 minutes of a Radio Five Live phone in last week about university initiation ceremonies. There were people ringing in saying “Yes, it was the worst night of my life. They made me drink this and then drink that and then I had to eat dog food. I was so sick. It was an absolute Weston-Super-Mare.” “So why did you do it?” asks Victoria Derbyshire. Answer: “I wanted to be accepted. I wanted to belong.”
It’s the same at work. When I was a journalist, there was a culture of never wanting to be seen to be the first to leave at the end of the day. And so, to be accepted, you would come in on your day off, but deliberately dress down, so that everyone says. “Hey, you’re not in your normal work gear.” And then you’d reply, “Oh yeah, I guess so. I didn’t think anyone would notice, it’s because actually I’ve come into work on my day off, that’s how keen I am.” In other words, “accept me. Let me into the inner sanctum of totally committed people. I too, want to lose any sense of a work-life balance.”
And here in London, when you’re not accepted, when you’re not part of the in crowd, then it’s really hard. You have thousands of people all around you, and millions of images of the bold and the beautiful thrust in your face all the time, which sends you a powerful message: “You’re not good enough. You don’t look like us. You’re not like us. You’re not accepted.”
You can be physically pressed against 5 people on a packed tube, or one of five hundred people squashed into a block of flats. There are people all around you, but you still feel lonelier than ever.
Why? Why is there a chronic epidemic of loneliness in London? Why this craving to be accepted? Because we were created to live in community.
Whether we realize it or not, we were created as image bearers of God, and we reflect certain aspects of His character. We are designed to live in community as God Himself exists in the loving community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
And at Christ Church, here’s what’s on offer through our midweek Life Groups . . . we are offering something highly un-usual in London – instant unconditional acceptance into a genuinely loving community.
Instant, unconditional acceptance into a genuinely loving community – you don’t have to tie your tie incredibly short, you don’t have to drink enormous amounts of alcohol, you don’t have to eat dog food to be accepted into one of our Life Groups.
And we’ve decided to talk about community today, because we want to encourage you, as a church going into a season of change. Because in all the changes we are going to introduce over the next few months, to re-structure the church for what could be a doubling in size, there’s one thing that won’t change . . . Loving one another . . . Christian community.
SLIDE 1: TITLE
So let’s look at the earliest and most inspiring record of Christian community and see what we can learn from it.
And as we read from Acts chapter 2, we’re going to ask, ‘how similar is Christ Church London to the early church in Jerusalem?’ And I think we’re going to come to a surprising conclusion . . .
Well as we pick up the story, Peter has just finished a dramatic open-air sermon, which has won three thousand people to Christ. And in verse 41, Luke writes . . .
41Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. 42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:41-47)
41Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
The reason we keep having baptism services is because baptism was the sign that you’d really become a follower of Jesus, and it still is.
But 3,000 baptisms! A few verses earlier there were only 120 Christians in the church. Now by verse 41, there are 3,120. How did they cope? The body of Christ in Jerusalem just multiplied twenty-six times in the space of half an hour.
I mean can you imagine, if you were one were one of the 120 and you missed Peter’s sermon. Maybe you were away visiting your Auntie. You arrive back in Jerusalem, turn up for the meeting the following Sunday, expecting the same old 120 of you, but instead there are 3,120 people there.
Chances are, there’s someone sitting in your seat, who you’ve never seen before in your entire life. Bit like arriving at Christ Church, London. Don’t you think? Have you ever stood in the corridor after the service and thought: “I don’t recognize anyone here.” Each Sunday recently we’ve had 50 more people than the Sunday before.
At Christ Church now, for the first time, there is no-one who knows everyone. That’s what’s just happened here in Acts chapter 2. It’s fairly easy to know everyone in a church of 120. It’s impossible when you’ve got 3,120.
Since the start of September, we’ve had 89 people fill out a card to say that they want to know more about Christ Church with a view to getting involved. 89 new people in 5 weeks is great. But it’s small beer compared to what’s happening in our text.
Those 120 really had some adapting to do. You see the 120 were the committed core. They were the core group who’d followed Jesus ever since the early days back in Galilee. In particular there was a group of women, who’d never left him. Many of the men had scarpered when Jesus got arrested and crucified. Not so the women, they had stuck with Jesus through thick and thin.
They knew each other well. They’d truly done life together.
But then it suddenly got big. The whole nature of the organism changed overnight. It multiplied 26 times, in 30 minutes. Can you imagine Christ Church getting 26 times bigger as a result of one sermon?
That is a lot of donuts!
“We don’t know everyone anymore.” They could have said. “It’s not like the old days.”
The weirdest thing for the original 120 must have been that there were now suddenly other people in the church, who had never actually met Jesus in the flesh. They’d never seen Jesus either before or after the resurrection. All they’d done is turned up at Jerusalem for a Jewish feast, heard Peter’s sermon, got converted, and they were now just as much part of the church as the 120 – some of whom had been Jesus close personal friends.
Weirder still, there were now other people in the church, who’d been in the crowd that had shouted for Barabbas just two months previously. “Free Barabbas” they’d chanted. “Really?” Pilate asked, rather surprised, “so what shall I do with Jesus, who is called the Christ?” “Crucify him!” they’d shouted.
In the sermon that Peter had just finished, he’d directly appealed to those in the crowd who’d previously shouted for Barabbas. “You lot, crucified the Lord of Glory,” Peter had said. “God sent his son into the world, and you killed him.” And that’s why they were cut to the heart and cried out: “Oh no. What must we do to be saved?”
And then they were saved.
So now, by verse 42, there were converted Barabbas supporters, in the church. The same people who had shouted “Crucify him” were now shouting “Jesus is Lord!”
So in the Christian community, there must have been some radical acceptance going on. In the Christian community, there must have been some radical forgiveness going on. The core group of 120 were not just ready to accept new people into the big meeting, but, as we shall see later on, they were also ready to accept new people into their small groups.
How so? Well the answer is in verse 42 . . .
42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Now here’s the theological key to understanding this radical acceptance of former enemies. It’s the fellowship.
It’s the greek work for fellowship, Koinoœnia, that you may have heard of.
This word Koinonia wonderfully demonstrates what we Christians share in together.
It expresses the commonality, the common life of the Christian community – what binds us together. What is that? What do we share in together?
Well in one word: God. We share in him together.
You know, 1 John 1:3 our fellowship, our koinonia, is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ, and the apostle Paul adds in 2 Cor 13:14 the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
The 120 realized that the 3,000 new people had suddenly found themselves in fellowship with God.
Wow! They said, “I know I am intimately related to God, but now, so are you. You’re not my enemy any more. You really are my brother and you really are my sister, because we are each now in fellowship with God. The same God is our father, and the same Jesus is our Saviour and the same Holy Spirit is our in-dwelling comforter. Ah-ha – that is what makes us one. Our fellowship is with the Father and his Son and with the HS, and it’s because we share in him together – it is then that we are one. That’s the koinonia.
But Koinonia bears witness not only to what we share in together, but also what we share out together, not only what we have received together of the grace of God, but what we give together – to one another.
It’s interesting that Koinonia is the word that the apostle Paul uses in Second Corinthians for the great collection that he was organizing from the Greek churches to the poverty-stricken churches in Judea. He calls it a koinonia, – a sharing out of our goods.
And the Greek word for generous is koinonikos.
So this sharing out aspect of the Koinonia is what Luke lays emphasis on in this passage.
As you see, in verse 44
All who believed were together, and they had all things in the greek, koina. He deliberately takes up koinonia, with the word Koina, what they had in common. And they sold their goods and distributed them to all, as any had need.
Someone says, “Ah, well here your Christ Church, London Life Group fall well short, by comparison. You may have koinonia in your Starbucks and Costa Coffee, but you haven’t got koina. You’d never get 21st Century Londoners giving away their possessions to any in need.
Well, I’m not so sure.
Here’s a story from someone in Christ Church. She says: “Three weeks before my wedding last year in Nov, I moved all my belongings into my new flat, which wasn’t quite finished. I stored all of it, my whole life’s worth of stuff in the basement, leaving the decorators to finish their job the next day. I slept in my old flat one more night, with nothing in my room except my computer and handbag.
The next day when I arrived at my new flat, I went down to the basement where I’d left all my worldly possessions the night before, and to my horror, everything had gone. I mean everything. My whole life’s worth of stuff, including passport, wedding shoes, portfolio of work, guitar. The builders, at the direction of the landlord had cleaned out the whole flat!!
I had a week off work in compassionate leave, to get myself together and buy a toothbrush and shoes. The church were amazing. My close friends rallied around and I was overwhelmed at the generosity, as envelopes of money kept being given to me. I was totally speechless. I was given a guitar, given clothes, given hats and socks and earrings, teddy bear and books. Money was given so I could go and get a passport that week… it was incredible.
God really showed me grace and I had to be able to humbly and thankfully receive. I felt loved beyond love…
Isn’t that exactly what’s happened in Acts 2:44?
So there are people in Christ Church who willingly give away their possessions to those in need. Maybe we aren’t as totally dissimilar to the early church as we’ve always thought.
More about verse 44 in a moment, but first, verse 43, and I want to make 3 points this afternoon about this community, and the first is . . .
1. They were awe-struck and regarded “the fellowship” as a supernatural organism.
43Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.
Q. Why were they filled with awe?
A. Because of what had just happened. God had come to earth as a man. That was a shock. More amazing still, this God-man, Jesus dies, a death to take away my sin. Then he’d resurrected from the dead, and then Jesus had physically ascended to heaven, from where he’d poured out the Holy Spirit, leaving everyone speaking with other tongues. It was all happening. In fact the only event they were now waiting for was the return of Christ. In other words, these Christians suddenly found themselves living in “the end times.” And with the spirit being poured out, many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.
But where are the many wonders and miraculous signs today? This used to really bother me. At several points in my Christian life, I have thought that the wonders and signs they were just for back then, just to be performed by the original 12 apostles, plus Paul and a couple of others. Then I found other verses in the bible that said the opposite, indicating that healing for example, was not just for the apostles, but for ordinary Christians. And I became convinced from the bible that as an ordinary Christian I should expect to heal the sick. It took me years, but eventually, I started praying for the sick, and started to see them healed.
This summer at our Newday event (that both Dave and I spoke at), we saw 200 people report physical healings on the Wednesday night. I had been praying before that meeting, that we would see the same miracles that Jesus saw, deaf ears opened, blind eyes seeing. Well we didn’t have blind eyes seeing, but we did have deaf ears opened. We had people saying, “I was deaf, but now I can hear.” What’s more, although we didn’t have 3,000 new converts, we did have 300, make a first time commitment to Christ. So the deaf hear, 200 reported healings, and 300 genuine conversions. And I didn’t lay hands on anyone that night. I just commanded healings, in the same way that Jesus and the apostles did.
And like you I want to know whether these healings stand the test of time. I keep records. I have doctor’s letters, letters from hospital consultants. Optician’s testimonies. Like you, I’m not interested in hype. I want to know are people really getting healed, and I have discovered – they are.
In the same way, we’ve had many conversions here at Christ Church and many physical healings. We are literally packing people in to hear the gospel on our current Alpha Course. We invite them. They come. They listen. They come back. Is it really totally and utterly different from Acts 2?
Next . . .
2. They had laid aside their personal agendas, and abandoned any sense of competitiveness
44All the believers were together and had everything in common.
45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.
Let’s just notice in passing that the sharing of property and possessions was voluntary. That must be the case because just two verses later, according to verse 46, they broke bread in their homes. So evidently many still had homes; not all had sold them.
But even so, this is truly amazing. This must be the sort of community we want at Christ Church.
I mean holding onto your own stuff is a fairly basic human activity. You don’t often hear people say: “Here, have my car. It’s yours.” You don’t often hear people say: “Here have my house. I’ll live in a tent instead.” But that’s what was happening here! Had they all gone mad? Why would anyone so radically re-think life? What possible event could have prompted people to behave in such an extraordinary way? What made them live as if this life was only a passing transitory thing? What made them think that ‘who owns which stuff’ was essentially just details? Answer: The resurrection of Jesus Christ and the giving of the HS.
The whole world had changed totally. They were now living on earth as if they were living in heaven.
What do I mean? Well, as I said earlier, Jesus had come to earth, died to provide forgiveness of sins, resurrected bodily, ascended physically, and sent the Holy Spirit gloriously. The only thing they were waiting for was his return. And the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost had proved to these Jewish Christians that the powers of the future glory had broken in to this age. The kingdom of heaven had come into urban life in Jerusalem. So they were living as if they were virtually in heaven anyway.
And in heaven, of course, there’ll be no jockeying for position, in heaven there’ll be no arguments, in heaven there’ll be no selfishness, no competitiveness – so they were living like that in this life. It was a sort of heaven on earth. No wonder people wanted to join them!
Can I ask – how are we doing in our life groups on this one? Have you laid aside all personal agendas, and abandoned any sense of competitiveness?
During Jesus three years of earthly ministry, the disciples had regularly argued about who was the greatest disciple. “I think you’ll find,” James said, “that I am the greatest disciple.”
“You,” John replied. “There’s absolutely no way. You wait and see, I will be sitting at Jesus right hand in glory.”
That was only a few months ago. Now, they’d died to all of that.
What had happened to them. Well they’d been:
(1) crucified together with Christ (Gal. 2:20);
(2) died together with Christ (Col. 2:20);
(3) buried together with Christ (Rom. 6:4);
(4) made alive together with Christ (Eph. 2:5);
(5) raised together with Christ (Col. 3:1);
(6) made sufferers together with Christ (Rom. 8:17);
(7) glorified together with Christ (Rom. 8:17).
They were now seated with Christ in heavenly places and so are you!
They were new people. The old had gone. The new had come. And this explains how they were able to accept Peter as their leader. Because Peter had not only deserted Jesus, Peter had actually denied Jesus. Peter had denied with an oath, three times that he even knew Jesus. And it wasn’t as if Peter was forced into a denial at knife point by a gang of soldiers Peter wasn’t tortured into it. Who was this fearsome person, who’d forced Peter to deny Christ It was just a servant girl, saying: “Your accent gives you away. You’re one of them aren’t you? You’re a friend of Jesus aren’t you?”
Peter caved in at the first opportunity. How could the whole Christian church follow such a coward? Yet, they did with no questions asked. Why? Everything had changed. They’d now all died with Christ, and been buried with Christ, and been raised with Christ. They were now living in resurrection power.
We’re all different people now. We’ve been born again. If anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation, behold the old has gone and the new has come.
The third and final thing I want to notice is that . . .
3. The defining characteristic of the community was joy
46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.
They had glad and sincere hearts (46), which literally means ‘in exultation [agalliasis] and sincerity of heart’. The New English Bible unites the two words by translating them as ‘with unaffected joy’. Since God had sent his son into the world, and had now sent them his Spirit, they had plenty of reason to be joyful. Besides, ‘the fruit of the Spirit is … joy.’
And the next verse says that the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved, which is hardly surprising. And, like you, I’ve always wanted to experience a community like this.
When I was in my 20s, I read a lot of books about past revivals.
Generally speaking, I’m sure you’ll agree that the Christian church has failed to stay at the level of joy and the level of holiness, power and success that it was experiencing in Acts 2. But occasionally through history, God has revived his church so that the church has again looked like the Acts 2 church. And when people talk about revival, it’s our text today, that’s usually the benchmark.
And so in my 20s, I would store up all my annual leave into one big block, and then fly off to different parts of the world, chasing revival. If I heard of a revival, I’d investigate it, and then, see if I could get there.
I had a few disappointments. But eventually when I was 28, I got to a real revival. I went 4 times in 12 months, and it remains the greatest experience of my life.
My prayer had always been, “Lord, let me see revival before I die.”
So my final question today is, how far are we, in our Christ Church life groups from revival? How far are we from the church “in exultation” in Acts 2?
And my answer is, that to some extent, it depends on you and me.
Think back to how you felt at the best moment of your Christian life.
Think of the moment in your Christian experience when you were most “in agalliasis” in exultation, with unaffected joy. Maybe that was when you first met Jesus, maybe it was when you got baptized, maybe it was in a prayer meeting, or on top of a mountain, or you’d just said “no” to sin, and won a major victory. Think of that moment.
Now how far away are you from that?
I believe that revival starts with, any church, living at it’s highest level all the time.
In February 1997, I was living in revival. So why don’t we live at that level all the time? Well, I think we know the answer. We’ve allowed something or someone to steal our joy.
If you once had a joy that you don’t have today, I’m asking where did you lose it?
Because if only we could keep our joy, if we all kept our joy, I believe we’d be close to revival here at Christ Church.
The most common way we lose our joy is to stop giving thanks. To not have a regular daily time of giving thanks to God.
Adrian, are you talking about having a so-called “quiet time”?
Sort of, because I’m not sure if it needs to be quiet.
Why is not having a quiet time the most common way that Christians lose their joy? Answer: Because having a quiet time is hard. It’s so hard when you’re living a busy life, to discipline yourself to have a devotional time. But if we’ll form the habit, God will give us grace. It’s enjoyable once you’re into it, but you have to discipline yourself to get into the habit.
And the wonderful thing about the grace of God is that if you don’t have a quiet time, you don’t lose your salvation. You could never ever have a quiet time, and still go to heaven when you die. God will love you just as much. You are still the righteousness of God in Christ. That’s how good Christianity is. You’re saved by grace through faith.
What you lose is not salvation. But you may lose some of your joy.
The bible says that the joy of the Lord is our strength, and joy comes through thanksgiving. Yes we’ve had disappointments, we’ve gone through setbacks, people have hurt us, we’ve been treated unfairly, some of us have suffered losses, faced sicknesses.
Some of those are events in the past that cannot be changed. You cannot unscramble eggs.
We have suffered losses. The question confronting us is, will we thank God for what we have left?
We’re painfully aware of what we’ve lost, but will we thank God for what we have left.
What have we got left?
Folks that’s my whole point . . . we have got everything that these Acts 2 Christians had. We’ve got God coming to earth as a man to save us. We’ve got a God who’s ready to forgive all our sins. We’ve got a resurrected, ascended Jesus praying for us. We’ve got the Holy Spirit inside us. We have been . . .
(1) crucified together with Christ (Gal. 2:20);
(2) dead together with Christ (Col. 2:20);
(3) buried together with Christ (Rom. 6:4);
(4) made alive together with Christ (Eph. 2:5);
(5) raised together with Christ (Col. 3:1);
(6) sufferers together with Christ (Rom. 8:17);
(7) glorified together with Christ (Rom. 8:17).
You are as much in Christ as these Acts 2 Christians were.
It’s all about the habit of thanksgiving. When we thank God for 10 minutes for who we are in Christ, we begin to feel joyful.
Adrian I’m doing that, every morning. I’m starting each day with a full tank, so I must be leaking somewhere. What’s happening to me?
Well, every day we have opportunities to get upset, to go around stressed out.
Life is full of inconveniences.
People don’t do what they should.
Our plans don’t always work out. There’s constantly something that can steal our joy . . . people, disappointments, the Northern Line.
At the start of the day, we need to make a decision that no matter what comes against us, we are not going to get upset.
I need to make a decision in advance . . . no matter what comes my way, I am going to stay in peace, knowing that God is directing my steps and that God will work through any circumstance for my good. Romans 8:28
One of the keys to enjoying life is you have to take responsibility for your own joy.
There are so many excuses we can offer. . .
I’d keep my joy if my wife or husband treated me better.
I’d keep my joy if I didn’t have to work around these people.
I’d keep my joy if I was married. Or I’d have kept my joy if I’d stayed single.
If I didn’t have these challenges, these problems, if I wasn’t working under this pressure, I’d still have my joy.
No, it must be the case that we can keep our joy right there in the midst of that adversity if we’ll simply have the right approach
Because Jesus said in John 14:27: “My peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. Do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not be afraid.
I can let the cares and worries of this life, and the deceitfulness of wealth stop the joy in my life.
Jesus said: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Notice, it’s a decision we have to make.
I’m going to enjoy this day, even if things don’t go my way.
OK, so if you’re experiencing joy loss, where are you losing it? Is it what you watch on television or on your computer?
Is there something you’ve yet to walk free from? Why am I asking? because it’s a tragedy for you and me to live the Christian life without joy. It’s a tragedy for you, because you are the one who’s missing out. It’s a tragedy for me to do the hard bit, to say no to sin, turn away from my old life, and then not enjoy the benefits.
Some of us need to draw a line in the sand. That’s it . . . I’m done with letting this or that upset me . . . I refuse to give away my joy any more.
A lot of time we think: God if you would just change my parents, or just change my children. If you’d just change my boss, if you’d deliver me from these people, then I could be happy.
Anything you have to have in order to be happy is something the enemy can use against you.
God has said that if you will delight yourself in him, he’ll give you the desires of your heart. If there’s something you really want, I would encourage you to just put it on the altar.
I mean we’re not so far removed from the situation these Christians were in in Acts 2. We are in the same theological position as them. We’ve experienced “unaffected joy and sincerity of heart.” As we’re about to hear when this offering total is announced, you guys have excelled in terms of giving. In your Life Group, you’ve experienced Koinonia. You’ve welcomed in strangers.
Some of you every week for the past 3 or 4 weeks, you’ve had a new person come to your Life Group. You’ve welcomed them.
We’re not so far away, so let’s not quit yet. We’re breaking bread in our small groups like they were in theirs. And we’re enjoying the favour of all people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Let’s not let anything steal our joy this week. The bible says it’s the little foxes that spoil the vines. Watch out for the little things.
Whatever you feed will grow. Don’t feed your bad habits. Feed your good ones.
And if you’re not in a Life Group, then please go into the stalls bar. Head towards the far corner, and there’s a big board. We’ve got 35 groups meeting on all different days of the week. There’s got to be one that’s either near where you work or where you live.