A Dependent Church – Acts 4:23-35 (pt. 3)

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IV. A Dependent Church is Unified (v. 32a)

So far we have seen three traits of a dependent church: 1) a dependent church prays, 2) a dependent church finds comfort in the Sovereignty of God, 3) a dependent church boldly proclaims God’s word.  In the v. 32 we will see that the fourth trait of a dependent church is that a dependent church is unified.  In this verse Luke is done recording the prayer, and now he begins to describe the church.  The first thing that he says about this group of believers is that “the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul.”  With this we learn that they were not only united in their prayer, but they were also united in heart and soul.  Or to put it another way, they were unified.

The terms heart and soul together simply indicate that they were unified in the entire being.  There was no part of them that was not unified with the rest of the church.  When I think of this it is quite amazing to me, and leaves me with several questions.  For instance, what does this kind of unity look like?  In response to this question Kent Hughes put it better that I can when he said that

This does not mean these believers saw everything eye to eye. It is wrong to suppose, as sadly some do, that when believers dwell in unity they will carry the same Bible, read the same books, promote the same styles, educate their children the same way, have the same likes and dislikes—that they will become Christian clones. The fact is, the insistence that others be just like us is one of the most disunifying mind-sets a church can have because it instills a judgmental inflexibility that hurls people away from the church with lethal force. One of the wonders of Christ is that he honors our individuality while bringing us into unity.[1]

As we pursue unity in our own church Hughes’ quote is very helpful.  We should not be looking for conformity to one another’s preferences.  Instead, we should accept the different ways that God has gifted each one of us, and seek to use those gifts together to serve Christ.  This is the essence of unity.  Unity is a group of individual who have been joined together through the work of Christ, and who are willing to set aside personal preferences in order to better serve Christ.  The bible tells us that when the church is unified in this way there will be amazing results.  In fact, when Jesus was praying just before his crucifixion He made this request of the Father:

“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. (John 17:20-21)

Here we see that the unity of the church is a testimony to the world that Jesus was sent by God as the Savior.

Another question that arises in my mind as I contemplate the unity of this early church is: where does this kind of unity come from?  I ask this in my mind because this kind of unity is difficult for me to pursue.  I don’t want to surrender my own preferences.  I would rather have everyone just do it my way, so this kind of unity is not going to come from within me.  In fact, this kind of unity is not going to come from within any one of us, it comes only from God.  This is why Ephesians 4:2-3 says “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  Notice the it says that we need to preserve the unity, not create it!  This is because God has already provided it for us through the work of Christ, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. REMEMBER, Unity is a group of individual who have been joined together through the work of Christ, and who are willing to set aside personal preferences in order to better serve Christ.  You see, Christ died so that we could be forgiven of our sins and become a part of His spiritual body.  Additionally the Spirit has given each one of us individual gifts so that together we can effectively serve Christ.  This means that our unity come from God.  Or to put it another way, we must depend upon God for our unity.  When we are jealous of another persons gifts we are really failing to depend upon the God who gave the gifts.  When we refuse to humbly forego our own rights for the good of our brother we are really selfishly pursuing our own good rather than depending upon God to work all things together for our God.  I think you get the point.  Dependence upon God will result in unity.  This was certainly the case with this group of believers in Acts 4.  They were so busy depending upon God that they didn’t have time for disunity.  They were busy praying, preaching, and as we will see in a minute providing for one another.  They didn’t have time for disunity.  Rather, their dependence resulted in unity.

V. A Dependent Church Gives Generously (vv. 32b, & 34-35)

In vv. 32-36 we will see that a dependent church gives generously.  Here Luke further describes the church by saying,

and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.

 To understand this passage we need to go back and remind ourselves a little bit about the situation that these people were in.  The church was filled with new coverts from every stripe of life.  Many of these people were very poor, and with the Jewish community persecuting them it would be hard to earn any extra money in the market place.  Additionally, many of the new converts were in Jerusalem to celebrate the feast, but when they repented and accepted Christ they extended their stay so that they could learn more about their new found faith.  This meant that there were a lot of people in financial need.  But look at how the church responded to this need.  No one held onto their own personal property.  Everything they had they made it available for service to Christ.  They understood that God was the one who gave it to them, and so they had no problem giving it back to God for the good of His church.  Because of this generosity Luke tells us that there was not a needy person among them.  This does not mean that everyone lived in the lap of luxury, or even that everyone was in the same tax bracket.  It simply means that everyone had their basic needs provided for.  Verse 34 tells us specifically that this was because some of the more well off believers were able to sell of land and give it to the apostle to be disbursed among the church. Thankfully the Lord saw fit to save some individuals who were in a more stable financial situation.

By the way, I want to set the record straight.  This passage is not teaching some kind of Christian communism.  As Calvin notes, “…he meaneth not that the faithful sold all that they had, but only so much as need required.” (Calvin, 192)  People still retained their possession, however they were willing to generously give up their possession when the needs of others required it. Kent Hughes further explains it, “If we focus on what seems to be the impracticality of this, or upon the seeming communism, we miss the point. Communism says practically, ‘What is yours is everyone’s. ‘Christianity says, ‘What is mine is yours.'”[2]

This kind of generosity can only come out of a heart that understand that God is the one who provides us with the material blessing that we have.  Or to put it another way, generosity comes from a dependent heart.  If we are depending upon God to provide for our needs then we will not fret giving away something the belongs to us.  The problem is that we very rarely view our money as a gift from God.  In fact, often times we depend upon our money rather than upon God.  We keep checking our bank accounts and as long as we have so much money we feel safe.  Or, we depend upon money to purchase the things that we think will satisfy our desires.  Either way we are depending upon our money, and when we do this it will be impossible to give generously.

What we must do instead is depend upon God to supply us with our needs, and then wisely use the resources that He has provided for us to serve Him.  Remember, whatever God has given you belongs to Him and He expects you to be a good steward of it.  He expects you to generously help your brother or sister in need.  And He expects you to regularly give to your church.  If you are depending on God then you will easily be able to do these things because you are not depending on you money.  The believers in Acts 4 were able to do this even though they were facing the kind of persecution that was eventually going to affect them economically, and they were able to do this because they were depending upon God.

VI. A Dependent Church Trusts God with the Results (vv. 31, & 33)

There is one more trait in the passage that I want to go back and look at.  Namely that a dependent church trusts God with the results.  Now I know I said earlier that the trust is synonym for dependence so this point is rather redundant.  But still I think that there is a helpful reminder here for us.  Look back at v. 31.  Here God answers the prayer of the people and look what happens, the began to preach boldly.  When the people prayed asking God for boldness they had no idea how He would answer that prayer, but they trusted Him.  Additionally, when they continued to speak the word with boldness they had no idea what would happen to them.  They didn’t know if a single person would accept their message, or even if the Sanhedrin would allow them to live.  But that didn’t stop them because they did not concern themselves with the results.  They were being faithful to what God called them to do, and they trusted Him to accomplish whatever results He intended to accomplish.

Now look at v. 33.  Here again we find the apostles testifying to reality of the resurrection of Christ.  But here Luke adds that they were doing so with great power.  I think that we can safely presume that this meant that they were experiencing great results.  I say this because the first time Peter preached 3,000 people were saved, and the second time he preached 5,000 people were saved.  One can only assume that when Luke says that they were preaching about the resurrection with great power that great numbers of people continued to believe.  However, I want you to notice why this was happening.  It was not because Peter knew his demographics well.  Or because the apostles had a great 10 year plan.  It was because “abundant grace was upon them all.”  In other words, as they were being faithful to their task the Lord took care of the results.

I want to be clear on this point.  I am not saying that God will provide thousands of converts to every preacher that faithfully depends upon him.  This is simply not how it works.  In fact, many of the prophets saw very few, if any people, respond to their message.  My point is simply that we must depend upon God for the results.  take this church for example.  Whether God fills up this building and we need eight services, or He keeps us where we are at our responsibility remains the same.  We cannot change the results, we can only dependently trust God with results.  This means that we don’t worry.  We are not anxious.  Instead, we trust in what God is doing.

Sometimes this is hard for us.  We worry about the results.  Rather than faithfully serve God we would rather manipulate the results.  This, however, reveals a heart that is dependent upon self rather than God.

 

Conclusion:

I this passage we have seen what a dependent church looks like.  Specifically, we saw 7 traits of a dependent:

  1. A Dependent Church is Committed to one another. (v. 24a)
  2. A Dependent Church God prays. (v. 24b)
  3. A Dependent Church finds comfort in God’s sovereignty (vv. 25-28)
  4. A Dependent Church boldly proclaims His word. (vv. 29-30)
  5. A Dependent Church is unified. (v. 32a)
  6. A Dependent Church gives generously (vv. 32b, & 34-35)
  7. A Dependent Church trusts God with the results.  (vv. 31, & 33)

My prayer for our church is that these traits would become prominent marks of everyday life around here.  But the only that is going to happen if each of us individually seeks to live out these traits in our own lives.  So my challenge for all of us is that we would dependently look to God as our source of help in all circumstances.  That we would have a heart attitude that trusts God more than self.


            [1] R. Kent Hughes, Acts : The Church Afire, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1996), 69.

[2] R. Kent Hughes, Acts : The Church Afire, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1996), 71.

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