Love in Action (Acts 4:32-35)
Several years ago, a sweet sister had a stroke and died unexpectedly a week or so before Christmas. At worship the next day, this sister’s elder daughter expressed concern that she wasn’t going to be able to finish shopping for her little boy. A couple ladies in the congregation went and bought Ethan’s entire Christmas and refused all attempts to repay them.
Another congregation where I worked was served by an elder who, in his own words, was greatly blessed by God. Being the minister, from time to time I learned of financial needs in the church. One family was about to have their electricity turned off, and this elder had me get the bill, bring it to him, and he paid it in full.
I’m confident that you, too, have seen expressions of love among brethren. You may have witnessed a financial need being met. You may have seen someone being taken to a doctor’s appointment or to the grocery store or to a hair appointment. You may have seen someone taking time out of a busy schedule to listen and to pray.
The early church took care of one another. Luke, in this morning’s text, described the manner in which the early church cared for one another. Luke began his discussion of compassion in the early church with these words: “All the believers were one in heart and mind” (Acts 4:32)—they were united in their hearts and in their minds.
We often think of Christian unity as the need to get rid of doctrinal divisions in Christendom. God does expect all who claim allegiance to him to be one. Jesus prayed for that unity: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (Jn 17:20-21). Paul urged the Corinthians to have that unity: “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought” (1 Cor 1:10).
The Jerusalem church had that unity, but they also took it up a notch and taught us “True unity sacrificially loves others above self.” Our Lord taught us to love one another: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (Jn 13:34-35).
True love acts sacrificially and puts others above self. God demonstrated such love: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (Jn 3:16). God’s love of the world cost him something—his one and only Son. The love the Christians in the Jerusalem church demonstrated cost them something—their possessions.
This morning, we want to think about the Jerusalem church and learn that “True unity sacrificially loves others above self.”
Scriptures (Acts 4:32-35)
These brethren understood that people are far more important than things. It’s a lesson Jesus desperately tried to teach the rich young ruler. That young man came to Jesus and asked what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. When Jesus told him to keep the commandments, he said that he had kept the commandments from his youth. Jesus told him, “One thing you lack . . . . Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Mk 10:21). That young man walked away from Jesus because he had great possessions. To him, things were more important than people.
The Jerusalem church understood the truth and saw the world in the opposite way; they put people above things.
It’s likely that the apostles testified to the resurrection of Jesus in this context through the sharing of the church. Jesus had said that all men would know Christians were his disciples by their love for one another; as the people saw the way these brethren cared for one another, they realized Jesus had indeed been raised from the dead and had changed these people’s lives.
It’s possible that the apostles were preaching the resurrected Christ with words in this context, but their testimony was made even more powerful with the love these Christians were showing one another.
From reading this passage it seems that the sharing of their possessions was an everyday occurrence—they shared everything they had. However, the selling of houses and lands and bringing those proceeds to the apostles’ feet seems to have been something only done from time to time. Whenever there was a need, these Christians would even sell their houses and property.
Regardless of the circumstance, regardless of the need, these Christians in Jerusalem demonstrated “True unity sacrificially loves others above self.” How can you show sacrificial love by putting your brothers and sisters above yourself?
You need to know your brethren.
As you read this passage, it becomes apparent that the church in Jerusalem was a tight-knit community. It’s not that these folks were nearly strangers to each other who just happened to get together once a week to sing and pray and hear a sermon. Instead, they were sharing life together; they were, after all, “one in heart and mind.”
The early Christians spent a great deal of time fellowshipping together:
- “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship. . . . All the believers were together and had everything in common. . . . Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” (Acts 2:42, 44, 46).
- “All the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade” (Acts 5:12).
- “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Thess 2:8).
If you’re to love one another sacrificially, you need to be sharing your lives with each other; that’s where sacrificial love begins. This week determine to share your life with a brother or sister in this congregation. Call someone on the phone. Go to coffee. Have them over to dinner. Preferably choose someone you don’t know that well and begin to share your life.
Look for opportunities to serve.
This is one reason you need to get to know your brethren. It’s really impossible to serve them when they’re in need if you don’t know them and their needs. How could the Christians in Jerusalem have given funds “to anyone who had need” if they didn’t know who had a need? That required an intimate knowledge.
God expects you to be on the lookout for opportunities.
- “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (Js 2:15-16).
- “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” (1 Jn 3:17).
In both of those texts, there is mention of seeing a need. Some needs are obvious, but other needs are more subtle. You must keep your eyes open for both.
This week look for needs in this congregation. The best place to start is the newsletter. As you look through it, you’ll see folks who could use a meal. You might see someone who could use some financial help paying medical bills or some other need. If you’re attentive, you will find opportunities to serve.
Share what you have with those in need.
The Jerusalem church not only fellowshipped together in love and saw opportunities to serve, but they acted on those opportunities and served. You, too, need to act on opportunities to serve and share with those who have need.
Sharing with brethren in need is an ancient hallmark of the Christian faith. Acts 11:27-30. About the Macedonians’ generosity during that famine, Paul wrote: “I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people” (2 Co 8:3-4).
Find a way to help your brethren this week. You can bring items for the pantry, and you can bring items for Arms of Hope. You could bring someone to the pantry who is suffering. You could send support to a missionary. You could help a struggling family with groceries. Do something this week to share with someone who is hurting.
Show sacrificial love. Put others in front of self.
Do you need to come this morning and join a family that shows sacrificial love to one another?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at Church of Christ Deer Park in Deer Park, Texas.