Part 3: Communities of character
“Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard…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 4:19-20,32 NLT
If you’ve never read Acts 4, or haven’t in a while, first go read it.
After Pentecost in Acts 2, we read that the personal encounters with God where the believers are filled with His Spirit continue. Peter is filled with the Spirit and speaks publicly. The believers meet to pray for boldness and the meeting room shakes as the Spirit fills them.
So the deeply personal (and miraculous) “God within them” experience doesn’t stop after the upper room in Acts 2. But rather it continues.
And as it continues The Church begins to form. The earliest expressions of these gatherings of believers (churches) are described in both Acts 2:42-47 and again in Acts 4:32-37. And what is described are communities of character.
Devotion. Boldness. Transparency. Generosity. Unity.
Those are all words we could use to describe the communities of character that formed.
They became full of people who lived out in public who they were in private – speaking about the things God was doing in their midst as their lives were interconnected together.
They displayed for the world around them integrity as they gave themselves fully to a very personal and yet communal relationship with God.
They followed in the example of the apostles as they apprenticed in the ways of Jesus and committed themselves to friendship with one another.
They sacrificially shared with anyone in need – in simple ways like shared meals and in extravagantly generous ways like selling all they owned – and faithfully spent consistent time together in prayer and celebration.
The stories we read in these early chapters of Acts are so simple, and describe profoundly transformed lives.
It’s one thing for someone to say they’re an imitator of the way of Jesus – who had no where to lay his head and taught people to turn the other cheek – and another thing to actually live it amidst a world that celebrates self-centeredness and greed.
If we are honest, self-centeredness and greed are far more common than we would like in an Americanized version of Christianity. We see too many times that those who call themselves Christians use their faith to garner temporary, earthly success. They use it as something to grow their own self-importance rather than growing their humility.
God becomes a means to an end, instead of an end Himself. Working for God ends up merely being about oneself. And the fruit of that labor ends up being money, material things, and even the approval of others.
It’s completely the opposite in the early church. What we see in Acts is the evidence of people who pursue the desires of the eternal Spirit and not the desires of the temporary world. They experience the presence and love of God so deeply that they are then able to be fully present with and fully loving toward those around them.
This sort of life can only happen because of an on-going personal and communal experience of the presence of God.
When that happens, it begins to form a community of character – a people who devote themselves to apprenticeship to Jesus thru the example of the apostles, thru genuine friendship with one another, thru the sacrificial sharing of one’s life with those friends, and thru the consistent rhythms of prayer and celebration both personally and collectively.
What we see form in Acts is undeniable. And it is so very simple.
Have we overcomplicated the Christian life as we’ve “Westernized” it and eventually “Americanized” it?
Have we attempted to take control of the things we should be letting go of and thus remained in our comfort zones instead of living by faith?
Have we pursued dreams Jesus never gave us and built things the Spirit never led us to construct?
Have we become a people that call ourselves “The Church” but would be unrecognizable to those who formed the very first Church on earth?
Have we formed organizations, systems, and processes that produce communities of character or in how we’ve created those things are they potentially working against it and keeping us from seeing the “results” we verbalize that we want?
May the same Spirit in Acts once again fill us, that He might lead us to stop complicating, controlling, and constructing and re-form us into devoted communities of character.
May The Church in our country today begin to look more like Acts than America.