Everyone needs to live in real community, but it only exists when God loves, creates, builds, and sustains his chosen community according to his blueprint (true belief, true friendship, true recreation, and true worship), therefore we must whole-heartedly devote ourselves to living in God’s community—the Church.
Introduction – Today we are going to talk about the Ideal Community (the Church as God intends it to be). Not going to talk about the pettiness, the silliness, the irrelevance, the hypocrisy, the scandalous sins, or the atrocities that churches have been guilt of. The Bible has much to say to Christians who veer from God’s intention and make their churches these things. God does not condone what is wrong with the Church, and he disciplines his Church because he loves the Church with all his heart. The Church is God’s Chosen People, the Flock in his Care, and Jesus’ Bride. It is the best community for believers to live in, and it is the model for the watching world of what ideal community should be. Although everyone needs community and longs for it, ironically we reject, neglect, or ruin the only community that can meet our deepest needs—God’s community—the Church.
I. The Ideal Community (vv. 42-47)
A. Common misconceptions about the Ideal Community
1. Not communism, socialism, or a commune. Communistic and socialistic societies enforce communal ownership of productive property and labor products. Communes are small communities whose members agree to commonly share interests and work, and even pool their income for the collective good. Participation in the early church was voluntary, and believers (those born again into new life by the Holy Spirit), were generous with each other, yet they retained ownership of private property (Acts 4:34a; 5:1-4).
2. Not a house-church movement. Many believers in recent years have left public institutional churches for small informal meetings in private homes—not intending to plant new growing churches but to remain small. The vast majority of these “house-churches” act like churches in many ways. Nevertheless, for all the good that happens in these gatherings, they do not model the structure of the early church, and lack the oversight and accountability that fosters ideal community.
3. Not a religious organization of likeminded people. Peter Leithart in Against Christianity writes: “Conversion does not simply install a new “religious” program over the existing operating system. It installed a new operating system. Christian community, by the same token, is not an extra “religious” layer on social life. The Church is not a club for religious people. The Church is a way of living together before God, a new way of being human together. What Jesus and the apostles proclaimed was not a new ideology or a new religion, in our attenuated modern sense. What they proclaimed was salvation, and that meant a new human world, a new social and political reality. They proclaimed that God had established the eschatological order of human life in the midst of history, not perfectly but truly…The gospel is the announcement of the Father’s formation, through His Son and the Spirit, of a new city—the city of God.” (p. 16).
B. True Belief: Apostolic Teaching (vv. 42-43)
Not only Bible knowledge, but learning to follow Jesus together. Apostolic teaching includes a minimum set of doctrines to believe (Acts 2:23-24; 3:15; 4:10; 1 Cor 15:1-4), the way to read the whole Bible with Christ at the center (Luke 24:25-27, 44-47), and the command to love God by believing and obeying his Word (John 6:28-29; 14:15; 1 John 3:23-24). We can trust the apostles taught the truth because their signs and wonders give proof.
Remember to beware of your tendencies. Some are intellectuals when it comes to their practice of the Christian faith in community. Others are do-gooders. Still others opt out of the doctrine-life duality and choose to be mystical. We need each other to balance our community. We need true Bible knowledge (“Yeah!” says the intellectual), but also true practice of that knowledge in relation to God (“Yeah!” says the mystic) and to our neighbor (“Yeah!” says the do-gooder). Beware of these tendencies that can manifest themselves in the hearts of believers and unbelievers.
C. True Friendship: Christian Fellowship (vv. 42, 44-45)
Not only fellowship, but being a family together. The Greek word usually translated “fellowship” is koinōnia, but this is not cheap—shaking hands and chit-chatting after the worship service. Biblical fellowship is costly (even having financial overtones; cf. Phil 1:5).
Koinōnia literally means: (1) close association involving mutual interests and sharing, association, communion, fellowship, close relationship; (2) attitude of good will that manifests an interest in a close relationship, generosity, fellow-feeling, altruism; (3) sign of fellowship, proof of brotherly unity, even gift, contribution; (4) participation, sharing.
A few years ago two of my closest friends traveled to Virginia from distant states to come to my brother’s funeral. They came on extremely short notice (without being prodded to come) with personal cost and inconvenience to their lives, and they barely had time to visit with me. Yet they both “knew” they had to be with me. They understood what it means to be a true friend, and gave me one of the most precious gifts I could have received during that grieving time.
Biblical fellowship is devoted Christian friendship—devotion as committed (even more so) to what we give our families. We are bound to one another as God’s family, so we should fellowship together like family. Koinōnia expresses itself in sacrificial friendship, a willingness to share tangible resources with the needy in our Christian community. Why do Christians sacrifice this way? Because their bond of fellowship with fellow believers is more valuable than their possessions. The love of God their Father, the saving grace of Christ, and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit were the bonds that causes the early Christians to look past their differences and treat one another like family—brothers and sisters in Christ.
Again, we must beware of our tendencies. Some of us are naturally givers, others are takers, and still others are misers. The givers love to help others by giving of their time, their skills, and their resources–including money. But rarely is a giver comfortable receiving anything when he finds himself in need. The takers love to receive help because it makes them feel loved and cared for by others. But rarely is the taker comfortable giving when he has an abundance of anything that someone else needs–even if that abundance is meager. The miser is neither a giver or taker, but someone who is self-sufficient. The miser is “responsible”–he doesn’t need anyone’s help, and therefore no one else should have his help because everyone should be “responsible like him”–not needy. Obviously the miser needs to have a new heart that can give and receive. The giver and taker need the balance of the community to learn the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Matthew 7:12a ).
D. True Recreation: Sharing Meals (vv. 42, 46)
Not only sharing a table, but sharing life and hope together. How are the Lord’s Supper and sharing meals together related? The common meals that believers shared (which at that point were combined with the Lord’s Supper) are probably the “love feasts” mentioned elsewhere in the NT (1 Cor 11:20-22; 2 Pet 2:13; Jude 12). They were spontaneous gatherings of Christian friends in homes to feast together, to share life intimately with one another, and to rejoice in their newfound salvation. Only later did it become obvious to the Church that sharing a meal in homes followed by the Lord’s Supper created problems (1 Cor 11:20-21), so the Church decided in its wisdom to separate the love feasts from the Lord’s Supper (which celebrates our solidarity and hope in Christ).
Sharing common meals together (in larger and smaller groups) is one way to jointly celebrate the joy of our salvation in Christ. Eating together binds our hearts as one. Eating together is an expression of (and can foster greater experience of) unity, harmony, joy, and sincerity of believers. These are the fruit of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 8:8, 39; 13:48, 52; 15:3; 16:34)!
Once again, beware your tendencies! There are some people who have such busy lives that they actually schedule “quality time” with family and friends. As if quality time just happens! Those of us less dependent on day-timers are more “quantity time” people. This person figures that by only spending a great amount of time together we will make our relationship deeper and meaningful. Still others are “no-timers” who are either loners by choice or lonely–needing to belong to human community. It is important for “quality time” people to realize that quality time cannot be scheduled–it happens in the midst of quantity time. But not by accident or simply because we spend lots of time together. We must be purposeful about our time with our family and friends, especially with our brothers and sisters in Christ since we normally see less of them. Quantity time people must learn to be purposeful in their time spent together and not be passive about expecting quality time to occur. No-timers need to get in the game! Being involved in true community can be exciting but also frightening. It is risky to be vulnerable, but we are called to it.
E. True Worship: Communal Prayers (vv. 42, 46-47a)
Not only mundane or crisis prayers, but kingdom prayers together. Early Christians worshiped daily. Every day your life should show some evidence of apostolic teaching, Christian friendship, sharing meals together, and prayer. The Christian life is not a once-a-week routine because the Spirit that saves us is at work in our lives every day of the week. Clearly revival swept the early church because they spent more and more time together worshiping and praying.
Beware your tendencies! How do you tend to pray? By rote-repetition? Are your prayers me-centered? Or to rarely pray, if ever? It’s easy to diagnose yourself as a prayerless person (or nearly so). Praying is simple, but it is hard to discipline ourselves to stop and do it. Being in community provides us with friends that actually do pray. Talk to them. Ask them for tips. Spend time praying with them so you can catch the joy of prayer. On the other hand, if you pray the Lord’s Prayer without using punctuation (OurFatherWhoArtInHeavenHallowedBeThyNameThyKingdom…) then you might be a rote-repetition prayer person. If you find yourself praying exactly the same prayer before dinner or bed every night–so exact that when we try to pray with different words the rote ones come out accidently–then you might be praying a little to out of mindless habit. However, if your prayers rarely include petitions for the glory of God or blessings for others, but just requests for your own benefit, then you might be a me-centered prayer person. We need our church community to help us balance our prayer life. We need to read Scripture (especially the Psalms) to learn to pray in a balanced, beautiful, God-glorifying way. And remember that these poorer versions of true prayer can manifest themselves in unbelievers as well. Interestingly, it’s not just believers who pray to God. When people are in trouble or need a spiritual fix, they instinctively reach out to God in prayer–because they know he is there and is listening. But just being a Christian or a church member does not exempt us from struggling with prayer.
II. How to Participate in the Ideal Community—the Church
A. Recognize your desperate need for community, and that only God can meet your need
No man is an island to himself (Gen 2:18; Eccl 4:12). We all need to belong to others and be needed by others. No community (family, work, club, organization, team, circle of friends) can completely meet this need. Only God can provide true community where you can love and be loved according to your deepest needs (Ps 68:3-6a).
B. Believe the Church is a Jesus-created community, not man-created (v. 47b)
Note that God saved people through the preaching of the gospel and then added them to his Church. Being a church member is the means whereby God continues to save. It is interesting that Luke uses the title “Lord” for Jesus in particular. It is Jesus who continually builds his Church (Matt 16:13-19). Jesus takes converted sinners into his care though the care of his Church. We belong Jesus and his Church (Rom 7:4; 8:9; 1 Cor 6:19-20)!
C. Believe the Church is God’s garden for believers’ spiritual growth
God’s will is your sanctification, i.e., your growth in holiness (Rom 15:15-16; 1 Thess 4:3a; 2 Thess 2:13-14). The Bible always addresses believers in community, not in isolation. Believers can only grow into Christlikeness by growing alongside other believers in the church. We suffer and shrivel as people to the degree we reject Christ’s body—the Church (1 Cor 12:12-26).
D. Partner with a Church where Christians are striving for ideal community
It is not enough for a believer to be loosely connected to a church. God wants us to live life together as we strive after knowledge, righteousness, and holiness (Rom 12). The Bible describes real people in real relationships with real difficulties and affections toward one another (Rom 16:1-16; 2 Cor 6:1-13; Phil 1:1-11). Yet believers are also instructed to avoid people who claim to believe the gospel but act contrary to it (Rom 16:17-19; 2 Cor 6:14-17; Eph 5:1-10).
E. Devote yourself to Church- and Kingdom-growth on earth, but yearn for heaven
Church-growth is the spiritual growth of Christians as they devote themselves to the means of grace (Acts 2:42). Kingdom-growth is numerical growth as God adds new believers (Acts 2:47b), and geographical growth as Christians spread the gospel to new communities (Acts 1:8; 8:1, 14; 9:31; 15:3), planting churches that will harvest new believers and nourish them in spiritual growth. It can be beautiful, satisfying, and joyful to live in ideal community during this lifetime (Acts 20:17-38; Phil 1:8, 21-26), but we must never lose sight of heaven, where ideal community will become reality (Rev 21:1-7).
Conclusion – Has this sermon changed your mind about church, despite all her warts, faults, and sins? Have you come to understand that your need for real, satisfying, loving community can only be met in the Triune God? Do you see that God has blessed just one community where you can grow in God’s grace, know God and others, and serve and be served? Are you ready to take that next step to participate whole-heartedly in the ideal community—the Church of Jesus Christ?