The sermon from Sunday, July 14, really got me thinking about the church as a family. The accounts of Barnabas and Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 4, 5, as I mentioned in the sermon, are easily reduced to a moral plea to be generous in your giving. While that is true and a good takeaway from the stories, it’s far too simplistic and somewhat removed from the context of the history of the early church.
The key to the story is found in Acts 4:32: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.” The early church shared everything they had not because they were generous individuals but because they were united in their faith; they were “one in heart and mind.” Because the early church had a shared faith in the resurrected Lord, they had a shared identity in Christ. They were the family of God.
Paul confirms this and explains it further in Romans 8:16, 17:
Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Paul tells us that our position as God’s children comes about if we “share in his sufferings.” While this certainly refers to the opposition and persecution the early church faced, as the book of Acts shows clearly, in the context of his letter to the Christians in Rome, this is primarily a reference to baptism, as Paul explained in Romans 6 using phrases like “buried with him” (vs. 4), “united with him” in death and resurrection (vs. 5), “crucified with him” (vs. 6), “died with Christ” and “live with him” (vs. 8).
It’s this sharing with Christ, this unity with Christ that unifies us in Christ together. This was part of Jesus’ prayer before his arrest: “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:22, 23).
Jesus prayed that his followers would be united in him, just as he and the Father are one. This is the kind of unity we see in Acts 4:32, as the early church were “one in heart and mind.”
Obviously, that kind of unity doesn’t happen overnight. Just as infants eventually grow up to be adults, so newborns in Christ grow into mature believers. It’s a natural process that Peter describes: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2, 3).
This takes time, and it also takes the church living together as a healthy family. It’s for this kind of growth that we have elders, preachers, and teachers within the church, Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:11-13, so that we might grow up together in our faith and in our service to God. Then, Paul continues, “We will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:14-15).
Our growth is not merely our own individual growth, it is growth within the body, the family of God. As we grow together in Christ, we grow together as the family of God. We become “one in heart and mind,” like the early church. Then we can live as the church God planned, loving God and others boldly, sharing what we have generously, especially the Good News of God’s love and forgiveness through Jesus.