Two major themes emerge.
And the two major themes are very, very simple. Number one, as you read this verse and as you read the book of Acts and Church history you understand we express our love for Christ by expressing our love for His people.
You might write that down. Nah, forget writing it down. Just live it. We express our love for Christ by expressing our love for people. His people. They belong. They matter. They’re His sons, His daughters, they’re our brothers and our sisters.
The way I say to God, “I love you” is I give my time, and my energy, and my resources, and my emotions as directed by the Holy Spirit living in me, to those of you that God has me rub up against so that the Christ in me, could express His love to you.
That’s how I love you. And that’s how I love Christ. We express our love for Jesus not in some ethereal, “I love God, I raise my hands when I sing, I write a check now and then.” It’s about real, live relationships. All those things are fine.
But I John said, “If I say I love God and have no love for my brother I am a liar and the truth isn’t in me.”
I had an experience just last night with my wife and my daughter that I don’t know that I’ll forget. These notes I left or I thought I left down at the office. And it was, like, late afternoon Saturday and who wants to go anywhere by yourself on Saturday?
And so I kind of said, “Hey would anyone ride with me, you know, please, please, pretty please? And I’ll buy dinner on the way home if you’ll come.” You know? I just, I don’t want to go down in that dark building by myself and yeah you know?
And so we got down there and it had been a pretty interesting day anyway. And when I pulled up there’s a lady sitting on the steps. And I’m thinking, you know, you know with a toboggan. And kind of a funky looking long coat.
And I got out of the car and I’m thinking, “I need to get my notes,” and I said, “Excuse me.” And she goes, “Are you a manager here or do you work here?” And I said, “Well I work here.” And she goes, “Well, you know, if it’s okay is it okay if I stay here tonight?”
I said, “Well I know in general they kind of frown on that and this is not exactly the safest neighborhood. “But all I want is that little alcove. It’s getting really, really cold and I believe in God and I’ve been talking to Him.”
And I’m thinking to myself, “You know it’s been, it’s been a pretty wild day and what I need is a homeless lady right now.” I mean those are my honest to goodness, from the heart thoughts. Not proud of them but those were the thoughts.
And I said, “Well I’ll tell you what. Could you, could you just stay right here? I’ve got to pick some stuff up in the office and I’ll get right with you when I get back.” And so, you know, I open the keys, set off the alarm, turn it off, find my office, and of course I can’t find my notes. Hmmmmm.
And so I’m coming back and as I’m shuffling things around now, you know, I’m thinking to myself like you would, “Now what am I going to do with this homeless lady?”
And I’ve memorized a few verses but I don’t think I even really memorized this one. And the thought came to my mind, “When you’ve done it to the least of these you’ve done it unto Me.”
And I said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” “Just love her.” I said, “Okay.” So I’m thinking, “I’m not sure how I’m going to love her but she’s not going to sleep here.” One, it’s way, way cold and she’s got a thin coat, number one. Number two, I’m afraid what might happen. And number three, you know, the people that keep all the insurance and forms think, “There’s big liability here, Chip, you better make sure, if you knew about this, if something, you know.”
And so I didn’t know what to do and I came out and I kind of looked at Theresa, you know, hand signs, “Okay, you know, what do you think, you know, what do you think we ought to do?” You know?
And so I said to her, I said, “You know, you can’t stay here. But, you know, I, let me figure out a way to put you up in a hotel and we’ll get something straightened out. What’s your name?” Are you ready for this? “Gloria.” Hm.
And so we got in the car and she had a couple bags and she was proud, inside she had a new sleeping bag and we put them in the trunk and she sat in the back with Annie and was very articulate. Very articulate.
And as we went down I said, “Gloria, are you hungry?” She goes, “Well, no, I couldn’t accept anything.” And this and that. And the long in the story, you know, we’re sitting in a little Mexican restaurant, the four of us and we had dinner with a homeless lady.
And, you know, I, you know, I had one of those days where, you know, your emotions were all over the map. I gotta tell you, dinner with a homeless lady and dropping her off at La Quinta and sharing our testimony about what God was doing in our life and…
You know that passage where it says now and then you entertain, you know, angels unaware? I don’t know if Gloria was an angel but she was an angel from God for me. I think my attitude did the biggest 180 in a twenty-four hour period and I thought, “Oh, Jesus, what a privilege to express my love to You by just being Your hands,” nothing big.
Well, you know, I wasn’t even motivated to do it. It’s not like, you know, I was big, super Christian. I mean I just finally got to where I would obey. And that lady was a delight. And, you know, we figured out this place and the lady at La Quinta could figure out what’s going on and, you know, gave her this special deal for two nights and we went and took her stuff up to her room.
And, you know, the three of us drove home and you know what I learned? I learned we express our love for Christ by expressing our love for His people. And you say, “What do you mean, ‘His people?’”
Where she said, “I’m a Christian.” And she said, “You know I know it’s going to get real cold and I called down to the shelters and they just give me the run-around.” She said, “Just before you came up I just said, ‘God, would You please take care of me today? It’s going to be really cold tonight. Would You help me?’”
And I thought, “You know what? This lady got a hug, didn’t she?” She got a hug. She got a hug from an invisible God. And, you know, God orchestrates this stuff because I had looked through my briefcase about four times, “Where’s my notes, where’s my notes, where’s my notes?” to anxiety, “I gotta preach tomorrow. I can’t find my notes, oh, I’ve left them in the office.”
Well, I got news for you. Once we went through all of this I went back up and they were just right there in my briefcase. You know? They were right there so I guess God has a way of making you see what He wants you to see.
The second observation out of this passage that is absolutely critical is not only do we express our love for Christ when we express our love for His people, we receive love from Christ when we receive love from God’s people.
You know sometimes we think, “God, do You love me? God, do You love me? God, do You love me?” And someone comes up and says, “Can I give you a hand?” Or, “How’s everything going?” “You know would you quit it? Don’t bother me right now. God, do You love me? God, do You love me?”
And, you know, then someone calls and says, “You know, you know we’re going to go do this. Do you want to?” “No, I’m too depressed. You all go ahead. God, how come You don’t love me?”
And, you know, the way God loves you, He’s not going to call you on the phone probably. Okay? The way God loves you is He’s going to bring one of His children into your life, maybe in a way that you like and maybe in a way that you don’t like to express His love to you.
And, by the way, when we talk about love, you know, you can get real sentimental and real emotional. Love is not ooey-gooey feelings, high-fiving, arm around one another, and having warm emotions. That’s nice. I love that.
Love is giving other people what they don’t deserve, caring for them when they don’t deserve it out of obedience to Christ. It’s giving people what they need the most, when they deserve it the least, at great personal cost to yourself. That’s love.
Now I like it when it’s filled with good emotions and high-fives and the warm feelings and that sense of “Kumbaya,” holding hands in the room. I mean I love that as much as the next guy. But let’s not confuse sentimentality and emotions with love.
We receive love from God when His children, or believers, do and act in ways that are consistent with the Spirit’s leading. Now, I don’t, you know, I have been convinced now for many, many years that the way God teaches me to preach is that He usually takes me through the message before I get to give it.
Someone asked me, you know, pastors say, “Hey, where do you get all those illustrations?” And, you know, “I got a book with five thousand illustrations.” I don’t have any books of illustrations. And I don’t look at any books with illustrations. I have found if I just keep my eyes open God gives me more each week than I know what to do with.
I got loved this week. I didn’t get ooey-gooey love, I got deeply loved. I sat in one of our Starbucks with a guy in the church here who, four different times admonished me about one area. “Hey, hey are you loving? Are you loving? You know are you loving? You know, Chip, I want to, you know, you know, you got that intensity. The balance between heat and light. I sense there’s a little more heat at times than there is light. You know do you really understand?”
And, you know, like the fourth time I said, “You know I got it, okay? I mean this message from God. Unless He wants you to say that one more time, I got it.” And I thought about it deeply. And, I mean, I went home and did three or four things in response to that.
And you know what? When I walked out I felt closer to that man than I felt to him any time I’ve ever been with him. Because you know what I’ve learned? Only the people that really love you tell you the truth.
Only the people that really love you are willing to risk the relationship and put everything on the line to help you see something that God wants you to see. And they’re humans and they’re fallible so maybe it’s only eighty-two percent right or sixty-seven percent right.
You know what? Even sometimes if people are down on you it’s maybe only twelve percent right. But that twelve percent is from the Lord. You need to listen.
God loves you and God loves me and He expresses it through His people to you and to me. And sometimes it’s an arm around the shoulder that’s a hug and sometimes it’s a gentle, caring from the heart rebuke that you need.
And sometimes it’s a meal and sometimes it’s getting help to learn your spiritual gift and sometimes it’s helping someone move and sometimes it’s a dinner and sometimes it’s a phone call and sometimes, like this week, I got a number of notes that I just read them and I just thought, affirmation. “Dear Chip, thanks, dut, dut, dut, da, da. And God used that.”
And I just thought, that’s not just stuff. God leads people to write notes. God leads people to make calls. God leads people to take money that is His that is on loan to them to give it to love and to care for others.
We express our love for Christ by loving each other and God expresses His love for us by using people in our lives.
Let me give you the meaning of biblical fellowship or koinonia. And I alluded to it but, you know, those of you taking notes going, “You know he went too fast.” It’s to share, it’s to have in common, it’s to partner, it’s an association, it’s a communion.
A togetherness and a bond of the heart that grows out of our bond with Christ.
In fact, by way of word picture it is a group of people so filled and so in love with Jesus, by means of the Holy Spirit that they, with reckless abandon, love one another out of every aspect of their lives.
See koinonia fellowship, it’s not a good feeling with a nice pot of coffee in a small group. Koinonia can happen there but there’s a lot of small groups koinonia doesn’t happen. But that’s a good environment.
It’s when people are so filled with the love of God that it spills out into love for one another, so that the heart of God through the Spirit of God, through the normal hands, and arms, and shoulders, and feet, and eyes, and time, and talent, and treasure, gets transmitted from one believer to another believer, not because the other person deserves it, but because we belong to one another. Because we belong to Him.
Koinonia or “the fellowship” is a union with Christ that goes so deep that we recognize our union with one another so we begin, imperfectly of course, but to treat one another exactly the way Jesus would treat us, if He happened to be living in our body. And He happens to, doesn’t He? That’s koinonia.
Three characteristics out of this passage of koinonia in terms of, by way of application. First, it was for all believers, verse 46. No distinctions were made. No race, no color, no socioeconomic differences, no different ethnic backgrounds. All the believers.
I had a quick experience this morning. I had the time of my life. If I feel like I’ve got a little bounce in my step I had the privilege this morning of preaching at Mount Moriah Baptist Church. And it’s an all black church. It was a three-hour service.
And after I get done preaching usually I’m kind of tired and if I know I have another one that night it’s like, “Boy, I need to kind of rest, you know?” I drove home, their worship was so rich, the fellowship was so rich, the time was so great with God. And I saw how different parts of the body of Christ and the differences in the way they did it and to be candid, just with my background, I just really fit in. It was a lot freer. And no one was in a hurry.
And they, you know, the people just lined up for prayer and the deacons were anointing people with oil and I felt prompted, I just went, man I got down on my knees for about twenty minutes and had a great time with God and met a gal, started singing, and we all started swaying.
And, man, it was just… I started doing this, you know? It was just a time with God’s people that come from a different culture that was so rich, and I dream and long for this passage getting lived out in my life, your life, and this church. You know? All believers. It was for all of them.
And the second characteristic: It held the believers together. It promoted unity in the midst of extreme diversity and notice in this passage, the health of the group was more important than anyone’s individual agenda.
They had all things in common and everyone who had need, their needs were met.
And then finally, it met the needs of the believers. It wasn’t just a gathering. Koinonia is not getting together either in small groups, or large groups, or medium sized groups, or in a church. It’s not just gathering together in the name of Christ.
Real needs have to get met. Have you ever been someplace where if there’s not needs met there’s not love given or love received. It’s real. I mean last week when Jason came up at the end and in the application he said, “You know I think a great application,” I think the Spirit of God prompted him, he said, “You know there’s twenty of those little angel tree things hanging on that tree that haven’t been taken yet. Twenty kids still don’t have a gift for Christmas whose mom or dad is in prison right now.”
And, you know, the Spirit of God prompted at least twenty of you, boom, they were all gone. You know what that is? That’s love. That’s the Spirit of God, working in your spirit and your life, to move you to think outside yourself, to want to do something for someone else who doesn’t have, and you took your money and you grabbed something, to love someone else. That’s koinonia. It’s for all believers, it holds us together, and it meets needs.
Why is this so important? Is this just important because I have needs and you have needs? And is this just important because Jesus is not here anymore and I need a hug, and you need a hug, and people need a hug?
I’m going to suggest that the importance is far beyond my needs and your needs, as important as those are. I’m going to suggest that the impact of koinonia can’t be underestimated.
I’ve got two stories I want to read. I’ve put them in your notes but you can open your Bible if you want. And I have very little comment. But I want you to think. I want you to think of the, what’s the power of the fellowship, the meeting of the needs, the caring, the belonging to one another?
And right after this text the Spirit of God places, at the end of chapter 4 of Acts, this positive story about a man named Barnabas that exemplifies the power of koinonia and then immediately afterwards He gives another story that’s negative about people who fake koinonia. And the huge implications that it has.
Listen as I read you a little story. “All the believers were with one heart and one mind, no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own.” Can you imagine that place?
“But they shared everything that they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and much grace was upon them all.” There were no needy persons among them.
“From time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them and they brought the money from the sales and they put at the apostles’ feet. And it was distributed as anyone had need.”
Do you get the picture of what’s going on here? I mean this is radical. This is radical, radical, radical. The Spirit of God is doing something in selfish hearts. They’d been transformed. And then in case you want a specific picture, “Joseph, a Levite from Cypress who the apostles called Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement,” sold a field that he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.”
And when you do a little research on Barnabas you learn that he was from Cypress. And Cypress was like downtown Manhattan in terms of real estate. And so he sold a pretty sweet piece of real estate because he thought, “You know what? I’ve got a lot of physical, material resources and we’re birthing this church and things are really happening and I think I’m going to exchange some of those financial resources to meet the needs of a lot of people,” and he did.
Positive example of koinonia. The text goes on, negative example: Ananias and Sapphira. Now the text says, “Now.” Put a line through that. It’s an okay translation. It’s “but.” It’s “but.” And that’s important because the author wants us to know, “What you just heard is one thing, here’s the contrast.”
“But a man named Ananias was together with his wife Sapphira and they also sold a piece of property.” In other words, like, exhibit A, here’s exhibit B. “With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself but he brought the rest and put at the apostles’ feet.
“Then Peter said, ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and kept for yourself some of the money you received from the land?’”
And then notice where he’s going here. He’s saying, “Hey, it was yours! No one said you had to give it all.”
“Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold?” Answer, “Yes.” “And after it was sold wasn’t the money at your disposal?” In other words, you could give eight percent, thirty-two percent, eighty-five percent, half of it.
“Ananias, it’s your stuff. No one says you gotta give this.”
But notice, “And after it was sold the money was at your disposal, what made you think of doing such a thing? You haven’t lied to men but to God.”
You understand what he did? He said, “I sold it for ten thousand dollars.” He really sold it for fifteen, kept back five so that everyone would think he’d given all to Jesus.
What, the sin is not about giving. The sin is not about money. The sin is about hypocrisy. The sin is about acting like you love people and making people think you care more than you really care.
It’s the first sin recorded in the New Testament Church. And you’re thinking to yourself, “Well, you know, everyone has a few downfalls. I mean hypocrisy, like, how serious could that be? We’re all a little bit hypocrite, right?”
Read on. “‘You haven’t lied to men but to God.’ When Ananias heard this he fell down and died and great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then the young men came forward and they wrapped up his body and carried him out an buried him. And about three hours later,” you know, here we go, the scene changes, the camera changes, the zoom lens go back.
Ananias… they watch the guys walking him out. And, you know, I mean, people were going, “Whoa. For just lying? For being a hypocrite? I mean, bang! Heart attack.”
Three hours later Sapphira comes in, “Hey! Is my hubby been by?” “As a matter of fact…”
So notice the interrogation here. So here we go, “About three hours later his wife came in not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her,” he gives her a chance, “‘Tell me, is this the price that you and Ananias got for the land?’ ‘Yes, we’re so committed, we’re so loving, we care so much. You know Barnabas, all the strokes he got and how he became a real hero in the Church? We would like to be just like him. Having people think that we’re wonderful, loving, caring, and sacrificial. Yes, that’s exactly the price.’” I think I’m reading into this just a shade.
“Peter said to her, ‘How could you agree,’” in other words, you’re in cahoots, “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord?” And then it gets very sober. “‘Look, the feet of the men who buried the husband are at the door and they will carry you out also.’ At that moment she fell down at his feet and died and the young men came in and finding her dead carried her out and buried her beside her husband and great fear seized the whole Church and all who heard about these events.”
You ever wonder why the Spirit of God would place this in the annals of the early Church as the first sin recorded? You see koinonia and hypocrisy can’t go together. We are all, we’re human, we’re fleshly, we spend probably more energy trying to convince ourselves some and other people a lot more that we’re loving and caring than we’re really loving and caring.
Our image and what people think and how we come off in our flesh just becomes so paramount. And see there can’t be real koinonia if the real care doesn’t come from a real heart that’s really sincere.
And so you notice the extent of our impact is directly proportional to the unity and the authenticity of our fellowship.
See real koinonia is about real unity. Not phony unity, not we’re all together, we all agree on everything, everything is peachy. Real unity is forged out of authentic conflict and real unity is forged out of a commitment to the truth. And real unity happens when you just flat out care for people when it costs.
And the extent of our impact as a body will be directly proportional to the genuine unity and the authenticity of our fellowship.
Jesus said it best. A new commandment He gave to His disciples, “That you love one another. By this all men will know that you’re My disciples if you have love for one another.”
As we kind of get started and, you know, we’re laying down the railroad tracks now. I mean the type of messages really that we’re doing now are really about people who are really pretty mature who understand, “You know what? I want to be a part of something that God is going to do.”
And as we lay down those railroad tracks and a little later, you know, the teaching will be obviously more felt needs so that we can invite more of our friends who understand what’s going on.
But you know what? If you don’t get these things down first, what are we inviting them to? Yeah, a show, great music, a guy that keeps you awake? Do we not have that in Atlanta already?
You know? I don’t mean that critically. I just mean, you know, who needs to do that? I think what God wants to birth as He is birthing elsewhere in many, many churches He wants to birth a group of people that say, “We want genuine koinonia and it begins with me. I want to express my love for God by loving you. I want to receive love from God by having people, not only tell me the truth but put their arm around me.”
And the extent of our impact will be the genuine unity that we have, not uniformity, and the authenticity that we have, both before God and before one another. That’s the new commandment.