One of the most powerful communication tools in all human society is a very simple thing. It involves your hands, your arms, your shoulders, and it’s called a hug.
Now if you think I’m kidding I’m talking about great research has been done on the power of what happens when one human being hugs another human being. In fact, I have it a little bit before me.
It says, “Hugging is healthy. It helps the body’s immune system, it keeps you healthier, it helps cure depression, it reduces stress, and it induces sleep. It’s invigorating, it’s rejuvenating, it has no unpleasant side effects. Hugging is nothing less than a miracle drug.”
It goes on to say, “Hugging is all natural, it’s organic, naturally sweet, has no pesticides, no preservatives, no artificial ingredients, and is one hundred percent wholesome. Hugging is practically perfect. There’s no movable parts, no batteries to wear out, no periodic check-ups, has low energy consumption with high energy yield. It’s inflation-proof, non-fattening, requires no monthly payments, has no insurance requirements, and is, therefore, non-taxable, non-polluting, and, of course, fully returnable.”
You know there’s a lot of different ways that we hug. Powerful. I mean, sure, there’s the, you know, the sort of the “Christian hug” of people that you don’t know. You know how they, you know how it goes? Mmm. You know? “Hi brother, sister,” you know? Sort of like that.
But I don’t know about you, I have been where I have lost a loved one or I have been the pastor where someone has lost a baby, or one particular friend I remember, who very unexpectedly lost his wife. And he’s been like a dad to me for about thirty years.
And I’ll never forget the embrace that we had. I flew in the moment I found out. And there’s, you know how it is, the living room and people were in shock and our eyes met and we came and, I mean, it was, we just locked. And we didn’t say anything. He just needed to know there was someone there that, thick and thin, we’re going to be here for each other.
Have you had one of those hugs? And before I left we had a similar hug and I said, you know, “I need you to make a couple commitments to me,” because I knew he was going to go through a very difficult time.
We probably talked on the phone three times a week minimum for the next year or year and a half. It’s one of those hugs that when you’re the person in pain you put your face in the person’s shoulder and you just want them almost to hold you up.
Or there’s the other kind of hugs that when you’re a dad or a mom when your kids are small and they get really excited. You know the kind that crush your air pipe? They’re really trying to tell you they love you. “Okay, honey, goodnight!” And they go, “Oh, I love you, Daddy!” [Coughs and hacks] “I love you too, honey.”
And there’s the hugs of lovers, of expressing thoughts, and feelings, and warmth, and desire, and affection. There’s the hugs when you go see grandma and granddad.
Or one thing I love to do, I mean, I would actually pay for this. I’ve been in a lot of airports lately. But I kind of like it when I have a delay, at times, and I like to get at the place, especially near holidays, where families are being reunited. And you know you watch them come with wheelchairs, and you watch them come with someone on the side and, you know, “Oh I noticed you shaved your moustache!” And you just watch them, zoooooom, zoooooom they come together. And, you know, “Oh, come here, come here! Let’s take a picture!” “Oh!” And the grandparents when they come and get the kids.
What do we all do? Hugging. There’s the hugs of belonging, there’s the hugs of affirmation, there’s the hugs of understanding, there’s the hugs of depth and intimacy, there’s the hugs of, “This may be the last time I see you.” Isn’t that what happens with some of us with aging parents? And every time you leave them there’s that hug that says, “I don’t know if we’ll get to do this again.”
But you use your hands, and you use your arms, and you use your shoulders, and two people come together in appropriate ways and it’s powerful. I mean psychologists say probably apart from listening intently to another person, with eye contact, there is few things you’ll ever do on the earth to communicate your love for another person like an appropriate hug in an appropriate way.
And here’s the question I have. If God is so loving, and if God cares so much for us, and if hugging is so powerful, how do you get a hug from an invisible God? I mean how does He hug us? I mean how does He put His arms around us? How does He tell us we’re affirmed? How does He hold us when we feel like our world has fallen apart? How does He say, “Hey, you know what? It’s going to be okay.”
And I’d like to suggest that the answer to that can be found first in the early Church and then right from Scripture.
We’re in a series called Paths to Intimacy with God. There are certain things that followers of Christ have done for a couple thousand years and followers of Yahweh have done before that. There are ancient, well-worn paths. They are not new, that those who have had a heart for God and those who have come to know and follow Christ, these paths are etched in to the history of the Church.
And this is entitled How to Get Hugs from an Invisible God. And I’d like to suggest right under there it says, “And they were continually,” speaking of the early Church, “devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.”
And you might put, if you have a pen, right before the word fellowship put a little mark and write “the fellowship.” In the original text there’s a definite article. It wasn’t just a fellowship. It wasn’t, this is not a picture of the early Church having coffee and a couple donuts, “Bob, good to see you.”
This is “the fellowship.” It’s a very technical term. The Greek word is “koinonia” and we’ll look at it in a minute. But just as Jesus touched the lives of the early disciples in His physical body, so now the Spirit touches our lives, through His spiritual body.
I mean have you ever thought about this? I mean if you were Peter, or John, or James you think those guys ever had a bad day? You ever think they got a hug from Jesus? You ever think there was eye contact and Peter feeling really bad?
You know in John 21 when he gets forgiven, forgiven, forgiven when Jesus says, “Do you love Me, do you love Me, do you love Me?” Can you imagine that conversation not ending with Peter in Jesus’ arms and feeling the embrace of Jesus going, “Peter, you did blow it big time and I want you to know you’ve been forgiven big time. And I’m not putting you on the shelf, I got a plan for your life.” I can’t imagine that happening without a deep, warm embrace.
When Jesus walked on the earth, when He saw little children, they would come up into His arms. When He saw a woman who lost her only son and the coffin is being passed, I can’t imagine that He did not only raise the son from the dead and then go to the mom.
And it says, “And He restored the son to the mother.” What do you think He did? “Okay, go ahead.” You gotta believe that He put His arm around that woman and said, “Here’s your son back.”
You see, when Jesus was in His physical body the way He would hug people was with His arms and His shoulders and His feet. But when Jesus was resurrected, He no longer hugs us in His physical body, He hugs us in His spiritual body.
Notice what it says in your notes, I Corinthians 12 verses 13 and 14, “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.”
The word “baptism” here, there’s no water in the text. The original meaning of the word “baptism” literally means, “to dip,” but the word also means to have the idea of identification. And he’s talking about the moment you, or the moment I, when we understood that we’d sinned and we violated a holy God and that we were in desperate need and we accepted the free gift of Christ’s grace on the cross to pay for our sin, and we were birthed again, the moment you received Christ the Spirit of God sealed you for all eternity and then placed you or identified you in this body, this thing called the Church.
So everyone in this room that has the Spirit of God living in them, who is born again, that has a new relationship with God through Christ, you were baptized, I was baptized, or placed, or identified in this new thing called the Church. And there are many parts and we’re a part of this brand new thing, the spiritual body of Christ.
Notice it says, “How does the body work? How does Jesus laugh? How does Jesus touch people? How does He weep today? How does He comfort people? How does He hug people? How does He feed people? He doesn’t do it through a physical body He does it through His Church.
When you feed someone, when you hug someone, when you console someone, when you love someone, when you pray for someone, when you buy someone a meal, when you do it unto the least of them you are doing it, what? “Unto Me,” Jesus said.
So when the body is working, when we’re reaching out and touching and loving and caring the way Jesus would in His body because He lives in us that’s how God hugs us.
How do you get a hug from an invisible God when you’re in need? The Spirit has united all believers into one interdependent body, or team, under Christ. We belong to one another.
See we unconsciously tend to think of church like a hotel. It’s a place you come and visit, you eat, get some nutrients, say hi to a few people, and then go on your way.
But the biblical picture of the Church is not a hotel, it’s a home. A hotel is a place that you visit to get your needs met. A home is where you belong and where you both give love and receive love, deal with problems, and actually create a few yourself because you’re human.
Notice what the text says. Romans 12:4 and 5 says, “Just as each of us has one body,” speaking of our human body, “with many members,” you know, hands, feet, eyes, head, “and these members do not all have the same functions,” so my eyes have different functions than my ears and my nose and my feet, “so in Christ we who are many form one body and each member belongs to all the others.”
If you have a pen underline that, will you? That’s an almost unheard of realized concept in the American Church. It says, “And each member belongs to all the others.” We are His spiritual body, we are His team, we are His hands, we’re His feet, we’re His eyes, we’re His arms, we’re His ears – we all belong not only to Christ but do you see the point? We belong to one another because we belong to Christ.
The reoccurring theme of the New Testament Church is this koinonia or unity that they have. The love, the affirmation, the consoling, the comfort – Jesus now does it through you to other people because His Spirit is expressing His love and His heart to them through you and then He loves you through them because His Spirit in them is giving you the love and affirmation and understanding that you desperately need and I do too.
So question: Why is this so important? Why is it critical that we understand that the way God hugs us is through His body? Well, the fellowship or koinonia is the vehicle through which God’s people express and receive love. That’s what I want you to get.
This word “the koinonia,” we’ll examine it in just a second. That’s just a, you know, it’s a Greek word that has a lot of meaning and in the ancient Greek language, long before it went into the New Testament, it just meant “a partnership,” “a union.” It had a military alliance. You could have a koinonia. We have a military alliance. Our team, this army and that army, “We’re going to go together and fight them.” That’s a koinonia.
But as the New Testament writers picked up the word and they began to add more and more import into what it meant, I’ve got a couple word studies here.
Koinonia is more than a common experience with one another. Koinonia is life in the body of Christ. It’s communion not only with each other but each other with the triune God.
It’s our communion with other believers that’s dependent on your relationship and active communion with God. It’s synonyms like “share” and “to participate,” “to be associated,” “to giving,” “to sharing,” “to be liberal,” “to have a companion, a partner, a sharer,” “to be connected in some organic, measurable way with other people.” That’s what koinonia is.
And the way God expresses His love and the way we express our love is by this thing called “the fellowship.” It’s God’s vehicle for us to express and receive Christ’s love.
Do you have that pen handy? I’m going to ask you to do a little Bible study with me. Let me read the text, it’s the picture of the early Church. I mean it’s an awesome picture. It’s a picture of Christians hugging one another emotionally and physically and spiritually. And I’m going to read the text in Acts 2:42 through about 46 and then get that pen or pencil handy and I’m going to have you circle a few words that highlight this sense of commonality, commitment, belonging, and sharing and see if you don’t pick up what’s really happening in the early Church.
Verse 43 says, “Everyone was filled with awe and many wonders and miraculous signs were being done by the apostles.” Verse 44, “All the believers were together and they had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes, they ate together with glad and sincere hearts.”
Now are you ready? Go to verse 44 and circle the word “all.” This isn’t a special clique, a special group. All the believers. Circle the word “together.” They were together. Circle the word “common.” They had everything in common.
You know it was not communism. There was still the ownership of personal property but what they said was, “I belong to God, all that I have belongs to God, so I own this and it’s mine to choose to give or not to give but I’m going to take all that I have and all that I am and I make it available to share as anyone would have need.” That’s the picture of what was going on.
Notice after the selling of possessions, notice, circle the word “anyone.” They gave to anyone as had need. This wasn’t just the “cool” people, not just the good looking people. This wasn’t the people that everyone liked.
They gave as anyone had need. There was a bond, there was a belonging to one another that cut through. All were involved and whoever had need could participate.
Verse 46, “Everyday they continued to,” circle the phrase, “meet together.” Where? “First in the temple courts and then they broke bead,” circle the phrase, “their homes.” Then circle the phrase “together.” Do you realize in those few verses, look how many circles are on your notes.
Together, all, common, together, anyone, meet together, their homes, together. And then go back and look at a few of the verbs. Notice they were glad, sincere, they, no one had need. They gave. There’s a sense of people coming together. 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 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?’”
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.