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.”
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 the privilege of preaching at 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, the 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, 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.
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.
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 and 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.”
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, and the authenticity that we have, both before God and before one another.