42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awecame upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
We know that we need heroes, but if we’re honest we really like to be the hero as well. Books, movies and television shows are generally told from a perspective that allow the reader/viewer to associate themselves with the main character, the hero, of the story.
For reasons that I may never understand my wife continues to love the old courtroom drama Matlock. She has seen every episode of all 9 seasons in the series, and she has seen them over and over again and yet still she can’t get enough! She loves the down-home moxy of Andy Griffith’s character as well as the promise that every story will end with a nice, neat, clean resolution where the good guys win and the bad guys lose. And all of this will happen because of the clever courtroom antics of old Ben.
But a great deal of the appeal of Matlock, Perry Mason, CSI or any other similar drama is that we identity with the main character – the good guys – and we become vicarious heroes, fixing the world problems one episode at a time.
And let’s be honest: there’s nothing wrong with enjoying that feeling while eating spaghetti on a Thursday evening.
However, the subtle danger that we must be aware of is not just believing ourselves to be the hero of the story, but it is the temptation of seeing our life as singular instead of plural. We all want to be Matlock – or Tony Stark, Sherlock Holmes, Offred, etc.. – because we like to be the personal source of the solution, but this passage in Acts 2 seems to push back on that desire to be singular and proclaims a very plural understanding of our identity as followers of Jesus.
Look at the language throughout these 6 verses:
- “they devoted themselves”
- “upon every soul”
- “all who believed were together”
- “they were selling their possessions”
- “to all”
- “as any had need”
- “attending the temple together”
- “they received their food”
It’s hard to read those quotes and not see the blueprint.
In fact, it seems clear that the early church lived under no illusion of the superiority of the singular. This was a people whose self-understanding was wrapped up in a communal identity. And not just in terms of potlucks and fifth Sunday night singings, but they considered everything they owned and possessed as owned and possessed by the totality of the body, not just one member or another. And the source of this understanding came from the idea that everything they owned was only theirs because of the gift of the provision of God – the early church understood their lives in terms of stewardship not storage.
The early church understood their lives in terms of stewardship not storage.Tweet
Now, I realize how this sounds. It will almost immediately be rejected as an unrealistic, utopian, pie-in-the-sky idea that may have worked for them but will never work for us. And I quickly acknowledge that it is a shock to the system. I am also fine with saying that we have to figure out how this uniquely looks in our current cultural context. But what I am not willing to do is give up on the idea that the church is at its best when its identity is understood in terms of community instead of individuality.
The last verse tells us clearly that this understanding of church allows access to more power and impact than our modern, system-based evangelism and witnessing tools. Luke tells us in verse 47 that by living in community, eating together, worshipping together and sharing resources the church found that they were growing every, single day. Not Sunday by Sunday, not season by season – but day by day.
If I constantly see myself as the singular hero of my life, not only will I lose a true understanding of the Gospel, but I will fail to tap into the unique power that belongs to the church. We aren’t trying to do life on our own, that was who we were before Jesus saved us. But now we humble ourselves and submit ourselves and invest ourselves to the unity of the saints as we, the body of Christ, do our best to grow up and mature under the head of this body, – the real Hero – Christ Jesus (Eph. 4:15-16)
So, what does this look like today?
I would say first: start small.
Who are you already walking with in community? Identify them and then see how similar the Acts 2:42-47 model looks in comparison to your own current situation. Then adjust accordingly.
What would it look like to make one extra seat at the dinner table (at home or at a restaurant) and then do whatever you can to fill it? How much joy would it bring you to try and do this at least once a week?
When we choose to start with manageable goals it helps encourage and inspire us as we reach them. If you plan to give away all your possessions tomorrow, odds are good that you won’t, and then you will feel like a failure which will keep you from trying again. So start small, treat this as a long journey, decide that you want to make meaningful steps each day instead of attempting to leap-frog the entire process before dinner tonight.
Christian community isn’t a box we check off. It is a lifestyle that we adopt.
Christian community isn’t a box we check off. It is a lifestyle that we adopt.Tweet
And go ahead and watch your Matlock. But don’t watch it alone. Invite someone else to be blessed by old Ben’s crafty, crime-fighting ways. Community starts with sharing.